I know that it’s been over a year since Umembeso wam, but I made a promise to share… so here I am sharing. It also makes sense to start with this one, before I move onto my bridal tips, following my recent traditional wedding/Umabo. I promise not to make you wait for a year for those 🙂
Road to marriage:
Taking the next step isn’t really a surprise when you’ve been with someone for 8 years right?! We did things the traditional way (so no bended-knees restaurant proposal), however, I was completely thrown off when we got a knock on the door one evening, three years ago. It was an ‘uncle’ who came to deliver ‘the letter’. I wish someone had recorded my mother, sister and I fighting over it, we almost tore it!! I loved that it was a surprise, I literally had no idea.
For those who don’t know, ‘the letter’ I’m referring to is a formal request from the groom’s side of the family, asking for an appointment with his future bride’s family, to commence lobola negotiations. In my culture, a proposal is not recognized until the two families have met to commence these negotiations. Our families are not strict or excessively traditional, but this was an important ritual from both sides.
I had three weeks (as in 1,2,3) to plan Umembeso, which is the ceremony held at the bride’s family home to welcome their new in-laws. The groom’s family brings gifts for the bride’s family as a token of appreciation for their new makoti (bride/wife).
We played around with the idea for a few months before, but we couldn’t get everyone on the same page; there was always one thing or the other in the way. Then suddenly, the timing worked and we decided to go ahead despite the very short notice.
We didn’t have a planner, I did all the running around with my mom and sister. We outsourced marquees, chairs and tables, then bought the decor items & food etc. Most of my stuff including my accessories are from down-town, where I found some talented beaders and designers. We pulled it off with no fights, no debt and no crazy expectations of the day.
Umembeso, the celebration:
The day before, we did a small traditional ceremony where we informed our ancestors of what was to take place the next day. We thanked them and asked them to be with us. Since Umembeso is commonly held at the bride’s parent’s home, there were no venue issues. The celebration took place at my mom’s house in Soweto. There was something so special about “leaving” from ekhaya (home I grew up in), I can’t explain it but it meant so much to me. Again, everything is about timing and I appreciated that our families were flexible and considered our plans to build and settle into our own home before having a celebration.
I was anxious about the weather because there were predictions of rain – 90% at that. They say rain is a blessing but which bride wants it to rain on her wedding, seriously??!!! So I prayed for those blessings to shower in the morning then go away and come back to bless me at night haha! I promised God that I wouldn’t complain about a single thing if it stopped raining and of course he put me to the test. My family made me carry a shoe on my back (old wives tale to stop the rain). I was desperate so I did it for about 2 hours.
The last bit of the lobola process was concluded that morning and our two separate families officially became one. Throughout the morning, I was in the house, trying to peak from every window, but once I changed into my Zulu attire, I was forced into sitting still in one room while we waited for the rest of my inlaws to arrive – thee.longest.hour.of.my.life!!!
Once my inlaws arrived, they started singing traditional wedding songs outside our locked gate. Since my dad is late, my uncle did the honour of walking me out of the house in his place, alongside my mother and sister. As I came out, my family sang different traditional wedding songs, making it a competition of some kind between the two families. When we got to the gate, my inlaws had to put some money on the floor, symbolizing that they really wanted us to open the gate for them and for their bride to come out. Once opened, my uncle handed me over to my groom, by combining all three of our hands. At this point, Lesedi was in tears because he was overwhelmed by the noise, I should have prepped him better because I know how sensitive he is; thankfully Khumo was sleeping. Once we were “united”, we danced and sang some more then sat down for lunch.
No longer a Zulu Girl:
After lunch, it was time for me to go back into the house to change from my Zulu traditional gear into my new dress, purchased by my in-laws; this is symbolic of me being a part of their family. An aunt from the groom’s side of the family helped me to get dressed, while the rest of my in-laws were outside getting our gifts ready.
When I came out again, the singing and dancing continued, before I sat down for the gifting part of the ceremony. My mom, sister, aunts, uncle and I received the most gorgeous Ndebele blankets, doeks, fabric, throws and pillows. My family felt so respected and honoured by this ritual.
I had the most divine day, never have I felt so beautiful, loved and relaxed. The smiles on our families, the excitement and warmth of my in-laws, the way my Guy looked at me when I came out of the house. Shucks, I could have bottled that. I appreciated that my family kept the drama of the day well-away from me; I had no idea what was happening behind the scenes, but some things must have gone wrong.
The absolute highlight of the day was all the singing and dancing. Man, I danced!
Over all, I felt so proud of our cultures – Of being black. Of being African. The energy was unbelievable.
After all of that, nothing much changed for us, except for the fact that we had prouder parents, uncles and aunts and pressure to have the next celebration (which we just had three weeks ago). I’m glad that we did it our way and in our own time, despite years of pressure from outsiders. You gotta live YOUR truth no matter what!
Modern Zulu Mom