“Baba mentioned in passing that if we are serious about a future together, we need to visit his sister Aunt Bertha. She is the fount of wisdom on cultural matters and traditions on my father’s side of the family. You have met her before, and she likes you. This will be a more formal visit. You know how the old folks like to follow our culture,” said Chipo.
“Chipo, I don’t know about this. You know my views on following things blindly. We’ve discussed this before. Why do I sense
you are trying to wear me down?”
“Mudiwa, it’s an opportunity for both of us to learn more, in a safe environment. You might see things differently after our
“I’ll go. But don’t expect me to change my mind. I am only doing this for you. How about this weekend?"
“Great! Thanks for agreeing, my love. You’ll see. My aunt is actually quite enlightened in her thinking. You know I want to marry you. However, we need the blessing of both our families.”
“I thought your parents had already given consent by allowing us to have our engagement party? No one objected from your side.”
“Yes, but to my folks, it was just a party.
Didn’t you notice that my parents didn’t come and gave an excuse saying it is a western tradition? I know they want me to do things properly, and although I may joke around, I also believe in preserving our culture.”
“I must have missed something all this time we have been together. I thought you are your own person. Is it such a big deal to you to follow tradition and culture? We could just go off and marry in a registry office. We are both over 21. However, to make you happy, I will see your aunt.”
“Thanks for your understanding. She is a stickler for time and said we should arrive at 2 pm on Saturday. Her husband should be back from work by then.”
“So you had already made arrangements, assuming I would say yes!” Mudiwa laughed and said “Anyway, does her husband have to be there? I thought we were going to see your aunt?”
“Sometimes I wonder whether you are naive or you are deliberately rubbing me up the wrong way with some of your
comments! He has a role in all this roora/bridal wealth process before marriage. We can learn from them both about how to conduct ourselves when we get to the formalities,” said Chipo.
“You are actually determined even after hearing my reservations about this tradition? I am not sure I want to be part of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I want us to get married. It just makes me angry when I hear stories about families charging exorbitant amounts as if they are selling their daughters. After such a start, no wonder marriages fall apart, especially if the man thinks he owns the woman. You haven’t answered me, why can’t we just have a quiet wedding?”
“I wish. You forget, you are not your own person. I can’t just take you away from your family with no ceremony. Your parents are traditionalists underneath all that ‘I have lived abroad’ veneer.”
“You don’t know my parents as well as I do. They listen to me.”
Chipo grinned then shook his head in exasperation,
“In our culture, there is no father who lets his daughter get married without tradition being followed. Who has been indulging you in these hair brain ideas of letting you think that your parents have no family obligation to do things the right way?”
That Saturday morning, Mudiwa in passing
reminded her mother about the trip to see Chipo’s aunt.
“It’s Saturday already? Time is moving so fast. I hope you are not going dressed like that!”
“Like what? It’s just afternoon tea. What’s the big deal?”
Mum replied, “You are visiting the sister of your future father in law. I don’t think you realise the implications. Aunts are the gateways to the whole family. Yes, the men may appear to rule the
roost, but the aunts are the backbones of the clans. I thought your father’s sister and I explained all this.”
“Sorry, it went in one ear and out the other. I have met his Aunt Bertha before, and she seemed very relaxed.”
“Yes, but since Chipo’s intentions are now clear, even she will be taking her role more seriously. I hope you know what you are letting yourself in for. Back home, Chipo comes from a well-respected family, steeped in culture; based on the feedback from our people.”
“Mum, you are making such a fuss! You are more stressed about this whole following traditions than even Chipo himself. It will
all work out.”
“My child, don’t let love blind you. I get worried about the two of you. All I am saying is go with an open mind.”
That afternoon, Chipo arrived to pick up Mudiwa. He followed her, his brow furrowed as she sashayed into the car.
“Are you admiring my step, or is something wrong?”
“I don’t know how to say this, it’s your trousers,” said Chipo.
“What’s wrong with them?”
“ By all means, wear what you like! All I am saying is this is my father’s sister we are seeing. She may not say it to your face, but I know what she thinks about women wearing trousers.”
“You are not serious! All the times we visited her, you never mentioned anything.”
“Yes, because you’ve never worn trousers and also your dresses were decent.”
“Decent! I don’t believe this! I didn’t realise I am going for an inspection. Anyway, it’s too late to change now. I’ll take my chances. Let’s go, or we will be late.”
Chipo drove with the car radio tuned to a music station which drowned any hope of a serious conversation.
“I hope we are going to get there in one piece. You are driving like a maniac! What’s wrong with you today, Chipo?”
“Sorry I’ve lots on my mind, and I am nervous for both of us, aren’t you?”
“Should I be?”
“No time to explain, sorry. We are there now. It's the house with the white fence.’’
He turned to face her,
“Look, if you are not sure about anything during the visit, please take the cue from me. I know we both want this to go well. I want them to like you. Aunty Bertha and her husband are on our side when we start the roora/bridal wealth process. So please tread carefully.”
Mudiwa said, “You make it sound as if we are entering a minefield! Now you are making me nervous!”
