Bemba Frequently Asked Questions
Key roles and Impango process explained
Abakucaume -The groom’s team
Who is Bashi Bukombe?
- Bashi bukombe is the go-between and a spokesperson for the groom’s family
What is bashibukombe’s role?
- He is responsible for solving any problems or easing tension during bride price negotiations
Who can take the role of Bashi Bukombe?
- Bashi bukombe can be one of the groom’s uncles
- Can be from immediate or extended family
- A respected member of the community
- A male family friend
Qualities to look for Bashi Bukombe
- Good temperament
- Excellent communications skills
- Maturity, sensitivity and dependability
- Good sense of humor
- Cultural etiquette
- Outstanding Morals
Bana Senge -(Aunties from the Father’s side)
Who is Bana Senge?
- Bride’s paternal aunt(s). Father’s sister(s)
- Groom’s paternal aunt. Father’s sister(s)
- Can also be a female representative from extended family. Occasionally a family friend may be requested
What is bana senge’s role on the bride’s side of the family?
- She is the major witness on how bashi bukombe is carrying out the deliberations of the bride price between the two families.
- If situations get tense or the prices are way out of range, the groom’s representatives can take her to the side and explain where they stand, and she can negotiate with the bride’s father(s)
- Usually she has the final say on the what goes on during the negotiations.
What is Bana Senges role on the groom’s side of the family?
- Supports and and gives advice to the groom
- Bana senge plays a very important role in the bride price negotiations and marriage, so her presence in these meetings is a must.
- Bana senge is highly esteemed that both families usually agree with whatever she decides on most occasions.
Bemba (lobola or Impango) process Step by step explanation
- Ukusobolwa – To be chosen
- Ukukobekelwa – Engagement
- Icisekela or Icisumina Insalamo (Icisekela Busonge) – Acceptance of the dowry
- Icilanga Mulilo (The showing of fire – showing of cuisine) –Granting the groom permission
- Training ceremony
- Ubwinga – Wedding day
- Amashikulo – (Ukushikula – Talk / Express) Day after the wedding
- Amatebeto – Thanksgiving ceremony for the husband
- Ukwingisha (Ukukonkola) – Granting authority
Ukusobolwa (To be Chosen)
What is Ukusobolwa?
- When a man is interested in marrying a girl, he approaches the girl privately.
- He then goes and introduces the prospective wife to his parents, informing them that he has found a girl he wishes to marry.
- Some Bemba families do a background check on the girl’s tribe and family.
- They also want to know what the girl does for a living.
Please note the prospective wife is subjected to all of the above questioning by her parents
Ukukobekelwa – Engagement
What is Ukukobekelwa?
- Ukukobekelwa is when bashibukombe (spokesperson, go-between/mediator) and the grooms party go to the bride’s parents house to announce the groom’s intention to marry their daughter.
- When a day and time is agreed upon, the bashibukombe, uncles, aunties, and the prospective husband will go to the girl’s house.
- They then pay a token fee to the bride’s family to express the prospective groom’s intentions of marrying their daughter.
- This token fee is known as Insalamo.
- The insalamo (money) is put in the covered plate (utubale) and is decided by the groom’s team.
- The prospective bride uncovers the plate as acceptance of the proposal.
- When the bride-to-be accepts the Insalamo, it makes the marriage proposal official and then negotiations for Dowry (Impango ensue).
Imbale – Plate Typically an enamel plate or bowl covered
What is the Imbale – Plate
- It is typically an enamel plate or bowl with a lid.
- The Groom’s party brings the plate or bowl.
What is the Imbale-plate used for?
- All the various lobola charges/fees are placed in this plate by the Bashi Bukombe.
- During Insalamo , the bride is called by her family to come and accept or reject the proposal. If she uncovers the plate, it means she has accepted the marriage proposal.
- After the bride accepts the Insalamo, it means she is officially engaged.
- After that the lobola negotiations can start or the groom’s family can ask for another date for lobola (dowry) negotiations.
Icisumina Nsalamo – Acceptance of Marriage Proposal
The bride uncovers the plate (Imbale) to signify that she has accepted the marriage proposal.
Impango – Dowry or Lobola
Why is Impango necessary?
- It is necessary for the groom to pay impango as a token of appreciation to the bride’s parents for bringing up their daughter well.
What is the money used for?
- As mentioned above, the impango is a token of appreciation and is shared among the bride’s parents and the bride’s extended family from both the father’s and mother’s side.
NB/ Bembas do not charge a high impango. They feel that if they charge a lot of money, it is like they are selling their daughter and it loses its meaning as a token of appreciation.
