I am not getting married to my English wife again anytime soon. Yes, folks the whirlwind wedding ceremonies’ (four already down) wagon came to a screeching halt at the Easter Weekend. Readers of this column will recall that in the piece titled “Four Weddings Down and Counting,” I wrote thus: “Nonetheless, I owe my parents and the village of my birth two wedding ceremonies – the traditional as well as the white wedding.”
No stupid, I didn’t have all other two outstanding wedding ceremonies at the weekend – all at once, but something of Shakespearean proportions (except it wasn’t a tragedy) happened while I was visiting my family down in Zululand. Let’s just say for now, my family are no longer looking forward to the two outstanding wedding ceremonies. Don’t be ahead of yourself and pronounce that perhaps sanity has prevailed. I have learned to be extra-cautions when dealing with my parents.
This is how the story went. We spent the recent Easter Weekend with my parents in Ulundi in the northern part of the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The town of Ulundi, in the heart of Zululand, is set among majestic hills and the rugged valleys of the White Umfolozi River. The former capital of the Zulu Kingdom, Ulundi straddles Route 66, between Nongoma and Melmoth. We arrived on Friday afternoon. Our trip to Ulundi was an ordinary courtesy visit to see my family. In tow, I had my English wife, mixed race daughter and son born of a Xhosa speaking mother. My village is now used to seeing a white woman amongst themselves so it’s no longer an event worth gossiping about.
However, as a good nurtured Zulu boy, I had sent some money to my mother so that she could buy ingredients required to brew the traditional IsiZulu beer known as Umqombothi. This was a small gesture on my side to the ancestors to acknowledge their presence in my life. So, what a better way than to give them something to drink and be merry. There was no customary slaughter of a beast or goat for that matter. This visit was meant to be as routine as possible. It turned out to be anything but.
Firstly, on Saturday, my wife entered the Mncube’s kitchen for the very first time with the sole intention of playing makoti (bride) and therefore that meant cooking for the in-laws. This has taken her some 16 long years. I had decided a week leading to our visit that it was the time and place for my wife to break with the tradition once and for all. You see in my family tradition, unless the bride has officially been introduced to the ancestors through the slaughter of a beast, she can’t perform makoti duties including cooking. Despite the spirit of defiance on my part, there was another snag. There were in total 16 mouths to feed.
Nonetheless, my wife took to the cooking task like a duck to water. After an epic six-hour cooking session with a malfunctioning electric cooking stove, food was delivered to all. I patted her on the back for the job well done. My parents remained mum on the breaking of the tradition. For the past 16 years, my wife has been treated as a visitor to be served meals at appointed times. On Sunday, the cooking session had to be repeated. Of course, this was now mundane for my wife.
But, something monumental was in the offing. While I was seated outside one of the huts and whiling away the time by sharing banter with my Mom, other family members and hanger-oners. All of a sudden, my father joined us. He looked apprehensive. I swear I witnessed the perspiration running down his neck. At once, he demanded that all part of my family be summoned to where we were seating to join us. I offered a reprieve for them to say my wife and daughter were busy cooking. My mother also chipped in to say it wasn’t necessary. My father would have none of it. He shouted my mother down. Everybody had to come because he wanted to do something very important. Sensing that I wasn’t going to win the battle let alone the war, I ordered some random kid to go and summon my wife and daughter. My son was already seating with us. They descended upon the place at once. I didn’t make any eye contact with my wife fearing that she would ask me what was going on. I was none the wiser.
My father in his petulant fashion made no small talk or exchanges of any pleasantries. He got down to business. He announced matter-of-factly that he was already late in his appointed task to speak to Amadlozi about my side of the family. In Zulu, Amadlozi means ancestors. We refer to Idlozi (singular) – Amadlozi (plural): it means a human spirit or soul of the departed. As he is won’t to do, he walked metres away from us to be near Isibaya (kraal) and started like a house on fire Ukuthetha idlozi. Ukuthetha idlozi literally is “to scold”. Zulu historians argue that Ukuthetha idlozi linguistically gives one the initial impression of an aggressive kind of relationship between the ancestors and their descendants. In practice it is not so. The literal English translation is misleading. Ukuthetha idlozi is an expression that implies something different from scolding – it is praying to them (not to be confused with religious prayer) this is like a senior counsel’s prayer before a Judge. In its traditional meaning Ukuthetha idlozi rather refers to the communication between the ancestors and their descendants. You basically are telling them what they ought to know and possible make special requests. We treat the dead like the living except that we attach greater value in our relationship with them. We are Zulus, that’s just how we roll.
After a beautiful rendition of Izithakazelo meaning praises attached to a particular descent group (in this case Mncubes) in which the clan’s forebears are also referred to, my father proudly reported thus: “I am reporting to you MaZilakatha (Mncube’s praise name) that uBhekisisa, the son of MaMlambo (my mother’s maiden name) is now married. He has two children. I appeal to you to guard and protect his new family. We pray for their good health, wealth and peace. My apologies for telling you this now. It happened a while back.”
My father ought to have performed this ritual of Ukuthetha idlozi in 2008, when I got married. Nonetheless, the eagerness with which he took to the task, albeit nine years later made me chuckle. He even dispersed with the tradition of burning Impepho which is a species of a small everlasting plant with a sweet smell, (Doke et al 1990: 658). Impepho is used for burning as an offering to the spirits of the departed. It opens communication with the ancestors and makes any request, reporting or sacrifice acceptable. It is normally a precursor to Ukuthetha idlozi. I cared less. I was happy to hear my father pronounced the words, “uBhekisisa is now married”.
So dear reader, it has come to pass that the proverbial English wife, Professor D. is now officially united with my Zulu ancestors. By all accounts, the message to the ancestors was accepted. In simple terms, it means my wife has been accepted as a bride (Makoti) by the Mncube clan after the official reportage to Amadlozi. This is despite the fact that there was no sacrificial slaughter of a beast and subsequent traditional wedding. As you dear readers know: My wife refuses to have anything to do with a wedding ceremony where the killing of poor cows and goats happens willy-nilly. As my father has relented and introduced my wife to the Amadlozi, it therefore means she is officially regarded as a daughter of the Mncube clan. She can now milk the cows, cook and basically be sent on errands by my family as a duly wedded wife. Sadly, in reality, this means there are nil prospects for any further wedding ceremonies.