Traditionally, marriage among Batswana is a process marked by a lot of rituals and exchange of gifts between the two families and the main people in the whole process are uncles and aunts.
Though most people prefer civil and church marriage rituals, they still blend them with traditional ways especially ‘patlo’ which is still a pre-requisite in villages. The arduous process of consulting the uncles and aunts is proving to be taxing to most of the urbanites as most of them feel that it is expensive to go to their villages and consult their uncles and aunts there.
A new style called ‘rent bomalome and borakgadi’ has now replaced the blood related uncles and aunts as most of the people tend to hire ‘relatives’ when they want to get married.
Most of the hired ‘relatives’ are people residing in villages around Gaborone and paid to be lead negotiators in one’s marriage. Some of them relentlessly take part in the process knowing that they will benefit a lot, especially financially. They have suits bought for them as is the custom that an ‘uncle’ should be dressed in a new suit bought by the nephew or niece getting married.
“It is much cheaper than going to your home village to bring your relatives whom you don’t really know and might derail your wedding,” said one of the people who used the rent bomalome to get married.
He said that most of the people they use are well accustomed to Setswana culture. He said that procuring this service is not that expensive as it depends on negotiations and can range from P1500 to P 2000 depending on how you know one of these ‘relatives’. “Most of them are elderly people who are also eager to help and be in the limelight as they are hardly used by their own relatives during marriage negotiations,” said one of the people who have used hired relatives and did not want to be named.
The system is mostly common among people who have lost their parents, are now staying in Gaborone and never been close to their relatives. Another beneficiary of the system, Mothusi Tselaesele, said that he used it because he grew up in Gaborone and was never close to his relatives who are staying in Tshwaane near Moshupa village.
“The people I used, I regard them as my uncles and aunts as they played a pivotal part in my upbringing compared to my blood relatives in Tshwaane whom I only met except during my mother’s funeral,” said Tselaesele. Former Tati Town customary court president, Margaret Mosojane, said that the ‘rent bomalome’ is now a common phenomenon in the country especially in urban places.
Most of the people who rent out relatives during their marriages have deep seated resentment towards their blood relatives who might have abused them while they were still young, especially after the death of their parents, said Mosojane.
“During the early 1990s when most people died due to the scourge of HIV/AIDS, they left children who were mostly abused by their caregivers and are now bitter towards their relatives and prefer outsiders than their blood relatives,” said the former Tati Town customary court president.
In some instances, some parents might want their son to marry the mother of his children which he might not agree to and when they refuse to give him their blessing, the frustrated son ends up hiring people to help him marry the woman of his choice, observed Mosojane. Mosojane said that she detests the arrangement as it is too bad and undermines Setswana culture. “During my tenure as customary court president, I have come across cases where marriages were falling apart and the bride didn’t know whom to turn to as she did not know her real in-laws,” revealed Mosojane.
Bamalete kgosikgolo, Kgosi Mosadi Seboko, noted that though they have not experienced the issue within their tribe, she is aware of the arrangement.
“It is mostly common among foreigners who want to marry a Motswana woman and hire relatives,” said Kgosi Seboko. Asked what they are doing to ensure that the problem does not happen within her morafe, Kgosi Seboko said that for one to get married among the Bamalete, he must bring a letter from his chief that shows that he is accompanied by his real parents.