Ngoni Marriage Practices

Ngoni culture in Malawi 

A documentary of a Ngoni wedding 


Malawi is a country in Southern Africa with over 20 tribes and cultures. Among the tribes is the Ngoni tribe. The Ngoni tribe scattered all over the country due to the search for greener pastures and intermarriages. Even though most of the Ngonis’ have been intermixed with other tribes and cultures through work and intermarriages, the Ngoni culture has been left unscathed, and this is evident in some Ngoni strongholds such as Mzimba, Bvumbwe in Thyolo, Neno, Ntcheu, Mchinji, and some parts of Dedza, where the Ngoni ceremonies are conducted. The Ngoni still attach strong meaning to birth, puberty, the post-puberty period, marriage, ancestral worship, and death. 




Marriage among the Ngoni is Dignified and ceremonious. The Ngoni believe that men are separated from boys and women from girls by marriage. The Tribesmen and women believe that real honor is derived from the complete enjoyment of privacy and the ability to look after other people, which are attained after marriage. In marriage, the Ngoni culture has three main marriage customs: betrothal, lobola, and mthimba (Marriage). These customs differ depending on the region and type of Ngoni. There are some practices that are done by the Ngoni from Mzimba that are not done by other Ngonis’ from other districts. The Ngoni from Mzimba settled with the Tumbuka’s. For this reason, their languages and cultures blend and share some aspects of culture.




In a traditional Ngoni marriage, there are a number of people who play major roles in the whole process, aside from the bride and groom. These are the Umkhongi (thenga), Ankhazi (Aunt), Malume or Sibweni (Uncle), and the parents. 


Umkhongi (Thenga)

The Umkhongi is an intermediary between two families that are getting married. The Umkhongi can be anyone with any type of relationship to the  family that has a wedding. In Ngoni culture, it is not only the uncle (Sibweni or Malume) or aunt (Ankhazi or Zakhali) who takes the position of the Umkhongi. Any relative with good standing who is trustworthy takes on the role of the Umkhongi. 


The Umkhongi plays a major role in making all marriage arrangements. The Umkhongi also takes on the responsibility of solving any problems and tensions during the negotiations and requests for the bride’s price. In Ngoni culture, both the bride and groom’s sides have their own Umkhongi, who makes the arrangements. 



The parents may be the bride’s or groom’s biological parents or any guardian who took care of the bride or groom. Through the Umkhongi, the parents take on the role of approving and disapproving demands, expectations, or requests from both the groom’s and bride’s sides.


Ankhazi (Aunt)

This is the bride’s aunt or any other female person who takes on the role of an aunt to the bride. She is responsible for informing the bride’s parents of the bride’s intention to get married. The bride approaches her first to let her know that she has found a man who wants to marry her. She also takes on an advisory role for the parents and the bride during Mlango (the advice ceremony). 


Malume or Sibweni (Uncle)

This is the groom’s uncle, or any other person who takes on the role of an uncle. He is responsible for informing the groom’s parents of the groom’s  intent to get married. He is the one who is first approached and relays the message to the parents. He also takes on an advisory role for the groom, Thenga, and parents. 





When a man finds a woman that he wants to marry, they start the courting process, just like in most cultures. The man, then, makes a promise to marry the girl with a chikhole or thembiso. 



This is a gift that is given to the bride-to-be as a promise to marry. The Chikhole can be monetary or a long-lasting gift that the groom gives to the lady before the start of the marriage process. This only indicates the seriousness of the groom in terms of marrying their daughter to the bride’s family. In this context, the groom meets the bride away from their families, where they gift each other. Later on, the bride shows the gift to her family. In modern settings, the Chikhole can be equated to the engagement ring the man gives to the woman.


After Chikhole, the bride advances to Chionekera.  


        Chionekera (meeting the aunt)

After the chikhole, the bride informs her aunt about the man who has promised to marry her. They later set a date when the groom is supposed to meet the aunt. During the Kuonekera (meeting the aunt) process, the groom meets the bride’s aunt and his bride. During this, the groom pays Chaankhazi (for the aunt). This money is paid to the aunt, and it is used by the aunt to buy Vyakumphala, also known as Vyakuchisi. This is done before the lobola payments and is not included in the lobola. After this process, the aunt is required to inform the parents of the bride about the issue at hand.


