Christmas has always been my favorite holiday of the year. All the cooking, the big meal, the happy faces all round, the festive nature of everything that has to do with Christmas. I love it! Growing up, we always started Christmas day with going to church for ‘Sunday school’, and I used to enjoy the sweets we’d get because it was Christmas. In all the other days of the year we were not allowed to eat sweets at all!
Then after church we would go house to house where we would be fed different lunches, some houses just sweets or Christmas biscuits( yes I’m talking about choice assorted) and loads of cool drink. By the end of the day we wouldn’t even eat at our own houses. Like trick or treat almost. And we knew which houses always had good food and which ones to not even bother going to.
Oh did I mention the new Christmas clothes we’d be wearing? Regardless of how poor your family was, Christmas clothes were one of those non-negotiables, almost in the same level as school fees! It was fine to not get a new school uniform, just as long as you had new Christmas clothes. #such priorities!
Even to this day, when I think of Christmas I still think of these memories.
Anyway this Christmas is a bit different, not only am I cooking Christmas lunch but I’m cooking Christmas lunch for over 100 people! Not only that, but my husband and I after being married for 3 years, have decided to fulfil the the traditional obligation of paying lobola and going through the traditional processes so our marriage could be acknowledged by my culture, the Zulu culture. I’m sure you’ve noticed my husband is white and I’m black, but we’re both African and South African. Just from different cultures within a very diverse country.
Quite honestly though, I don’t care much about what people say or think. My life is mine and mine alone. But for the sake of my beloved granmother’s memory and because I’m so proud of the amazing husband and family I have, I want to pronounce it to the whole wide world and feel no shame. And no-one has any right to think less of them because we didn’t follow the cultural protocol. So we’ll go through these processes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a proud young Zulu woman. I appreciate my culture and traditions but I can’t just blindly follow traditions and rituals just because somebody says so. Surely these are there for a reason and if we don’t understand the reason we shouldn’t follow them. My issue with the whole Lobola thing has always been about where the money goes! Traditionally it goes to the parents who raised the girl. But my father was M.I.A. and my mother also, but to a lesser degree. And the person who brought me up was my grandmother, who’s now late. So what’s the point? Who does the money go to and for what good reason?
For a traditional marriage there’s a series of rituals or celebrations that need to happen. This is specifically the Zulu culture I’m referring to.
It starts with the girl telling her mother about the boy, the mother than tells the father who conveys the news to the Uncles, then the Lobola negotiations, and finally the actual Lobola payment. Then Umembeso where the boy comes bearing gifts for the girl’s whole family, this is usually blankets and pieces of clothing. This is then followed by Umabo, where the girl now brings gifts to the boy’s family. After all of these are done, then the traditional wedding happens, the celebration starts at the girls family house and ends at the boys house where she’ll now reside and becomes an official family member. If at any point she wants to visit home, she now needs to get permission from her new family.
A lot of people from outside our culture do not understand the principle of Lobola, they think it’s buying the woman but it really is not.
Lobola is a process where the husband-to-be introduces himself to the girls family, ask for her hand in marriage and shows his appreciation towards the family for bringing up a well cultured woman he now wants to call his wife. Traditionally a man’s worth and wealth is through his livstock, so Lobola payment was in livestock, cows to be exact. So lobola also serves as reassurance for the girls family that the boy will be able to take care of their daughter. If he cannot afford the cows, then he’s likely not to be able to provide for her. That’s the principle. No one is sold or bought, it’s not a wealth making scheme but unfortunately there is room to exploit people and this does happen these days.
So we finally decided to do that this Christmas, the Lobola not the exploitation. And it actually went very well.
But because it was Christms and because when black people hear there’s something happening in that house, they come in numbers for free booze and meat. It doesn’t help that it’s believed chasing them away brings bad luck.
We slaughtered a cow for the celebration and ended up with over 100 people, invited: 20! And about half of them don’t know me and I don’t know them.
Anyway, My amazing husband showed up with his negotiator( had to be from the Zulu culture to know what to do) but I was very impressed he was wearing long pants. He never wears long pants but glad he appreciated tradition. They had to wait at the gate, shouting the family name and asking to be let in for a few minutes in the scorching Natal sun. It is actually tradition to ignore them and let them squirm a bit, to test their patience.
Traditionally there should be a boy in a tree as well, by the gate. They are meant to persuade the boy to come down the tree and go call the elders, by giving him money. But because we don’t have a tree by the gate, this step was skipped and I could see relief in my husbands face. Well, I saw it peeping through the kitchen window as I’m not allowed to sit in on the proceedings.
Then they were let in, but my uncles wouldn’t talk unless imvulamlomo(mouth opener) was paid and somehow this has become a bottle of whiskey over the years. Then they had to state their intentions, and that’s when all the girls in the house were called in so they can choose which girl they intend to ask a hand in marriage of. And obviously my husband enjoyed this part( he’s a bum guy), each girl was asked to get up, turn around and sit down. And I was girl number 4 and I was chosen, I didn’t even need to turn around.
The negotiations then really started, the back and forth numbers exchanged. And finally an agreement was reached. It looked like a good negotiation, everyone came out with a smile on their faces but somehow I think my husband’s was more of relief than anything.
No one wants to tell me how many cows, in cash, they agreed on.
Now it’s time to enjoy Christmas! Lets start the cooking…..to be continued.