Our African culture is known for celebrating love with style and flair. It is during ceremonies like ukumisa iduku where you get to witness the true beauty of Zulu love expressed through its tradition and culture. We arrived in the village of KwaNxamalala in KZN and there, we were welcomed by umama Silindile Ndlovu, a well-known qhikhiza and a passionate guardian of the ritual of ukumisa iduku.
She explained that qhikiza is usually the oldest virgin amongst the young women or a married woman who acts as an advisor to the young ladies when it comes to matters of love. Her role is to give the younger women lessons on how a young lady should handle herself until she gets married and to act as an intermediary between the families of the young men and women who are ready to get engaged or married.
As a 60-year-old qhikiza she has seen hundreds of young people from her village get married since starting her role at the age of 21. This time, however, it’s different. It’s her youngest daughter who must perform the tradition of ukumisa iduku which is a ritual performed by young virgin women as a way of making their love for a young man publicly known. “It was just two months ago when this young man, Zweli, gave my daughter ucu.” Ucu is a bracelet given secretly by a young man to a young woman he has identified as his potential wife. If the woman feels the same way, she will give the bracelet to her qhikhiza, to give to the family of the young man as a sign of approval. However, it doesn’t end there, the young woman must then prepare for ukumisa iduku.
We watched as Thembi, umama Slindile’s daughter, prepared for all of this. She first took a white cloth and put it on a long stick. Umama Slindile couldn’t stop herself from helping her daughter while she prepared for her ceremony. She even got teary as she realised that her daughter is growing into a woman. Once the cloth was steadily placed on the stick, Thembi had to walk all the way to Zweli’s home, accompanied by a few other virgins and their qikhiza to the young man’s home.
The young women were dressed in imvunulo, which is a traditional Zulu attire. Thembi’s one was slightly longer, indicating that she was no longer single and was promised to a man. As they walked the women accompanying Thembi were singing as part of the activities that elevate the ceremony this continued all the way to Zweli’s home. However, as they got closer, they stopped singing. Thembi now needed to tie the cloth to a long pole and bind it to the corner of the kraal, this needed to be done discreetly in order for her not to be seen by her lover’s family after which they immediately left the area as part of fun and exciting element of the traditional practice.
When Zweli and his family find the cloth, this would be their second confirmation that Thembi has agreed to be Zweli’s lover. “This is a respectful way for a young couple to let the families know that they’re together. I wish more young women would adopt this tradition. A relationship laid on a foundation of respect, is a relationship that lasts”, added umama Silindile.
Days later, Zweli’s family sent their confirmation and now the process of ukubonga indaba starts. This is when the young woman comes back to reveal her face to the elders of her lover. She is accompanied by maidens and amaqhikiza. Thembi ensured that they brought gifts as it’s part of the tradition in order to show affection and love to the family but these days some people just choose to bring money, which umama Silindile is vehemently against.
The gifts were prepared and handed out, a grass mat called icansi was laid out for everyone to sit on when receiving their gift. Thereafter Zweli’s family ushered them to a room where there was singing and dancing and later brought them food and drinks. Zweli’s mother came in to get to know her soon-to-be daughter in law and thanked her for the gifts. The Maidens carried the gifts on their heads using grass baskets called obhaskidi belala or enamel basins which are called izindishi zikathayela.
“Even though after this ritual, the young lovers are still not allowed to meet or visit each other’s families until the young man’s family send a suitcase with new clothes and various gifts for the young lady to symbolise the transition of my daughter from being a young girl to a woman, I’m happy to see that this tradition is still observed in our village and I just hope that other young women, even in the cities can maintain this tradition”, concluded umama Slindile