In Setswana culture marriage is not as simple as walking down the aisle to the tune of “here comes the bride” after you both sign the marriage certificate.
There is a cultural practice called patlo. It is a practice that one needs to consult with the elders to get facts about. To earn the privilege of participating in such a highly esteemed ceremony, a marriage has to be in place.
Batswana parents insist that the reason most marriages fail among the younger generation is that patlo is often compromised or not performed entirely. Patlo means ‘to ask for a woman’s hand in marriage’.
The process involves the groom asking his parents to approach the bride’s parents to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage.
Once this has been done, the stage is set for all the negotiations about bride price or bogadi to take place.
Bogadi is one very important aspect of patlo. A woman does not get pronounced married until the groom’s parents have parted with a number of cattle. This may vary from tribe to tribe, with the cows simply called dikgomo tsa bogadi.
The families then agree on a date on which the couple will be sat down to receive counselling from the elders. This is normally the morning of the wedding celebration.
Only men and women in the community who have themselves been married in like manner are allowed to give the counselling. Even if you are a qualified marriage counsellor, you will still not have the privilege of doing the counselling.
In this instance, counsellors are expected to wear prescribed attire only known to people who have had the opportunity to participate in patlo.
The significance of patlo is that the counselling is apparently centred on how the couple is expected to behave towards each other and in society. They are also formally welcomed into their new families and promised all the support they may need throughout their matrimonial journey.
While common law marriage is also recognised in Botswana, families and communities respect customary law and hold it with high regard. The wedding day is about the couple, family and friends being happy for the marriage and celebrating together.
Marriage on the other hand is about uniting two extended families. When storms arise in the marriage it is expected that the couple should be able to turn to their parents, uncles, aunties and so on for advice.
It makes all the difference when the platform to do so has been granted. In Setswana culture, couples who have not been through patlo are said to have gone and married without the blessings of their parents.
There is some magic that apparently happens when there is a strong support network especially when this network is family. It brings a lot of peace into the marriage.
Moreover, it is believed the reason today’s marriages fail at a fast rate much is that couples forget where they have come from.
Patlo is a big part of who Batswana are. Couples who go through are envied across Batswana communities.
People participate during patlo could remind one of that cool group in high school that was not very easy to penetrate!
Why would anybody not want to go through patlo? It is very highly esteemed in Setswana. It gives the married couple a lot of respect and sets them apart from other man and women.