About Swati Lobola Ceremony
The Swati Lobola Ceremony is a three day colorful and vibrant affair characterized by song, dance and feasting. It is the culmination of a previous process in which the groom’s family visits the bride’s family to initiate discussions that conclude in an agreement on the number of cows that the groom’s family should give to the bride’s family as a token of appreciation for having the bride join their new family. Lobola is given by the groom’s family also as a sign of commitment to creating and maintaining a healthy relationship between the two marrying families. The lobola ceremony is held at the bride’s home from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.
On Friday the groom and his entourage, typically his siblings, extended family members and close friends, arrive at the home of the bride in the evening or night, sometimes even past midnight. The groom (uMyeni) and his entourage are collectively referred to as Bayeni (grooms). Upon arrival, the groom’s chief Lobola negotiator and chief messenger known as Gozolo, announces their arrival by shouting “Siyalobola Gogo” (We are here to give the bride’s family cows). Swati people say Gogo to refer to ancestors. When shouting “Siyalobola Gogo”, Swati people are alerting the ancestors of both the bride and groom’s families of their presence and of the three day ceremony that aims to foster a strong relationship of kinship between the two families. After this announcement, Gozolo goes ahead to announce the number of cattle and describes (physical appearance) each of the cattle they have brought to the bride’s home. He also makes specific mention of two cows; Lugege and Insulamnyembeti. A Swati lobola ceremony cannot proceed without these two cows. Lugege is a gift to the women of the bride’s family and is feasted upon at the ceremony. Insulamnyembeti is a gift for only the bride’s mother. She can keep this cow for as long as she wants.
When Gozolo is done with this part of the ceremony, the bride’s family, who have been expecting the Bayeni, then proceeds to acknowledge their presence and gives them permission to enter the bride’s home. When this is done, both the groom and Gozolo are presented with blankets that will differentiate them from the rest of the entourage. They will use these blankets to cover themselves throughout the lobola weekend. Swati people consider the covering of the groom’s shoulders and arms a sign of respect to his in-laws. Bayeni are led into the bride’s home by Intfombiyemtfwalo. Intfombiyemtfwalo is a young unmarried woman from the groom’s family who carries on her head, the groom’s bedding for the weekend; a pillow, and blanket wrapped in a grass mat. Bayeni enter the house they have been booked in and retire as Day 1 concludes.
On Saturday morning the bride and groom’s families kick off the morning with talks; pleasantries to formalize the weekend’s events and significance. Although this is a serious part of the ceremony, it is done in a sociable manner that supports the purpose of lobola which is creating a relationship and bond of kinship between the two marrying families. At these talks, the number of cows and their descriptions is repeated to the bride’s family. Both families then proceed to the cattle kraal to view the lobola cows before the groom’s family officially hands them over to the bride’s family. It is also while in the kraal that the bride’s family points the groom’s family to a cow which they shall slaughter and feast on for the duration of the lobola ceremony. This cow is called Inhlabisabayeni. Once this formal part is concluded, socializing in the form of singing, dancing and chatter begins back at the bride’s yard. This goes on for most of the afternoon and is interrupted by feasting on Lugege and Inhlabisabayeni.
This is the final day. The main feature of this day is kungcingciswa kwenyongo (smearing of cow bile on the bride and groom). The bride smears bile on the groom and the groom does the same to his bride. This is the bile of the cow called Lugege. The smearing of bile signifies the sealing of their union – the same way that in some cultures the bride and groom exchange wedding bands to symbolize their union. Once this is done, the groom’s family is free to leave.
The next phase after the lobola ceremony is the celebration of the union in a ceremony called Umtsimba. During Umtsimba the bride and her family travel to the groom’s home to present him and his extended family with gifts over three days. This song and dance ceremony also starts on Friday and concludes on Sunday at the groom’s home.
Story and images by Neo Ntsoma
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Day 2: The groom presents gifts to King Mswati III. [Historically, gifting happens on the final leg of the traditional Swazi wedding, which is a separate ceremony known as Umtsimba. In modern times, because of time for some important members of the families, gifting now happens at any of the traditional Swati wedding ceremonies at which key members are available, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 20, 2015
Day 2: The bride also dances with the elder women in her family. Among those dancing with the bride here is her grandmother who is also the Queen Mother of the Kingdom of Eswatini (second from left), Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 20, 2015
Day 2: The bride gets a chance to shine on the day by dancing alone in front of the groom and all in attendance, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 20, 2015
Day 2: The groomâs female members of the family wearing traditional isiZulu attire. Showing oneâs heritage through dress, song and dance is a big part of bonding for the marrying families, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 20, 2015
Day 2: The groomâs family at the kraal. In this picture the men are wearing traditional isiZulu attire as they are from the Zulu people is South Africa which is Eswatiniâs neighboring country, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 20, 2015
Day 2: In the cattle kraal the groom and his chief negotiator/messenger await the brideâs family to whom they will handover the lobola cows, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 20, 2015
Day 2: The brideâs uncles escorts the royal family out of the cattle kraal. Feasting on Lugege is an interlude to the song and dance before it commences again throughout the day, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 20, 2015
Day 2: The brideâs family also participates in the song and dance, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 20, 2015
Day 2: Elders of the royal family lead the bride to the familyâs ancestral site as part of the early morning dance. This ritual is exclusive to the royal family of the Kingdom of Eswatini. Each Swati family is at liberty to tailor their own small segments into the lobola ceremony according to what is deeply meaningful and symbolic to each family, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 20, 2015
Day 2: All Swati dance activities are a spectacular uniform of colorful coordinated outfits and dance routines. The jovial bride dances with her sisters and cousins, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 20, 2015
Day 2: The brideâs clan participates in the morning dance. This early morning dance is a ritual exclusive to the royal family of the Kingdom of Eswatini, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 19, 2015
Day 1: The groom arrives at the brideâs home with his entourage on Friday evening. Once welcomed into the brideâs home, the groom and his chief Lobola negotiator known as Gozolo are presented with blankets, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lobamba, Swaziland, June 19, 2015