HAS UMABO REPLACED THE TRADITIONAL ZULU WEDDING AND ALL THE RITUALS THAT GO WITH IT?

HAS UMABO REPLACED THE TRADITIONAL ZULU WEDDING AND ALL THE RITUALS THAT GO WITH IT?

By Soka Mthembu

There’s a common trend by Africans, Zulu people, to be specific in this case, to conduct a traditional Zulu wedding as an afterthought – perhaps something to ease our conscience, as we have fully adopted the Western ways and abandoned our own. Or could it just be an honest, light-hearted celebration, without having to go deeper into unknown terrain? Hardcore, traditional wedding rituals, for instance, may be perceived as threatening, especially for the younger generation. Whatever the reason, it is rather alarming that, in a few years to come, many features and aspects that make a traditional wedding the sacred ceremony that it is, would have been totally eroded.

I should be the first to acknowledge that there is a transformation and some new ways of  uniting two people in marriage. If, however, that transformation and “civilization” makes us forget, even look down on our own traditions, we need to reflect on and question our identity.

Allow me to rant a bit: The new trend of events is that a couple holds a glamorous umabo (bringing of gifts to the groom’s family); and on a different date hold a white wedding – both of which cost exorbitant amounts of money. Umabo then becomes the substitute for a ceremony at which the ancestors would have been appeased, and asked to give their blessings on the event, protecting the newlyweds, ukuthethwa kwedlozi and ukubuzwa komthetho: this has all fallen by the wayside. Family praise poets are now hired acts who recite a few lines of izithakazelo, in some cases Shaka’s praise names. The point is − family doesn’t care or even notice whether the praise singer recites Mandela’s or Zuma’s praises.

It goes further: Expensive marquees have replaced isigcawu (an open field where the climax of the wedding ceremony takes place) accompanied by a sound system, caterers, and wedding coordinators hired to manage this spectacle. Then there’s a display of fancy contemporary costumes, expensive drinks dispensed from those expensive liquor cold rooms that we spend fortunes on hiring. Everything is hired, including some traditional Zulu dancers – something which should come naturally to us Zulus, and should be performed by family and neighbours. As the drumbeat draws one back to one’s roots, unknown to many, one has a sense that the spectators are thinking to themselves, “Where do these people (dancers) come from – the rocks?”

The role of elder women to the bride-to-be has become redundant. The bride’s guidance by the elder women has been outsourced to bride’s friends, who in most cases are young, and unmarried, and therefore not equipped to impart the marriage-life experiences and wisdom to the bride-to-be. And when the marriage does not turn out to be what was hoped for or expected (perhaps even before a year has passed; perhaps soon after), some of the bride’s friends become the first to urge “Shiya phansi mngani” – “friend, you have to walk away from this marriage”. Whereas the immediate reaction of an elder is to say: this marriage is not only about you and your husband  – wendele emndenini – “let us attempt to help the two of you resolve matters, because you married the entire family.” Friends cannot play this mediating role and shouldn’t be expected to.

The same applies to a man: The elders would usually sit him down and they are usually the first ones to say “ngeke ulande ingane yabantu le uzodlala ngayo la, lomfazi wathelwa ngenyongo layikhaya,” (you will not dare ill-treat this child (bride); you are the one who brought her here, and besides, she’s not only your wife.) They are quick to remind the bride-groom that, as much as she is his wife, she’s also the wife of the ancestors, and therefore enjoys the same protection and love.

Whilst some of these changes are exciting, reflect the times we live in, I believe that there are certain rituals that must still be performed even at the most glamorous of weddings: certainly there are specific duties which should never be outsourced. I have great respect for cultural entertainers − after all, I am one of them. However, I do not believe that a fellow Zulu must spend money hiring dancers, something community girls and boys should be able to do with relative ease or at least with a bit of coaching and training. And in planning this union we should never ever leave the elders out of the planning process – if anything, they should be in charge of planning.

