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Umemulo Ceremony

When Zulu women reach the age of 21, their parents arrange a coming of age ceremony for them. This ceremony, called 'umemulo' in isiZulu, is an indication that the girl is grown up and is ready to accept a boyfriend and get married.

Traditionally umemulo would be done around the age of puberty; but with the influence of the western culture it is now done around the age of 21—which is the age when young women finish their college or post high school training, and the parents suggest that they can find a male partner “isoka” and get married.

The family slaughters a cow to congratulate her for growing up, and also to thank the ancestors for keeping the daughter safely.

After the cow has been slaughtered, the father or elder brother sprinkles the bile on the girl’s fingers, toes, and on the top of the girl’s head. The girl drinks some of it. The bile connects the girl to the ancestors and is also used to plead with the ancestors to keep the girl safe and to help her find a prospective husband.

After the bile custom, the girl then dresses up in Zulu attire. She also covers her shoulders with a layer of fat taken out of the cow’s stomach.

On the head she wears a traditional Zulu hat with a wide verandah (isicoco/ inkehli) .

She also wears a black skirt made of cowhide (isidwaba). She may or may not cover her breasts.

The father or elder brother then leads her to the center of the gathering where she dances with the other girls, carrying a spear.

She blows a whistle in order to ask for monetary contributions, and whenever she blows a whistle she approaches a prospective donor who then puts money in her hat. The hat has many pins with which to clip the money so that it does not get blown away by the wind. The girl blows the whistle and points at each person in turn until everybody has made a contribution. Each of the spectators is therefore expected to carry some bank notes, just in case they get selected to make a contribution. When the hat is completely covered with the bank notes and the girl has received contributions from everybody, she is then led back into the house.

People enjoy the cooked and roasted meat and food prepared for the occasion. If a girl has a suitor, it is on this day that he gets introduced to the girl’s parents and family. If he has enough money, he can begin paying lobolo (bride price/ wealth). They are now engaged!

Now you can click the next button and watch the movie clips that show you various stages of this Umemulo (Coming of Age) ceremony



Site developed by Zoliswa O. Mali : Spring 2004
Last modified on 04/30/2004