The bridal ritual that seals marriage


THE cotton sheet they were covered in was getting stuffy and her knees were being pinched by the gravel as they knelt by the road side.
It is dark and they can hardly see.
The unwritten laws of the ancient art require they camp away from her in-laws house, the neighbours curious can be seen peeking through the windows.
They sit in a line the bride and her sister in a white sheet while the aunts (vana tete) kneel one in the front of the bride and the other at the rear.
“Auya ne gudo, tavigirwa gudo, vhurai tione,” the new in-laws immediately begin to taunt the bride-to-be.
The bride could pick up familiar voices, especially her husband’s sisters who were jeering at her.
The moment the car hit the now familiar bump to mark the end of the smooth tar from town to Bulawayo’s oldest suburb, Mzilikazi, the new bride knew she had to be prepared for the show of a life time.
The bridal ritual was part of an ancient art that could be traced back centuries.
It was a ritual passed down generations through the patriarchal aunt.
There is a lot of play acting on the day where the bride pretends she has never set foot in her in-laws house while they too pretend the same.
The symbolism of the ceremony, however, runs deeper than the charade as this time the bride is expected to show her new family that she is capable of tackling her duties as a wife.
On their way to Mzilikazi, vana tete were fussing over everything, making her more anxious, they were wondering if they had collected everything.
The ritual was also considered as an opportunity to make money or receive gifts from the new family.
As they sang, the bride’s sister, accompanying her also kneels in the white cotton sheet, fidgeting and begins texting on her mobile phone which quickly caught the attention of the stricter aunts before they confiscate it.
“You will embarrass us with that thing,” she almost snarls.
Immediately a signal is given to the kneeling duo to move guided by the patriarchal aunts who without walking stop to kneel again.
The custom dictates that the bridal team must not move towards the house until given a satisfactory and agreed sum of money.
The in-laws immediately begin to entice them to get up and come in and when this does not seem to work they pretend to walk away mocking the new bride for being snobbish.
Meanwhile, the bride is fixing her zambia which keeps slipping off due to her fidgeting as she is getting tired.
Finally, more money keeps coming and they finally reach the door of the house.
They still will not go in until they are given more money, this time the in-laws are whispering and enticing the cloth covered duo, “chingopindai kani maiguru matosvika wani munopaziva pamba kare wani.”
Finally, the money is given and the bride steps in the house guided by the patriarchal aunts who make sure she does not fall as she is still covered in the white cloth that symbolises her purity.
At last, in the home they refuse to sit on their chairs where they are invited, the bride is tempted to sit as the floor is becoming painful, but she dares not.
This time, the in-laws give the final payment so they can see the bride’s face.
Ululations immediately welcome the new bride into the home.
Greetings soon follow and the bridal team is given a room to sleep.
“Finally we can rest,” the bride mutters to herself.
The bride cannot remember exactly what her dream was except it was a happy one, but she is shaken out of it in what seems like barely hours after she closed her eyes.
The bride grumbles supported by her sister that it is too early, it was just four in the morning.
“Machongwe akutochema tinotangirwa kumuka pano tikanyara,” her aunts say.
Immediately, they begin to sweep the yard which is clean, thanks to the peach tree there are dry leaves to sweep, her aunt sighs in relief.
Customarily the in-laws clean their compound and hide their brooms.
As bridal team is sweeping they leave the dirt in piles, they will only collect and throw away when the in-laws place money on every mound of dirt.
If the bridal team dares ask for the sweeping broom they are immediately labelled as unorganised and will forever tarnish the bride’s record.
This then requires the team to have their own sweeping gear including firewood, pots, pans, soap, buckets, bathing towels, salt and matches, among other things.
When the family wakes up the bridal team will have bathed, lit a fire and begun the process of ‘giving water’ to the in-laws to bathe.
There is now a hive of activity around the house and curious passer-by and neighbours stop and stare.
Some by-standers are surprised while others giggle nervously as the bride kneels to give her in-laws hot boiling water from an earthen pot, hari.
As the bathing water is poured the in-laws give the new bride a token of appreciation.
Meanwhile, the bridal team begins to prepare their menu that they will serve to the in-laws.
The menu is also an ancient art of dried beef (chimukuyu) in peanut butter and sadza rezviyo.
Two chickens are also slaughtered and prepared.
The bridal team invites the patriarchal aunt from the in-laws who advise how the food will be served.
After the food episode, the family is called as the bride’s aunts prepare to leave.
The aunts will have packed a big suitcase with the bridal package.
In the bag among other things the bride should take to her new home is the chinu.
The chinu is a small gourd made from mapudzi decorated by beads in which the family puts oil made from peanuts or sunflower. The oil is smeared on the inlaws’ faces after bathing as a sign of them accepting her.
The bottle gourd as mapudzi are known, though shunned by the converted is an ancient symbol of womanhood given when a woman is married to take to her new home.
It symbolises the journey she is taking with her husband and upon her death it should be produced by the in-laws.
If her husband should die, she is to break it as a symbol of a journey ended.
Once the new family receives their bride, she no longer belongs to her people and the ritual is complete.


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