A UNION OF FAMILIES (XHOSA WEDDING)
Traditional Xhosa weddings differ quite substantially from those of the West, although the trend today is to perform both sets of ceremonies.
The traditional process of marriage begins with the ukutwala, roughly translated as ‘the taking’, which occurs after a groom’s family has chosen a suitable bride for him. The men of the groom’s family house, where she will awake the next morning. It is important to know that the ukutwala is not a ‘kidnapping’, the prospective bride is not harmed and may return to her family, rather it is a formal method of signifying the intention to marry, and such begins the betrothal process.
After the ukutwala the groom’s family will begin negotiating the marriage and lobola with the bride’s family. Lobola is not a ‘bride-price’, but a means of establishing a link between the two families. The size of lobola varies considerably depending on the relative wealth and status of the families, the advantage to gain from the marriage link, and the desirability of the bride.
Traditionally lobola usually amounted to eight heads of cattle, and today the value of each head of cattle forms part of the overall negotiation. However there is a Xhosa saying, ‘one never stops paying lobola’, which means the family link is the important part of lobola, a union that must be constantly renewed by visiting one’s in-laws, inviting them round, and in general maintaining very good familial relationships.
Once the lobola is finalized the marriage can take place. On an appointed day the bride’s family will bring to the groom’s house, amidst celebrations in which animals are slaughtered as a sacrifice to the ancestors, inviting them to bless the occasion and introducing the bride to them. There are no formal invitations for this event, rather whoever wishes to, can participate in the celebrations, often leading to very large crowds.
The whole event is joyous and very communal in spirit, ad the celebrations go on for at least two days at the bride’s home and the groom’s (especially the groom’s). the final stage of the marriage occurs when the bride and groom show themselves to the community by walking along the main road together (knowing as ukucanda ibala).
For modern urban weddings. Most couples prefer to perform both the traditional weding and the modern civil ceremony, often with a church service and reception. Today the bride and groom are far more familiar before the marriage process begins, with the ukutwala uncommon, and when it does happen the bride knows of it beforehand (though the actual event may still a surprise).
More commonly, the groom makes a formal marriage proposal, which if accepted he will send a delegation to the bride’s family to negotiate lobola. The large communal wedding is still very much the preferred, but it is either preceded or followed by the civil act of signing the register (on a different day to the main ceremony).
A church wedding can also take place, in which the bride either wears white or dresses in the more colourful East African style. Following a church wedding the families sometimes host host a formal receptions, separate to the traditional ceremony, which may either be restricted to guests or open to all.
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