Kupepa Ukwati (Asking for a Hand in Marriage)
This is the first step to Lhomwe traditional marriage customs. A man who wishes to marry tells his maternal uncle about his intent to marry. The man describes the woman he wishes to marry and where she is from. He then asks the uncle to approach the woman’s relatives to ask for a hand in marriage. The uncle approaches and informs the man’s parents of his intention to marry; the then approaches the maternal uncle of the woman for a marriage proposal. The maternal uncle of the woman does not give a response on the very same day; rather he suggests a certain period before he responds to the proposal. During this period, the woman’s maternal uncle informs the woman’s parents of the marriage proposal and he also makes a background check on the man who wishes to marry his niece. If they are satisfied with the man’s character, he sends a message to the man’s maternal uncle for further discussions on the proposal. These uncles then assume the role of the ankhoswe for the marriage of the man and the woman.
On this second visit, the man’s ankhoswe is then accompanied by one or two elder relatives to bear witness to the discussions. The man’s ankhoswe presents the proposal again to the woman’s ankhoswe. He uses a metaphor of a rooster to refer to his nephew and the metaphor of the pullet to refer to the woman whom they are asking for a hand in marriage. The woman is then summoned to confirm whether she consents to the proposal or not. In most cases, since the woman knows in advance about the proposal, she accepts that she intends to marry the man in question. When the woman gives consent, her relatives and the man’s relatives set the date of Chinkhoswe.
During the marriage proposal, no gifts or money is given by either side.
Chinkhoswe (The Traditional Wedding)
Who is involved?
The bride’s parents
The groom’s parents
The groom’s maternal uncle accompanied by relatives
The bride’s maternal uncle accompanied by relatives
Key Role of the Ankhoswe
The ankhoswe act as the marriage mediator between the husband and the wife. Since the Lhomwe culture follows the Matrilineal system of Marriage, the ankhoswe is usually the maternal uncle of the bride and the maternal uncle of the groom. Every marriage negotiation between the man’s side and the woman’s side is done through the ankhoswe.
Key Role of the Accompanying Relatives
The accompanying relatives bear witness to the union of the bride and the groom.
They have a role in counseling the newlyweds on how they should conduct themselves as married people. They advise the groom on his expected role as a husband and the bride on her expected role as a wife. They also advise how they can relate with their relatives as well as the people in the community.
The accompanying relatives are also later involved by the ankhoswe in resolving any marital issues that may arise in this marriage.
What is involved?
One live rooster
One live pullet
One roasted full chicken
What happens during the Chinkhoswe Ceremony
The Chinkhoswe takes place at the bride’s village or residence. This time the groom’s uncle comes together with the groom, the groom’s parents, and other relatives. The bride’s relatives welcome them with celebratory songs; then the ceremony commences. Once they are welcome, the groom’s uncle introduces the groom, his parents and the rest of the relatives. Similarly, the bride’s uncle introduces the bride and the bride’s parents and every other relative present. Despite being present, the bride and the groom’s parents do not take part in the discussions happening at the Chinkhoswe. No bride price is given however the newlyweds are showered with any amount of money by the guests.
The Ankhoswe for the groom takes a live rooster which is exchanged with a live pullet brought by the bride’s Ankhoswe. This symbolizes the responsibility that the man’s relatives have on the bride; similarly, the responsibility that the woman’s relatives have on the groom. The newlyweds are now regarded as part of the children of the families that they have married into.
In this picture, the groom’s Ankhoswe is carrying the rooster while the bride’s Ankhoswe is carrying the pullet which they will exchange.
After exchanging the live chicken, the Ankhoswe are presented with a full roasted chicken which is shared between them in two halves. The uncles then share portions of it.
The shared chicken symbolizes a shared responsibility in matters concerning the newlyweds especially when conflict arises. The Ankhoswe then share portions of the chicken to their elder relatives; each and every relative that partakes in eating this chicken bears the burden of helping this marriage work in all aspects.
The ankhoswe and the relatives also counsel the newlyweds on different aspects of marriage such as how they can conduct themselves as married people, how they are expected to relate with people in a community and also the expected roles of the husband and the wife.
In most cases, the dress code for Chinkhoswe is an outfit of tailor-made Chitenje (African-Print) attire. The bride and the groom wear matching chitenje outfits.
Music and Food
Weeks before the wedding, the bride’s relatives prepare maize flour to be used for food to feed their guests on the wedding day. It is the role of the women of the clan to prepare the flour. On their way to mill the maize, the women are accompanied by drummers who sing songs and attract people to sing along with them to the maize mill. The crowd then sings wedding songs and they dance in celebration of the wedding. A famous corn drink called thobwa is prepared from a mixture of corn flour and millet. People in the village are invited to partake in the drinking and the dancing. This may last for three or four days.
On the wedding eve, people celebrate overnight by singing and dancing to traditional songs which are accompanied by the beating of drums. However, nowadays this is not practiced often.
The Traditional Customs after Chinkhoswe
After Chinkhoswe, the man becomes part of the woman’s clan. He stays in the woman’s village with her relatives. This is called Chikamwini. The clan, therefore, helps the man build a house where he would be staying with his wife. The new couple are given foodstuffs which will last them until the next harvest season. They are also given a piece of land on which they can grow their crops. This custom is very common in rural areas. On the other hand, in urban areas, the couple moves into a new home anywhere they please to start their marriage.
How the practice of traditional marriages has changed over time
Over time, inter-tribal marriages have brought a change in some aspects of Chinkhoswe among the Lhomwe. For example, in some parts of Malawi, the Lhomwe have incorporated the aspects of giving the newlyweds gifts in the form of utensils locally known as ziwiya. These utensils include plates, baskets, pots, mats, hoe and a panga knife. The couple is given these utensils to help them as they begin a new life together.
A group of women bearing gifts for the newly wed
In other areas especially in urban settings, Chinkhoswe is not regarded as an actual wedding rather one of the steps towards marriage. After the Chinkhoswe ceremony couples are not expected to go and stay together as husband and wife until they bless their marriage in a church. In such a society, living together as husband and wife after Chinkhoswe does not bring honor to the family since they are regarded as not being properly married. However, in a legal sense marriage after Chinkhoswe is regarded as a legitimate marriage under customary law.