Back in the U.S. I teach a Wedding Planning class each year. In my career as an event planner I would estimate I was involved in planning about 200 weddings. As a result I can say without a doubt planning a wedding is my least favorite activity in the world. But I always have a lot of female students who are pursuing their Mrs. degree and want to plan their own weddings, which is why I continue to teach the class.
One of the topics I address in the class is the historical evolution of marriage and weddings, as well as traditional customs. The dowry and bride price are always addressed, though I tell my students, “This isn’t something we really deal with in the U.S. nowadays, so I wouldn’t worry about it.” I think I may have to alter my lecture slightly in the future.
An American female friend of mine here in Botswana is getting married. She is a medical doctor and has been living her for five years. She is marrying a man from here and recently had to go through her lobola or bogadi negotiation. The lobola/bogadi/bride price is a payment by the groom’s family to the bride’s family as compensation for the loss of their daughter. The payment is viewed as a token of gratitude to the bride’s parents for providing her with an upbringing which makes her suitable to marry the groom.
Botswana is becoming more modern and cosmopolitan all the time. Until recently most adult children would live in their parents’ homes until they were married. However, many unmarried young adults are now moving out on their own. But the family negotiations surrounding marriage remain intact, for tradition’s sake if nothing else.
The way the bogadi negotiation works is that the couple and their extended families meet. The couple is not permitted to speak as all negotiations are handled by their uncles. The designated uncle from the groom’s side makes a speech and offers a price. The bride’s uncle then rebuts the offer. Typically the offer is refused along with an explanation. “My niece is well educated, she is a doctor, your nephew should be honored we would even acknowledge him when he asked for permission to marry her. As far as we are concerned this offer is insulting, we don’t consider him worthy of her hand, and we have no intention of allowing this wedding to occur.” To a certain extend this may be done for show. However, I have heard of many negotiations being drawn out affairs lasting weeks, even up until the day of the wedding.
With regard to the payment, that varies considerably. Cattle are a sign of wealth in Africa. Thus, the bogadi is generally made in live cattle. The minimum is four cattle. If a family is disinterested in receiving actual cattle, then a cash price is agreed upon. Normally the equivalent of one cow would be between $3,000 and $6,000. So the minimum bogadi would be between $12,000 and $24,000. I met one couple who told me their bogadi was 53 cattle, 2 horses and a saddle. Using the $3,000 minimum, that would be about $160,000.
Once the bogadi agreement is made the couple is considered married, even if the actual ceremony doesn’t take place until a few weeks later. In theory the bogadi should be paid before the actual ceremony, but for more costly agreements, the families may determine a reasonable timeframe in which the transaction may take place.
As for my American friend, her parents couldn’t take cattle with them back to the U.S., so the groom’s family gave them several gifts. Since I was not considered family I was not invited to attend the negotiation meeting, but I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall.