Umabo can be best described as a Zulu traditional wedding which usually takes place after the white wedding. It may happen that some people only do the white wedding and have umabo many years after being married but it is believed that one is not fully married in accordance to the Zulu culture if they did go through umabo. Some people may be faced with difficulties in their marriages (failure to conceive, may not have good relations with the in-laws) and it may be discovered that the ancestors are not happy as umabo was not done and they don’t recognise their daughter in-law. This is a very important tradition; it may also impact on the children, which is why some people have umabo even after the death of the husband. The children may also need to do umabo for their parents; they are not to have umabo for themselves if their parents did not have umabo.
In the Zulu culture, there are a couple of rituals that are done, before one is fully married and I would say umabo is the final stage. The first step is lobola, it is a process, one is not expected to pay all the lobola in one day, then izibizo (bringing of gifts for the bride’s mother and close family) may follow, umbondo ( the bride brings groceries for the groom’s family) may follow and then the wedding / umabo. Before the wedding, even if there will only be a white wedding, the bride’s family should slaughter a goat for her and burn insence (impepho); to tell the ancestors that their daughter is going to be a member of another family and after the wedding, the groom’s family should welcome her with a goat. For umabo, the two families slaughter cows (one from each family) and exchange certain parts of the meat.
Umabo always takes place at the groom’s family residence, the bride brings with her, some furniture and gifts for her new family. She is to wear traditional clothes, isidwaba (skirt made from cow skin for married women), isicholo (to cover the head, it is for married women) and she needs to cover her shoulders. The bride is to sit on the grass mat and is not to look at or talk to anyone, as a sign of respect. Her father-in-law is to welcome her, before the ceremony starts, her father should also says a few words, indicating that he does approve. The bride is to sit on the grass mat, her bridesmaids and sisters are to bring the gifts and furniture. She brings a Kist, a bed with pillows and linen and brings grass mats, pillows and blankets for her in-laws (the grooms family sends a list for when the day of umabo comes, the brides knows who to give blankets to). Everybody (on the list provided) are given grass mats, pillows and blankets but the men are given beer pots with imbengo (grass lid for beer pot) on top of that. She also brings brooms.
The names of the people on the list are called out, one by one; they start with the females (the older women and then the groom’s sisters). They then call out the men; they are given blankets, grass mats, pillows and the beer pots. When an individual is called out, they are expected to lie/ lay on the grass mat, a family member from the bride’s side covers them with their blanket and they then get up, sing and do the Zulu dance in appreciation of the gifts. After everyone has done that, the groom goes last. The bride than gets up, takes the bed and puts on the linen, she then goes around and looks for the groom. When she finds him, she must place grass mats for him to walk on, which lead to the bed, which is well prepared for him to lie on. He first sits on the bed and the bride takes a basin with a towel and soap and acts as if she is washing his feet. She then opens the bed covers, he lies on it and the bridesmaids, the bride’s sisters or other young ladies from the bride’s side (only a few of them) hit him with small sticks, he gets up and runs away. It has not been well explained why that is done.
Umabo is a very important ritual; it brings together families, in the process the bride is also told what is expected of her, from her family and her in-laws. This tradition is the way that ancestors recognise the bride; it is believed that they bring good luck. It is also a beautiful tradition where people showcase their traditional attire, sing and dance. It brings together different elements of the Zulu culture.
Written by: Ayanda Siphesihle Ngcobo
This post is also available in: Zulu