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A look at Xhosa wedding traditions

A look at Xhosa wedding traditions reviews_95_7492.jpg

There are wedding traditions - then there are Xhosa wedding traditions. And I do not say this to be funny, because most people will agree with me that Xhosa wedding ceremonies are not just ceremonies.

They are among the most important celebrations in the Xhosa culture and can be a somewhat of a complex process for outsiders.

This is partly because among the Xhosas, when you are getting married, it is not just the bride and groom tying the knot - but its also their families (and extended families) coming together. You can not also leave out the ancestors, who will need to be informed of the new friendship and will be playing a role of protecting and blessing the new home.

I almost left out the community - a wedding for the entire community and brides and grooms oftne do not even need to send out wedding invitations as the moment the community hears there is going to be a wedding, they will come in their numbers. At many African weddings, including among the Xhosas, seeing total strangers at your wedding is not exactly considered bad, but a good sign that it's a great wedding, especially if everyone goes back to their homes on full stomachs.

Maybe I should backtrack a bit, once the bride, groom and their families have agreed on a wedding date, in the Xhosa culture, a white cloth is hanged on the top of the roof top at a bride’s home to notify the community (and every passerby) that a flower in this home has been chosen, so prepare your gifts and your wedding attires!

However, Xhosa girls don’t just wed without a payment from the groom. While to outsiders, it looks like payment or buying a bride, to the Xhosas - as with many African cultures that practice the lobola custom, it's only considered a form of appreciation to the bride's family. Essentially, the groom will be thanking his in-laws for raising a wife for him.

Nowadays, debate rages on about how lobola has lost its meaning as some parents have become materialistic and end up placing hefty prices on their daughters, but that is a debate for another day.

The lobola is negotiated at a ceremony between the girl's family and the groom's uncles representing him and his family.

Here they negotiate among other things the bride price - which traditionally took the form of cattle, as cattle were in the days gone by, a symbol of and a store of wealth before the Europeans brought money-based transactions. Nowadays, its common for families to negotiate how many of the cattle in the bride price will actually be physical cattle and how many 'cattle' will be in the form of cash.

Negotiations are just that, the groom's representatives will try to plead with their in-laws to lower the bride price - espcially in instances were the in-laws had set a hefty price. Common reasons for somewhat high bride prices is when the bride is obviously regarded by all as a beauty, is educated, has good moral character and has not had children out of wedlock.

If she has children with the groom, before the groom came to pay lobola, then he can expect to pay a punitive charge generally called "damages" as part of the lobola. That is for impregnating someone's daughter without paying lobola for them. The same rule often applies were the girl first eloped and then the two decided to formalise things by paying lobola. 

The origins of lobola as a practice are obscure with some suggesting that it began as a form of compensation to the bride's family. Since African economies were based on agricultural production evry set of hands was important in the fields, now by marrying off members of their family, a family would now not have enough manpower in the fields. So, it became customary to at least compensate them for the lost production or they would suffer. But, that is just one explanation...

Since then, as with most African cultures, lobola is a very important process for the Xhosas because that is where the families form a bond and the union of the bride and groom is formally recognised.

Once the negotiations are successfully concluded and the bride price accepted by both parties, the bride and the groom and generally considered husband and wife. After the negotiations have been concluded, by custom, the bride's family are no longer allowed to accept another bride price from another suitor for the same girl.

I must add that how much is acceptable as the bride price varies form community to community. The groom, even if he can, is not generally expected to pay off the bride price at one seating, but in a few installments.

After the groom has paid the lobola, his bride's parents are generally expected to use some of the money to help their daughter prepare for a wedding and ensure she has all she needs to start her new home. So, some of the lobola still comes back to the groom's home.

While the two are considered married by African traditions aftr the lobola is paid, nowadays there is still one more step to be overcome - the Western wedding. Yes, Xhosas, like other African cultures, have adopted Western norms and after the bride price has been negotiated, the bride and groom are now generally expected to have a formal Western-style wedding.

That is when the white cloth is put up on the roof.

After that, the couple is considered married by all accounts...