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Date first posted:  5 November 2004  Date last edited: 10 December 2004

The lobolo of my friend Jaime:
 

An old language for innovative conjugality [1]

Paulo Granjo

paulogranjo@yahoo.com


ABSTRACT

Translated in the past as “bridewealth”, southern Mozambique lobolo is often interpreted just as an economic transaction, which vilifies the woman and regulates descent. Performed in Maputo by the end of 2003, the one I will describe here appears rather to be an idiom that provided to the couple a “traditional” answer to very modern conjugal difficulties – and which was able to do that because of the role performed in it by ancestor’ spirits. It was also a «social situation» where the dignification of all the involved parts was in stake, and where become evident latent conflicts, rule manipulations, and status inequalities in the access to ancestors and the control over descendants. Lobolo stands out as a polysemic institution, which is both an object of manipulation and able to cover very different motivations; those characteristics seems to play an important role on lobolo’s continuity along the time and different social contexts.


To Jaime, to Elsa, and to their ancestors

On December 27th 2003, I paid a very special visit to my friend Jaime Zucula, at Xipamanine. [2] In that day, he was going to lobolate Elsa, his companion for over 12 years and the mother of his two younger children. [3]

The unexpected invitation to join the ceremony was presented to me two weeks earlier, by the end of an afternoon spend around beers and pleasant conversation, together with other Mozal workers. At the time, we were only two men who started to sympathize and to trust each other. During those two weeks, though, the conviviality between us and between our families had built a strong friendship. So, the status of “family’s councillor” I would be carrying in the lobolo wasn’t anymore just a traditional label, which allows me to be present.

All that day represented to me a precious gift, which I share with you for two main reasons:

First, in spite of the vast number of texts mentioning lobolo (including soon a PhD thesis), I couldn’t found, in paper or in the internet, any recent ethnographic descriptions of the ceremony. [4] This strange absence seems to arise from the conjugation of two factors: it’s difficult to those who might be interested in describe a lobolo to have a chance to see it and, in the other hand, the Mozambican colleagues who would have an easy access to it consider lobolo almost as a banality. So, it makes sense to transmit how really happens a ceremony that is so often mentioned in the anthropological literature.

Secondly, the lobolo I’ll describe to you was very much what Max Gluckman called a “social situation” (Gluckman, 1987[1958]), due to its motivations and to the tensions, contradictions and side events one could observe. When we take it in that sense, this case show us how do people may take possession of “traditional” representations underlying to lobolo in order to express and to solve conjugal worries which are, indeed, strongly innovative. It also allow us to understand it as an event where it is negotiated the dignification of each involved part, in a framework where the access to ancestors and the control over descendants is manipulated according to interests and to status inequalities.

Those are the aspects I’ll expose to you, after the description of a lobolo that – as probably will be the case of most of the others – will only be typical in its morphology. Indeed, what rather gets prominent when we look at this institution it’s the huge variability of its appropriation by people, in a renegotiation of status, alliances and descent where none of these sides make sense isolatedly.

This lobolo

Most of the people who will play a role in a lobolo arrive to the groom’s house much earlier. The lobolo goods must be checked, the strategies must be agreed upon and, must of all, one cannot perform this ceremony without the previous performance of another one: kuphalha. [5]

Kuphalha is an invocation and conversation with the lineage ancestors’ spirits, which ideally should be performed before dawn, but can be done still noon. [6] In this specific case, it was already 8 o’clock when the “oldest” Zucula arrived from a distant village, and the pertinent objects were exposed on the floor.

Around the money and other goods to be offered in lobolo (photo 1), the groom sketched a snuff circle. Inside it, he placed a glass with white wine and the bottle from where it was served. For some half an hour, people just talked pleasantly, while we expected the spirits to come closer and to accept the gift. [7]

Photo 1. Money and goods to be delivered by the Zucula in lobolo.

Then, his father’s brother identified genealogically the groom, and informed the ancestors that, today, he wanted to lobolate his children’s mother. Excusing for the delay in the fulfilment of that formality, he asked for ancestors’ authorization and protection, so that the ceremony went well. The “youngest” Zucula (Jaime’s younger son, familiarly called “De Wilde”, to the honour of a previous goalkeeper of a Portuguese team) drunk the wine from the glass, and so did the other people present, by no special order and including those who aren’t Zucula. Only the “oldest one” should, as he did, be the last one to drink.

It was about noon when he met again. Now, the aim was to check the money and objects to be delivered, according to the list previously agreed upon with the bride’s family. [8] Besides 2.500.000 meticals (85 euros) of lobolo and a 500.000 (17 euros) fine for the children previously conceived by the couple, we should carry complete clothes for the bride, her father and her mother, snuff and a “capulana” to each grandmother, a scarf, a packet of beers, another one of sodas, a flagon of red wine and a bottle of white wine. [9] We would also need 10.000 meticals bills to put over the drinks, 20.000 meticals to see each parent-in-law dressed with our clothes, and 50.000 meticals to see the bride.

It is wise to carry some extra money, in order to be able to answer to some unexpected demand. For instance, if we would arrive late to the bride’s family house, they would “close” the entrance with the pestle pole, and long and heavy negotiations would be need in order to let us in.

The money and objects checking (where take part important family members who will no go to the ceremony) is also the right moment to arrange details and each person’s functions. The marriage godfather of the groom’s parents will present the delegation, while a respected “aunt” (the father’s father’s brother’s daughter) will deliver lobolo’s goods. [10] The father’s brother’s daughter will dress the bride.

Finished the arrangements, I’m surprised by a praise to God, begging for the success of our mission.

It’s now almost 2 PM, the arranged hour to lobolo, and the delegation goes on his way to the bride’s mother’s house. Now, had joint to us the groom’s younger sister, his mother’s sister (who couldn’t arrive earlier) and a female neighbour, who will perform the task of neighbourhood’s witness of the ceremony.  Two young boys carry the drinks for us.

When we get close to our destination, we start singing songs, which announce our arrival and our good intentions. Nevertheless, we need to wait for almost half an hour at the front yard gate (photo 2).

