Zulu Courting Customs

In the Zulu culture, once a woman confesses her love to a man there are steps to be followed. These steps are taken to make sure that the woman does not involve herself in another relationship. However, both parties should show their willingness to be committed to each other. One of the main reasons for this is that once the woman fall pregnant, it should be known who is the father of the expected child.

Traditionally in the Zulu community once the girl confesses her love to a man (ukuqoma), she should give that person what is referred to as ucu (a string of white beads). The item should be something that is usually worn by the woman for example a hat, headscarf or a necklace. In most cases it is the headscarf and is used to boast about the new lover, the man who is loved will then display the headscarf for everybody to see (like how a flag flies on certain buildings).

Young Zulu maidens attend umkhosi womhlanga (Reed Dance) for virginity testing. This practice takes place annually and currently it takes place in September at KwaNongoma. Then if a woman has confessed her love for a man she will stop practicing this ritual and arrangements that lead towards marriage will begin.

For a woman that is a virgin one of the most important things during the ilobolo phase (bride price) is the cow called inkomo kamama (the mother’s cow). A Zulu man’s wealth was measured by the number of cows he owned and if his wife gave birth to a baby girl he would say in Zulu, “Awu zabuya izinkomo zikababa madoda” (“My father’s cows are back), referring to the cows that were sent to his wife’s home for ilobolo. Because the wealth was measured in the number of cows in the kraal so the ilobolo was paid in cows.

Because of modernisation and the change in the lifestyles of South Africans, ilobolo is now usually paid in money. The money will replace the cow for example during the lobolo negotiations the family might say they want a payment of R4000 cash for the mother’s cow (if she is still a virgin). The cows will not be worth the same money because during ilobolo the different cows are called by names and their value is not the same.

The number of the cows that are paid is traditionally known as eleven but the number can be less than eleven based on the agreements reached by the two parties involved in the negotiation processes but traditionally the cows will be more than eleven if the woman belongs to a royal family.

After the ilobolo the following ceremonies are done: umbondo which is when the bride’s family accompany the woman to her fiancés family to thank them for their loyalty in paying the bride’s lobolo. During this ritual the woman’s family will bring food and drinks to the man’s home as a form of appreciation for the good relationship that has been formed by the two families. Then the big day will follow which is the wedding day. After the wedding a practice called umembeso will follow to end the wedding and this is when the wife gives presents to her in-laws thanking them for the warm welcome.

Written by Ntokozo Tshapa

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