Contemporary functions of ilobolo (bridewealth) in urban South Afrian Zulu society
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The functions and meanings of bridewealth in African societies have been analysed extensively in anthropological and historical studies. Although bridewealth remains widely practised in Southern Africa, few studies have examined the custom in a contemporary context. This paper addresses the paucity of research by focusing on South African Zulu society where, among all cultural traditions, the payment of bridewealth (ilobolo) continues to be one of the most salient. On the basis of recent qualitative research data collected in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, we argue that ilobolo practices among urban Zulu people are multifaceted and its contemporary functions debated and contested. However, there is also broad consensus about the obligation to uphold the custom based on a complex web of cultural and spiritual motives, socio-economic considerations and collectivist identity politics.