The day I (almost) sold my sister (for 100 cows)

On my recent trip to Swaziland, my sister and I drove out to the location where the famous local candle makers are sited. The area has manufacturing and selling sections, with one area where there are demonstrations on how the candles are made. Other shops in the same little area sell clothes, woven goods etc. All local handicrafts. There is a lovely little eatery, catering for larger volumes of pre-ordered food for tourist buses, and the various delicious options for ‘normal’ visitors.

While I was waiting to pay for my purchases (Christmas present shopping well under way) I could not help overhearing the conversation between the man ahead of me in the queue and the woman behind the counter. He had obviously had more beers than just the can he was drinking from, so he was in a very jovial sounding mood.

He was asking if, along with candles, he could buy a wife there. He was well spoken in English – so obviously from Anglophone Africa. He didn’t seem to be a local Swazi, but we could have been wrong in our guess.

The poor woman seemed quite alarmed over his request, so I intervened, asking him what he was proposing as Lobola (bride price).  In much of Southern Africa a bride does not come to her husband with a dowry as used to be common in Europe, the husband’s family negotiate the bride price to be paid to her family. There is a lot of discussion and negotiation allowing the families to work out the details.

The general discussion went between us and several bystanders, all proposing what could be expected. Apparently the Swazi King suggests 100 cows for a princess. The man loudly proclaimed he didn’t have cows, but was wealthy enough. The woman behind the counter and I said simultaneously, that there are always cows for sale. She said she didn’t have daughters, a smart move to take her own family out of the discussion.

While I was paying for my purchases, my sister waited outside and was chatting to the man. He asked if she has daughters, and she replied yes but that they are both married. So he suggested he take her as his wife (I think he realised she can cook well). At that stage I joined in and we started discussing the price, 100 cows (200 cows seemed a bit high for his taste). As soon as he was distracted into looking for another beer, she and I scuttled off giggling over the whole idea.

After some coffee and a delicious chocolate brownie, the pair of us felt revived and safe enough to resume shopping.

When we reached home my sister’s boyfriend announced he doesn’t have the space for 100 cows, but would happily take the money.


PS – The whole idea of ‘buying’ a wife as he proposed is not really what is meant by Lobola. The couple meet and decide they like each other. The man rounds up the appropriate family members to go to her family for discussion and negotiations. It is an intricate way for both families working out how the couple will live etc. and not just a shopping expedition like our chap.

16 thoughts on “The day I (almost) sold my sister (for 100 cows)

  1. Of course, those who believe that cows are merely “dumb animals” and, as such, are not entitled to any “rights”, would take issue with this statement. However, it should also be remembered that the issue of “women’s rights” was once not even up for discussion.

  2. My sister adores cows, and used to collect them in the form of milk jugs, biscuit barrels and anything else she could lay her hands on. She had hundreds of them all over the house, and I’m sure her husband would have given her away to anyone who would agree to take the cows as well. 😀

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