Although everything is arranger for long and, inside, kins and neighbours work hard preparing big amounts of food, it is customary to ostensibly ignore those who came to lobolate. Finally, a bride’s uncle arrives to the gate and asks rudely what do we want.

Photo 2. Long wait, singing, by the gate of the house where lobolo will be performed.

But as soon as we’re invited to come in, we’re no longer treated as inopportune visitors. After we seat in chairs or – for the older women – in mats, Zucula’s spokesman says why are we there. The spokesman of our hosts welcomes us, and his wife, who will perform a kind of master of ceremonies task, lead us in a pray to God, begging for harmony and good results to our talks.

With both delegations handling lobolo’s list, “aunt” Sara exposes over the mat the previously arranged money and products (photo 3). According to the list, everything’s right.

Photo 3. “Aunt” Sara, on behalf of Zuculas, presents to the representatives of bride’s families the money and products previously agreed.

A problem is, though, raised. Now, they demand a bottle of strong liquor (“bebida branca”) instead of white wine (“vinho branco”), because Jaime «made already children to the bride, and must be punished» for that. This statement is received with protests and argumentation about the habits, the fine already paid, and the extensively discussed agreement, where nothing of such was ever raised. Our male hosts go out, in conference about this subject, but they don’t change their mind. With their elders already irritated, the Zucula delegation discusses and decides to send the “youngest” to buy the bottle. Surprisingly, considering the long bargaining, the hosts suggest that we take the money from lobolo; [11] the claim was, therefore, a principle statement or an opportunity to animate the occasion, and not really a material demand.

When the discussed bottle arrives, “aunt” Sara asks again: «Everything’s OK, now?» The answer is yes; they’re ready to accept the goods. Following the women from Zucula delegation (photo 4), people start singing, clapping and screaming for a long time, announcing and celebrating the achieved deal.

Photo 4. Celebrating the deal.

But the deal is not yet sealed. The bride, who staid all the time hided in a room near by, is called to the place where we are. She’s informed that a Jaime Zucula came to lobolate her, and they ask her - as it is usually done - if she knows him. She answers, so circumspectly as the “uncle” who asks the question, that she does. He asks then if they can accept «those things». With her acquiescence, the union is sealed.

Again, the rhythm of the events is stopped by a pray. It is now expressed the gratitude for the success of the talks.

After it, bride’s parents are called to the room. They’re also informed of the agreement, and their daughter’s acceptance. More and more people came inside the room (in fact, everybody who was enough family status to do it), while neighbours and junior kins cover the doors and windows, peeping from the outside.

It’s in such ambiance that the “master of ceremonies” asks to the bride to whom must she give the money. Traditionally, she should answer with a short speech mentioning the ancestors. But in this specific case there was a problem, requiring hard negotiations all morning long: Elsa’s father didn’t lobolated her mother, and don’t even live together with her for many years. By customary rules, he doesn’t have any rights over her lobolo and, in outmost rigour, his kins shouldn’t have been amongst the people who received us. So, the question to the bride demands for an earthlier answer. She grabs one of the bank bills and, moving over her knees, she gives it to her mother.

When Elsa returns to her place, her mother’s brother moves forward and, with theatrical gestures, grabs one of the bills and puts it in his pocket.

The bride then leaves the room and the “master of ceremonies” gives the money to her mother, wrapped in the scarf we provided, and distributes the clothes and other goods to their new owners.

Discreetly, the bride’s mother also leaves the room. Now, it is time to pay, in order to see our new parents-in-law dressed with the clothes we offered them. Our spokesman helps the father, while the mother comes back already dressed. It is conspicuous that, unlike what’s usual in such occasions, bride’s mother keeps a sullen look.

When bride’s parents are dressed up, the songs start again, now followed by dances, and for a long time everybody congratulates each other.

Photo 5. The bride is “delivered”, and it’s necessary to pay, in order to see her face.

The bride only returns when the sound of celebrations calm down and most of the people seats back. She’s covered with a capulana, and two girls drive her to her place. [12] We want to see the bride, so we offer the usual 50.000 meticals, but the girls who escort her say our offer is worthless (photo 5). The women from our delegation try to uncover her, her friends resist, they imitate a fight and everybody else laughs.

They all leave the room, but they came back soon. This time they accept the offer, and the bride is uncovered. Elsa is kissed and welcomed to the family by the Zucula woman in charged of dressing her, whom gives giving her the ring, the earrings, the bracelet and the gold-wire.

After this, again the bride absents herself, returning completely dressed up with the clothes we brought. It is the moment to felicitate her, again between songs and dances that, now, have in her father’s wife its most exuberant performer. Elsa receives, tough, the congratulations of her father and stepmother with a very distant attitude.

The celebrations end, and a long wait for the meal we’ll be eating together. The “ master of ceremonies” serves it over the mat, after a thanks giving pray in which I recognise the formula used, in catholic liturgy, before the communion.

After the dishes were take up, come the last formality. Each family involved in the lobolo – in this case, three of them, since the union between bride’s parents weren’t formalised – introduces its members to the others. From now on, everybody should recognise and respect all the others. When my turn arrives, groom’s cousin says: «That white is mine; he’s Jaime’s friend and a councillor of the family.» I made sure that the translation of the sentence was literal; [13] so, it got clearer to me that when it is said that the bride is “Zucula’s” now, it is an appertenance situation what it’s meant, and not a possession relationship.

The only thing to do, now, was to say goodbye and to return to Jaime’s house – where, five hours after our departure, people doesn’t know yet for sure if the lobolo was accepted. But our smiling faces swept away any doubts, and it is in a party ambiance that we are received (photo 6).

Photo 6. The delegation is received festively in its return to Jaime’s house.

Again in the living room, the delegation reports what happened to those who stayed. The elders overcolour a bit the bottle incident and the lack of gravity and courtesy that, in their opinion, it exposes. Nevertheless, there’s not so much to say about the way things went, and the delegation concludes, trough this act, its mission.

