Shona Marriage Practices
To have an in-depth understanding of the Shona roora process, we highly recommend you:
What is Shona roora?
Roora is a traditional practice or process in the Shona culture, where a man pays bride price to his woman’s family for her hand in marriage. This bride price is usually in the form of cattle, money, groceries, and clothing for the bride’s parents. In Shona culture, it is commonly believed that marriage brings people together. It is aptly described in the common Shona language as ‘kuroora kuvaka ukama,’ which directly translates to “marrying is to build relationships.” There is mutual respect between the two immediate and extended families, and they are consequently seen as relatives after the wedding.
Roora is usually an all-day event, with the main highlight being the actual negotiations for the bride price. There are traditions to be observed at different stages of the roora ceremony and payments that possess significant values stipulated by the cultural norms.
Marriage ceremonies differ based on family dynamics, regions of origin, and in some instances, education levels and family wealth. There are no standardized roora fees since the idea is not commercial but rather meant to create and promote mutual respect and peaceful coexistence between the two families.
Without roora, a man is therefore considered a bachelor in the Shona culture. That on its own proves that practices like co-habitation are neither recognised nor encouraged in the Shona culture. The Shona culture encourages couples to get married because it is a culture that values marriage and family institutions very highly.
What is involved?
- A cow
Who is involved?
- Vatete (aunt)
- Parents/family of the bride
- Family of the groom
Key roles explained
Vatete/tete (aunt)-key role
Tete or vatete is ideally the bride’s father’s sister. A female cousin can take this essential role of vatete or tete in the absence of the actual aunt. The Shona culture acknowledges family hierarchies, so when the aunt passes on, her first daughter is customarily presumed to take her place or represent her in such events. If neither is available, a designated close female friend of the family can assume that role. Her role is to be the bride’s family’s spokesperson and a mediator between the two families. As such, she is granted the liberty or license to discreetly chime in, as needed, during the bride price negotiations. Some of her roles include, but are not limited to, easing tensions should they arise, clarifying misunderstandings, reinforcing correct cultural protocols, and advocating for the groom if the prices are seen to be unreasonable. The groom’s party, led by the munyayi (intermediary), can ask her to step aside/outside and explain where they stand, and she can negotiate with the bride’s father to benefit the goom’s party. It does not follow that all tetes’ are conforming and play this role well. Refer to qualities of tete in FAQs.
Munyayi (intermediary)-a key role
Culturally the munyayi must be the groom’s senior uncle but depending on circumstances, Munyayi can be one of the groom’s uncles or a male family friend. The munyayi must be of good temperament and have excellent communication skills as the negotiations depend heavily on him. He is the spokesperson for the groom’s family. Some of his major roles include adhering to cultural protocol and diplomatically easing tensions if they arise. He is the head of the delegation for the groom’s party.
What is the process?
Pre-roora: The woman/bride-to-be formally informs her tete/vatete (aunt) of the man’s intentions to marry her. The groom, in turn, tells his family and identifies a munyai (intermediary). There are then several pre-roora meetings, usually small gatherings in person (or via phone in today’s times where most people have regular jobs) for tete and munyayi to get acquainted. The munyayi then goes through vatete/tete to approach the bride’s family to inform them of the groom’s intent to marry their daughter. The conversation may sound something like this: “I have been sent by so and so (the husband to be) to look for sadza,” translated to “I have been sent to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage” (acknowledge: as posted by Makupsy on September 30, 2016). The bride’s family, through tete, will ask who the munyayi is referring to and will verify with the future bride if this is so. It is only after confirmation with the bride-to-be that a date for the roora is agreed upon.
The actual roora day
The event usually takes place at the woman’s parents’ home. At an agreed time, the munyayi and his party arrive and wait outside the homestead until they are invited. It is considered wrong and ill-mannered for the groom’s party to enter the homestead before they are invited. The bride’s family can deliberately delay ordering them in as a way to ‘test their resolve and determination. As soon as they are ushered in by the tete/vatete, the party claps in unison as they walk in. Note here that there is a distinct clapping format required in Shona practices because the clapping is not just a mundane procedure but also carries a lot of significance, especially concerning respect. Women cup the clap in a cross-like format, while men clap in an aligned form, hands facing forward, and it is called kurova gusvi. Worth noting here is also the fact that as they come in clapping, the groom’s party must do all this in a bow, with knees slightly bent (kutyoramuzura) as a sign of respect, humility, and a sense of seriousness to the course of duty ahead of them.
