7 Oct 2011

The function of roora

Posted by K Chikuse

I claim no special scholarship of the subject. The custom is highly complex and there are considerable variations in the practice of roora throughout Zimbabwe. At best all I can hope to do is to provide a brief introduction to the subject.

What is the meaning of roora?

Translation is always a difficult and imprecise process. The Shona word, “roora“, is generally rendered into English as meaning either “bride-price” or “dowry“. However, these terms do not adequately reflect either the process or function of roora in Shona society. A more subtle and accurate rendering of the meaning of roora is found in HANNON: Standard Shona Dictionary. Here we find that, in the Shona language, ku-roora means to be a partner in a marriage transaction; to acquire a wife by Shona custom

Roora should not be seen as a payment for the bride. Valuables are given to the girl’s family to legitimise the marriage. It is also important to recognise that this is not something which can be understood in isolation. Roora is just one component in the rich fabric of Shona custom, which defines and regulates the complex relationships between tribe, family and individual.

How roora is determined
The first step in the process involves the selection of a munyai, or messenger, whose function is to convey news of the intended marriage to the family of the bride-to-be. The munyai will either be a relative or a close friend of the suitor. The manner in which the news is conveyed to the woman’s family may appear somewhat curious, though anthropologists have speculated that it emerged from a historical necessity. The munyai approaches the village, finds himself a vantage point at a safe distance and calls out ”Matsvakirai kuno!”

It is customary that any villagers, who may be within earshot, will then chase away the munyai while attempting to beat him with whips. Some time later the munyai will be allowed to return to the village without fear of chastisement. The family elders (this is normally the woman’s uncles, rather than her father) then meet to determine at what level the roora should be set. Beer is brewed and shared to formalise the settlement. The munyai then returns with the terms to the groom-to-be. In rural Zimbabwe a man and his cattle are not easily separated. They pull his plough, fertilise his fields and give him security. It is not surprising then that the major portion of roora will usually consist of a specified number of cattle.

Roora is one element of the process. Other gifts, blankets and perhaps shoes, hats and suits for the woman’s parents may also be exchanged. The son-in-law will probably deliver these in the short term. However it is not expected that he should provide all the cattle immediately. Completing the process of roora will most likely take the son-in-law a considerable number of years.

How is Roora viewed within contemporary Zimbabwean society?
There is a Shona proverb, which states:

Mukwasha mukuyu, haaperi kudyiwa. (The son-in-law is a fig tree; he never stops being consumed.)

An uncle carrying lobola

Of course their own financial self-interest plays a significant part in informing their respective views

The proverb is likely to be quoted by a munyai in the course of the original roora negotiations or later by a mukwasha bemoaning the “demands” of his tezvara (father-in-law) for another instalment of roora. The elders who receive roora and the young men who pay roora tend to view the custom somewhat differently.

In the modern era when the young men have a greater appreciation than before of marriage customs in other parts of the world, many of them see roora as either primitive or out-of-date. The elders, on the other hand, profess the belief that roora is a key strand in the fabric which is rural Zimbabwean society.

Many young girls see a man’s willingness to pay substantial roora as confirmation of his commitment to the marriage. Others might regret that the new family unit is being established already burdened with a semi-permanent and substantial debt.

In practice the custom of roora is concerned with far more than simply the transfer of material goods between the two families. Roora plays a fundamental role in defining the relationships between the two families and, in particular, the levels of respect, which are due between various members of each family.

What does this mean in practice?

THE SHONA PEOPLES by Michael Bourdillon (Mambo Press, 1987) states:

… cattle were traditionally paid not simply to the head of the family of the girl, but to the family group, and were normally reserved for the marriage exchanges of the young men in the group. (Roora) paid for her make their marriages possible, and a man can expect special hospitality from his wife’s brother’s wife who is married with the cattle he originally paid.”Conversely younger brothers owe their married sisters a high degree of respect. Why do young men continue to pay roora? Under traditional customary law, roora is mandatory. A man’s children only belong to him after he pays roora. If a woman died while living with a man before he paid roora for her, he had no right to bury her.

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3 Responses to “The function of roora”

  1. While appreciating the criticisms posted by the two above, I regret that I had not come across this piece of writing before writing my book on “Zvinotevedzwa pakuroora kana kuroorwa: kugarisana kwevaroorana”, which is already with the publishers. I could have refined an element or two. Thank you very much writer and critical commentators. We definitely need more of this. Athanasio Dzadagu.


    Athanasio Dzadagu

  2. Point on how Munyai informs father of bride about ceremony is wrong. It only applies in cases where the girl has eloped hence ‘tsvakirai kuno’ translated look for her here. Normal would be Munyai approaches uncle of the girls and asks for date convenient to the family for the ceremony.


    Tete Prim

  3. i think you erred under the heading “how is roora determined”. You ought have had regard to the various types of kuroora like kutizisa, kutema ugariri though nomore practised these days and kukumbira or kutumira. Under kutumira the munyayi goes and do some formalities of greetings and then introduces the subject with a statement like “tine ruva rataona mubindu menyu ratifadza ratafunga kutanha tindodyarira kwedu” or tauyawo kuzotsvaga sadza pano” and this is understood to mean that the man is a messenger conveying a message of intended marriage of one of the daughters of the visited family. Note that word would have been passed prior to that notifying of the visit to pay roora and so the inlaws will be aware and waiting for vakwasha.


    Emmanuel Sheunesu

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