Thursday, March 26, 2009


Even with urbanization the ancient tradition of Lobola is still very much alive in Africa. Lobola is a dowry paid by a prospective husband to the family of the bride. Though payment in cows is the old way, new traditions are creeping in and many families are requesting cash payments rather than cattle.

The idea for carving this door came from the story about a young woman my mum met at the Hair Salon. Thembi was a shampooist there and much to the delight of customers she would regail them with stories about the waitressing job she did in the evenings. Though she had been engaged to marry for well over a year the couple didn't seem any closer to setting a wedding date because it was taking so long to raise the money to buy the cows for her Lobola. Thembi was proud of the fact that she was worth 20 cows but she was also exhausted since she was having to waitress in addition to her day job at the salon so as to help her fiance raise the cash.

In modern society one would think that Lobola would be less serious then it used to be but apparently the families of both bride and groom would be mortified if this custom was not adhered to. It is quite a formal affair with the two families meeting to negotiate the bride price, often with tensions running high. A bottle of brandy is usually placed in the middle of the table to relax the two parties. It seems to set the mood for calmer discussions whether the bottle is opened or not. Negotiations take one or two days though I've heard of a case where 6 months later the price had still not been decided upon.

P.S. See if you can find the cow with the crumpled horn.


  1. 3rd row down far right! First one that caught my eye.

  2. What a wonderful story! Thank you for taking me away from today into another world.
    Love the door - the rust and weather playing off of her 20 cows!

  3. I just came across you blog.
    Your work is wonderful and I love your stories.
    I have been enjoying going back to your older posts...I will be lurking a little longer again today, for some more reading :)

  4. You always make me smile Robyn, and today it was much needed.

  5. If I were the bride I would accept your carved cows in a heartbeat!

  6. Would he be the second one up from the bottom, left?
    I love this story! In early America, it was the bride who had to come up with a "dowry" to provide to her prospective husband. Many women became "old maids" and continued to live with her parents into old age because they could not afford a dowry in order for her to marry. Although the custom is no longer adhered to, many girls still seem to feel the need to rush into marriage at a young age, so as not to become an "old maid."

  7. A wonderful story...and a wonderful door!
    But I see *two* cows with crumpled horns!

  8. Wonder how many cows I would be worth..

    In Bali it costs $630US for a cow, and to own one makes you very proud, especially when the average wage per year is US$400.

  9. fascinating that the tradition is still very important - this door is just wonderful and I love how your work with the wood and not against it - hmmmm- crumpled horn - third row, last cow!

  10. Third row, last bovine !!
    Wonderful story and just a magnificent piece, Robyn.
    Where would we be without traditions?

  11. What a wonderful door! Love your work!

  12. Beautiful Carving. The cows are fabulous! Can't wait to read your interview. My computer has been down and I have missed coming by to see what you have been up to. Can't wait to catch up.

  13. I found the cow with the crooked horn! Great piece! I'd heard that the process around this custom could be a cause of tension. Glad the story ended happily.

  14. Love the carving and the story. Coincidentally, I just watched a canadian sitcom this week about a muslim marriage where it took a long time for the two families to agree to an amount.

    As for your interview, I loved it, and it was great that it showcased a lot of your work. I'm also glad you introduced a new and interesting blog to watch, Artnlight.

    Hope you have a great weekend, Robyn!

  15. Look at those fabulous cows. So interesting to read about Lobola. I am glad my husband didn't have to pay a dowry for me. I am worth at LEAST ten cows! ha ha ha

  16. HHBRN, spot on!

    Beverly, I think of our beach cottage and how our parents used to varnish wood and metal to keep it from weathering and rusting....and here I am trying to encourage weathering and rust.

    Welcome Mo'a, enjoy the lurk!


    Bindu, carved cows would be a lot easier :-)

    Katie, third one up from the bottom right. Strange how the tables have turned in Africa.

    Cynjon...two cows? Darn I missed one!

    Grrl, I know you would be worth at least 20.

    Jeane, spot on !

    Thanks Shelly, you found the cow with the crumpled horn!

    Thanks B&W !

    Leanne, I get very skittish when my computer is down. Hope it's running smoothly now.

    Thanks Shayla.

    Curio, amazing how long these negotiations can go on for. Glad you are enjoying Artnlight. There are so many inspiring posts.

    Karine, I think you are a 20 cow sort of girl!

  17. i so enjoy when you share this story ... and the cows! I love the erosions of the wood all natural on the edges, suggestive towards the edges of traditions that begin to erode too.

    I have some thoughts growing for you (waiting till.. ) hopefully they don't arrive with horns (LoL) but with milk, some value. :)

  18. I love how your carvings look as if they could be hundreds of years old, Robyn! So fabulous!

  19. robyn,i am glad to be visiting your blog after so long,i went through your previous posts can't tell you how much i enjoyed them.loved the basketry sculpture post and the peek into your favourite boxes.its truly amazing how you find the interesting things like the lace fence.
    your carvings are just fabulous and the story around it.:)
    like i said i am glad to be back.

  20. magic of the face is the topper though.
    thank you for sharing :)

  21. I'm thinking you were worth 50 cows :) Wonderful story. I'm curious what woods you use to carve your creations.

  22. nobody paid any cows for me. sigh.

  23. Your carvings are so beautiful, each a little different, each with a part of your heart carved inside. And what a great story! You enrich my world and so many others! Roxanne

  24. congratulations to both Thembi & her husband on their new baby ... very exciting, indeed.

    love, love, LOVE the doors.

  25. oh my dear, I would love a herd of cows just like yours here grazing round my house... You are so talented... Loved your tale of the shampooist too.. and the aspect of the Brandy...
    take care...

  26. It is so interesting to read this 'dowry' story, which to me is still a light-hearted one. Here in India dowry is a serious but much practiced custom. Only here the girl pays dowry to the guy/guys family & there are many cases where even after marriage the girl is harassed for more & more money & in the worst cases they even burn her- such deaths are termed as 'dowry deaths' here. So the mention of dowry is so not funny among self respecting women here.
    On a happier note your story was too cute & your cows so beautiful! And the crumpled ear has to belong to the 3rd cow in the last row :)