To the groom, though, it is just a start. He now must dress carefully his new suit and present himself in his mother-in-law’s house. He will go along with some friends (the “cabeçais”), whom will present him to their parents-in-law, by saying «this is the husband of your daughter». [14] After the presentations, everybody will drink and eat - including a big white cake, very similar to the European marriage cakes that are getting usual in Maputo – and a little party will follow.

A mutative tradition

According to the Mozambicans to whom I described it, this lobolo seems to follow the main rules and habits. The only exceptions will be the use of  “big bills” (which is interpreted as a pragmatic need, since they value 100.000 meticals and a lobolo costs millions), the profusion of prays (which will depend on the religious confession and commitment) and the particularities arising from the fact that the bride’s mother wasn’t herself lobolated. But even this last situation isn’t uncommon. [15]

Besides, the very notions of rule and tradition are too strict, when we talk about this ceremony morphology.  For instance, it wasn’t uncommon – especially between the 1940s and the 1970s – that socially respected Africans lobolate their wives personally. [16] Also the payment of the lobolo by instalments is very recurrent amongst the less fortunate people. Finally, it’s socially accepted that the children lobolate their mother, on behalf of their deceased father, in order to dignify both parents and to became members of their father’s lineage.

But, independently of the morphology, about what ceremony and institution are we talking about, after all? As this last situation helps to stress, it is not for sure the “bride shopping” or the vague “inverted dowry” mentioned by the exotic experts of the XIX century, still repeated nowadays in texts external to anthropology.

Inside this discipline, however, what got known as “bridewealth” is classically and consensually interpreted, since the mid XX century, as a global relationship between family groups, in which one of them mobilizes in order to compensate the other for the lost, also collective, of one of their members, her future children and their descendants – due to the patrilinear descent rules in the contexts where bridewealth exists (Gluckman 1982 [1950]).

On southern Mozambique, lobolo would be originally paid in cattle, a situation that only persists in rare rural contexts or unions of high prestige. [17] At start on behalf of the cattle, later on as a autonomous valuation, the payment in money become however general – together with the ephemeral use of steel hoes as mean of pay (Junod 1996 [1912]).

This monetarisation of lobolo keeps a straight relation with the migration to South African mines. Although other origins are usually pointed to the need of money in the Mozambican rural areas, it’s in result of the mining migration that the financial means become available in enough quantity to be applied to lobolo. [18] But, whilst the lobolo gets monetary, it also changes the urgency and main purpose of going to the mines – which became the only effective way, in that colonial framework, to get enough money to reach the status of man and to assure the physical reproduction of the lineage.

As I stressed in another paper (Granjo, 2003), the monetarization of lobolo introduces, under those conditions of access to the money, subtle changes in the social meaning of the ceremony. Before, the mobilization of means involved the family seniors and usually excluded the groom, stressing his status change and the collective character of the agreement. After, the gathering of the means to lobolate becomes mainly, or exclusively, a task of the groom, changing the relationship in one of his vertex. Although the ceremony keeps emphasising (trough the people who takes part in it) the collective character of the alliance it creates, that alliance can now be seen as a personal contract between an individual and a group, inducing relevant consequences on the symbolic level and on the family, power, dependence and obligation relationships.

As we’ll soon see, analysing the lobolo I described, it can also happen that the couple mobilise itself as a team, in order to get and save the means to formalise their conjugal relation. But we’ll also see that this situation derives from another key particularity of the lobolo in southern Mozambique: the central role which is played by the couple ancestors.

Indeed, this institution is not seen as a matter that only regards the living. It is, on the contrary, usually said that the «ancestors eat the lobolo». This means that they are supposed to be the real receivers of the delivered goods and, after all, the ultimate signers of the agreement and the alliance it recognises.

From this point of view, the livings are seen as someone who receive and spend the lobolo money almost by procuration, doesn’t matter how prosaic is the practical use they made of it. [19] More than an extension or part of the family that is consulted as well, the ancestors are the target and the guarantors of the ceremony; they are the sanctioners and guardians of the union, having from now on the responsibility to protect the couple and their descendents. [20]

That’s why it is recurrently considered that the negotiations will fail if the ancestors don’t agree upon it, that the nonfulfilment of some part of the agreement will bring their retaliation (without necessity of sorcery use by the living), or that it is impossible to lobolate a European woman, because her ancestors’ spirits are far away and, therefore, cannot receive the lobolo.

This social notion of the ancestors’ role was, together with the local hegemonic interpretation of uncertainty and misfortune, essential to the realization of the lobolo I’d been describing.

“Tradition” serving inovation

Indeed, a point we should keep in mind about this particular ceremony is the fact that it results from the conjugation of interests and motivations of three different groups.

To the grooms’ family, to make the lobolo was above all a matter of honour. [21] The issue was stop being in fault, in a situation seen as debt – specially because the faulty one was the heir of the lineage leadership. Accessorily, it was also a matter of retire to other groups arguments which could present the family or its members as responsible for undesired events.

The bride’s family wished to regularize her situation, presenting as main reason to that desire the need to appease the ancestors and, by doing so, to ensure their protection to her.

The engaged couple, although sensitive to the worries of each one’s family, had a jointly and specific motivation. It was to surpass what they felt as being conjugal difficulties.

We should, here, open a parenthesis in order to understand that this couple presents, to European people used to urban and contemporary forms of conjugality, a “normality” which is not at all usual in their socio-cultural context.

Avoiding presenting data that they might see as improper, I may say that this couple considers herself a team which functions, defines strategies and take decisions together – only negotiating them later on, if necessary, with other relatives.

On the affective field, they both assume that they love each other, and that they stay with the person with whom they want to live. Jaime even points out that those emotions were - together with his acknowledgement for having in Elsa a “good wife” – important aspects that he also wanted to express by performing the lobolo. Nevertheless, love is not at all considered a sine qua non condition to the marriage, in this context or even on the opinion of those two people. [22]

I could also notice that the husband doesn’t keep extra-marital lovers, which is a fact fairly rare (Silva 2003). On the other hand, although he recognises that - for reasons of prestige and sympathy for children - he would like to have more families, as his father and grandfather did, he abdicates to that idea. He does it by a sense of respect for his wife and her feelings, and considering that such situation wouldn’t be acceptable or compatible to their kind of conjugal relationship.

