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Dealing with a dowry dilemma
Statesboro man hopes to wed Zambian bride, but tradition stands in the way
W Wayne Rilliet Brenda Chinyama
Wayne Rilliet, right, wants to marry Brenda Chinyama. But tradition requires that the family of his Zambian fiancee receive a dowry that is the cash equivalent of eight cows before the marriage can go forth.

Wayne Rilliet and Brenda Chinyama want to get married, but Rilliet doesn't have enough cows to pay her dowry.

Rather, the Statesboro resident is seeking a new job and doesn't have the financial means yet to pay Chinyama's family the equivalent of eight cows, the traditional dowry her family requires.

Chinyama lives in Zambia and is of the Tonga tribe. African traditions are quite different from American traditions, but Rilliet is willing to meet the requirements for marriage. However, there are additional expenses: air fare and immigration costs for Chinyama to come to America, he said.

That's why he set up a GoFundMe account in hopes of raising $12,000.

Rilliet is a National Guard security contractor and met Chinyama when working in Lusaka, Zambia.

"We have been together for four years and decided it was time to settle down," he stated on the GoFundMe page. "I love this woman with all my heart, but she is getting tired of the long-distance relationship, and I can't say that I blame her."

Rilliet is an advanced emergency medical technician and is about to attend school to become a paramedic. With student loans and other expenses, getting married is a financial challenge; he hopes to wed in December and start the immigration process in the new year, he said.

Chinyama, a sales analyst for borders and customs in Zambia, is anxious to be married as well.

"Wayne and I met a few years ago here in Zambia when he was working on contract for the American embassy," she told the Statesboro Herald. She remains in Zambia.

"Unfortunately, we only dated for like three months before he went back to the U.S., but we maintained a long-distance relationship for almost a year before breaking up and then getting back again together when he was working in Afghanistan."

Rilliet said he is trying to find stable employment in the U.S., but in the meantime, a "military buddy suggested I open a GoFundMe account," he said.

So he did.

Chinyama said she and Rilliet enjoyed time spent together and want to make it a full-time relationship.

"He would come visit me in Zambia on his month off from work in Afghanistan. He has been here several times, and he likes it," she said. "I have also visited him in the U.S. twice, once last year in August, and the other year over Christmas in December. The challenge is that it's very hard to maintain a long-distance relationship. ... We can't see each other as much as we want to, air fares are expensive, and we have to save up before we take trips," she said.

Rilliet could not find a job in Zambia that would pay enough for him to handle expenses as well as child support from a previous marriage, she added.

The GoFundMe account "is a last-ditch effort" to raise the money, he said.

Learning he would be asked to pay a dowry was a surprise to the American.

"They asked for cows but will accept money in similar value to the cows," he said.

The dowry negotiation was like "used-car salesmen haggling over prices," he said. He was not allowed to speak, but because he has no family in Zambia, his friends negotiated with Chinyama's family instead.

Chinyama explained her native customs.

"Dowry here is called ‘lobola,' and the man is the one who pays the woman's family after negotiations," she said. "It's basically a token of appreciation, and in my tribe, lobola is in the form of cattle. However due to ... convenience, negotiators usually convert the cows into monetary form.

"Lobola is a very essential part of marriage here in Africa. ... Once you pay lobola, it means you are traditionally married under customary law and may not even need to sign marriage papers."

Of course Chinyama and Rilliet can get married without the lobola, but it is respectful to have her family's approval, she said.

The couple hopes donations will come in soon so that they can tie the knot officially and settle down together.

For more information or to donate, visit

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.



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