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The Umemulo Tradition Of The Zulus

By Nonso Egbo
20 March 2022   |   7:35 am
In Africa, certain traditions, ceremonies or rituals are not taken for granted. The BEAUTY of "African" culture and tradition is unique and her story we must tell. The Umemulo ceremony is one of those. Umemulo, known as the “coming of age”, is an important Zulu ritual that celebrates a young girl’s journey into womanhood. The…

A Zulu Woman

In Africa, certain traditions, ceremonies or rituals are not taken for granted. The BEAUTY of “African” culture and tradition is unique and her story we must tell. The Umemulo ceremony is one of those. Umemulo, known as the “coming of age”, is an important Zulu ritual that celebrates a young girl’s journey into womanhood. The ceremony indicates that the young girl has transitioned from a child into an adult of marriageable age. This ritual can be done at any stage of a woman’s life but is commonly done for females at the age of 21.

In time past, the Umemulo tradition was performed among young girls who had respected their bodies. Over time, the ceremony is now done whether the girl is a virgin or not. The ceremony is a way through which the parents of these women show appreciation for following their teachings, for respecting herself, family and the community. They spend the whole week learning how to be a woman. They also practise their singing, and a Zulu women’s dance called ‘ukusina’ for the ceremony.

On the day of the ceremony, it is customary for the family of the celebrant to slaughter a cow or goat for the celebration which they use to congratulate her, and thank the ancestors for keeping their daughter safe. Parts of the cow are then used for deeper, traditional rituals. The father or older brother takes the cow’s bile and performs several customs such as sprinkling it on the girl’s fingers, toes and the top of her head. This act, it is believed, will connect the girl with her ancestors who will keep her safe and help find her a prospective husband.

On the day of the event, the girl will dress up in traditional Zulu attire which is covered with a layer of fat taken from the cow’s stomach. The fat must not break at any point as this will show that the girl is no longer a virgin. Also, other girls present at the ceremony must wear traditional Zulu attire. On the eve of the ceremony, the girls sleep by the river naked, only covered with a blanket. In the middle of the night, they will spend the night singing and dancing around a fire. The girls will then be presented with a spear as a symbol of their victory and strength on their return. When she gets to the front of the home, she must throw the spear. Wherever it lands, the father or the head of the home must run shouting words of praise and dancing to symbolise his gratitude, excitement, love and pride before the whole community.

On the day of the event, the father or elder brother will lead the girl to the gathering where she dances with the other girls. As a way of asking for monetary contributions, she will blow a whistle, and whenever this happens, those in attendance will shower her with money which is often put in the hat she’s wearing. When the hat is completely covered with money and the girl has received contributions from everybody, she is then led back into the house. It is then that guests can feast.

In a situation where the girl already has a favourable boyfriend, the boyfriend will then be introduced to her parents and family and doing so, if he so wishes to marry the girl, he will pay the lobola (ie bride price). Therefore, the two will now be officially engaged. In ancient times, Umemulo was the perfect opportunity for a young man with cows to propose marriage to the maiden being celebrated.

Above all, the purpose of the Umemulo ceremony is to mark the transition into women for young Zulu women, signifying that they are now ready for marriage.