In suma, even if they respect a big part of the local gender differentiations, this is a couple with a fairly innovative relationship – and I guess that a several years-long stay of the husband in former GDR has much to do with it.

Even so, Jaime and Elsa started to feel that something wasn’t right in their conjugal life. After almost a decade of living together, the harmony between them stop to suit what they considered necessary, frequent discussions arose, and the tensions between them even affected their intimacy. Cumulatively, their essays in order to stabilize or improve their material situation didn’t went well, and even health problems started to happen.

Considering that something was wrong, the couple analysed the situation together. Since they agreed that they love each other and wanted to stay together, that they had mainly the same purposes, the difficulties they felt shouldn’t exist – even if most of their neighbours wouldn’t even consider them as “problems”.

Analysed the situation, they conclude that the luck they were entitled to – individually and as a couple – was being “frozen” by their ancestors’ spirits, because they were in fault towards them.

This diagnosis is, one must stress, completely coherent. As the common citizens regularly say and the vanyamussoro [23] to whom I talked confirm and systematize, the dominant south Mozambican interpretation of undesired events considers that they usually arise from material or social relations of cause/effect, but only hit the individuals due to three possible reasons: because of their negligence, because of some lack of protection from their ancestors’ spirits, or because of sorcery. [24] As a matter of fact, those three possibilities are - besides the almost residual category of natural disease - the three big classes that frame the nyamussoro diagnosis.

Jaime and Elsa didn’t seek for professional divinatory expertise – because they wanted to keep their problems intimate, and because they were afraid of a future psychological or magic dependence from the nyamussoro, or that he could (accordingly to vox populi) transfer their luck and vital force to other patients, wealthier or more influential. Nevertheless, even without a consultation which confirm their diagnosis, the couple applied the dominant cultural references and, according to them, identified the most plausible and probable cause.

They needed, than, to define a line of action able to solve the problem. They presented the problem to Elsa’s mother, [25] and she pahlhate her ancestors in the presence of the couple, transmitting their intention to regularise their matrimonial situation and their promise to start saving money to the lobolo. Regarding that intention and promise, she asked the ancestors to don’t have negative interventions in their lives and to, on the contrary, help the couple.

According to the consorts, immediate improvements were visible. However, they needed almost two years to gather the necessary financial means. During that time, one may say that, although Jaime’s salary was the main family income, Elsa had an important participation in the economical effort, organizing little commercial businesses that allow them to save money.

This lobolo presents itself, then, as a project planed and realized in common. But, more than this fact which drive us so far away from the logics of  “wife shopping” or simple acquisition of descent, one should underline that, in the process leading to this lobolo, modern concerns arising from an innovative conjugality discovered in the “traditional” exegesis the language that could express them. As they fond out in the “traditional” wedding ceremony the tool to surpass the problems felt by the couple.

Lobolo, descent and rights

The motivations of the couple eventually had important consequences on the ceremony details and morphology.

Neither the downcast and sullen look of the bride’s mother, nor the emphatic exuberance of her father’s present companion, arises from behaviour rules to be followed during a lobolo. On the contrary, it is expected that the bride’s mother show her joy and pride for the event, although keeping a pose of dignity and reserve. [26] On the other hand, although the “stepmother” would be entitled to be called “mother” if both conjugal relations were formalised, she should never highlight herself more than the biological mother, and she hadn’t, in this particular case, any rights to that kinship designation.

Even the presence of brides’ father’ kins in the delegation that received the Zucula was outside the rules, specially performing such important roles as they did.

As I early mentioned, bride’s father didn’t lobolated her mother. Therefore, Elsa is not his descendant; him and his family weren’t entitled to any money from his daughter’s lobolo, or to negotiate the status and belonging change of somebody who didn’t belong to their lineage.

Their participation in the ceremony was, nevertheless, the object of hard and long negotiations. Elsa’s father proposed to receive all the money and, with it, to lobolate her mother. Besides its formal incoherence, this idea was unacceptable because the bride’s mother didn’t wanted to be lobolated anymore. As they disn’t live together since long years ago, and as she ensured meanwhile financial and lodging autonomy, a lobolo would, now, formalise a relationship that doesn’t exist anymore, and would make her loose independence and even personal property. [27] The negotiations deal, than, with percents of the money, and the families agreed in rending one third of the lobolo to the bride’s father.

As both parts knew, this agreement was unfair and abusive according to the customary rules. That’s the reason for the silent protest in the bride’s mother face. That’s also the reason for the excessive commemoration and affectivity gestures of the “stepmother” – whom, as Elsa clarifies, was compelled to do it because «she knew that she was taking home other people’s money». That’s, furthermore, the reason why the bride – showing solidarity with her mother - received in a so rough way the congratulations of her father and his companion.

The relevant issue is that the agreement between those families didn’t really arise from negotiation pressures, but mostly from the motivations which lead the couple to perform the lobolo. Since their purpose was to appease the ancestors, in order to surpass their conjugal problems, that appeasement had to include the ancestors of Elsa’s father – whom, according to that explanation logic, probably would be already resentful, because his incompliance to the rules made them loose the ascendancy over Elsa and her siblings.

That appeasement was even more relevant for another cultural reason. The wife’s father is considered, here, a particularly threatening character. For instance, people fears that, if he thinks he wasn’t treated well enough during a visit to his daughter’s house, he will use sorcery against his soon in law. It is also common the accusation that a father offered his daughter as wife and physical residence to a wondering spirit (in order to get material advantages), turning any further marriage with a living man into a hell of constant problems and crisis of what psychiatrists call hysteria. [28] In an understandable and logic way, the potentially threatening character imputed to the wife’s father may be generalised to the spirits of his ancestors – with the supplementary reason that spirits, especially if they are recent, are supposed to have a capricious and obstinate behaviour, as children do (Honwana, 2002).

