Home » General » Roora – a Celebration of Family Union [column]

On Sunday, we all gathered in a big round hut while our daughter Stella was getting married. No, it was not a white wedding. It was a roora, the bride price ceremony. We knew Stella would fetch good roora because she is a qualified schoolteacher. She teaches both Grade 3 and Grade 4 at a remote school along the Mbire mountains near Save River. Not only is she a fully qualified primary schoolteacher, Stella is pretty.

For some time now, years, people around here were saying a whole lot of gossip about Stella. They said she is now 25 and still unmarried.

Others even went as far as saying Stella was possessed by a bad spirit that did not like men. On Sunday Stella proved them all wrong.

Seven years ago, before Stella finished Form Four and taught at St Columbus School as a temporary schoolteacher, her dream was to go into nursing school.

That did not happen because nurse training schools are very limited.

After three years Stella went to teacher training college. She kept going to the Seventh Day Aentist church.

We did not see her with a boyfriend.

Then last week, my sister, or cousin sister, maiguru, called from the village to say, “Our daughter Stella is getting married. Your attendance is required.” This was going to be a celebration. I did not ask who the guy was, where he was from, what he did for a living or the name of his totem.

You do not ask such questions over the phone. All I said was, yes, I will be there.

By the time I arrived with my cousin Piri, maiguru and babamukuru’s homestead was packed with people.

Under one tree was a whole group of men from our village and those from across the rivers and the mountains who are related to us by blood or totem.

One hut that stood closer to the edge of the homestead housed our son-in-law, mukuwasha and his people. We were not meant to see them at all, until all the payment of the lobola was done.

Inside maiguru’s big round kitchen hut were all our closest relatives. On the left side, were my babamukuru, his nephews and cousins, our village headman, my brother Sydney and several of my male cousins. Then on the right side, were us, the women, sitting together with my big sister, maiguru. She embraced me as soon as I walked in and said, “Mainini, mauya. Tanga takakumirirai.”

Meaning, young mother, you are here. We waited for your arrival. With a tinge of embarrassment for my lateness, I sat down and apologised. I was quickly forgiven and the proceedings started.

The munyai, our son-in-law’s go-between, came in. He was in his late 30’s, wearing a brown corduroy suit, brown shoes, light green shirt and a brown and cream stripped tie. His belt had a glittering buckle right at the front and it matched his brown shoes. Munyai was accompanied by a younger guy in a light pale green suit, white shirt and a similar matching belt to that of munyai.

They humbly sat on the floor, cross legged and heads bowed, they kept on clapping their hands in honour of us.

After the formal greetings, our nephew, muzukuru, declared himself as the elder representing the bride’s family. Muzukuru’s role was to ask for the items relating to the bride price. Another young nephew held the bride price list for muzukuru.

Munyai had a similar list. This meant that secret informal discussions had been held between our people and those of the son-in-law.

These days, they say it’s best to know a little about the weight of the son-in-law’s purse and the number of cows he can afford to pay before the day of negotiations. The costs are discussed between the bride-to-be and her future husband long before the meeting of the families.

Maybe Stella did this to avoid embarrassment in case the husband failed to pay enough money.

Maybe she did not. But there was a list being followed and observed by men on both sides of the family. We, the women sat there observing and saying nothing.

Tete Rozina, Stella’s father’s sister, was the one in charge, facilitating conversations between our family and our in-laws family in the negotiation process.

First, there was tsvagirai kuno, how did you know I have a daughter? Then there was matekenya ndebvu, the daughter played with her father’s beard and that should not have happened. The list of the small stuff included the cost for bringing out the plate to carry money and the big cost for the gathering or dare. This was $300. Then money was placed in a plate for Tete, the aunt. She picked $280, because she is like Stella’s father and she is also responsible for having taught her all the secrets of sex and marriage.