NOW THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO DO THINGS RIGHT BY THE ANCESTORS IN INVOLVING THEM IN THEIR MARRIAGE. HOWEVER, THEY MAY NOT KNOW WHERE TO START, BECAUSE OF THEIR UPBRINGING, RELIGION, OR FAMILY DYSFUNCTION, INTER ALIA. HERE IS MY ATTEMPT AT ASSISTING YOU TO FIND SOME LIGHT:

Go to an Isangoma (diviner) or Umthandazi (prophet) and find out about your life, or about that ancestor who has been your shining light all along. That is the person you should look to appease, not your hundred ancestors, some of whom may have been turned against you by witchcraft, performed by close relatives, in most cases.

In most cases those that look after us are from our mothers’ side, yet we tend to forget about these. Some problems could arise if by mistake you may be appeasing the wrong ancestors – take R100 or less and find out – even seek 2nd or 3rd opinions before you make that decision – just as you would do with a medical doctor. Avoid people that want to charge you thousands. For me, personally, it doesn’t make sense to keep slaughtering for the people who may have turned their back on you. When you burn impepho, ask that one person who is looking after you, appease him or her, and leave it up to that one person to decide with whom to share “the meat or umqombothi”. – He or she knows, but this is not reciprocated.

NB: Acknowledging and pleasing your ancestors does not always have to cost a cow or a goat – sometimes diviner or prophet would suggest that you make  “itiye” which is basically “biscuits, fruit, cold drinks, sweets, burning of impepho by your father on your behalf to thank and appreciate the ancestor/s for having your back against adversities. As a token of appreciation, you have brought him or her itiye to be shared with whomever is selected. For these things to be properly done, you do need a guidance of a sangoma or prophet, and there’s no shame in consulting a sangoma or a prophet, just as there’s no shame in seeking marriage counselling. Ancestors are the foundation of everything we do: let us involve them.

For me, these are some of the non-negotiables:

  1. Ukubikwa komsebenzi ngembuzi esayidini likamakoti. I believe that a bride must at least take a week off work, and have her father or uncle slaughter a goat. The male relative should inform ancestors of the bride’s upcoming wedding – at which time they should protect her and keep her strong. Umgonqo is important, because it gives the bride time to reflect. She should spend at least a week with elders who impart wisdom to her on how to carry herself as new bride, how to face challenges and shortfalls, amongst other valuable advice.
  2. Ukushiswa kwempepho at different stages, including when the bride leaves her home for the last time. It is always very important that the bride depart from the emakhaya la kulele khona okhokho bakhe (rural homestead where the ancestors lie buried), because then there’s usually a kraal to which her father or uncle leads her by the hand, before departing at dawn.
  3. Imvunulo (traditional costume) must be proper. I feel that the bride and groom should aim to buy instead of hiring, because of the sentimental value. Brides and grooms need to put more effort into the traditional attire for the wedding than we are currently seeing.
  4. During the ceremony – a bride should be able at least to sing her “inkondlo”, or perhaps start it before having someone take it over if she is not musically gifted. A bride may compose her own “inkondlo”; however, there are old ballads, such “Baba Nomama”, siya kwamama ongemama, wemathambo kababa, and many others – you just have to ask – even look on YouTube.

Your happiness is important, but that of ancestors is also greatly to be regarded. The rewards it brings to you and your family are unimaginable. Lets go back to our roots. Azibuye emasisweni.

 

 

 

 

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Swing your hips, baby: The theatrics of Zulu Courtship and pick up lines

When a true Zulu warrior bumps into a beautiful woman, something in him awakens – he flourishes his best smile for her, becomes totally weak in the knees – though not too weak to tell her how he feels. His heart beats wildly, furiously. And following the physical effects of the encounter, comes explosive poetry:

Dudlu Ntombi!
[Hey Girl!]

Zala Abantu Ziyebantwini
[“They (girls) reject men, only to choose other men (not animals) … and because I’m a man you might as well save yourself some trouble and choose me”]

Nkosazane Emhlophe Efana Nezihlabathi Zolwandle
[Beautiful you are, as white and pure as the sands of the sea]

Mhlophe lo’dlilanga Wana Sikucoshe
[As bright as though you eat the sun itself … how I wish you’d fall right now so that I may pick you up]

Nkosazana Nami Kangizenzi;
Ngenziwa Luthando Olusha’mangqanqu Kuhle Komlilo Wothathe,
Ngithathwa Umsinga Wothando
Vuma Ngikwazise Ngomzwangedwa,
Ongidla Izibilini Imihla Namalanga
Ngivulele (Enhliziyweni) Ngingene
Ngifisa Ukuba Impukane, ‘ze Ungiphunge,
Sengibunamathe Obakho Ubuso Ngothando.
Ngifisa Ukuba Umoya, ‘ze Ngingene Ezibilini Zakho,
Ungiphefumule Ngize Ngiguqule Inhliziyo Yakho Emnene.