Consequently, the father’s absence to the ceremony or his dissatisfaction about it, generalised to his ancestors, would nullify the effect that the engaged couple seek when they organized the lobolo. Without being able to appease a part of the possible responsible for their problems, to perform the ceremony would be «throw money to the street».

On the contrary, to share the lobolo money with the bride’s father, to make his main nephew receive the Zucula and to have his nephew’s wife as master of ceremony, was a public confirmation of the importance ascribed to the kinship with that family (although it wasn’t legitimate) and, concomitantly, of the importance attributed to those ancestors.

AN aristocratic exception

This matter, so hard to solve and which arises from lobolo role in descent, strongly contrasts with the situation lived amongst Zucula family.

As I previously said, De Wilde (the soon of Jaime and Elsa) took part in the kuphalha held in his house before his parents’ lobolo, with the status of “younger” Zucula. Him and his father always used that family name, always were recognised as Zuculas, and there was never any objection to that fact.

However, according to “traditional” rules of descent and name inheritance, De Wilde wasn’t obviously entitled to it before his parents’ lobolo, and he didn’t had the right to participate, with that status, in a so important ritual.

Moreover, Jaime’s parents never performed lobolo, either.

Photo 7: Marriage of Jaime Zucula’s parents.

Jaime’s father tried indeed to do it (as it happened with another woman, when she got pregnant), but his father-in-law didn’t accept it. Both man were assimilados, so the father-in-law answered that he didn’t wanted to take part in those «savage» practices, and that he wouldn’t accept to «sell his daughter», leaving her at the mercy of what ever her new family would do to her. To him, he said, marriage was something to be done in church – as it soon happened (Photo 7).

The family history registered that he nevertheless took away one of the many bank bills which Jaime’s father presented to him, in a sign of acceptance of the union he proposed. [29] Even so, and even if official marriage was highly respected amongst assimilados and other Africans, during colonial regime, a strict interpretation of descent rules would attribute to Jaime his mother’s family name, and not his father’s one.

Why it’s not so, and why does exist a so strong social consensus about Jaime’s family name that the issue was never raised?

It has to do with the fact that Jaime and De Wilde belong, as far as the family memory is kept, to the direct line of older sons from older sons of an important lineage.

Although Jaime’s father never accepted political posts (first, because he hold a well paid job which was rare to Africans during the colonial regime, later on, because of the post-independence hostility towards the so-called “traditional authorities”), he was so respected and influent in his neighbourhood that people used to bring their disputes to his arbitration. This influence and ability come partially from his personal characteristics; but also (or maybe mostly) from the fact that his father, Jaime’s grandfather, had been the first and still the only “régulo” of Xipamanine. [30]

This man’s case is quit exceptional, and it results from the action of the colonial administration. With the migration, to the suburban Lourenço Marques “caniços”, of Mozambicans arrived from different areas of the territory, the colony government searched for individuals who spoke their languages, in order to ensure in the town the tax collection and intermediary administration that was demanded to régulos in the rural areas. Jaime’s grandfather was appointed to those functions and, as he refused, he was incarcerated during two months in a ship at anchor in the harbour, under the threat of deportation to São Tomé farms. He eventually accepted under supplication of his wife, whom the authorities transported together with their children, from Manhiça village to the ship.

Neither the authorities’ commitment or this man’s refusal were fortuitous. Jaime’s grandfather was the heir of his father, in Manhiça - and the title of régulo is already too short and imprecise, when we talk about this grand-grandfather of our groom. He was the heir of a royal family preceding the N’guni invasions and – as it happened with other Tsonga royal lineages integrated in the political structure of Gaza Empire [31] - he governed the territory once dominated by his ancestors as a high induna of Gungunhana and commander of one of his regiments. The later defeat of that state didn’t changed his royal condition and dignity, which was kept during the process of effective Portuguese domination over the territory, in early XX century.

Jaime’s grandfather – who was detained during a long trip trough the places «where his people used to migrate», in order to know how did they live and to better govern them in the future – was therefore an important character to the credibility and legitimation of the new suburban regulados, which however represented a demotion to him. But although he was secluded from the territory that legitimated his status, and although he was integrated in urban life since he become Xipamanune régulo, his new “subjects” knew and respected his genealogy and the importance of his name.

So, in spite of their financial humility, it’s about a royal lineage that we are talking about, when we mention those Zucula.

We also talk about three generations of men who are very considered at Xipamanine, since even Jaime (who recently refused a request to became régulo, because he has an alive uncle and he believes the post authority would be fictitious nowadays) keeps, in his life history, some respected actions that were dictated by a feeling of personal responsibility towards the community.

We therefore notice that, if strict rules do exist about the name and status transmission trough lobolo, there is as well the social space for exceptions. As far as we can judge from this case, those rules by-passes became possible and accepted when the prestige of a lineage goes together with the prestige of the individuals who occupy central positions in it.

So, we found out the rules subversion precisely where we should expect a stricter rigidity – i.e., in what is after all a dynastic succession, although without throne.

Lobolo and daily life

To lobolate or to be lobolated isn’t, however, just a matter of descent, economy or relation with the spirits. The consequences of that act on daily life are also striking and, according to our engaged couple, perceptible in a very short term. [32]

In abstract, a man who performs a lobolo becomes senior in his generation. This status and its underlying reason bring, as well, an actual attitudes change of the friends and kins from the same age.

A first point is that the man who lobolates becomes an example to be followed. His attitude imitation is so frequent that the ceremony is popularly presented as an epidemic phenomenon, since it is said that each lobolo will be followed by other three at the neighbourhood, in every one of the remaining cardinal points. Besides this representation which retakes cultural references concerning cosmology and social balance, it is also said, in a more prosaic way, that when a man lobolates his friends feel compelled to imitate him, in order to «don’t be less than he is».

