A series on Isintu, Umshado nelobola By Prof Victor Velaphi Otty (VVO) Mkhize

The process of ukulobola, to pay the bride price in brief, is a critical stage in which the symbolic and material gestures of the coming together of these two families is realised. Often, a great deal of pomp, ceremony and robust negotiations accompany this custom.

Historically the lobolo ritual predates colonialism, ‘the Europeans who codified Zulu law and the missionaries, regarded lobolo as being in the nature of a business transactio in which a fixed price had to be arrived at,’ so argues social anthropologist Absalom Vilakazi in his celebrated book on aspects of Zulu culture and tradtions, Zulu Transformations. It is in the context of this particular historical moment in Natal that saw then governor Sir Theophilus Shepstone uSomtsewu as Zulus called him, impose a figure of 11 cattle as a standard. 

In the olden days most abamnumzane wanted their daughters to be taken by families with many cattle so that he can get more, and also as a guarantee that his daughter won’t starve emzini. So during those days people used to charge whatever number of cattle for ilobolo.
This process of paying lobolo with no fixed number of cattle, was revisited by Sir Theophilus Shepstone known as USomtsewu ka Sonzica, who actually saw this tradition as an exploitation and he then fixed the number of cattle to (11), hence today we have lobolo as eleven cattle.
These cattle are a sign of pride and showing that ‘your daughter will never starve when she joins the family.’ It is ubumnumzane of the umkhwenyane’s father, that we are not that poor.
Secondly, it is a token to the Amathongo (ancestors) that isibaya is growing, and as it grows it will create strong umuzi for them (amathongo). That is why these cows have various names and meaning. They are as follows:
  1. Ubikibiki – This cow is given to the mother by umkhwenyana.
  2. Ubhaqa – The cow given to the umakoti’s father in order to light the way.
  3. Umqholiso/Ingquthu – The cow given to the mother of umakoti.
  4. Umumba – Cow also given to the Makoti’s mother, but part of the ilobolo
  5. Imvulamlomo/Ingqaqhamazinyo – cow given to the father in order for him to talk to the abakhongi (people sent to pay lobola)
  6. Imvula –the cow that gets mentioned first before even paying the ilobolo.
  7. Inhlabisamthimba – the cow that gets slaughtered on the wedding day
  8. Isibhoma – cow that also get slaughtered on the wedding day.
  9. Ibheka – additional cow.
These cows in some other areas are all collectively called AMABHEKA) The other two cattle just accompany these cows; hence we say (Umakoti akaqedwa).
That is why people do not pay all the ilobolo, because of the belief that one day umkhwenyana will be of help to the family (umkhwernyana isiphuzi sokuhquzula. 
WHAT IS NOT ILOBOLO ? All the time when we talk of ilobolo, we always confuse it with Izibizo. Izibizo is just what the mother wants from umkhwenyana, and it has no prescription, but the mother uses her own discretion. It is the conversion of the inkomo called Ubikibiki.
Today most people call these izibizo ubikibiki, which is the main cause of confusion. Once umkhenwnyana has paid these cows, he can request for the date for the wedding. We must therefore never confuse ilobolo, which is cows and izibizo.
Ilobolo is not a gift or thanking the parents of the daughter for raising her up. Education and upbringing cannot and must not affect the price. You were doing your parental duties out of love and responsibility not with the hopes of reimbursement.
The following points are worth considering:
  1. Assuming that a woman is getting married for the first time, her lobolo rites often comprise sending a delegation from the future bridegroom’s party who start a process towards paying all 11 cattle to the future bride’s family.
  2. Izibizo zikamama or her mother’s customary dues are paid as part of the lobolo process.
  3. Before she is allowed to join her new family, a special cow called udondolo is offered.
  4. She is then anointed with sacrificial bile to mark her new family status, more so that she is now no more a member of her original family.
  5. Should she divorce or her husband die, for her second marriage lobolo is not required.
  6. Instead, a token is given to her outgoing in-laws.
  7. Since traditionally Zulu and other African societies frowned the idea of a divorce, the widow or a divorced woman can be paid whatever that can be negotiated by the two parties without the involvement of her direct parents as she no longer belongs there. 
  8. Thereafter either a goat or a cow is slaughtered to mark her new family status. 9As is the case in many cultures, in the final analysis, the failure or success of any marriage mainly depends on the two people who have entered matrimony.
  9. In conclusion, although various pressures and influences of modernity and socio-economic conditions have brought both distortions and innovation to the lobolo custom, in general, the practice still constitutes the most preferred, revered and recognized way of cementing the bond.


Lobolo is a problem in our era because we do not have people who have a clear know-how of what it is, and why was it or is it still being practiced. Lobolo, has more value that just a mere practice.

ILOBOLO – the slaughtering of livestock

Some people say they do not need paying lobolo because they have been together for a long period. Also other people do not want to pay lobolo out of fear that they’ll break up. What makes those marriages not to last is because of certain slaughtering which were never fulfilled. We must understand that, the marriage between two people in an African Culture, is not marriage unless is blessed by the amathongo.

1. Ilongwe – slaughtered after accepting the cattle

2. Ukucola abakhwenyana – slaughtered for abakhongi as sign of acceptance

3. Imvuma – slaughtered to accept umkhnwenyana It must be understood that these processes differ today from place to place.

It must be understood that these processes differ today from place to place. But even though, it is these goats’ inyongo which connects umkhnwenyana and amathongo, also umakoti and amathongo. During the wedding other cows get slaughtered where their izinyongo are used to connect 

Prof V.V.O Mkhize is the President and founder of Umsamo institute For those who would like to know more about isintu umshado nelobola – can purchase my book Umsamo Nezibi Zezala. We sell it ourselves for R150 at our offices in Bedfordview. JHB and esigodlweni Sethu in Pietermaritzburg” 


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