As in any culture, the language evolves, as do the people of that language. This is evidenced by the emergence of new Zulu pick-up lines evolved from those heard over the years:

1. Thambo lami lekhentakhi
2. Sthuthuthu sami sokujika emadilayini
3. Swidi lami lomkhuhlane
4. Umuhle ngathi ugeza ngobisi
5. Ngiyazi awuyena umakhi kodwa ngicela uzokwakha umuzi kababa

And of course my friend Erick had to coin his own courtship line, which cracks me up each time he puts it to use: “Awu kodwa ngangingafi ngani ngempi kaBhambatha?” or “Oh, how I wish I had died during the Bambatha rebellion” (because then I wouldn’t be tortured by your amazing beauty, as I am now). Mind you, that rebellion took place in 1906, 70 years before he was born.

What this creativity demonstrates, I think, is the ability of our people, whether framed as fierce warriors, or violent taxi drivers, notwithstanding, to be romantic lovers.

However, in the midst of such creativity there always has to be a “Ungom’uyayona” or “party pooper” and my cousin fitted that profile perfectly. His courtship lines were not only appalling; they worked so little magic that he would resort to insults when rejected. I remember once when he was trying his luck with a particular young lady, that, upon realizing that she was not interested, he had no option but to let her go, only to shout at her before she was even 50 metres away, exclaiming: “Hey, angiyigqokile i-anda” – or “Hey, by the way I’m not wearing underwear.” As if this would make her suddenly change her mind. I suppose he was trying to pull a Senzangakhona stunt, who, when Nandi played hard-to-get suggested that they partake in “amahlaya endlela” or fun on the roads, otherwise known as ukusome or sex without penetration.

I also knew an old man who was, as they say,” so into” a woman of a similar age as he. Now my assumption is that, not only did she take his breath away, but she made him speechless. What he did was remarkable! Somehow, the old man laid hands on her “skhaftini” or lunch box one day – opening it to tuck a R50 note inside. When the favoured lady opened her lunch box, voila, a surprise was waiting for her. What I could not comprehend was how a R50 note, accompanied by no letter expressing interest by someone named, would help him get “the girl.”

Maidens had their own creative ways of expressing their love acceptance or disapproval. They would even communicate in a more profound manner simply to prove they were just as capable of creativity!

During the courtship at the river, or any place for that matter, a man would often try all sorts of tricks to behave as though the girl had accepted his love proposal, and to prove this to his friends and the girl’s guardian, known as Iqhikiza. The would-be lover had to produce a proof, in the form of her beaded necklace, bracelet, or any wearable item that she possessed, for that matter. This would be the item she had supposedly proffered to him. If she wouldn’t voluntarily give it to him, the thwarted lover might simply wrest it off the hard-to-get maiden.

In instances where she had accepted his love, she would often still make him sweat a bit and confuse him as to where she had placed the “parcel” or beadwork for him to collect. The lines given below, uttered by maidens, became very common:

1. “Gibela esihlahleni uyothi mawufika egatsheni eliphezulu kunawo wonke impahla uyoyithola khona lapho.”
Climb a tree, and upon reaching the furthest branch, “the parcel” will be there waiting for you.

Of course she didn’t meant this literally … if the lover was not sufficiently alert, he would continue wooing his “girlfriend” without realizing that she had accepted him.
Because courtship happened at the river, this often meant that the beads were hidden in the water container the girl was carrying. To lay hands on the treasure, one had to snatch the water container from the maiden’s head. Alternatively, the beads could be hidden in the bundle of fire-wood the girl was carrying, amongst other tantalizing ploys.