Friends’ behaviour also changes in another aspect: the man who lobolates starts being treated in a more respectful and careful way, keeping the distances. [33]

For instance, he stops being invited to most of the male sociability activities that he used to attend. Since they use to happen during the night, it is presupposed that his new responsibilities are incompatible with frequent absences from home, in the very moment when he should be there to support his family. [34]

On the other hand, those who live in informal conjugality avoid to have, with their friend who lobolated, the inebriated discussions and verbal knavery that used to be common. The reason is, in this case, the fear that he shut up the impudent by saying «you’re not even married» - what corresponds to a strong and embarrassing accusation of irresponsibility and incomplete manhood, which doesn’t admit any answer, because it is a consensual right of the married man.

The lobolated women also became and envied example. It is commonly said that their sisters, cousins and friends start pushing the respective companions - sometimes with success, as it happened with Elsa’s sister, lobolated few months later.

But the main aftermaths to their daily life are the respectability and the full adult status.

To be a mother doesn’t give necessarily that status. If a young girl becomes pregnant, that’s a disagreeable problem to her family, but it is as well a common and not at all stigmatising event. Even if a single mother founds the conditions to live in her own house, with her children, this doesn’t imply that she’s recognised as a woman – has it happens in the case of a lady of my acquaintance, who insists in take part in the verbal contracts of her daughter and in be informed about the quality of her work, because she considers her a dependent “child”, although she lives in the situation I mentioned.

Concerning the way respectability is faced, to try to seduce a woman who lives conjugally with someone, even if she gave him children, it’s essentially an offensive and treacherous roguery towards her companion; to do the same thing to a lobolated woman it’s, before anything else, an unforgivable action which attempts against her dignity. After the lobolo, the woman will also have to be convened to family meetings that deal with matters considered “women’s”, or involving them. Finally (an issue which is symbolically and sociologically more important than it might seems), it becomes unacceptable that anybody calls her screaming «Hei!», or by any other way but her name.

So, instead of waiting that time and the recognition, by the others, of her qualities and sense of responsibility made her be treated as a complete and respectable woman (in a process of informal negotiation which can endure for many years), the lobolated woman acquires strait away that dignity, doesn’t matter how young she might be. [35]

Therefore, even if the economical exchange between the groups involved in a lobolo might in same cases be assumed, in daily practices, as a legitimation of an oppressive husband’s power (which reinforces the already asymmetric general gender relations), it is the dignity and the higher status that the ceremony brings what people subjectively valorises and underlines, when they are not faced with those extreme situations.

Coda

Statistical data on this kind of marriage are not available.

Indeed, the last census aggregates under the expression «marital unions» both the customary marriages and couples who just live together, also propitiating other misunderstandings (INE 1997). [36] On the other hand, the civil marriage doesn’t exclude at all the lobolo, which can be performed much earlier or almost simultaneously – i.e., many couples classified as officially married could be accounted simultaneously as lobolant.

Although those data aren’t very precise either, since informal unions are very – but how much? – common in Maputo, the census however tell us that those unions plus the lobolos which weren’t followed by marriage are 3 times more frequent than the civil marriage. This proportion gets even more significant when we notice that, in a diachronic and processual perspective, it is very probable that a couple who lives steadily together will eventually perform lobolo, but that is not the case of an hypothetical chronological evolution from lobolo to civil marriage.

We can thus assume with reasonable conviction that this “traditional” marriage is the predominant matrimonial form in Maputo – which, after all, coincides with the official evaluation in the middle 1980s, when state authorities became aware of their inability to make substitute lobolo by civil marriage, as they tried to (Arnfred, 2001).

So, after its cataloguing by the colonizers as an exotic and uncivilised archaism, and after its inclusion amongst the practices and institutions to be destroyed by the independent state during the era popularly known as “Abaixo!”, [37] lobolo keeps and seems to reinforce its existence – nowadays in a new frame where public speech usually accepts or even emphasises “tradition”.

It is plausible that the new ideological ambiance has to do with the public rehabilitation of this institution by the socio-economic elites, which we presently see. [38]

Nevertheless, its resilience in semi-clandestineness during the adverse phases – to assimilados who jeopardised their privileged colonial status by performing it; to the citizens of the independent country who, because of it, could be marginalized and became more vulnerable to accusations of being retrograde and contra-revolutionary – indicates that the recent rhetoric valorising “tradition” cannot explain lobolo vitality.

Also the perverse effects of the colonial repression of local costumes - as for sorcery both in South Africa (Gluckman, 1987 [1958]) and in Portuguese colonies (Cabral, 2002) - hardly could work as an explanation. Indeed, lobolo wasn’t object of colonial repression as an “indigenous” practice, and there are no evidences of its later manipulation as an instrument of cultural resistance.

I rather suggest that its continuity is closely connected to its polysemy, to the multiplicity of motivations to which, by that reason, it is able to answer, and to its plasticity – even in aspects that could be considered fundamental, according to an exclusively formal and generalizing analyse.

For instance, to notice that, in four different Zucula generations, there were four different entities that paid the lobolo will probably shock those who share this last point of view. In fact, Jaime’s grand-grandfather married according to the royal tradition introduced by n’guni invaders: his counsellors chose the woman and «the people» paid the lobolo. Jaime’s grandfather saw is lobolo be paid by his senior kins. Assimilado and having a good job, Jaime’s father tried to lobolate the wife with his own money. Receiving a salary that was a bit tight to his four members family (plus the support to other relatives living in his house), Jaime managed to save the money trough a joint effort with his companion.

Some would be tempted to read this set of cases as an uninterrupted road towards “modernity”, but besides being based on an example of debatable representativeness, that point of view would seems a bit simplistic. It, indeed, does appease our mind with a supposed explanation that doesn’t explain much and, mostly, doesn’t take into consideration the conjuncture contexts and how much there is, in each case, of a people’s answer to them. [39]

This is exactly the point that, I believe, must be highlighted – since it shows that lobolo characteristics can be modified in an easy and socially acceptable way, answering to the multiple motivations, difficulties and external conditions that might involve it in each case and each historical situation.

We could see that this plastic and mutable institution called lobolo assembles the conjugal legitimation, the descent control and regulation, the dignification of both parts and families, and the domestication of aleatory [40] trough ancestors’ action. We could also see that it has the space and the ability to be used as an instrument to surpass problems felt by people who undertake innovative attitudes.

