Bogadi: Let’s Debate It

Do parents raise their daughter well in order to find a groom to give bogadi for her or they raise their daughter well for her own good? OTLAADISA LEREI SEREI explores the question

Bogadi, or lobola, signified the importance of cattle to Batswana. Cattle were used to plough and were a sign of status. They had to be even in number to complete a span. The wealth and social status of a person were determined by the number of cattle that one possessed. The bogadi cattle were to be healthy heifers to signify the fertility and grandeur of the bride.
By giving the bride’s parents cattle, it reaffirmed that the bride was valuable. A cow had a higher value than all other domestic animals, even a donkey, hard-working as it was. This reminds me of names such as Keitumetse, Magadi or Segametsi that are given to daughters with delight and anticipation. Bogadi was a gift of appreciation, honour and respect to the bride’s parents for having preserved their daughter.

Shed a tear
It was compensation given to the parents of the bride for the loss of their precious daughter and that, of course, could make one shed a tear amid the jubilation. The groom did not then own the wife and the bride’s parents were not selling their daughter. Lobola was given, not paid, ka Setswana.
But this notwithstanding, if lobola was not paid or was not been paid in full, it meant that the marriage was incomplete and the bride’s family would wait for a return job. Lobola was presented and received to validate marriage but this was not a buy and sell transaction.

Means of inclusion
For the children, bogadi was an means of inclusion. In fact, in the Setswana custom, the giving of bogadi was for the children, and that included for their mother. If the bride came with children from another man, the lobola was reduced during negotiations to appreciate the bride’s devaluation. If the groom and the bride had had a child before their marriage, bogadi was increased to punish the groom for having ‘contaminated’ their daughter’s purity before time.
Paying for lobola expenses kept the sanctity of marriage intact and kept the rate of divorce, which almost unheard of, down. The husband was to find it difficult to let go of the cattle and the wife was as well to find it difficult to return the lobola if she decided to divorce her husband. Finding or disposing of a spouse in divorce was not supposed to be easy.
To remain wedded
Paying bogadi, even to this day, shows the determination of the groom to wed his bride and to remain wedded to her for all time henceforward. It is a challenge that society places on young men to determine who can and who cannot overcome it. It assures the bride’s family that indeed the groom is industrious enough to provide for the new family. It indicates a consent or approval from the bride’s family that you may take my daughter. And last but not least, bogadi can end up uplifting the economic condition of a poor family from which a bride comes, especially if paid as money.
To some anti-lobola activists, lobola starts a marriage on an unequal hierarchical footing supported by male dominance. Having paid lobola the groom may start to treat the bride like a tool and seek to reduce the woman to an object that has been exchanged for cattle.
Those opposed to it say paying of bogadi is bad because it can encourage child marriages. Some parents may be poor or greedy to the extent giving their teenage daughters away in marriage for the benefit of lobola. The bride’s parents may consent with the lobola for the simple reason that the groom is able to provide it even though he lacks in maturity, responsibility and aptitude. Disappointed young men who have all what it takes to be married but are unable to pay lobola may delay and an even denounce marriage.

Now a Frankenstein
Those opposed to it say lobola is now a Frankenstein and is no more a gesture of appreciation from the groom. At any rate, they rightly argue, the groom can get money from the bride to pay for lobola. The amount of money to be paid as lobola is not even standardised and is at times exploitative. Every member of the family, including the bride, may feel entitled to have a share of the lobola.
Lobola has an insignificant impact because whether it has been paid or not, people can get married and the civil laws will still recognise the marriage and protect the children. Also, paying lobola does not change the character of the the bride.
Yet non-payment of lobola may bring misery to the family because the husband may not be respected by his wife and the wife’s family who may regard as inadequate. All the same, a wife whose parents never received lobola from her husband may feel unappreciated and unworthy.
Lastly, do the bride’s parents raise their daughter well in order to find a groom to give bogadi for her or they raise their daughter well for her own good?