Times are changing and many Zulu brides today choose to have what’s deemed to be a western wedding, but just as many opt for the traditional umabo, and when money permits it, a bride will have both ceremonies, with the western ‘white’ wedding normally taking place first. While a European wedding gown is a relatively straight forward outfit (dress, veil, maybe a garter), the traditional Zulu bridal outfit is far more complex, with the different elements of the outfit having different meanings.
A classic Zulu ‘wedding dress’ will include an isidwaba, a leather skirt, an isicwaya, a skin used to cover the bride’s breast, and an inkehli or isicholo, a hat traditionally worn by married Zulu women, that when worn acts as a sign that the young woman is no longer available for courting. In addition to the animal skins, some makoti will wear beads across their chests, as well as a beaded veil, imvakazi (which in some cases includes twisted fig leaves), as well as bags of pebbles tied around her ankles, which rattle as the she dances. Ropes of twisted calfskin are strung in a coil over the bride’s shoulders and under her arms, and bangles made from white cow-tail fringes are traditionally worn around both arms and knees. On her right wrist, the bride wears the distended gall bladder of the goat which was slaughtered before she left her father’s home, where her mother would have covered her in a blanket in preparation for the trip to the groom’s house.
And finally the new bride will carry a small assagai to show her strength. Pointed up the assegai symbolises the bride’s virginity. After the marriage is consummated, the knife will be pointed down.
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