Since it conjugates all those characteristics and potentialities, and it exists in a social framework where patrilinear descent isn’t disputed, lobolo doesn’t faces inside its socio-cultural context any particular reasons to disappear, or any consistent rival. More than from financial considerations or cultural mimicry, it is from those potentialities that came its strength and endurance, crossing the changes in society and in the ways to live life and conjugality.

Paulo Granjo

Instituto de Ciências Sociais – Universidade de Lisboa

paulo.granjo@ics.ul.pt


Appendix


Family relations of the people with active roles in the lobolo.


References

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Conceição, Chico da (2000). “Trate-a com jeito”. Sempre Presente (track 9). Vidisco 17.80.1251.

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[1] This paper was first published in Portuguese (Granjo, 2004a) and is at the origin of a book on the subject (Granjo, 2005).

[2] This Maputo neighbourhood correspond to the local designation of “caniço” (cane), although most of the houses are nowadays on wood or masonry, covered with zinc. It is well known in Mozambique because of its big popular market.

[3] Lobolo is the name gave on southern Africa to the kind of marriage which anthropology classically called “bridewealth”. I will use the less ideological local expression, and the verb “to lobolate” - a straight translation of  “lobolar”, a current verb in the Portuguese spoken in Mozambique.

[4] Even if the reference book on the subject (Kuper 1982) presents vast descriptions of neighbour rural contexts. As almost always happens when the south of Mozambique is involved, Henry Junod (1996 [1912]) also presents descriptions of lobolo, but they’re dated from the end of the XIX century and the first years of the following one, being very different from anything that we can observe nowadays. The author of the mentioned thesis is the French anthropologist Brigitte Bagnol.

[5] Read it with the first “a” inhaled and pronunciating “lh” with the tong arched and touching the teeth and the palate. As for “lobolo”, I will use the verb “to pahlhate”, from the Mozambique’s Portuguese “pahlhar”, which many people pronounces substituting the “lh” by a second inhaled “a”.

[6] I use “lineage”, in spite of the critics of fictitiousty addressed to this concept during the last decades, because (under this or other names) it represents a sociological and ontological reality to the social actors I meet in southern Mozambique, and not some abstraction induced from the outside.

[7] As Jaime is the older son of older sons as far as genealogic memory is kept, the spirits of the most important lineage ancestors reside in his house. He is, nevertheless, junior towards the surviving brother of his father, also a son of his grandfather’s principal wife – the “oldest one” mentioned on the previous paragraph.

[8] See, in the end of the paper, the graphic of family relationship between the people with active roles in the lobolo, including in this meeting.

[9] Father’s clothes include shirt, tie, shoes and suit – or, as this one preferred, the tissue and the tailor’s fees. The mother should get capulana (a cotton cloth to tie around the waist, as a skirt), blouse, scarf, slipper, and a longer cotton cloth, designed to carry babies on the back, where she must carry, during the ceremony, the previously mentioned wine bottle. Bride’s clothes are supposed to be whatever the groom’s family decides, but the family’s honour demands that it includes a dress, lingerie, shoes, ring, bracelet, earrings and gold-wire.

[10] This unorthodox leadership seems to be due to the respectability of that man, to his symbolic kinship with groom’s father, and to the fact that, besides me, the only other man in the delegation was a groom’s father’s brother from a secondary marriage – whom, for that reason, couldn’t represent the main branch of the lineage. Normally, the father’s brother would take part and lead the delegation; but, as the groom’s father died, he is a substitute father and, therefore, cannot take part in the lobolo ceremony. Also notice that the women with more active functions represent the main collateral lines in each generation.

[11] The word can mean both the ceremony and the money paid in it.

[12] They were a bride’s sister and cousin, but they could have been just regular friends.

[13] Portuguese language was only used in Jaime’s house and during the meal; throughout the rest of the ceremony people always spoke Changana – even if the bride’s origin is Chope.

[14] Notice that the performance of this part of the ceremony isn’t just an automatic reproduction of the cases when the bride’s family doesn’t yet know the groom. Usually, the lobolo is preceded (often some years before) by another ceremony: the “presentation”, where the man declares his intention to lobolate. So, the groom is not presented here as an individual, but as the married man whom now will have a different status and relationship with his wife’s relatives, in a reintegration rite (see Gennep, 1978 [1908]). The very fact that the groom is conspicuously presented by friends, and not by relatives – being therefore able to represent himself autonomously from his family - reinforces this interpretation.

[15] Although statistic data are unavailable or unreliable (due to their criteria), it’s a strong opinion of the several people with whom I talked about this subject that a big amount of women never gets married or lobolated, or then does it very late.  Also notice that, amongst the men from the neighbourhood which Jaime knows, he was the first one from his generation (35 up to 40 years-old) to lobolate the companion. Even the fact that Elsa’s family was presented by her mother’s mother’s brother shows that her grand-mother wasn’t lobolated either – since the descent is patrilinear, but the appertenance to the lineage is only recognised trough lobolo.

[16] One of the cases I heard is the groom’s father. During that period, this practice would be followed mostly by “assimilados” - a status that corresponded, in Portuguese colonies, to an intermediate legal situation in which, according to the State recognition of his «abandonment of the usages and costumes of the black race» (Governo-geral, 1917), the individual acceded to several positions and putative citizenship rights, although in a subaltern position of, lets say, “almost white”. That person would follow under the “Nation” laws instead of the consuetudinary right – which was never precisely defined (Pereira 2001), so it meant mostly the judgement by “indigenous chiefs” – along with relevant symbolic and (potentially) socio-economic consequences.

[17] It’s, for instance, the case of the marriage between Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel (Knoetze 1999).

[18] Even if the sterling circulated already in the Gaza empire, are usually stressed, as factors to the monetarization of the economy, the hut tax, the forced cotton culture and, in a more debatable way, the colonial rupture of the indigenous agricultural structures (see Negrão, 2001 and First, 1998 [1977]).

[19] That possibility is another consequence of the substitution, on lobolo, of prestige goods by universal value equivalents.