Aunty Bertha opened the door after the first
ring and warmly ushered the couple into a lounge where her husband was sitting glued to daytime television. He greeted them and started a jovial conversation about the drama he had just been watching. After some small talk, Chipo explained that he had come to formally introduce Mudiwa to them and seek advice on how to proceed with their marriage plans.
“I am of the old school and glad that you want to do things properly,” Aunty Bertha said, and continued," I am sure you’ve already been told that a customary marriage should not be taken lightly. By the way, I heard that you got engaged. Congratulations! You young people brought up in towns, you find any excuse to have a party! Anyway, back to the topic, roora/bridewealth is about creating a bond between two families. The man pays an agreed amount to the woman’s family, so demonstrating his love and commitment to her. It’s a sign of respect to the family of the woman in this case yours, Mudiwa. An acknowledgement that their successful efforts to bring her up are valued.”
“Mudiwa, wait till she finishes, then you can comment.” Chipo gently squeezed Mudiwa’s hand and continued, "Sorry,
Mudiwa is very excited about all this. You were saying, Aunty?”
“Let her speak Chipo,” Aunty Bertha said, smiling with curiosity.
“I was just going to say that I value and respect your opinions and of course you know our cultures better than I do. But isn’t roora something we should leave in the past? Culture is dynamic and should move with the times. We are better educated now, so we should not perpetuate aspects of our culture which promote
antiquated gender roles and male dominance.”
Chipo nudged her furtively, riling Mudiwa even more, as his aunt and uncle exchanged glances.
Mudiwa continued,” So Chipo’s family still has to pay money and cows and the rest of the trappings to my family?”
“My dear child,” said Uncle Michael entering the conversation, “From the little I know about your family, they are just as
steeped in culture as we are. Remember our families come from the same village. The only difference is that your parents had a chance to go and live abroad, which is where you were born. However, that doesn’t mean that you are no less a daughter of the soil compared to my nephew Chipo. Have you talked to your parents or aunts about this big step you want to take? Marriage is no small matter.”
Aunty Bertha speaking in a more jocular voice sensing the growing tension said,
“Mudiwa, my future daughter in law, it’s good that you are raising these issues now. That is what we are here for. You parents cannot tell you everything about Chipo’s clan. That’s our role. I was
young once and understand that these days young women think our ways are old fashioned. However, the world has not changed that much. We still need to keep our identity, even if it is being modified as time passes. If you talk to your father’s sisters, even your mother; they will tell you that the customary marriage process has evolved somewhat. For example, the introduction of money
as a substitute for tokens of wealth such as herds of cows and farming implements. Unfortunately, it is being abused by some families who have become more materialistic and are overcharging. In the old days, roora was a small token. We should certainly keep some of our traditions. Otherwise, we will be lost as a people.”
Uncle Michael added,
“By all means have a white wedding, but I know for a fact that Chipo’s family expect to pay a bride
price for you, Mudiwa. You could perhaps persuade them not to charge too much because I know my nephew’s family does not own a gold mine!"
The couple laughed at their own joke, trying to lighten the mood.
Mudiwa, sensing that she had been politely censured for not knowing her culture, retorted,
“I understand what has been said and am sure
my parents will also consider my point of view and support my
Chipo hung his head, mortified. It was clear the conversation was going downhill, so after a short interval, he made an
excuse about needing to take Mudiwa home before dark. The two thanked his relatives for their hospitality as he escorted Mudiwa into the car and drove off.
“Mudiwa, I can’t believe that you have just
humiliated me in front of my aunt and uncle! What you said are your opinions, not mine nor your parents.”
“All I said, Chipo, was that I am uncomfortable with the roora process.
It’s not as if you have not heard me say it before.”
“I don’t think you are hearing me Mudiwa.
There is a time and place for everything. We went to get advice on how to move forward because I thought we were on the same page, making a life together.
Nonetheless, it’s taken me this visit to realise that I have been bending over backwards to accommodate your desires, trying not to hurt your feelings. You’re the one who wanted an engagement party and a ring and I went along with your
wishes to make you happy. All you had to do today was accommodate the expectations of my relatives, and what did you do? You mouthed off your
opinions about bridewealth, which I have told you before don’t fly in our society. You are back home now, where there are clear expectations and processes if we are to marry with the blessing of our parents. All you had to do was just toe the line. It would not have cost you anything,” said Chipo sounding exasperated.
“I hear what you are saying, but it sounds hypocritical to me. If I don’t say what I believe now, when can I say it? Did you want me to keep quiet when your relatives were leading us down a path I am
not prepared to follow? That’s not me. It has never been me and you know it. Why you thought the visit would make me change my mind, I don’t know.”
The acrimonious conversation continued right up to Mudiwa’s doorstep. She came out of the car and trying to lighten the
mood, asked, “Are you coming in to see my parents?”
“Mudiwa, I am not sure there is anything more
to say, apart from I am sorry that we wasted each other’s time.”
Chipo reversed his car and sped out of the gate without a second glance.