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African Languages and Societies Commons

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South Africa

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Very Long Engagements: The Persistent Authority Of Bridewealth In A Post-Apartheid South African Community, Michael W. Yarbrough Jan 2018

Very Long Engagements: The Persistent Authority Of Bridewealth In A Post-Apartheid South African Community, Michael W. Yarbrough

Publications and Research

This article examines the persistent authority of the customary practice for forming recognized marriages in many South African communities, centered on bridewealth and called “lobola.” Marriage rates have sharply fallen in South Africa, and many South Africans blame this on the difficulty of completing lobola amid intense economic strife. Using in-depth qualitative research from a village in KwaZulu-Natal, where lobola demands are the country’s highest and marriage rates its lowest, I argue that lobola’s authority survives because lay actors, and especially women, have innovated new repertoires of lobola behavior that allow them to pursue emerging needs and desires ...