[20] Besides its systematic confirmation by the people asked about this issue, the role of the ancestors spirits was the object of an stimulating approach by Brigite Bagnol (2002), who analyses it according to a grammar of social control and violence of the deceased over the livings.

[21] Despite their economic fragility, this family holds a high social status.

[22] As an example, I remember that, noticing the resemblance between my daughter and me, Elsa commented with my wife that she surely liked me a lot when we conceived the child. Besides other comments and conversations, this reproduction of a local belief expresses clearly the acceptance that love (which might have a different meaning than to the reader) doesn’t necessarily exist amongst a couple.

[23] Singular, “nyamussoro”. About this fascinating kind of healers and their peculiarities, see Honwana (2002).

[24] This conception presents obvious similitude to Evans-Pritchard (1978 [1937]) interpretation of Azande witchcraft, even if the Mozambican case includes, amongst its essential vectors, the spirits’ action on the livings’ daily life. I mention only southern Mozambique, although I suspect that what I wrote applies to almost all the national territory, due to my insufficient knowledge about other areas of the country.

[25] To whose descent group Elsa belongs, since her mother wasn’t lobolated.

[26] According to folk songs which reference I lost, if somebody show sadness in result of the separation, it should be the bride. Her mother should, then, sheer her up with sentences like the one in a refrain I remember: «Don’t cry, my daughter. It was you who choose the flower of your heart».

[27] Her children’s father and his family doesn’t have, today, any authority upon her – and that wouldn’t be no more the case. She would also face the risk that, by his death, his relatives would carry everything from her house, according to an usage which, although illegal, it’s sometimes still practiced even amongst people of high social position – as, it is said, happened with some of the widows of high officers who died in the attempt that murdered Samora Machel.

[28] This belief is not at all an archaism that people narrates as an exotic illustration. I know directly a case where that diagnosis was accepted and another one where the husband faced his family by refusing it, besides the description of other cases by friends of the couples involved.

[29] This case doesn’t seem to arise just from an individual idiosyncrasy. I heard the story of an assimilado whom always demanded a tie from the men who asked to marry one of his daughters – and, later on, presented it to his ancestors in kuphalha. This syncretic solution becomes even more fascinating because it manipulates the main icon of an assimilado: the tie.

[30] “Régulo” is a Portuguese expression that intends, at its start, to diminish semantically the work king (“rei”), when it designates an African. It was used to very different ranks – from Gungunhana, the last Gaza emperor, to subaltern chiefs who administrate little parts of the territory leaded by their lineage chief, often reporting to other intermediate chiefs. Later on, “régulos” were integrated in the colonial administration as “gentilic authorities”, which didn’t coincide necessarily with the men that people recognised as their chiefs. 

[31] About this policy of royal lineages integration on n’guni state, and about the circumstances of its ascension and fall, see, for instance, Pélissier (1994) and Vilhena (1996). For more general informations about Gaza Empire and the Portuguese position on southern Mozambique still 1985, see Clarence-Smith (1990 [1985]), Liesegang (1995), Neves (1987 [1878]), Pélissier (1994), and Rita-Ferreira (1982).

[32] By dealing here with valorised consequences of the lobolo, I don’t try to deny that it may often have very negative outcomes for women; I rather present the consequences that men and women stressed when talking to me. Besides those, we should keep in mind that there is a general principle of obedience and submission to the husband (increasing the amplitude of the daily gender domination), which, combined with the fact that nowadays it’s mostly the groom who pay the lobolo, may create attitudes that see the wife as a property. The ambiguity of the language of ownership and appertenance (see p. 7) opens indeed the room to individual attitudes of possession, which are endorsed in public speech, even by influent musicians: «Man: it was God, because He loves you, who gave you that right of be woman’s owner. The woman is really yours, it is. Handle her gently» (Conceição, 2000). A second aspect is that, after the lobolo, the husband’s family becomes the first instance of conflicts regulation. It is expected from them a reasonable and proportional interpretation of the rules and events, but only if an abuse is clearly unacceptable according to the large tolerance towards male behaviour and violence (Silva, 2003) may a lobolated woman expect a favourable verdict (Osório, 2003). Finally, as said before, a lobolated or married woman faces the real risk of being dispossessed of the couple’s goods when her husband dies.

[33] Those changes were already clear to Jaime less than two weeks after his lobolo.

[34] I believe this fact has much to do with the curious institution of  “men’s night”, generalised in Maputo. During Friday nights, married men can go out still dawn, and it’s not legitimate to ask them where and with whom their were. Symmetrically, some women say jocosely that it is after all “women’s nights”, since men don’t know either what their wives had been doing.

[35] As one should expect, most of those changes also happen when the marriage follows “western” civil or religious forms. But, due to the big party that must follow them, those are considered very expensive ceremonies, which the pour people – after all, the huge majority – performs rarely or tardily, sometimes as a commemoration of lobolo silver wedding.

[36] For instance, the statistic presentation starts at 12 years of age, distorting brutally the percent of nubile bachelors. It is also very probable that a high number of women classified as single keep stable concubinage relations with married men residing elsewhere.

[37] To be destroyed together with the «feudalism» of régulos’, the «obscurantism» of the magic-religious beliefs, the polygamy and the «precocious» marriages (Kruks & Wisner, 1984; Geffray, 1991). The “Abaixo!” (“Down with!”) that stays as folk designation of that era refers to the watchwords against those institutions and practices, which started by that word and were shouted by everyone present in public political meetings.

[38] As an example, by the end of 2003 the social chronicle pages on the TV programs magazine were occupied by the lobolo of an ambassador, who visit Maputo in order to do it.

[39] In fact, we fundamentally fond in each one of those cases adaptations and answers to external constraints that arises from other factors than “modernity”. We can hardly see this set of cases as a course, and even less as a course towards individualisation – which it is usual to point as modernity characteristic. We should furthermore notice that, at least in this socio-cultural framework, it is common that “individualistic” attitudes arises from the employment of old systems of interpreting reality, and not really from the context of “modernity” to which those systems may be employed (Granjo, 2003).

[40] About the implications of that concept, see Granjo, 2004.