SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES AMONG SOUTH AFRICA MAJOR ETHNIC TRIBES – ZULU, XHOSA, SOTHO AND NDEBELE
All of South Africa’s major ethnic groups—the Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and Ndebele—have their own distinctive marriage rituals, while there are also many shared practices.
To begin, it is important to note that there are many ways in which the four groups are similar. It is traditional for the family of the bride and groom to get together to talk about the upcoming marriage and provide their blessings and advise to the happy pair. During the event, members of all four cultures wear distinctive traditional wedding garb, which is generally characterized by vivid colors and elaborate embroidery.
Nonetheless, there are also important distinctions between the four civilizations. One such tradition is lobola, practiced by the Zulu people, in which the groom’s family presents a bride price to the bride’s family as a token of their appreciation and respect. Unlike the Xhosa, Sotho, and Ndebele, this is not a widely practiced custom for the Ndebele.
During the wedding ceremony proper, the Xhosa groom will “kidnap” his wife and bring her to his family’s house, a practice known as ukuthwala. Despite concerns that this tradition might lead to abuse, it remains an important component of Xhosa life.
In contrast, the Sotho people observe a tradition known as lebollo in which the bride’s family hosts a feast for the groom’s family as a manner of formally welcoming them into the society. Folk music and dance are common accompaniments to this meal.
Last but not least, the Ndebele have a tradition called umabo in which the bride receives a new surname and is formally introduced to her husband’s family. Gift giving and a communal dinner are common features of these celebrations.
There are some key variations between the marriage customs of the Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and Ndebele peoples, but there are also many shared practices that highlight the centrality of family and community in these cultures.