The groom’s party then sits on the floor because they are still regarded as “strangers.” If the groom’s party makes themselves comfortable on the chairs without permission, they are fined for that. The cultural protocol requires them to turn down the offer to sit on chairs as another sign of humility and respect to the bride’s family.
The roora list
The roora list varies according to families and levels of wealth. This variation is significant in the Shona culture because the roora is not a business venture but more of an appreciation and a sign of commitment on the groom’s part. In most instances, this list is made known to the groom well in advance to allow him time to prepare for the set date.
The prospective in-laws require this payment to initiate negotiations. It is a payment meant to coax the bride’s family into starting the negotiations for the roora. As the name implies, this payment is to ‘open the mouth’ (vhuramuromo) of the bride’s party. From the perspective of the bride’s family, it is one of the many ways of signaling a commitment to the course for the groom and his party.
Ndiro is a fee charged for the plate (usually wooden) in which the groom’s party will place all the money as the transactions proceed. In some instances, the munyayi may bring his own plate to avoid paying the fee for this plate. Interestingly, according to Shona elders, this plate used to be provided by the bride’s family. However, some families (bride’s families) began a tradition of charging the groom’s family for this plate, leading to the groom’s parties finding it more reasonable and economical to bring their own wooden plate to avoid paying the fee for the plate.
Sunungura homwe translates to ‘loosening pockets,’ a fee charged to allow the groom to start payments as requested. It is another one of the many ways of testing the resolve and determination of the groom and his family to take their daughter’s hand in marriage.
Here the guiding principle is the question: how did you know I have a daughter? And it is a cordial penalty charged to the groom for his investigative affairs into the bride’s fathers’ family and choosing his daughter for marriage. In its strictest sense, makandidzwanani can be interpreted further to mean correcting a wrong (sneaking/peeping into the father’s homestead), which is seen as a form of disrespect to the father and his family.
Kunhonga (bride’s fee)
The only time that the girl can contribute to the negotiations is when she is asked to name her friendly price to her husband-to-be. The price can also be set by the aunt or the woman’s sister. Kunhonga forms part of Musikana (gifts for the bride), and the fee (albeit small) is used for the purchase of household utensils necessary to start up with her new husband. The money is referred to as Mari inonhongwa nemusikana, and the bride can take a small amount from this fee to her younger siblings.
Kunhongakwatete (aunts’ fee)
Kunhonga kwatete is not standard; some tetes do, some do not ask for a fee – vatete can charge a fee for her role in the girl’s upbringing. Worth noting here is the fact that in the Shona culture, an aunt’s responsibilities start with grooming the girl from a very young age; where she teaches her how to become a grown-up woman and is also expected to guide her through experiences such as puberty and experiencing her first menstrual circle. This guidance, of course, is done with the presence and direction of the mother.
Matekenya ndebvu means playing with the father’s beard – this fee is charged to the groom as a special gift given to the bride’s father; it is for the father having put up with “the scratching and pulling of the beard” as the daughter sat on his lap, or any other playful antics as a child. In short, this is a fee to appreciate the father’s role in bringing up his daughter, and it forms part of the greater Zvireverere zvaBaba (gifts for the father).
Dare or nhongo yedare (marriage council)
Dare or nhongo yedare is a fee charged as an allowance paid to all the bride’s male family members. The father of the bride predetermines the amount.
Kupindamumusha (entering into the village)
Kupinda mumusha is the fine charged the groom for allegedly “illegally” entering the bride’s village during the courtship period.
The bride’s mother obviously would have incurred some expenses while preparing for the event. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the groom to “reimburse” her in the form of groceries. The list of the required groceries is given to the groom well before the ceremony to buy the items to present during the ceremony. Some mothers prefer cash instead of grocery items. If the groom is given a list of groceries, the acceptable norm is for him to buy exactly what the bride’s mother has instructed, or at least more. Anything less is considered a sign of disrespect, dishonesty, and a lack of commitment to the proposed course by the groom.
Mafukidzadumbu (covering the belly or womb)
Mafukidzadumbu is a fee paid to the bride’s mother to appreciate her having carried the bride for nine months in the womb. Translated, one can say it is a fee paid by the groom to thank and appreciate the bride’s mother for carrying and nurturing his future wife. It is also an appreciation to the mother for having to wake up every night to tuck the bride-to-be in a blanket during cold winter nights- since kids have a habit of kicking blankets away at night. Another similar (additional) fee paid to the mother of the bride is Mbereko.
