A traditional Zulu wedding is a step back in time, with cellphone cameras in strapped next to leopardskin loincloths. The ancestors are remembered, and the age-old tradion of Lobola is observed.
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 asa 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 theirIndunas (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 speak in the masculine, because I am a man and I have little opportunity to get reliable information from women.
I have been to about a dozen Zulu weddings, and they have all been held onthe side of a hill. There is a ceremony to choose the place - supposedly asecret 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 atime. 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.
Photos courtesy Jennifer Tucker.
Here are a couple of pictures of Jacob Zuma, President of the ANC, marrying Nompumelelo Ntuli on 8th Jan, 2008.