Zulu Wedding

Zulu people live in various parts of southern Africa. The majority of them live in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. Their language is also called Zulu. Most Zulu people are Christians. Still in their everyday life they still practice many traditional beliefs.

Zulu wedding or "umabo" as they call it is no exception. Each couple usually gets married in two ceremonies - western (Christian) and after that in traditional one. Umabo is always held in the groom's home. This traditional ceremony does not have to be organized right away. Still most Zulus believe that the umabo is a must. There are even prejudices stating that some marriage troubles can appear without having the traditional wedding ceremony.

When a woman becomes old enough to get married her father organizes a party when he introduces her to the community, especially to the single men interested in getting married. A woman has freedom to choose whome she is going to marry.

After she makes her choice she first informs her aunts from mother's and father's side of the family - "malume" and "babakazi". She can also tell her already married sister. A groom-to-be informs the same people from his side of the family.

Then the negotiations for the dowry the bride's family is going to get from the groom's family begin. The negotiations are not always easy.

The livestock and other objects got from the groom's family are known as the "lobola" or "bride price". Lobola shows that the future groom is serious in his intention to marry the woman. In case of groom's death, for example, this livestock becomes the property of the bride.

Lobola does not have to be delivered immediately. If the groom decides that is the best for him he has to bring some presents to the bride's mother and other family members. This act is known as the "izibizo".

There are some things going the other way too. A bride brings some presents including livestock, jewelery etc. to the groom's family. This is called "umbondo".

The woman shows to the world that she found a partner through necklaces. She makes two necklaces of the same colour - one for her and one for her partner. After that older women from her village allow her that she can spend few nights with him. There is a condition. She must enter the marriage as a virgin. From time to time she is being checked. If she looses her virginity the groom's family is financially punished and the wedding has to be held right away.

There is one more ritual performed before the wedding. The bride's family prepare some goat's meat for the bride. They are also burning the incense ("impepho") and "inform" their ancestors about the wedding and the fact that soon the bride will become part of the groom's ancestors.


On the wedding day bride's arms and legs are painted in red and white. Zulu traditional music is full of rhythm. There are various ways the traditional music is being created. That is why bags with small stones are tied to her ankles.

A bride wears special wedding dress called "isidwaba". Bride's face is covered with a special "isicholo" veil made of colourful beads and fig leaves. Her shoulders must be covered too.

There are pieces of oxtail tied to her knees and elbows. A piece of goat's hair is tied around her neck. She must carry the assagai knife. The knife should be kept pointing upwards. This position shows that the bride is a virgin. If by any chance the knife is pointing downwards the woman already had a sexual intercourse.

Before the wedding ceremony groom's father makes a short speech welcoming the bride to her new home. During the wedding ceremony she sits on a mat. She is not allowed to communicate with people present at the ceremony.

Bridesmaids and bride's sisters then bring various presents to the groom's family members. She brings a traditional bed ("kist"). Other presents are pillows, blankets and mats. Males get something extra which is a traditional beer pot. The bride very well knows what to bring as the groom's family already sent her a list of objects they want. The women get their presents first.

Each person shows that she or he appreciate the present in a very special way. A person first lays on a mat. She or he is covered with a blanket. After that the person stands up, sings and dance.

It is the groom who gets his presents last. The bride takes a bed tries to find the groom. She makes a bed and place kind of path made of mats on which he will go to the bed. He sits on the bed. The bride then pretends to wash his feet. After that he lies down.

Finally a strange act happens. A group of women from the bride's family arrive and hit the groom with short sticks. He stands up and runs away.

One of the final events of the traditional Zulu wedding is the "ukulaya". During this event involving members of both families the bride and groom are advised on the importance of the family. What follows is a big party called "la mntambama".

The next morning bride and several other women (maids of honour, her aunt) clean her new home.

A breakfast is prepared. The bride is now "umalokazana" (a daughter-in-law).


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Ayanda Siphesihle Ngcobo, Zulu traditional wedding - umabo


A Traditional Zulu Marriage



Zulu wedding ceremony (photo by Rob Steer, Flickr)