Opinion piece: Marriage, weddings and traditional African ceremonies

In response to a lengthy query by a ZAlebs reader, Ntombiyezizwe WakwaLuqa.

By  | Jun 22, 2020, 01:45 PM  | Top of The

Opinion: on marriage, weddings and traditional African ceremonies

Earlier this week, we at ZAlebs reposted our article about Isibaya actress, Florence Mokgatsi's wedding and expressed our joy at the number of celebrities openly and happily taking part in the various African ceremonies ahead of and for weddings/unions.

Ntombiyezizwe immediately went off on us and subsequently called out South African media as a whole. 

The Facebook user in question continued to argue with anyone who dared oppose their assertions and questions but allow me to respond as best as I can. 

Wow Ntombi, why so aggro? And about weddings of all things?

Let’s break down everything you wrote shall we?

Starting with “was it a wedding, or umembeso?”

Your interpretation or MISinterpretation of our post could simply be blamed on semantics. Although we listed them side by side, please note, we called a European wedding a “wedding” and our own practices “ceremonies.” 

The intention was not to say that they are exactly the same thing.

Ceremonies is also deliberately plural because our aim was to include ALL the things African people do ahead of and for the union of a couple. African as in people born and residing in Africa, not just black people from South Africa.  

Kwesta Yolanda Mvelase Wedding

“Umembeso is NOT a wedding. So often these days, couples have umembeso, then these journalists that know nothing about culture, tell the nation it was a "wedding".”

An umembeso is a stand alone, gift-exchanging ceremony in the lead up to umabo but due to financial constraints and time constraints, most modern families choose to do everything at once.

And I cannot speak for other journalists but when referring to said couples, we merely announce that they are married (which they are in a traditional sense), not that they had a wedding. If you see such an error made in future, feel free to address those journalists in particular with the same vigour you used to address everyone in the thread above.

Ukulobola, umemebeso and umabo (which are also Zulu terms by the way and not inclusive of other cultures and the ceremonies they may have and the significance thereof) are all stages in the entire cultural process surrounding a romantic union. 

“Sometime later, the couple goes on to have a Western wedding, and perhaps umabo thereafter.”

The operative word being SOMETIMES. Not always. And even then, the white wedding is unnecessary.

Before settlers and colonizers came to Africa, we had our own ways of doing things.

In an effort to overtake our way of life with their own, they invalidated our cultural practices by enforcing their own legal and structural frameworks and choosing not to recognize marriages officiated the African way.

They made it so that marriages done the Catholic, Christian or European way were the only recognizable marriages. Overtime, the African they lived with then had to include the settler way of doing things into the overall marriage process.

And that is why people continue to do things that way today without even questioning why that is.

Tshepiso Ralehlathe and Amaru Da Costa

“I pose this question to you admin, and the rest of ignorant people out there: if couples do umembeso before a Western wedding (where the groom & his family take gifts & blankets to the family of the bride-to-be). Thereafter, the couple usually does the Western wedding. So.....if you journalists call umembeso a "wedding", then what do u call the cultural event after the Western wedding?”

The answer to your verbose question lies in the response above. 

But just in case you need further clarification:

  • An Umembeso may be held before a western wedding because the couple/family chose to do things traditionally before adhering to the Western way of doing things and going to legally register the marriage at the courts.  

  • The ceremony/ cultural event that comes after the white wedding can be called whatever the couple wants; a reception, umembeso, or umabo which is basically a wedding/repetition of a wedding if the couple chose to have a white wedding.

“:Think of the cultural events that take place on "Our Perfect Wedding"? What do u call those then? Also a "wedding"? That's false.”

No, it is not false Ntombiyezizwe, it is merely your false interpretation of the events you see.

Main image credit: dispatchlive.co.za

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