A Zulu Wedding
By Andy on Tuesday 18 December 2007, 15:23 - Permalink
I am spending christmas in Eshowe with my friend Graham Chennells. A friend Karen from Muizenberg is here also, on her own mission to complete her Sangoma training, staying with a local minister from a Zionist church as a Twasa - a trainee, for a month or two.
I have been visiting Eshowe since 1999, and on my very first visit I stayed with Walter Cele - a 65-year old Zulu retired sugar-taster who now operates as a local Guide for Graham. Since I met Walter, his first wife has died, and he married his present wife, in her mid-twenties. He is also the elected Ward Councillor for a large area of Zululand south-east of Eshowe, a position that parallels the traditional leadership, led by King Goodwill Zwelethini, his AmaKhosi (the primary chiefs) and their Indunas (the sub-chief who directly controls an area).
A marriage certificate is enough to be able to request a patch of land from the Nduna to build a Kraal - the tradional Zulu homestead. The land all belongs to the king - but is allocated under the tradional power structures to married men, and will revert back to the king in the event of a prolonged absence.
Walter was our guide to the wedding ceremony. Family ties in Zululand are wider than the western nuclear family - men often have more than one wife, and families live together in communal villages, so it seems that there are endless numbers of brothers a man may have - probably all cousins of varying degrees as well as siblings.
I have been to about a dozen Zulu weddings, and they have all been held on the side of a hill. There is a ceremony to choose the place - supposedly a secret until the day, but often there is only one suitable place.
A zulu wedding is held at the Kraal of the groom, and the cooking is done there, along with all the organisation. For an unmarried Zulu maiden, the bride price, or Lobola, is eleven cows, and is paid by the groom's family to the bride's family. It is there to ensure her fidelity - if she runs off Lobola can be reclaimed. It is also there to ensure the husband is a man of means - it can take quite a while for the man to earn or borrow enough to marry. He might borrow money from his family - again, the family are guaranteeing his committment by pitching in. In modern times money is a substitute for a cow - the going price is 4000 Rand.
The bride is usually quite hidden - either by her handmaidens or by a large umbrella, and often has a headpiece covering her eyes. This is apparently to show respect to the groom.
At our ceremony, the groom was from the Shembe religion. With the Shembe comes the Vuvuzela - a long horn blown to the accompaniment of drums. They also had three ladies who carried symbolic plants around to bless the ground of the ceremony.
Besides the formalities of Lobola, other recurring features of a zulu wedding are dancing - usually one man at a time. Depending on his performance, a number of the girls will 'answer' his dance by dancing themselves in a group. There is also the beer - possibly from the family of the bride? and presents from both sides. A part of the ritual is when the family of the bride addresses that of the groom - listing her foibles, and exhorting the groom to respect her and not driver her back into the arms of her family.
The presents, almost invariably blankets and sleeping mats, are not only for the bride and groom, but for extended family. Our wedding also had some furniture among the presents - perhaps that was for the marrying couple.
In the pictures above we see the Wedding party, and then the Lobola Report. A family member reports that only nine cows have been paid, but the other two will follow with a month. The Shembe ladies bless the ground. At the top of the hill, The Groom and party. As a part of the ceremonies, the young men engage in mock battle. Later, presents are formally presented. Lastly, the visitors taste the Zulu beer, brewed for five days from Maize meal and malt. Photos courtesy Jennifer Tucker.