Tumbuka Frequently Asked Questions

Tumbuka Marriages FAQs

Key Roles and Kulobola Process Explained 


Who is a Thenga?


  • The Thenga is the marriage negotiator or intermediary. 


  • He or she is the main point of contact for either family. 


Who can take up the role of a Thenga?


  • Depending on the circumstances and Tumbuka area one is from, the Thenga can be the bride or groom’s brother, male cousin, sibweni (uncle) or aunt from the father’s side of the family. Ideally, the man’s or woman’s brother or male cousin are the best fit because in the Tumbuka Culture, your father’s brothers are your fathers too and not your uncles as other cultures may put it. One’s father cannot be the marriage negotiator or intermediary. However it all goes down to who each family thinks is a better fit, be it the uncle, brother, aunt or cousin.


What is the role of the Thenga from the bride’s side?


  • Family make their marriage ceremony demands known through the Thenga (intermediary)
  • The spokesperson during the marriage process
  • Marriage counselor during the course of the marriage 
  • And the bride price proposer on behalf of the family.


What is the role of the Thenga from the groom’s side?


  • Family makes their marriage ceremony demands known through the Thenga (intermediary)
  • The spokesperson during the marriage process
  • Marriage counselor during the course of the marriage 
  • The bride price negotiator on behalf of the family


Qualities of a Thenga


  • Good temperament
  • Maturity, sensitivity and dependability
  • Good communication skills
  • Cultural knowledge 


Who is ankhazi?


  • Ankhazi is the term for aunt in the Tumbuka language
  • During the marriage process the ankhazi involved is the bride’s paternal aunt and the groom’s paternal aunt. 
  • It can be the sister or cousin to the father


What is the role of the ankhazi?


  • The spokesperson for the couple to the parents. On the bride’s side, she makes the bride’s intentions to get married to her parents. And on the groom’s side, his ankhazi makes his intentions to get married known to the parents on his behalf. 


Which family members accompany the Thenga?


  • Those that have been chosen by the family.
  • It can be one or two or as the family deems fit.


What is the role of the family members?


  • The family members that accompany the Thenga act as witnesses during the ceremony. Should there be any misunderstanding or mix up of details, the family members can remind the Thenga. It can be one or more family members. The number depends on what the family has agreed on.


Tumbuka marriage process


Step by step explanation


Step 1


  1. Kufumbira Nthengwa


  • This is the process whereby the groom’s family go to the bride’s family home to formally ask for her hand in marriage. 
  • Remember, both families already know of the couple’s intention to get married as they are already informed by the ankhazi. At this point, both families have already done a background check and the bride and groom have also already met the parents informally. However, during the Kufumbira Nthengwa, the bride’s family pretend they know nothing and let the groom’s family make their intentions for the visit clearly known.
  • It is also during this occasion that the bride-to-be may be called in the presence of her potential in-laws to ask if she knows them and if they should proceed with the marriage process
  • Before proceedings or the groom’s family making their intentions known, they are required to pay chijura mulomo’. It is only after this initial payment is made that they are free to speak and explain why they have gone to the bride’s home.


  1. Chijura mulomo


What is chijura mulomo?


  • In the Tumbuka marriage process, it means opening one’s mouth to speak
  • There is a fee for it


What is the fee for?


  • The bride’s family requires it to initiate dialogue. It is paid at the beginning of Kufumbira Nthengwa / Chifumbira
  • The groom’s family is asked to pay to make an official request to speak and be heard
  • The fee is just a sign of respect by the groom’s family
  • The fee can be accompanied by gifts such as a bale of sugar etc.
  • There is no fixed amount to be paid. It is usually a small fee and it is entirely up to the groom’s family to determine what fee is enough for the chijura mulomo.
  • By accepting the fee, the bride’s family agrees to participate in the dialogue


Step 2


  1. Kulobola/ Lobola negotiations


What is Kulobola?


  • Kulobola is the marriage process where the groom’s family pays a fee to the woman’s family
  • The lobola negotiations are done after Kufumbira Nthengwa. The date for the lobola negotiations can be proposed on the same day of Kufumbira Nthengwa
  • When the groom’s family comes for lobola negotiations on the proposed date, they are at liberty to negotiate that the initial proposed lobola fee is brought down up to a point where they are comfortable
  • Traditionally, the lobola fee is paid in the form of cattle. However in recent times, cash can be paid instead
  • Traditionally, the bride price was meant to be paid by the parents because the woman the man is marrying is not his alone, but a wife for the clan. To avoid the man claiming the woman for himself, the parents would produce the lobola payment on his behalf through the Thenga. However, due to modernity, finances and other circumstances or changes, the groom gets to pay the bride price through the Thenga instead of his parents. The parents can pitch in depending on whether they can afford to or not
  • Without Kulobola, the couple is considered not to be traditionally married and their marriage is not recognized.
  • Usually the implications of not following the cultural practices are seen when unforeseen circumstances such as death of the woman occurs. The man is made to pay lobola for his dead wife to be buried at his home
  • The family also ignores other responsibilities and distance themselves from any disagreements that may occur in the marriage if cultural practices are foregone


What is the lobola fee for?


  • The cattle or cash is paid as compensation for the loss of service that will occur when the woman is taken away from her home to her husband’s home. It is also a token of appreciation for raising and nurturing the woman.


When is the fee paid?


  • The lobola fee is paid after Kufumbira Nthengwa and on a different day. 
  • When the man’s family come to ask for the woman’s hand in marriage, the woman’s family makes their lobola expectations known


What does the lobola fee encompass or cover?


  • The lobola payment encompasses: Mukhuzi wa nyina and Malobolo


  1. Mukhuzi  wa nyina
  • It is simply referred to as Mukhuzi It translates to covering or belt for the belly or womb of the mother
  • It is given to the mother through the Thenga as a way of appreciating  that she carried their wife for nine months in her womb.
  • Malobolo
  • This is the real lobola. 
  • It can be paid in cash or in the form of cattle.
  • This payment is meant for the clan.


How is lobola determined?


  • The bride’s family discusses beforehand how much lobola they would like to receive for their daughter
  • Several factors come into play when determining the bride price for example, the bride and the family’s education level, family region, education levels, family wealth, area where the family settled, family dynamics, whether it is an intermarriage or not, if the bride is a virgin, if the bride has a child etc.
  • The fee for Mukhuzi is proposed by the woman’s mother during the family discussion on the lobola expectations since
  • The man’s family are at liberty to negotiate on the Malobolo payment. However Mukhuzi may be non negotiable. 


What is Bevu?


  • Bevu is process of putting or pledging a small amount of money on a plate before one speaks during Chithula ceremony and marriage counseling activity done after the Chithula
  • The amount is not specific. Any amount one puts on the plate is enough to allow them to be given a chance to speak


What is the money paid during Bevu for?


  • It is usually meant to go to the newly wed couple to help them start off their marriage life


What is Mthimba?

  • It is the food, beverages, fruits, cooking utensils etc. The bride’s family brings on the day of going to drop the bride at her husband’s home (Chithula ceremony)
  • The Mthimba is meant to be cooked by the bride’s clansmen on the following day after the Chithula for them to eat
  • Remember after the Chithula, the bride is shown off to other clansmen and then given advice by a council of elders
  • They are given space by the groom’s clansmen to do their cooking and they share the food with them since they are family
  • Similarly the groom’s family shares food with the bride’s clansmen
  • If the couple decides to have a white wedding, the food cooked is eaten after the officiation ceremony and before the reception ceremony (Majuli)