The Ndzundza Ndebele, one of the two major southern Ndebele peoples live north of Pretoria, the capital of South Africa. Despite feudal wars, colonization, and relocation due to apartheid, they have managed to retain their language and distinctive cultural identity.
For the Ndzundza Ndebele, traditional ceremonies, and marriages in particular, are important occasions to reaffirm Ndebele beliefs and customs.
Today, most Ndzundza Ndebele girls marry in traditional style. The marriage ritual itself divides into three stages, each accompanied by its own ceremony. The first stage involves the bride leaving her family home. As in many African societies a bride-price of livestock must be given by the groom’s family before a marriage is approved.
When the wedding date is set, the bride withdraws for two weeks of ritual seclusion in her parents’ home which has been freshly painted with geometric designs for the occasion. During this time she may only be visited by her female relatives, and must not be seen by any men outside her immediate family. At this stage, she wears a bridal apron called Liphotu, distinguishable by two side flaps, which are said to represent the marriage partners, and a fringe of small beaded tassels symbolizing the expectation of children.
The second stage of marriage occurs with the birth of the first child and is considered the culmination of the marriage process. Following the birth, the bride earns the right to wear the most valued beaded apron, called Ijogolo, whose distinctive five-paneled design represents a mother surrounded by children. The extraordinary beadwork worn by Ndebele brides has been inspired by their neighbours, the Pedi, a Sotho group of people to whom they are related through intermarriage.
The third and final phase is a ritual solemnization, at which the husband honors his wife for all that she has brought him during their time together.