Mbereko is a fee for carrying the bride on her back in a baby carrier when she was a baby. It’s also a way of appreciating the mother for grooming and nurturing the bride from a baby to a lady just about to get married. Both the above fees form what is collectively known as Zvireverere zvaMai(gifts for the mother)
Furthermore, Shona marriage culture expects the groom to dress up the bride’s parents for the celebrations, and this is popularly known as Majasi (clothes);
Clothes for the mother will include but are not limited to one blanket, one suit/outfit, one pair of shoes, quilt, hat, handbag, umbrella, and stockings. The bride’s mother may also give a list beforehand, and the clothes are presented during the ceremony. Sometimes the mother may opt to get the cash value of these items and go and shop for herself, but this is very rare.
On the other hand, clothes for the father will include one suit, belt, shoes, shirt, tie, hat, umbrella, and overcoat. The bride’s father may also give a list beforehand, and the clothes are presented during the ceremony. Sometimes he may opt to get the cash value of these items and go and shop for himself.
Note: Grocery items and outfits are at the bride’s parents’ discretion and will be included and inspected after the Rusambo. The son-in-law shows respect to his new in-laws by adhering to their requirements. It is desirable if the future son-in-law meets these requirements and ensures good relations between the newly united families.
Rusambo is the highlight of the roora proceedings. A marriage cannot take place if this fee is not fully or partially paid. Rusambo is the roora. It is paid to the bride’s father and is the core of the marriage proceedings. Depending on the groom’s wealth and ability (or both), some families can agree to the payment of the Rusambo in installments, which according to the elders, could go for up to ten years. This ideal emphasizes what was stated earlier that the negotiations and charges are not done in the spirit of business/profit-making, but rather for the symbolism and semiotic interpretation of a marriage in the Shona Culture: Kuroora kuvaka ukama; which means to marry is to build relationships.
The payment of Rusambo is followed by the payment of ‘danga’ (livestock) and, in this case, the herd of cattle. The number of cattle differs for the twelve Shona tribes and their respective clans, but it typically ranges from six to eight female cows. However, because of the changing social demographics today, the price is commonly paid in cash, where the amounts represent the fair market price for live cattle.
Mombe yeumai (motherhood beast).
Mombe yeumai refers to the cow from the total charged, which goes to the bride’s mother. The payment is one cow and usually is a physical beast that is kept with the family herd. Mombe yeumai is also another part of the bride price that is non-negotiable primarily because, in the olden days, it was presumed to be the one to be milked for the mother daily for her continued survival and improve her wealth as it will give her even more calves. However, we should note that the cow is not deemed payment or replacement for her daughter but rather a sign of appreciation and commitment to care for her by the groom.
in addition to Mombeyeumai, the new groom will also be charged for “Munongedzi wedanga,” a stick used to drive the cattle into the cattle pen. If the groom paid cash for the cattle, the stick would also be its cash equivalent. Munongedza wedanga is usually a walking stick (tsvimbo). Traditionally, the groom had to go into the bush to cut and smoothen it up, signifying the ability and readiness to be a part of the bride’s family.
Gusvi or chiuchiro is the last fee that the groom will be charged for the day. The money is paid so that the two families (bride and groom) may officially greet each other for the first time. Gusvior chiuchiro marks the official acknowledgment of the groom in the bride’s family and vice versa. Gusvi or chiuchiro can be interpreted in the same spirit as that of the moment in a white, European wedding; ‘you may kiss the bride,’ though here there’s no actual kissing.
That concludes the list of the most common roora charges. After completing all the rites and processes, the two families agree to meet and greet officially. A meal and festivities will follow as the two families get to mingle and know each other better to end the day. The elders from each family would typically use this time and opportunity to narrate their family trees to the younger generations so that the two families get to know each other extensively.
Relationships after Roora
After Marriage Customs
First, there is the traditional marriage ceremony. A formal white wedding can follow, or it ends at customary marriage. Kuperekwa is the process of sending the woman to the groom’s home, her new family after the formal wedding or traditional marriage.
To officially take the bride to her new family and for her aunts and other elderly women to give her advice and instruction on how to take care of the husband and her role in the ‘new family.’
Who is involved?
The woman’s mother, aunts, and older sisters or younger sisters and friends. Note, however, that from this list, only those officially married can play the role of advisors on how to take care of the husband and her new roles.
What is needed?