2. Impahla oyifunayo ingale kwentaba
“This parcel (beads) you are looking for is on the other side of the mountain.”
Again, this statement was not to be taken literally.
It meant that the beads the lover was searching for are in a place so far away that it might take you a while to locate them – this often meant that the beads were around her waist; mountains could be figuratively referring to her buttocks or you know where:-)

There was also a Zulu love letter, often written by a maiden to her boyfriend. She would fashion him a necklace selecting the colours expressed the message of her choice. Below are some of the common colours used in Zulu love letters, together with their meanings:

White: My love for you is as pure and true as my heart.
Red: I’m bursting with love for you.
Blue: If I were a dove I’d fly the endless skies just to see you.
Black: My heart has turned as black as the rafters in the hut, as I hear you have another maiden.
Green: I am yearning for you day and night. Come back soon, if not, you will find me as thin as the grass that is blown away by the winds.

There was also provision for those who only wished to appreciate the sight of a beautiful a maiden. Their line was/is “Ngishikilele Ntombazane” or “Swing your hips, baby!”
Because she was so proud of her body, she would usually not mind showing it off.

Credits:
Photo: Val Adamson (for Zulu Fire Cultural Village)
Some Courtship lines taken from: M.A.J Blose 1960 Zulu drama; Uqomisa Mina Nje Uqomisa Iliba

Velemu Khanyile … the better days of his life

In a world obsessed with classifying and assigning people to definitive groupings, sometimes we must wonder whether those described as ordinary are really ordinary after all. What is it that is ordinary about them?
Allow me to tell you about Velemu Khanyile.


Khanyile was a jockey in Zululand, a great orator, and a legend in his own right   ̶ a man with a great deal of passion for horses, and an unquenchable love for women with sizable posteriors. He would often say, “Yabona lowaya uhudula icaravan,” or “You see that woman hauls a caravan.”
At a time when discussing sexual encounters was considered taboo, Velemu Khanyile broke barriers, easily earning himself the title of sex expert. He was a self-acclaimed teacher of the matters of the heart, giving unsolicited advice at every opportunity which presented itself.

My first encounter with Khanyile came when I was between 11 and 12 years old. I was a Zulu dancer at a Zulu cultural village, a task I would fulfil daily after school. Khanyile was a horse groom, transporting tourists from their meeting point to the lodge by horseback as part of the guests’ experience. Our paths would cross again years later, when I was my 20s; at this stage I was old enough to hold any conversation with him, or with anyone at all, for that matter.

Khanyile must then have been about 50. For his age, he was as healthy as a stallion. Just like me, he was robbed of the gift of height, however, as the Zulu saying goes: Ingwe idla ngamabala, or “A leopard eats by means of its spots”. Indeed, Khanyile had other spots that people, both men and women, would marvel at.

Khanyile was passionate about grooming and training horses. His beasts, or those he looked after, were beautiful, with names just as fascinating: Vanessa, November, Gems, amongst others. For a man who had never set a foot in a school, these names were interesting. When Khanyile rode to horse, he was some kind of a comic King; women ululated both when he arrived and departed from Zulu beer-drinking venues, Zulu weddings, etc. Khanyile was both dramatic and elegant. The conversations that would take place once he had left, would go something like this: “Umbonile uKhanyile etelebhela ngehhashi lakhe?” Did you see Khanyile showing-off with his horse?” Then you knew that having a herd of cattle was not enough to draw attention from the maidens. A beautiful horse, with the ability to dance and trot, was the equivalent of a Porsche.

Women found Khanyile captivating. It was as though they reeled in disbelief that such a charmer and sweet man could ever exist. This often made me wonder whether they were angry at themselves for not having met him earlier. Youngsters looked up to him. With a horse like his, and exhibiting a personality larger than life, a man could get any girl he desired.

Men his age envied him. They were jealous, just as they are jealous of a certain man from Nkandla whose home upgrades cost South Africans R246 million. Ironically, Khanyile was also from eNkandla. It was there that he excelled at every horse-race, winning prizes such as goats, cattle, and cash. Given the right opportunity, Khanyile could easily have become a world-class jockey.

