Marriage has become too expensive for our boys – Part 1

19th August 2016
The Fireplace


By Matshediso Fologang -

Has marriage been commercialised with highly costly wedding ceremonies becoming inhibitive to the young generation in Botswana? Are the rampant costs not contributing to cohabitation in our society?

Our society has become weary about unmarried heterosexual cohabitation amongst young persons, which in recent years has risen dramatically. Most people who cohabit claim they do it in an effort to investigate the stability of a relationship before a commitment to marriage. Can mere investigation into the suitability and stability be the main reason for cohabitation? It is doubtful and my contention is that economics could be highly contributory.

Traditionally marriages were a cheap communal project and the responsibility of parents, the extended family and even the clan (kgotla/kgoro). Marriages were started around the fireplace. This has changed drastically as we move into the 21st Century. Today’s marriages are started in restaurants, disco halls, cinemas and offices far away from the fireplace. The comfort of discussing the suitability of a woman is no longer a calling of the parents.

Customarily, the age to marry was determined by the parents as well as the family into which one could marry. Amongst the Ba-Ga-Malete for instance, the father would closely monitor the boy in the family. Following the initiation, the father usually used the beards for the next two or more years as the qualification to marry. On the other hand, the girl’s womanhood was determined by the rising of the breasts and specified stages in her monthly periods. Upon realising this, the women of the family reported to the men that the girl was suitable for marriage. Traditionally, courting was unknown and this was done by parents on behalf of the children.

The boy’s parents would approach the parents of the maid and once agreeable to the suitability and match, they would return to report to the extended family. The matter would then be taken up with maternal uncles who would start extensive negotiations with those of the maid’s clan. The process of patlo was relatively cheap as the extended family would contribute towards all expenses. The bogadi (lobola) was actually the most expensive component of the marriage, but the family was normally expected to contribute with the maternal uncle providing another kgomo (cow).

Traditional marriage amongst the Batswana was relatively the same but differed in the number of cattle paid for lobola. The extras like serufo, perepetsa, mokwele and senyatsa molomo were insignificant additional costs to the marriage. Once married, the husband was expected to provide shelter for the new family. The building was constructed by the women using mud, cow dung, and to provide the thatching grass with the men expected to provide the roofing sticks, doors and accessories.

Thus construction of the new homestead was a shared chore whose expense was borne by all. Now the money economy and the general cultural integration have changed our way of doing things. These were introduced by the coming into our part of the world by missionaries who saw our ways of life as heathen and barbaric. Another contributory factor was the evil discovery of diamonds in Kimberley and later gold in the Rand where able-bodied men joined the terrible migrant labour economy.

The introduction of hut taxes and other taxes demanded by the British to ‘protect’ us also helped to disintegrate our traditional support systems. But now we have adopted new ways of life that are making marriage an expensive undertaking that is perhaps responsible for young men shying away from the institution today. Join me here at The Fireplace next week as we continue our discussion on the modern expenses associated with premarital rituals, the wedding day ceremonies and all other related issues.

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