When the parents are told, the clan decides who is going to be Umkhongi or Thenga for the particular Mthimba.  In other Ngoni cultures, the groom is invited to the bride’s house. The purpose of the visit is to get to know and interact with the Jaha (the groom) or Majaha. He goes with friends. During this process, different people from the bride’s clan visit the Jaha to converse. Some come to judge Jahas’ character, how he talks, and his physical characteristics.  This is done before the lobola so that the parents and other relatives can assess and understand Jaha since he is going to wed their daughter. When the parents are not satisfied, they may reject the Jahas’ lobola. The majaha may stay overnight, depending on where they come from. 



Lobola is one of the marriage customs that are followed by the Ngoni. In Lobola, the man is expected to pay a bride price so as to take the woman he gave Chikhole as a wife. 

In the initial steps towards the process of Lobola, there is a meeting between the groom’s umkhongi and the umkhongi of the bride (the umkhongi is a trusted family member who represents the families) with the soon-to-be-wed couple. Before the people start discussing anything, the groom’s family pays Chijula pa mlomo (mouth opener). This is paid to the Umkhongi, and it is a go-ahead for the grooms’ side to state their business. After this is paid, the lobola processing starts. In their discussion, the groom’s Umkhongi mentions the groom’s intent to take the bride as his wife. The bride’s people meet to discuss what the lobola for their child should be. 


  Chimanyano ( inter-family gathering)

During the lobola process, the bride’s family prepares a visit to the groom’s family. The bride’s family sets a date whereby they communicate with the groom’s family for a get-to-know-each-other moment. Both families prepare different foods, including the most local foods that are eaten during this time. The people celebrate with different songs and local dances. During the chimanyano, both parties understand each other’s values. After which, a date is set to perform the lobola ceremony. 


The lobola is a bunch of payments that the groom has to make to the bride’s family. It consists of Fuko, Jembe, Mkhuzi wa Wanyina, and the actual lobola. 

  • Fuko

This is a token of appreciation for the father. It’s mostly charged as one cattle (mostly bull), but in some cases the cattle is equated to cash, and the groom may pay in monetary form. This share signifies that the father passed on his tribe to the child. These payments cement the relationship that exists between the bride and the groom’. In some other cases, some bottles of beer are included for the father. 

  • Jembe (Hoe)

The groom buys a hoe for the bride’s family, as they are certain of their settlement. This is also given to the father if available and/or can be paid in cash.

  • Mkhuzi wa Wanyina/Chapamsana ( Appreciation for the mother)

The Mkhuzi wa wanyina signifies the pain and endurance the mother had in carrying the child on her back till she grew up. This is paid as an appreciation for all the effort the mother had placed on raising the girl child and the entire nurturing process into womanhood. This is charged as one cow (mostly a bull) and, in recent cases, can be paid in cash, which is equal to the bull’s price to the mother. In all cases, this is not negotiable.

  • Malowolo/Chuma (The actual lobola)

This is the payment that is mostly charged for more cattle. Most people charge about 3 or 4 cattle (one cow and three bulls); this is paid to the entire bride’s’ family. The groom’s family negotiates between what has been charged and what they can manage.


Among all the payments that can be made, only the actual Malowolo is negotiable. The brides’ families pre-discuss the lobola charges before the actual meeting day. The pricing looks at many factors. Some of the factors are the level of education and motherhood. For a bride who has gone through education, the lobola price is high, as is the price for a bride who has never been engaged or married. 

When the day arrives, the  bride and groom are dressed in ngoni ligalia. The space is set for a meeting. The groom’s side brings enough money for the bride’s price. The space is set with animal hides in the middle and sides. The Brides’ people and grooms’ people sit by the sides;  and the groom and bride sit on the hide in the middle. The lobola mwambo (ceremony) starts, and the brides’ Umkhongi states the figure that was discussed for the bride price. Upon hearing the bride’s price, the grooms’ Umkhongi starts to negotiate. Negotiations take place until they reach a mutual consensus.  The groom’s Umkhongi then takes the money and hands it over to the bride’s Umkhongi. They count the money, and after counting the money and seeing that it’s enough, the umkhongi starts to share it. Priority goes to the parents.