In extreme cases where the husband mistreats their daughter, the parents of the girl usually pay back the impango and demand that their daughter be brought back to their home.
Cisekela or Icisumina insalamo (Icisekela busonge) – Acceptance of the dowry
- A meal is prepared by the bride’s family as a token of appreciation for the dowry payment.
- In the olden days, a plate of ubwali (maize, millet or sorghum) thick/hard porridge and a whole roasted chicken was served to the groom’s family.
- Nowadays, a few dishes and drinks are added.
- The groom’s family is not supposed to give back anything when returning the plates, but as per the Bemba custom, one never returns a plate empty after receiving a gift from someone.
- So money is put in the plates when taking them back to the bride’s family as a sign of courtesy.
Impango – Dowry or Lobola
What happens if you do not pay the impango?
- Impango is an important aspect of the marriage, hence it is imperative that the groom pays the impango or at least half or three quarters of the bride price, otherwise the marriage can’t take place.
- That mandatory impango (bride price) is negotiable and is allowed to be paid later even when the marriage has taken place.
- But it should be noted that in case the wife dies before the husband finishes paying the impango (bride price), the burial cannot take place until the remainder or outstanding bride price is paid.
- However, if the instalments are deferred for any reason (even death) the responsibility for honouring the impango payments may fall on;
- groom’s father
- groom’s paternal uncles and aunties
- groom’s brothers and sisters
- In other cases even the groom’s extended family get involved to settle impango
It should be noted that, if the impango is not finished, in case the wife dies, burial cannot take place until the outstanding dowry is paid (THIS SHOULD BE EMPHASIZED)
Icilanga mulilo – Granting the groom permission
What is Icilanga mulilo?
- Icilanga mulilo is a ceremony to grant the groom permission and freedom to have meals from the bride’s family during courtship whenever he visits.
- During this ceremony, the bride’s family cooks food (different cuisines), and the bride participates in the cooking.
- Icilanga mulilo is a flamboyant ceremony where a group of women (dressed in wrappers of the same colour) take the food to the groom’s family on top of their heads, singing.
- When they reach the gate of the groom’s compound, they pause at the gate until the groom’s family throws money at them. If they are not happy with the amount, they will not budge until the money is enough.
- When they enter the house, there is a lot of singing and dancing. Then they uncover the plates of food, and the groom is supposed to taste the food.
What is the Training Ceremony?
- The training ceremony is the process whereby the bride and the groom are taught marriage rites called “mbusa”/ “ukucindila” by “bana chimbusa,” for the bride and “bashi cimbusa” for the groom.
- Collectively, “bana chimbusa,” and “bashi cimbusa” are known as “ifimbusa,”
- The teachings are done separately.
- On the final day of the teachings (usually in the evening), the groom is brought to the initiation house, where the bride is to come and observe the Imbusa (emblems/symbols) and perform what is called ukulasa pa mbusa – shooting at the emblems, it means a man can please a woman during intimacy.
- Both men and women are also taught how to honour, respect, and look after both their family and their spouse’s family.
- In the Bemba culture, the marriage rites are taught using songs, drawings on a cloth, or moulded images called ” imbusa“(emblems/symbols).
- Some of the images or symbols you would see are:
- Sefa (a sieve) – This emblem teaches the bride to sieve things she hears. One must sieve friendships, information that is not right, and only retain what is valuable as a sieve does.
- Imbabula: A Charcoal Brazier – Used for cooking. A bride is given a brazier to instruct her always to cook food for the husband and not depend on an electric cooker in case there is a power outage, as is common in most African countries.
- Ubulungu (Beads) – Worn around the waist for pleasure – enticing the husband. Also, it is believed it shapes a woman’s waist.
- A bride is taught to keep and use strings of red, white, and black beads in her marriage.
- They are used to inform a husband of certain things without uttering a word, and a man who has been taught will understand when he sees these beads on the bed:
- The red string of beads – When the husband finds them on the bed, he will immediately know that the wife is on her menstrual cycle, which means no intimacy.
- The white string of beads – When the husband sees these white beads on the bed, he will immediately know that the wife’s monthly cycle has ended, and it is okay to be intimate.
- The black string of beads – When the husband sees these black beads on the bed, the husband will understand that it is time to clean (shave) each other, the armpits, and private areas. This role is essential in the Bemba Culture.
Mortar and Pestle – (in Bemba, it is called Ibende no Umwinshi)
- The Mortar and Pestle are used for pounding millet and cassava, but in marriage teachings, they carry a different meaning.
- It is taught that when the mortar and the pestle are not in use, they must be put lying down, but if it is in an upright position and the pestle inside the mortar as if someone was pounding and it is placed in front or beside the door of the house, a man or woman who has undergone marriage rites cannot knock on the door.
