31 March 2014 by Colin Ford

A fascinating proposal in KwaZulu-Natal

The PheZulu Safari Park outside Durban gives visitors a fascinating glimpse into Zulu culture and customs.

Man woos woman in a traditional Zulu courtship

For some the practice of marriage proposal involves going down on one knee and presenting a diamond ring. For others it’s a flash mob or a knock on the door. In some cultures the bride and groom are not involved in the engagement process at all.

A yong Zulu man adorns his beloved's wedding hat (isicholo) with beads, indicating that they are betrothed

In traditional Zulu culture, the betrothal of a man and a woman is a highly symbolic affair involving beads, cows and a lot of negotiation.

The PheZulu Safari Park outside Durban gives visitors a fascinating glimpse into Zulu culture and customs, including the traditional wooing and engagement process that starts, as they all do, with 'boy meets girl'.

And once they have caught each other’s eye, the courtship begins. The maiden weaves her beloved a Zulu love letter (incwadi) made out of beads. The colours she uses represent the message she wishes to send. It can get rather poetic, and might say things like:

Black: 'I have turned as pitch black as the rafters of the hut because I miss you so.'

Green: 'I have become thin like the sweet cane in a damp field and green as the first shoots of trees because of my love for you.'

Red: 'My heart bleeds and is full of love.'

The young man responds by calling on the young lady. She resists, he persists.

The suitor visits the traditional healer/diviner (isangoma), who looks into his future and provides advice on the matter of his intended engagement.

Traditionally lobola is paid in cows, but the modern bride price is usually paid in cash.

The couple decide to marry. The man makes an offer of bride price (lobola) to woman's family. Traditionally lobola is paid in cows, but the modern bride price is usually paid in cash. Once negotiations have been concluded, the marriage is settled and the bride and her family visit the groom’s family to pay their respects.

Traditional healers or diviners (izangoma) play a pivotal role in traditional Zulu culture

This story and others are played out every day at the PheZulu traditional village at 10am, 11.30am, 2pm and 3.30pm as part of an energetic, colourful and rhythmic traditional display by members of the resident Gasa clan. The show is followed by a tour of the thatched beehive huts in the village where beliefs, customs and rituals are explained in an authentic setting.

An interesting 'did you know?': left-handed Zulu boys were ritually trained to develop right-handedness for a very practical reason. In Zulu culture the men sit on the right of the family hut (as you enter) while the women sit on the left. In case of an attack, the man’s spear needs to be ready to defend the opening of the hut on a moment’s notice. Having it in his left hand would prove clumsy and dangerous, and so use of the right hand was considered compulsory.

These days the clan welcomes both left-handed and right-handed visitors to the PheZulu Safari Park, which also includes accommodation and conferencing facilities, game and reptile parks, and a restaurant and curio shop.

Category: Culture & History

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