Sunday, February 16, 2014

16 February 2014



                                                             Going to the wedding

One of the joys of being able to live in a foreign country is to learn of their customs. At times those who are guests to a foreign country are surprised and sometimes amused at what they learn about their various customs. For instance, marriage is a wonderful thing; a man and a woman see one another, hold hands, hearts flutter, minds see nothing but bliss, all rationale become submersed with the overwhelming desire to be joined in matrimony. So far this story seems reasonable and, in most cases, it is. However, being a guest in South Africa we have had the occasion to converse with several couples who are in the process of trying to get married which here, if they abide by their ancient customs, is not where they go to the courthouse, get a marriage license, find a preacher and say “I do.” In many parts of South Africa, the process is much more complex and would cause many raised in a western culture to decide celibacy is bliss.

                                                    Mother and daughter

In South Africa there is a custom called “Labolo” that is associated with their marriages.
Lobolo or Lobola (sometimes translated as bride price) is a traditional Southern African custom whereby the man pays the family of his fiancée for her hand in marriage. The custom is aimed at bringing the two families together, fostering mutual respect, and indicating that the man is capable of supporting his wife financially and emotionally.


This one is really nice, can we trade straight across?

Traditionally, the lobola payment was in cattle as cattle were the primary source of wealth in African society. However, most modern urban couples have switched to using cash. The process of lobola negotiations can be long and complex, and involves many members from both the bride's and the groom's extended families. Often, to dispel any tensions between the families, a bottle of brandy is placed on the table. This is usually not drunk; it is simply a gesture to welcome the guest family and make everyone feel more relaxed. One individual we spoke to was convinced that the prospective in-laws not only enticed his brother to partake but also spiked it as he ended up paying 20 cows as his lobolo. This greatly infuriated him as he felt the woman was not anywhere near that amount. However, he may have been interested in the woman’s sister and did not want to pay that amount.

Sure hope I don’t have to give the whole herd away

Lobola may have some unintended negative effects. It may create a financial barrier for some young men looking to take a bride. It is common for a couple that are emotionally ready to commit to each other to stay unmarried if they do not have the financial resources to satisfy the impeding traditional ritual. For those who do have the financial means, the issue can be lobolo's opportunity cost. Young men who are in the wealth-creation stage of life may feel that their future is better secured if they invest their money elsewhere to receive significant financial returns.

Lobola is seen by some as an extravagance that has little relevance in a society where young Africans are trying to lift themselves out of inherited poverty. However, the tradition is adhered to as strongly as ever, and in families where tradition and intention override greed, lobolo can be a great way of showing commitment between families, not just between the bride and groom. Many traditional marriages utilize a cash-based lobolo; this can be then followed by a European-style wedding ceremony, where the lobolo funds are used to pay for expenses. In this way, any outlaid costs are returned to the payer in another form, preserving tradition, honor and finances.

                                                Come buy your lobolo festivity food

In addition to the lobolo paid for the bride, there are gifts of clothing to the parents of the bride, grocery items and cash to be used for food and other expenses. Gifts will include an outfit for the mother of the bride, an outfit for the father, which will often be a suit of choice.

The new groom will also pay for "Munongedzi wedanga", a stick used for driving the cattle into the corral. If the cattle are cash equivalents, the stick will also be its cash equivalent.

As with any tradition or cultural custom, lobola may be misinterpreted or misunderstood by those who view it from an outside perspective. It can also be open to misuse or abuse (as any man-made tradition can) and common sense must prevail to ensure that both families are happy with the arrangements.
                                           To the wedding we will go
Surprisingly, African customary law has advocates even among modern, educated women in South Africa, many of whom believe that it provides them protection without hindering them in any significant way. Payment of the lobolo, however, means that the bride is paid for, and a divorce is not usually granted unless the bride’s family can repay the amount. Often, the lack of the means for repayment may force women to stay in unhappy or abusive marriages.  
              Mother, Mother-in-Law and Daughter smoking peace pipe – the lobolo was good                     

                                   What a great day this is – I can’t believe it is finally over.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

7 February 2014

Becoming a Man

Becoming a man, in most societies generally is considered a maturing process in which a boy begins to take responsibility for his actions, words, deeds, and what is becoming. He decides his course in life and begins to determine the path he will follow. Our peers may have, and often do have, differing opinions of what  we should or shouldn’t do, but eventually each individual, if they are to become an entity of their own, must become their own – all of which is within the realm of “becoming a man.”

In Africa, at least here in South Africa, becoming a man is considered by many to be more of a point in time in which a series of predetermined steps established by their culture are performed. Becoming a man for them is an initiation which takes place in the “Bush.” The “Bush” is any informal place that is removed from their normal place of “civilization.”. The period in time designated to become a man is between the ages of 15 to 18 although, to my knowledge there are no restrictions on either end. An African writer described the initiation process as the following:

"Going to the Bush is a Xhosa ritual where boys in South Africa are initiated into manhood.    During the winter break from school a group of initiates go into the bush accompanied by an older man.  Once there they must build a hut and kill a lamb.  There they are circumcised and must eat or bury their foreskin.  Wounds are covered by bandages made from the leaves of some wild plants.   After being circumcised, each must go to the river and cover himself with a white clay.  The young men spend the balance of their time either naked or wearing very little.

