While many people conflate lobola and umembeso ceremonies, they are in fact separate concepts, even when they are performed on the same day. While Lobola can most easily be described as a ‘bride price’, something with a specific monetary value attached to it, umembeso or izbizo as it’s also referred to, is the giving of gifts to the bride’s family, specifically the bride’s mother, as a way of thanking her for raising the groom’s soon-to-be wife.
A list of gifts and their respective recipients is provided to the groom’s family ahead of time, who will then write to the bride’s family suggesting a date for the umembeso. Gifts requested will generally include blankets, pinafores, head scarves, clothes, food, straw mats, and sometimes a live goat. More than just the handing over of gifts, the umembeso is a celebration with dancing and the slaughtering of animals. The groom’s family’s arrival is greeted with song and dance at the gate to the bride’s family home. Both families compete in song, with the groom’s family asking for permission to enter the yard by announcing that they have come bearing gifts. Traditionally a goat is prepared by the bride’s family as way of welcoming the groom’s family to their home, and in some instances small gifts will also be given to the groom’s family.
While there are a number of different stages to a Zulu wedding and umembeso is definitely not the last, some people see it as the point at which a bride is officially welcomed by the groom’s clan, with the implication being that the bride and groom are now traditionally married.
Click here to watch a home video of the beginning of an umembeso
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