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Shona marriage customs

The family of the bride and groom are deeply influential in traditional Shona marriages and are involved through the life cycle of a union. In modern times, the influence of the family over marriage has eroded, but many institutions of Shona marriage customs endure. Central to these customs is the institution of roora, the payment of bridewealth. We explore several Shona marriage customs and end with a brief discussion of roora. 

Kuganha (imposing one’s self in marriage), is a method of marriage when a woman identifies a man in which she desires to marry. This is an opportunity for a woman to choose a man who could marry her. It is different from the formal way of a man initially picking a wife. In this case, the man can be a bachelor or married person. Traditionally this would be acceptable to a polygamous union, where a woman was getting older and needed to marry. Usually, men would not refuse the offer and would take in the women. Upon taking in the women, they would then make their payments to the women’s family to finalize the marriage.

Kutema ugariri (working for a wife), is a form of marriage that is adopted when a man is unable to pay the roora through the traditional cattle payments. Usually, this method is used by poorer households or orphans. Kutema ugariri as a system allows a man to get married by serving an in-law in exchange for a wife, by offering informal or formal labour services. By the end of his services, he will then be able to claim his wife. The option of kutema ugariri affords disadvantaged members an alternative route to marriage if they cannot pay through the traditional use of cattle. 

Kuzvarira (child pledging), is a process in which parents give their daughter away for marriage to a rich person, or a person who is wealthier than they are in exchange for cattle, food or any other valuables. This form of marriage is instituted by a family when under financial stress or economic deprivation. When giving away their daughter to a wealthier family, it is a way of sacrificing an individual for better opportunities and relieving financial stress within the home. In many cases, kuzvarira is seen as a last resort. This form of roora was not done arbitrarily. It was often met and negotiated upon the family before a child was pledged to the in-law family.
Kugara nhaka (wife inheritance) is the practice where a widowed woman may marry the younger brother of her deceased husband. This process is meant to allow the younger brother or any kinsman from the late husband’s side to produce progeny. Producing progeny helps to ensure that the family lineage continues. The wife of the deceased husband normally has to choose a husband from a wide range of her deceased husband’s kinsmen, which allows her to choose who she wants- albeit from a restricted pool. Although, in some circumstances, women do not have a wide selection or are limited to the immediate family.
Very similar to the process of kugara nhaka, chimutsamapfihwa (widow inheritance) is the practice of a widowed man marrying the younger sister of his deceased wife or even a niece of his late wife. For example, the younger sister of the deceased wife is given to her husband to help him look after the family. The chimutsamapfihwa’s other role is to ensure that she continues the duties and responsibilities of her sister (or relative) in the family.

Kutizisa/swa (elopement), is a common form of marriage which is still practised amongst the contemporary Shona society. This form of marriage occurs when a woman gets pregnant before roora is paid to her family. Amongst the traditional Shona society, an unmarried pregnant girl is not expected to live at her father’s home. The Shona would regard a pregnant, unmarried woman with contempt and she will be told to live with her child’s father. As a result, in contemporary society, a pregnant woman must force herself on the man responsible or even find another man who is willing to be responsible for the pregnancy, if the family does not accept the women as being unmarried and pregnant.
Kukumbira (marriage by negotiation), is the opposite of kutizira (elopement). Through this system, a couple may initiate the union. Once they decide to be married, both families are informed and begin negotiations with the help of a mediator. This is a formal system that allows the agency of the woman, and the permission of her parents. This method ensures the groom’s parents make their payments on behalf to the bride’s family before a marriage is considered legal. This is a form of marriage that is still practised amongst the contemporary Shona culture. It is viewed as an acceptable way of marrying.

The stages of Roora/Marriage vary from culture to culture in the order of payment and the names. These are as follows:

Zvidiki/ Zvibinge– these are small items on the list. For example, a wooden plate that is asked for by the bride’s family from the Munyai and if he has brought one he presents it. In the past the plate was provided by the bride’s family, but this changed since people started charging for them. 

Vhuramuromo- in this stage it’s a small fee paid for greeting the guests, this is where fines may be imposed if the groom failed to meet an earlier date even if he notified the family in advance. This is done however in humor just to make the munyai feel comfortable. 

Kunonga– where the woman being married is required to pick some money for herself, this money is set by the aunt or the woman’s sister. This money is for the bride to be to buy household utensils for her new home. This same money is shared upon the younger sisters for the cooking that would have taken place. 

Pwanyaruzhowa or best described as damage is paid If the girl is pregnant or no longer a virgin or has been living under the same roof as the groom-to-be what is called.

The next stage is Zva Mai– here the gifts and money for the bride’s mother are presented, and this portion is non-negotiable. These include Mombe yeumai (a cow for the mother), mafukidza dumbu (a blanket), and mbatya dzaamai (mother’s dress). 

Rusambo- which is the most important part of the lobola/roora. The groom usually would not be given his bride before paying ‘rusambo’. Here the family would request a cow or goats but nowadays it’s paid in cash.

Then there is Danga- given to the bride’s father. Traditionally it would be paid in live cattle but lately it has been cash and few live cattle. In addition to the individual parents’ gifts, the groom is expected to buy clothes as a gift for his in-laws, this is after the rusambo is paid. Normally this includes a suit for the father, a pair of shoes, a shirt, a hat, and umbrella and an overcoat.
Prior to the ceremony,  a grocery list is given to the groom’s family and he should not bring less of the items required and not following the instructions on the list, is regarded as disrespectful.

The bride price is not paid all at once in some cultures, as the saying goes “the son in law is a fig tree that always bears fruits” meaning the son in-law will always be paying the bride’s family even long after a relationship has been formed. In some cultures it is a taboo for the bride price to be paid in full and in some it doesn’t really matter.
Some of these traditions are still being followed although some families take advantage of the groom and plot on making an earning off the bride to be. However this is one way in which two families are united to one after all the formalities are out of the way.

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