In most Ngoni cultures, after lobola, the marriage is set and they are allowed to enter married life. 



Nqibi (Chithula)


This is a ceremony that happens the night before or two nights before the wedding and takes place at the groom’s place. The purpose of this process is to deliver the bride to the groom’s people in acceptance of the final mthimba (Marriage) preparations.


People involved

  1. The brides’ people
  2. The groom’s people
  3. The bride
  4. The bride’s friends
  5. The groom


The process

This takes place at the grooms village. The groom’s family prepares plenty of food, drinks, and beer in preparation for the bride’s family. 


The brides’ people come with the bride and her friends covered in a chitenje and some elderly women from her side bearing gifts such as maize flour, chickens, or a bed and a mattress. The bride and her friends are covered so that the groom should be able to identify the bride as per tradition. The groom is expected to guess who his bride is among the girls covered with the chitenje wrappers. If the groom misses his bride, he pays a Chilango (a token of cash as a punishment) to the aunts among the bride’s people.

The brides’ family come singing songs and make stops along the way till they reach the groom’s house in a process called kusaka (Seeking). As the bride’s people come with the bride, the groom side starts off to welcome them. The bride’s people come bearing a lot of gifts, pots and baskets on their heads. As the bride’s procession walks, jovial, singing and chanting praise songs, they make some stops once they meet the groom’s crew. For each stop they make, the groom’s side is supposed to give them money up until they take out the baskets they carried at their final destination.

The groom then is supposed to identify his bride amongst the girls covered in chitenjes. The bride identification is done in a cattle kraal, however nowadays it takes place at any convenient place at the groom’s place. (A similar ceremony also takes place among the ngoni from Mchinji who call it Mgeniso.  In Mgeniso, the process takes place at the bride’s place. The performance begins with a communal procession. The people from the groom’s side proceed towards the village of the wife’s mother. Its main purpose is to unify the two families.) 

When they arrive at the destination place, the Umkhongi from the bride’s side presents the bride to the in-laws. In the presentation, he gives a speech in thanking the ancestors called Chithokozo. The women ululate as the praise speech is spoken. After the chithokozo, in some instances, the umkhongis share sniffing tobacco with the fellow umkhongi. 

After this ceremony, the groom and the bride and some elderly women from both sides go to chisi or kuchisi (Kumphala or Kuchisi), a separate private place, where they conduct a mlango (Advice).  


The Kumphala 

During the Nqibi, the bride and groom and two elderly women from both the groom’s and bride’s sides go to a private place (mostly the groom’s house if it is close). The bride’s aunt brings a package that was bought using the money that the groom paid her (vyaankhazi). Most of the items bought are for bedroom use for the soon-to-be couple. This process also involves Mlango (an advice session) for the couple on how to take care of each other emotionally, physically, mentally, and sexually. The elders also teach the couple self-hygiene and grooming. 


In the morning, the two sides gather on the bwalo (ground). Only the Umkhongi’s and their entourage They exchange goats to strengthen their relationship. As they exchange the goats, they also advise the couple. 

MTHIMBA (Marriage) 

This is done after the lobola payments, and it is the actual wedding ceremony. After all the payments have been made, the actual wedding days are set, and the preparations begin. A day or two before the wedding, a Nqibi ceremony is performed. This is called Chithulo in other cultures. Nowadays, the Mthimba is more like a white wedding. For people who are Christians, they first go to church in the morning to have their wedding blessed and to say their vows. In the afternoon, they give perekani perekani (money gifts) to the newlyweds. There is a DJ who plays the music as people dance, eat, gift the newlyweds, and enjoy the Mthimba celebration. Nowadays, there is the cake cutting, parent appreciation, and all the other procedures done in a white wedding. After which they now go on their honeymoon.