As brilliant as his horses were, Khanyile was never to be outdone by them. He had a way with words, being a charmer of note, and a great raconteur. He was a marvel to listen to; a storyteller who made his characters just as colourful and alive as he.

On one delightful afternoon, just after we had all finished our daily duties, Khanyile was to share with us a riveting narrative on the culture of ukungena umfazi, or taking over a wife of someone who had deceased; a role often assumed by one of the brothers of the deceased.

Summarized background to ukungena practice:
This was a practice whereby one of the brothers of the deceased would continue his brother’s legacy by taking over his wife in the full sense, a deal usually struck by elders. The widow had very little influence or say over this decision; she was always overruled. This custom of ukungena would be undertaken so that children would have a father figure and so that the widow would not feel lonely for long, perhaps then deciding to abandon the family. Once a union had been made with her brother-in-law (now her husband), she would continue bearing children; who would be taken as belonging to the deceased.

There would also be instances in which the bride was too young, had either no children, or a husband’s brother to “ngena” her. In that case, she could remarry outside the family. However, in-laws still had to approve of the match, and the lobolo cattle would be paid to the woman’s in-laws this time, for cattle had already been paid to her family. This practice is still very much alive in most parts of the Zulu Kingdom, however, it is a dying practice, concomitantly with a vast amount of transformation that has taken place in the lives of the Zulu people.

So Khanyile became our “go to” man when it came to the matters of the heart, especially the “taboo” side of Zulu culture. Khanyile was brave in sharing these stories with us, recounting them in a humorous and dramatic way, turning our understanding and preconceived ideas about women upside down.

Khanyile kept us captivated.

From him we learned how the lives of the Zulus had been transformed ̶ the traditional practices still relevant, and what no longer obtained; it turned out that the culture of ukungena umfazi was his favourite subject.

The lecture went something like this:
“You see boys, when a beautiful woman loses her husband and she happens to be young and attractive, the first thing you do is to show her that you care in the deepest possible way, that you are a generous man. And if at all possible, be present at her husband`s funeral. But whatever you do, do not go empty-handed. I repeat, do not go empty-handed.

“You must take with you some notes: money  ̶ a couple of R20s, R50s, or R100 notes. Be sure that she sees you while handing over umnikelo, the donation …”usuyothenga amakhandlela”. “Here’s a little change for you to buy some candles during this dark period,” Khanyile would suggest.

“Because it is money in notes, this is a modest way of saying to your intended, “Take this substantial` sum of money and buy a few things for yourself.” Calling the donation a few cents and candle-money will give the widow the impression that there is more money where that came from.” The narrative would continue:

“When the time is right, you must strike — persuading the woman the best way you know how…because widows also need some love, and there’s no way she could reject love forever.”

We were to witness Khanyile in action twice, with two women who had just lost their husbands. As painful as their ordeal was, I guess at some point that they longed to be treated as normal human beings, because that is what they were.

Now, like every player, Khanyile had his rival. Somehow, the two men often found themselves desiring the same woman. Masothosotho was no great catch, however, he had the gift of music, one so many of us could only dream of. Masothosotho sang Maskandi traditional Zulu music, using a 12-string guitar.

I remember the day that three ladies were hired to re-thatch the lodge. Khanyile, being his usual self, wasted no time in making his intentions known   ̶ he selected one of the women for his special treatment. Sadly, she was a widow, a coincidence, I might add. Masotho, on the other side, was also flirting outrageously. Somehow, neither of the men knew which woman the other was aiming to approach. In a generous display of hospitality, for which we Zulu people are known, Masotho bought the ladies a litre of Coke. Well! Khanyile discovered this in a matter of seconds. Before the fortunate ones could open their bottle, our hero shot like a bullet into the refreshment area, proclaiming “Ayilungile le drink!” or “This cold drink is not right for you.” Khanyile was referring to the myth that women should not ever imbibe this brand of cold drink.

Khanyile took the bottle back to the shop to exchange it for Sprite, buying a second litre of the favoured brand. Perhaps this was to show the women that he could also afford to spoil them, and that he was the more knowledgeable one when it came to women’s issues — what they should or should not drink.

When these ladies started singing for their evening prayers, Khanyile was in their midst, wearing a doctor’s white coat, despite that, prior to this, he had not adopted the Christian faith.

