Jun 24

Umemulo

by in Culture & Heritage

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The person on the left represents a married woman as the shoulders are covered and the head is covered

Umemulo is a special ritual for any Zulu girl, its marks an important stage in one’s life. It shows that one has grown and matured.
I was recently invited to umemulo at Inanda Glebe and there was going to be a 21st Birthday celebration later on the same day.
I arrived on Friday afternoon, but Sphumelele and two other girls had been in doors for the whole week. They stayed in Sphumelele’s room and they were covered with white orche, not just on the faces but also on  the rest of the body. We started rehearsing for the next day as were to do Zulu dancing.
The cow had arrived early that day, it was slaughtered at night. Before it was slaughtered, we were told that we are to be quiet as the noise will make it very angry. A spear was used and the cow was stabbed at the back of the neck, as it fell down, the older women ululated in joy. Sphumele’s father gave her a drop of bile and umhlwehlwe (piece of fat) was taken from the cow and hung on her parents’ room which was to used to cover her shoulders the next day. The inside parts of the cow were cooked the same day but the rest of it was to be cooked the next day.
We then continued with rehearsing, then went to her bedroom and slept very late at night. The next day (day of the ceremony), we woke up very early in the morning, around 3-4 o’ clock. We went to the nearest river and washed our bodies. After that we changed into our traditional clothes as we were told not to re-enter the house, we sat outside the gate. After hours, sitting outside, we were allowed to enter, that’s when umhlwehlwe was taken and covered her shoulders. As we came out the older women were ululating and we were singing the hymns for Zulu dancing, heading to esigcawini (where we do the Zulu dancing). We were led by Sphumelele her father and her uncle. Sphumelele was wearing isdwaba (traditional skirt for married women made out of cow skin), she also had a spear on her hand which was given to her by her uncle (mother’s bother)and her father and uncle had sticks on their hands. She was also given a blanket by her family.

esigcawiniWhen were arrived ‘esigcawini’ we started singing and doing the Zulu dance. Family and friends were watchiembhathisiweng us and cheered . In between each song Sphumelele and two other girls would go to anyone on the crowds n put the spear in front of them and she would come back to us and do the Zulu dance. And the person who was given the spear would come to return it and pin money on her head. As they were going around with the spear, we would carry on with Zulu dancing. This went on for hours.
We then went back to her house with the people who were watching us while doing the dance. But before we could enter, Sphumelele’s father had to give us permission, we stood outside the gate and waited for him. He faced us and said ‘As the Ngcobo family, we give u permission to enter our home, you are welcome, you may enter!’ We then entered the gate, in numbers and  went in the tent, where tables were beautifully decorated and had a feast.
Later on the day, people went out of the traditional clothes and prepared for the 21st Birthday Party.

Written by: Ayanda Siphesihle Ngcobo
June 2013

This post is also available in: Zulu

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