- Face clothes (optional)
- Medium-sized buckets or dishes
- Sweeping brooms/mutsvairo
How is kuperekwa done?
Kuperekwa happens the night after the wedding.
The girl is covered in a cloth. The bride walks behind her aunt, who will be guiding the pathway. After every few steps, the bride’s party is paid a nominal fee at the aunt’s promptings. The bride is then uncovered (by the aunt), welcomed, and celebrated.
Heating the water for the bath
The following morning, the new wife starts a fire and warms bathing water for selected family members. The groom’s family will provide a list of their family members to be served/honoured (this usually includes the groom’s parents and grandparents if they are still alive). The bride’s party will provide their own soap(s) and lotion/oil. Each family member gets no more than a bucket full of warm water.
Sweeping the yard
The bridal party (bride, tete, sisters, friends ) sweeps the entire yard or most of it, whether it is dirty or not. The many piles of dirt are left on display for a short period. Sweeping the yard supposedly shows how hard working the bride’s team is, and most importantly, how much of such values as cleanliness they have instilled in their child- the bride. Each pile is cleared after a nominal fee is paid.
The bride could also make sadza (maize meal porridge). So, one would say this is a way of “introducing” the wife and, most importantly, a way for the in-laws to see that she is capable of doing housework, that she is ready to have a home and take care of their son and the future generations they shall raise together as husband and wife.
Other Types of Marriages
Nhaka or Chigara mapfihwa was a tradition of the past where if a wife died, her sister or the nieces (daughters of the deceased wife’s brother) could be given to the husband as a new wife/replacement. Sometimes the deceased would have left those instructions to ensure that her surviving children are cared for by a relative rather than a stranger that the husband may marry. And this was seen as a surety by the Shona people that their remaining children will continue to be appropriately nurtured and given the necessary love for their proper growth and development. This custom is rarely practiced now, primarily due to urbanization, migration, and diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and educational reasons…women nowadays prefer to have their freedoms of choice, association, and so forth.
Falling pregnant before marriage is a huge deal in any culture and Shona families consider it taboo. First, one must break the news to a trusted adult, usually tete, father’s sister, or cousin. This trusted adult must then find a way to break the news to the parents diplomatically. It is not uncommon for the parents to be enraged, but the other adults have to calm them down and smoothen things over. A group of elders from the bride’s family then negotiate with the boyfriend’s family to make a marriage on the girl’s behalf. This procedure is done after the first trimester to protect the baby from any potential “attacks,” It signifies the amount of value the Shona people attach to childbirth vis-à-vis marriage.
Kutizira is where a trusted adult is sent to escort the girl to the boyfriend’s home, or the girl runs away to his homestead. Suppose the girl runs away to the boyfriend without his prior knowledge. In that case, this is known as ‘kutizira.’ However, if the boyfriend agrees and arranges for her to run away, it is known as ‘kutizisa.’ Kutizira/kutizisa is very common nowadays. Once they take in the girl, the boyfriend or his family are obligated to pay a bride price (damages).
It is common practice to pay the bride price before the baby is born in case the girl dies during childbirth. It is also done as insurance for the newly born baby not to have a father (totem) if the unfortunate happens.
In recent years there has been another type of relationship-cum-marriage called ‘kuchaya mapoto’ or ‘kubika mapoto’ (co-habitation). It is where a boyfriend and his girlfriend move in together without payment of ‘roora.’ They live together like husband and wife, and some of them even have children. This type of arrangement is more common amongst Zimbabweans living in the diaspora. When this happens, the girl’s parents (if they are Shona) often feel disrespected. This arrangement can be challenging if something drastic happens to the girlfriend. Let’s say the girlfriend passes away; the man will have to pay a bride price before the girl’s family agrees to bury her, “kuroora guva.” It is also common for parents to ignore some of their responsibilities when the couple fights or has disagreements. The parents would generally distance themselves because ‘they never married the two.’
Kuzvarira or kuputswa
Kuzvarira or kuputswa happens when a necessitous family gives their young daughter’s hand in marriage to a family that will provide a bride price in advance to enable the family to survive for a few years. When the girl matures, she will go to the family she has married into. If the father of that family is too old, then the girl will be given to the father’s son or nephew. Kuputswa means being broken. That can refer to the heart of the girl that breaks because she was given away. It can also refer to the relation that breaks if the girl runs away to the partner of her own choice. If the girl runs away, the family to which the girl was married will claim their money back.