As the list went on and on, I wondered when, mapfukudza dumbu, the price for conceiving Stella, carrying her for nine months and bringing her up was going to come. Putting all protocols aside, I asked for this amount to be called upon. This was the mother’s money. All the women laughed with relief. Our muzukuru then said to munyai, “We want, $1, 500 for the mother. This is not negotiable.” We the mothers looked at each other. This money was sacred and we wanted it in full. Getting pregnant is hard work. Munyai offered us $800 and said, $700 would be coming another time. I was given the money, in cash, to keep until the sharing between mothers later on.

After mapfukudza dumbu we knew there would be the cow for the mother, mombe yechimanda, to celebrate the virginity of our daughter.

No virginity, no cow.

That subject was not for us to approach or even discuss. Only Tete Tabitha and the uncles’ wives would have questioned Stella on her levels of chastity. Was she able to reach 25 without falling into temptation? Piri had earlier sworn that Stella was that kind of Aentist girl who deserved not one cow for chimanda, but two, because such pure women are rare these days.

I reminded Piri that she was the mother and had no business speaking or commenting on our daughter’s virginity.

Piri argued that in the churches they talk about it now. Nothing was sacred any more except the virginity itself.

Halfway through the lengthy payment and negotiations , muzukuru said, munyai should now tell us which daughter of ours he wanted because there was a good number of girls in the family.

“We will not do what Laban in the Bible did. He gave away Rachel instead of Rebecca. And Jacob had to work another seven years to get the one that he really desired.” Stella was called. She walked in looking graceful in her African red and yellow dress with head gear and red shoes to match her dress.

Her 21-year-old sister Jenny followed behind her, wearing a similar dress. They looked like twins shy, smiling and demure. Stella sat down at muzukuru’s feet. Then the questions started:

“Stella, these men came here to ask someone to cook their sadza. Do you know them?”

Stella nodded.

“What is the name of the man who wants sadza from us?”

“Mangwende,” Stella said.

“What is his totem?”

“Moyo muzukuru, from Murehwa.”

“Do you agree that they pay to marry you and take you to be their wife?”

We all focused our eyes on Stella, like we were now church and muzukuru had suddenly been transformed into a priest. Stella nodded again.

“Do not just nod. We want to hear you say that you have chosen to leave and find your own hut with your husband’s people far away in Murehwa,” muzukuru said, with a raised voice.

Stella said, “Yes.”

Then we all clapped. Money was placed in a plate and to show her full willingness and acceptance of people of the Moyo Muzukuru clan, Stella knelt down and picked $300 from the plate. Then came the rutsambo, the real money for lobola.

Babamukuru charged $6 000 and munyai said that was well beyond the limits of his purse. There was a tense moment between babamukuru and muzukuru.

The headman and others stepped in to say, if babamukuru charged that much, what about the real cows. How much was he going to charge?

Had he forgotten that roora was about building and developing new family relationships more than just paying money? Put under pressure, babamukuru argued that his daughter had worked hard and he had brought her up well. Some women whispered that babamukuru had no right to claim any major role in bringing Stella up. That was the mother’s role. Babamukuru relented a little and came down to $4,000. He was given a down payment which was not disclosed.

When all payment had been made, munyai clapped and thanked everyone. He went away and came back with seven smartly-dressed men in suits and two elderly women. They sat on the floor, in their suits. Munyai introduced the men as our sons-in-law and the women as the aunts, vanatete. Our real son-in-law was asked to stand up. He was around the same age as Stella. The men asked him to say his name and where he worked. His answers satisfied us. Here was a serious, good looking young man with a good job in Harare.

Munyai announced that he needed a few people to help him bring the groceries.

It was time to honour the in-laws with food to celebrate hukama, family relationships.

Several people came in carrying crates of soft drinks, potatoes, bags of sugar, flour, cooking oil, bars of soap, cabbages, biscuits, tomatoes and six live chickens. The women ululated. There was much singing and dancing.

We welcomed our new son-in-law and told him that he was now our son, just as Stella was our daughter. We said the bride price was just an old symbol of tradition to strengthen hukama, our family relationships with his people.

Dr Sekai Nzenza is an independent writer and cultural critic.

Source : The Herald