A theology of the beast : a critical examination of the pastoral and missiological implications of ilobolo in the contemporary South African church - an evangelical perspective.
The research interest is the field of Christianity and culture with specific focus on the interface between the indigenous practice of ilobolo and the Christian faith in South Africa. Comparison and contrasts with other African peoples, especially in the subcontinent, is made. The research is located in Edendale, an urban township of Pietermaritzburg in South Africa. Common wisdom distinguishes between urban and rural Africans whereas under the veneer of urbanisation, the religio-cultural beliefs of Africans on ilobolo remain ingrained almost defying the influence of Westernisation. In the post-apartheid era, ilobolo has become a highly contested issue, strong arguments for and against its retention have been advanced. It is in the light of those complexities that the continued practice of ukulobola and the rituals associated with it are examined. The thesis is partly descriptive but mainly analytical. Consequently, a brief historical background and current practice of ilobolo in an urban setting is offered. The social and religious role played by ilobolo cattle, collectively known as amabheka, is analysed. The central thesis of this work is that ukulobola has continued to be practised among adherents of traditional religions and African Christians. To both it is regarded as a means of establishing and maintaining family ties and, among the former, it is also the accepted means of uniting the respective ancestors From the study it will be apparent that the misuse of ilobolo by those people who make impossible demands on the groom with the consequent commodification of women is due to the fact that such people have a jaundiced understanding of the original purpose and intent of the practice. The study consists of six chapters and a conclusion. Chapter one serves as an introduction to the study. It focuses on technical aspects such as the problem statement, motivation, hypotheses to be tested, theoretical tools used, methodology and a description of the primary site of the research. This leads to a historical chapter based on oral as well as written sources on the origins, purpose and changes that have happened in the practice of ukulobola among AmaZulu. The survey leads to a theological reflection on factors yielded by the historical survey of the evolution of ilobolo. A third chapter is a social and theological critique of the various positions advanced for its continuation or suggestions on why it should be abolished. Chapter four is an assessment of contemporary people's views on ilobolo. The fifth chapter demonstrates how anthropological and theological underpinnings of ilobolo, especially the pivotal role played by cattle, have sustained the practice from pre-colonial times to the present time. Chapter six is the major theological treatise of this study. It looks at issues that emerge when the gospel encounters culture, with ilobolo chosen as a case study. The concluding chapter makes recommendations and gives pointers to future research. I also suggest a liturgy for marriage taking into account ilobolo negotiations.
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