The church’s threat to African culture

2012-07-21 12:50

When religious dogma treads on traditional rites

As parents, most of us still attend churches that our own parents introduced us to. But today, with so many churches mushrooming everywhere, our children are spoilt for choice.

They join the newer churches, some of which use the Bible plus “some other books” for their teachings.

One day one of my nieces stunned us. She said that according to her “church principles”, no ilobolo should be paid when she gets married and “God had confirmed this to her affirmatively”. (She had just been asked for her hand in marriage).

She comes from a mixed cultural background. Her father is of a culture where they practice ilobolo. Her mother comes from a culture where they do not pay ilobolo (cows or money) but at least offer a chicken. In both cultures, there are material exchanges in the form of “prescribed gifts”, which validate their cultural marriage negotiations or unions.

When we asked my niece if we could then use her mother’s culture of receiving at least just a chicken, she refused saying we would then be “mocking God”.

And so, on May 5 2012, the hopeful groom’s parents came to Soweto for ilobolo negotiations. I, as our clan’s uMkhongi (ilobolo negotiator) had to inform them that no ilobolo was to be received. Their response was absolute shock. They asked us: “What if you tomorrow decide to just come and take back your daughter?”

Not knowing exactly how to contain the situation, I simply threw the ball back in their court by asking: “What if tomorrow you tell your son to ‘become a man’ and find himself another wife who will respect your culture?”

The encounter was sad. Not even a single ululation was heard from women on either side throughout the encounter. As a believer in our cultural traditions I was deeply disturbed.

In desperation, my niece’s father even went to the church’s leader (a bishop) for help.

He was flatly told there that ilobolo is an issue between parents and children, not the church. I found this dismissive disinterest very uncaring and irresponsible.

This is the church that taught my niece her principles (which apparently its leaders don’t even practice). Today, the poor child is rubbishing her own culture in the name of God, but the church then decides it has nothing to do with it?

Shouldn’t churches teach our children to “honour their parents”?

How do such churches bless unions where the couple’s parents are unhappy? Exactly what are these churches’ roles in marriages or societies?

Don’t they care about the trauma caused by such situations to innocent young men and women? Are our children safe in such churches?

This is not a good precedent. I fear for my niece’s unmarried siblings and my own daughter and sons. It even becomes more personal to me because I had to be the one to make known (to the in-laws) the disrespect of a culture which I esteem highly.

As I wrote in my autobiographical (cultural) memoirs: “Never deviate from the fact that each of us is a product of a very noble, proud and great culture. Therefore always guard, treasure and promote your own identity or cultural history (roots) because it is the best of them all.

“As Africans we should all strive for social cohesion in our societies today by taking a conscious collective stance against those undermining our indigenous ways of life. Let us understand that no culture is superior to another and that no religion should be allowed to be used as a tool to demean another humankind or culture.”

» Kondiwe is the Principal Consultant at Workplace Acquired Skills Assessors in Soweto. He writes in his personal capacity

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