South Africa has 11 different official nationalities, each with their own language, rich cultural heritage and myriad marriage customs. When any two cultures come together in holy matrimony, this process, albeit steeped in love, can be fraught with angst. However, if handled with compassion and maturity, African weddings can be a source of much unity and celebration.
The bride price: iLobola or iLobolo
In African culture, marriage was seen not just as a coming together of two families, but an adoption of the bride into the groom's family as one of their own. As a result, the primary purpose of paying a bride price or lobola – usually in the currency of live cows after much fierce negotiation between respective uncles – was to acknowledge and thank the bride’s family for their efforts and sacrifices in raising their daughter in a way that ultimately brought the two families together.
In a culturally diverse country like ours, when two people from opposing traditions get together to tie the knot, it can come with a truckload of issues. From spiralling wedding costs and traditional ceremonies to non-coformist nuptails, we look at what “an African wedding” really means…
In the last decade or so, as young couples realised their own agency separate from culture, the concept of supposedly being sold like an object and subsequently being bought by the husband-to-be and his family became unpalatable for some. This led to a number of couples opting out of lobola and heading straight to the church – or the magistrate’s office – to get hitched.
Added to this was the fact that some families, no longer respecting the initial sentiment of the ritual used lobola as a get-rich scheme, requesting exorbitant amounts of money and luxury goods in exchange for their daughter's hand in marriage. This, unfortunately, resulted in not only sour relations but also, in some extreme cases, an end to the couple’s relationship.
In some cultures, it is taboo to pay lobola in full as the son-in-law must always be indebted to the bride’s parents... just for an element of control!
Our Perfect Wedding…?
For those that make it past the lobola stage unscathed, a wedding in African culture (with the adoption of Western ways), is a typical affair filled with dresses, guest lists, catering and entertainment. However, the cost of a wedding is a sizeable financial commitment that has been a hindrance and cause of debt for many.
Lobola itself can set you back R120 000, depending on the price of the cows. Thereafter, the ring can cost between R20 000 and R60 000 before considering the expense of the dress (or dresses), venue hire, catering and decorations.
Many couples opt to have a low-key civil union and channel all the money towards lavish, luxury honeymoons and cultural ceremonies.
Marriage and Bride-Welcoming Ceremonies
Known in some cultures as ukuvuma abakhwenyane, ho gorosa ngwetsi, mahlabiso, or llavelani haleni, this is a celebration of the marriage, in accordance with different customs and traditions and a decadent feast for the senses.
These are much-loved traditions in African culture are where the families of the newlyweds come together, sage advice is shared and traditions are expressed and honoured. Celebrations can last two to three days and are a colourful spectacle of song, colour, dance, food and umqombothi (traditional beer). There are no formal invitations for this kind of event and everyone is welcome, which often leads to large crowds sharing in the couple’s love.
RITES & RITUALS
One of the most important rituals is called utsiki. In this ritual, the groom's family prepares goat meat and sour milk for the bride (umtshakazi makoti) to eat as a way of introducing her to the ancestors.
The bride can arrive in either her wedding dress or her cultural outfit. She’s then welcomed by the elders of the family and changed into umbhaco, Xhosa traditionalwear that depicts that a woman is married.
She still has to change into a second set of clothes in a poignant ritual called ukwamkelwa kukaMakoti. This outfit includes a small blanket (to “cover” any negative issues the new family would confide to her), and a towel worn close to the bride’s chest to show that she will keep house secrets to herself and not make their home the subject of gossip.
It’s believed that you’re not fully married in accordance with the Zulu culture if haven’t gone through umabo or abayeni because it’s during this process that the ancestors recognise their new daughter-in-law as part of the family, among other things.
For a Zulu bride, marriage means she’s no longer part of her ancestral line of birth and will be joining her husband’s ancestral lineage. As a result, before the wedding, the bride’s family will slaughter a goat for her and burn impepho (incense) to inform the ancestors that their daughter is going away to be a member of another family after the wedding. The groom’s family reciprocate by welcoming her with a goat.
During umabo or abayeni the bride is also told what’s expected of her from her family and her in-laws. A ceremonial wedding dance is also performed, which plays out as a “competition wherein a friendly rivalry between the family of the bride and the family of the groom is displayed.” This dance is actually the highlight of every Zulu wedding ceremony. At some point during the ceremony, the bride gets to do a dance of her own in her beautiful beaded outfit.
Marriage amongst the BaSotho, as with many other cultures, is viewed as the joining together of a number of families through a variety of rituals. Similar to other cultures, mahlabiso in Sotho culture is where partners celebrate the marriage in the presence of the families and loved ones, and officially welcome the bride.
An important aspect of the marriage ceremony is the naming of the bride (this is usually a teknonymous name) and the exchange of the much-loved, now iconic Lesotho blankets. It’s well known that blankets are pivotal in their lives: kobo ke bophelo (the blanket is life). And when a bride gets married, she’s wrapped in blankets and given to the groom.
OTHER CULTURAL RITUALS WE LOVE
Pedi: The making, giving and receiving of mohlobolo
Made from a certain cut of meat from a cow, this is presented to the new in-laws by an aunt of the bride at the gate. A female family member receives it and places it on her head, indicating they are receiving the new makoti into their family.
Ndebele: Bride-honouring ceremony
During a Ndebele wedding, the groom performs a ceremony in honour of his wife, giving her credit for all she has done in their time together. This is usually characterised by recitals, dance, and prayers.
Fancy a destination wedding?
As the younger generation yearns for a more experiential life, destination weddings – those where you whisk your loved ones away to exotic destinations such as Mauritius or the Maldives are slowly becoming popular among the elite. If you’re considering a destination wedding, check out some incredible locations and resorts in our travel section that are perfect for honeymoons, too!
DID YOU KNOW?
We love a cultural affair and while it’s not necessary for traditional marriages to be registered with the Department of Home Affairs for it to be legally binding, it is recommended. You will need this certificate when a spouse dies, if you want to file for divorce, or when you need to prove the existence of a marriage.