Wednesday, July 13, 2011

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Some Matebele or Ndebele Customs

  • Wednesday, July 13, 2011
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  • Author: Lionel Decle
    Charge de Mission Scientifique du Gouvernement Franqais.
    Source: The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 23 (1894), pp. 83-88

    Marriages. 

    POLYGAMY is the rule amongst the Matabeles, and the King Lobengula has eighty-four wives. The marriage ceremonies and customs differ greatly from those observed by the other South African tribes. When the father of the girl has given his permission to the marriage, the intended husband kills an ox or a sheep, according to his means, and sends or takes part of it to the village of the young woman's father; coming outside the hut, where the latter lives, he screams out "Here is meat for your child." The young men of the town then come out and drive the herald anway, but he is soon brought back and every one feasts on the meat.

    When the girl goes to her husband, most of the young girls of the village accompany her. Sometimes, when he is wealthy enough, her father gives her an ox or a cow to take with her, and when she comes to her husband's place she has to take some dung of the animal presenting it to the bridegroom, who washes his hands with it. The bride must also bring with her a kalabash filled with water and beads, and when she comes into her future husband's house she pours water over him and his people and puts the beads on her head; then, placing the kalabash in front of the bridegroom, she smashes it with her foot: this seals the marriage. 

    The girls who have accompanied her are supplied with places of rest; the bridegroom slaughters an animal, and a dance with beer drinking takes place that night and the following day. The day after the bridesmaids go and collect wood in the veldt in the morning, the husband gives them a goat to eat, and then they go home. 

    Contrary to the custom of most African races the husband does not here pay for his wife before marrying her, but when his wife bears a child it belongs to her father unless her husband pays to his father-in-law cattle varying in number according to his means. Sometimes-although this is seldom the case-a man will go and ask for a girl, giving then cattle to her father, but that does not dispense with the usual payment after the child is born. 

    When a woman is childless her husband has a right to claim her sister or her next nearest relation. No relations are allowed to marry unless very distant-but the relationship is only considered on the man's side; in fact the rule is against marrying anyone with the same " isibongo " (surname); for instance, a Kumalo cannot marry a Kumalo. 

    Another custom is most strictly observed: a man can never look at his mother-in-law or at his wife's aunt, neither can a woman look at her father-in-law. A man can also send one of his wives away if he does not like her, and she can then marry another man. 

    Before marriage women are allowed all freedom. When a man is dead his widows usually become his brother's wives although it is not compulsory on the women; and if they choose they can marry again, but in that case the new husband must pay his father-in-law if a child is born. 

    Burials. 

    As soon as a Matabele is dead his relations tie the corpse in a blanket or a skin in a sitting position. The relations cry and howl, and the people in the village come and join them. A grave is dug outside the village-there is no special place of burial-which is covered with stones and bushes. 

    After the funeral the near relations and whoever has come in contact writh the corpse must go out of the town and stay away for several days until they have been doctored and cleansed. Every town has separate huts outside for this purpose. 

    As a rule they get the dying person out of his house into a small hut to die there. 

    If a man of importance dies the people from all the surrounding villages come and cry for him: they cry and howl on arriving and on departing only

    Footnote

    1. This custom oinly takes place in the case of a young girl being married.

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