No rival stood in Khanyile’s way. He was capable of all sort of devious deeds to bad-mouth his rivals. I remember him saying, “Ungamuqomi lo, kade ngibhava naye, itolozi yakhe inezilonda”, or, “Don’t fall for him   ̶ I showered with him earlier, and noticed that his penis has sores”. Of course, this was a gross exaggeration, designed to gain his own ends.
I was often intrigued by the way in which Khanyile made it sound simple to make a woman happy   ̶ perhaps because it is. I often wondered how he managed to pull these stunts, approaching women of different generations, status, and backgrounds, always using the same approach — perhaps because the more we seek differences in one another, the more commonality we find.

What puzzled me even more was the seemingly easy way Khanyile got away with what I would call “crossing the line, preying on widows, and patronizing them”. Yet I doubt that they shared my sentiments. Women adored Khanyile, perhaps because he treated them as extraordinary, and made them feel wanted, regardless of their circumstances.

Photo Credit: Val Adamson (for Simunye Zulu Lodge)

Why I love the Zulu proverbs and idioms

When I think of proverbs and idioms, and how they serve as a mirror to the events of yesteryear there’s terrible event which comes to mind—the Bambatha rebellion, known to the Zulus as  “impi kaBhambatha or impi yamakhanda.”

Background: The story of Bhambatha and his rebellion began in 1905 when colonial rulers in Natal decided to impose a poll tax of £1 on all adult men in order to boost coffers emptied by the recently-ended Anglo-Boer War. In reality, the tax was meant to keep poor black labourers in white-owned farms and mines, because they needed the work to pay the tax. This tax led to a great deal of opposition by black people, and Inkosi Bambatha kaMancinza was the biggest challenger of such tax. Bambatha along with many Zulus couldn’t comprehend why they suddenly had to pay tax. Subsequently, a new proverb was born.

1. Insumansumane imali yamakhanda. (It (this matter) is incomprehensible like the poll-tax.

With that lets move on to some more Zulu proverbs…

2. Kayihlabi Ngakumisa – It (bull) does not fight according to the shape of its horns.
A bull that looks like a champion fighter may be defeated by an unimpressive looking one.

3. Usenga nezimithiyo – He milks even those in calf.
He is a liar.

4. Elisina muva liyabukwa – It (regiment) which dances last is admired.
This saying cautions one not to rush in doing something, for even later, he may do it with great success.

5. Ohlab’ eyakhe akaphikiswa.
He who slaughters his own beast is not stopped.

6. Lithath’ osemsamo limbeke emnyango. It (lightning) takes the one at the back of the hut and throws him at the door.
This saying is an expression that one needs not make fun of other people’s shortcomings as he may also find himself in the same predicament in the future.

7. Ukhasela eziko. He crawls to the fire.
When a child has reached a crawling stage he/she will inevitably crawl everywhere, even to a dangerous place like the fire-place
In short: Someone who acts in a blind and dangerous way which may bring danger upon him

8. Zawadl’ ebhekile. They (birds) ate corn in the watchman’s presence
Expression used to describe someone who is easily fooled

9. Injobo enhle ithungelwa ebandla. A good loin-skin is sewn in the company of others
Two heads are better than one, or some tasks may be accomplished more easily by two (or more) people working together than by one working alone.

10. Ulind’ amathons’ abanzi (He is waiting for the larger rain drops)
When rain begins to fall, the first few drops are generally small, but they increase in size as the rain becomes heavier. Therefore one is advised to take shelter while only the light small drops fall and not wait for larger ones.
Get out of trouble while you still can.

For further reading: Zulu Proverbs by CLS Nyembezi

The incredible Zulu Kingdom awaits!

For the traveller seeking community-based cultural tourism, however, not contrived, not manufactured, not illusory … a mix of nature and a true taste of Zulu heritage in an untainted and unpolluted natural environment; join me as I guide you on your journey of discovering the beauty of Zulu Culture and Heritage!

….And for who appreciate spectacular and vibrant Zulu dancing … the powerplay between Zulu warriors and maidens through song and dance!

Zulu reed dance

Kirstin Kramer Zulu Experience

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