They live on maize during their stay.  A tribal elder teaches them Xhosa etiquette and the proper way of paying respect to the spirits of their ancestors.  During this period each young man learns Xhosa chants and songs.  At the end of the isolation they return to the river to wash off the clay.  However, some continue to wear it on the face for weeks as they consider it a badge of honor.  They want everyone to know they have "been to bush" and that now they are men.  Many buy their sons new clothes discarding the old.

Before they return home they are anointed with the fat of animals from the top of the head, down their body and across their shoulders.  They are wrapped in a new blanket and in line with heads covered, they are marched back to their homes. However, no longer will they live with their family.  Now that they are men they move into a lean-to or shack behind their family home.

Initiates are then honoured with a huge party and another animal is slaughtered. Friends and relatives come to congratulate them.  Everyone eats, sings, and dances until they drop.  A celebration can go on for many days.  It's a huge expense for each family.”

There are some young men that simply refuse to go.  Others go because of peer pressure or because an uncle or a tribal elder demands it of them.  Those who undergo the initiation ritual, do so not without risk. I have extracted portions of a article from “The Times” newspaper wherein a doctor tells of initiation horrors, ( Monday, July 29, 2013.)
 “This is a grim time of year for Eastern Cape’s Holy Cross Hospital, at which mattresses are laid on floors to cope with the stream of young men severely injured in circumcision rituals.  The tradition, which goes back centuries, is meant to usher youths into manhood, inculcating them with the ability to take on the responsibilities of an adult who is a valued member of his community.  

But at least 60 boys have died since the start of the initiation season in May, 30 of them in Eastern Cape in the past six weeks.  About 300 have been admitted to hospitals.

Dingeman Rijken, a doctor at the Holy Cross Hospital, has treated so many cases that he is campaigning for more proficiency at the ceremonies and has circulated a training manual that calls for adequate medical precautions.  The manual contains graphic images of circumcision and illustrates the best way of performing the procedure. . .

 Rijken said the worst of the injuries were caused by botched circumcisions by inexperienced traditional “nurses”, who used one spear blade on many initiates without disinfection then covered wounds with tightly wrapped bandaging that cut off the blood supply.  

"After about 10 hours, the genitals could become gangrenous and, in some cases, permanently damaged."  But many initiates did not seek hospital treatment for another five to 10 days, Rijken said.  "By this time very little could be done.  Doctors could not perform surgery because initiates suffered from sleep deprivation and dehydration and were not in a condition to give consent."
"Initiates rarely complained about pain because they feared being beaten by nurses and ridiculed by peers for not properly observing a tradition that encourages them to develop a tough demeanor," Rijken said.

     On the day of initiation, the boys begin the erection of skeleton framework.

                                         The completed framework.


The women take over and begin thatching the framework.

  The newly thatched hut, SUTU, which will become their home for 3 months.

                           Each initiate has his head completely shaved.

                                Sheep are slaughtered for the initiates.

  The initiates, with head shaved, have their last meal in the sheep kraal before the operation.

33 men 'die in South African circumcision ceremonies'
                                           Going to their huts for the operation.

                      The witch doctor ready with spear before operation.
      Operation complete, faces are smeared with white mud (not white paint).

 The way the initiate must eat for the first 7 days, never touching food or drink with hands.

 The 8th day. emerging for "Jisa" (the day of the roasting). A sheep is roasted and fed to the initiates, the first bite of which cannot be swallowed but rather spit out.

Last day of three month ceremony, in the river, white Ingceke paint is completely removed.

    The thatched hut is burned to obliterate everything concerning their youth.

The ceremony ends. As the new men in black turbans and red faces emerge from the hut, they are met by a double line of women waving mealie sticks and bidding them farewell. The rigorous ceremony is completed. 
We personally have spoken to a couple of these newly transformed “men” who claim that their ceremony was much less elaborate than that documented above. They claim that they:
  1. Were given 5 sticks for which to make a hut frame.
  2. Brush available in the area was used to cover the frame.
  3. The circumcision took place on the second day during which they could display no pain (no groaning, wincing, crying etc) or they were deemed unworthy to become a man. They could however, try again; how is still unclear to me.
  4. They received a pinch of corn meal and a very small amount of water for 8 days.
  5. Following the eighth day they painted themselves with white mud and remained so for the next 2 weeks.
  6. At the end of the 3-week period they painted their faces red and are suddenly a “man”. How long they stay painted red is unclear.
The following picture is one we took of a few “hopefuls” waiting for their initiation period to end. We were told that they were not being faithful to the ritual rights as they were not to do any socializing during that period.