Zimbabwean wedding culture is rather interesting. There are certain issues that are typical for Zimbabwe and some neighboring countries but seem odd for European, Asian, or American people. For example, Zimbabweans are allowed polygyny but not polyandry, which means that men can have multiple wives but women are forbidden to have multiple husbands. What other unusual wedding traditions and customs are there in Zimbabwe?
Urban and rural wedding customs
Zimbabwean wedding traditions are different for urban and rural areas. This is a rather typical situation in many countries around the planet – people in big cities are often more open-minded and globalized, while people who live in small remote villages are more devoted to old traditions and beliefs. Zimbabwe isn’t an exception.
In the local big cities, wedding customs are rather universal and familiar to us. People go to a church or governmental establishment when they decide to get married and receive legal papers. In rural regions, brides and grooms don’t always get any marriage certificate, they just perform a traditional marriage practice and start living together.
Also, city dwellers are used to dating online, marrying people of another origin, and bringing their fiance or fiancee to meet with their parents after getting engaged already. In small villages, all this is practically impossible or at the very least extremely rare. Here, arranged marriages are the norm, when parents find a match for their teenage or adult children. Young men and women get married simply to start a new family, have kids, and hope for a better future, as opposed to marriages out of love.
Civil marriages and customary marriages
There are two types of union between a man and a woman in Zimbabwe.
A civil marriage is a typical wedding when marriage papers are signed, the union can be only monogamous, and such a marriage can be ended by death or divorce.
A customary marriage is a wedding that includes local cultural practices. It can be polygamous – or rather polygynous. As we’ve mentioned earlier, Zimbabwean men are allowed to have several wives but women can have only one husband. Customary marriages are performed only between Zimbabweans, no outsiders can have such a ceremony (including couples where only one is Zimbabwean). And this type of marriage can’t be ended by a divorce – no divorces are legal when the traditional wedding is involved.
Customary marriages are not always legally registered. Some couples go to a city to sign the marriage papers after their wedding at home, with Zimbabwean cultural practices. But others are content with only the traditional ceremony and no official papers.
Recently, customary marriages have become rarer.
Monogamy and polygamy in Zimbabwe
In the past, there were a lot more polygamy marriages in Zimbabwe. But they still often occur today. Men in Zimbabwe are allowed to have multiple wives, although only in customary marriages – civil marriage forbids it. If a man can provide for several women, he can have them. He only has to offer a separate kitchen and living space for every female. Life in Africa can be challenging, so parents often give their daughters in marriage rather young and to already married men.
Zimbabwean women aren’t allowed to have more than one husband.
Dowry in Zimbabwe
There is a particularly interesting wedding tradition regarding dowry in Zimbabwe. The potential groom has to pay a certain amount of money to be able to marry a woman he chooses. Usually, the sum is big (equivalent to several thousand dollars), so there is a way around it – kind of. He can pay part of the money (often in clothes, gifts, jewelry, shoes, etc) and live with his fiancee, have children with her, but without a legal registration of the marriage. And he gradually pays his debt to his parents-in-law. It is a shame to not be able to pay the dowry, so every groom or husband makes sure he covers this debt.
Often, the bride’s parents make a list of things they would like to get. It may include a warm coat, festive attire, a blanket, household items, some accessories, and similar things.
This dowry paying practice is called “roora” in the Shona tribes, “amalobolo” or “lobola” in Zulu, Ndebele, and Xhosa tribes.
Another similar practice called “kurarira” involves the groom-to-be working on his future in-laws until they let him marry their daughter. It can last for months or even years. He does the work they ask him to. After some time, the parents decide that the man has done enough to get their daughter as a wife. Although, this practice is dying these days.
Divorces are rare in Zimbabwe. Customary marriages don’t allow it at all (with maybe just a few exceptions). And civil marriages have legal divorces, but a lot of Zimbabweans are Christians, and the church looks askance at divorces. Still, a small percentage of divorces occur in Zimbabwe.