- He or she will go away and return another time because when he/she sees the mortar and pestle in that position, it tells the passer-by or visitor that the couple is intimate and should not be disturbed.
Other forms of training
- Dancing: A woman is taught how to dance; Bemba Culture believes a woman must have a soft/flexible waist. It also symbolizes a woman’s pride. She is also taught some erotic dances to please her husband. A man is also taught how to dance accordingly.
- Respect: Men and women are taught to kneel when greeting elders and giving something to the elders. The woman must always kneel when serving her husband. It is a sign of respect/honour and love for her husband.
- Eye Contact: Part of the training involves reminding the man and woman not to look straight into the eyes of an elderly person when communicating with them. Doing so is considered a sign of disrespect or rudeness; instead, one’s gaze should be down.
- Gender roles training: Home management takes a big part of the woman’s marriage training ‘ukucindila.’ The same goes with the man. Being the provider and headship of the home also takes a significant part of his training.
- The bana chimbusa teach the bride how to communicate.
- They also explain to the bride that it is not all the time that one must speak her mind in a quarrel. It is always wise to close one’s mouth until an opportune time when there is no heat between the couple.
- They always teach the bride to avoid heated debates because this shows a lack of respect, especially towards the groom or guests and may lead to estrangement in a marriage.
Ubwinga – Wedding Day
What is Ubwinga?
- Ubwinga is a wedding ceremony.
- After the training ceremony, ‘ukucindila,’ the man and woman are ready for marriage.
- If it is a traditional wedding, the groom’s family and bride’s family come together with the elders blessing the couple.
- At this point, the bride is escorted to the husband’s house and given to the groom as his wife.
Amashikulo – (Ukushikula – Talk / Express)
What is Amashikulo?
- Amashikulo is a ceremony where where family members and friends give advice to the newly wedded couple.
- At this ceremony, the couple sits in front of the groom’s and bride’s family, and a plate is placed in front of them. Then whoever wishes to say something to the couple to uplift or caution them puts money on the plate and talks.
- This is also a form of introduction to the extended family. After that, the wedding celebrations continue.
- At the groom’s place, wedding celebrations continue for the next 2 to 5 days.
- The bride does not wait until all the celebrations are over before joining the husband.
- The groom and the bride will be in their home and can join the celebrations if they choose to.
- If it is a church or court wedding, after signing the marriage certificates and reception, the aunties will escort the bride to the groom’s house and hand her over to the groom as his wife.
Amatebeto(Thanksgiving Ceremony for the husband)
What is Amatebeto?
- Amatebeto is a ceremony whereby the bride’s family prepares various cuisine (delicacies) and deliver them to the groom.
- It is done 2 to 3 years into marriage.
- Amatebeto signifies the appreciation of the bride’s family for how well the groom has looked after their daughter. It is a public acknowledgment by the bride’s family for the groom for keeping the family trouble-free and honouring their daughter.
- Amatebeto also reaffirms the blessing of the bride’s family on the marriage.
Ukwingisha(Ukukonkola) – Granting Authority
What is Ukwingisha (Ukukonkola)?
- Ukwingisha (Ukukonkola) is a ceremony that takes place at the bride’s parents’ house; where the son in law is granted authority to officially become a decision making member of the bride’s family.
- The bride’s parents prepare a meal for the son-in-law to eat at their house.
- At this ceremony, when the son-in-law eats the meal from the in-law’s house, he is given authority to be part of the elder’s decision-making on matters affecting the wife’s family.
- The son-in-law is allowed to go into the in-law’s bedroom (traditionally, teenagers and adult children are not allowed to enter their parents’ bedroom – much less the son-in-law).
- The in-laws hide things under the bedding, under the bed, and the son-in-law is expected to perform something like a treasure hunt (ukukonkola). He is expected to remove the bedding and check under the bed then takes anything that he finds.
- He then proceeds to the living room, removes the cushions, looks under the seats, takes any valuables hidden there, and is allowed to keep them.
- After the living room, he is directed to the kitchen where he is expected to open the pots and pans, covered plates, and eat whatever is in there; all the food in the pots must be eaten by the son-in-law, if anything remains, he is supposed to take it back to his house because nothing is expected to remain after the ceremony.
- This ceremony signifies that the son-in-law is now regarded as one of their own children. After this ceremony is performed, the son-in-law is given the authority to personally take care of the mother-in-law if the mother-in-law is sick or bed-ridden.
- This ceremony is incredibly significant in the Bemba Culture, and every son-law wishes to undergo this ceremony. It usually takes place 5 to 10 years into a marriage.