Xhosa Frequently Asked Questions

Key Roles Explained

ABAKHWENYANA-The groom’s family

Oonozakuzaku (The lobola ambassadors)


  • In the Xhosa culture – the lobola negotiations is mainly the men’ s role.
  • Among the group of men that partake in these discussions are;
  • the groom’s father,
  • the uncles
  • elder brothers
  • Younger brothers – These are the grooms close relatives, or the younger brother/s of the groom that have reached manhood (been circumcised).
  • Women are excluded from these negotiations.
  • The family will appoint one delegate to lead the whole lobola negotiations.
  • The appointed leader is then approved by the groom’s father.
  • This man is known is umalume.

Umalume – Intermediary

Who is considered to be umalume?

  • Umalume is the mediator between the two families and the voice of the groom’s family.
  • Typically, he is one of the uncles who will lead groom’s party known as “oonozakukuza,” and be their mouth.

These are the qualities Umalume should possess:

  • He must be a respected married man
  • Good sense of humour
  • Good listening, communicating and negotiation skills
  • Patience, persuasion and adaptability
  • Cultural etiquette
  • Good mediator and decisive

Oomalumekazi – aunts

Role of women (Mother and Oomalumekazi)

Who plays the role of Oomalumekazi ?

  • Oomalumekazi are aunts from the bride-to-be’s family.
  • The first person that a woman will tell about her marriage intentions is her mother or her aunt.
  • It is the responsibility of the mother to tell her husband about their daughters marriage intentions.
  • The bride’s mother will gather her own party which consists of her chosen female relatives.
  • The role of the mother’s party is to finalize the list of items that will be required from the groom’s family once the bridal price, “ikhazi’, has been finalized.

Ukuzeka – The Xhosa marriage process explained

What is Ukuzeka?

  • Ukuzeka” is the process where the groom’s family members known as “oonozakukuza”, led by “umalume’, visit the bride’s homestead to ask for her hand in marriage on behalf of their son.
  • These proceedings involve a lot of stages that must be followed, from Ukuthunyelwa Kwencwadi (the writing of a letter by the groom’s party), until the “umakoti”, (the new bride) is accompanied to her new home.

 Ukuzeka – 4 ways marriage can be initiated

  1. Ukuzibonela : What is Ukuzibonela?
    • Ukuzibonela is when a man asks for a hand in marriage from a woman.
    • When the woman accepts his proposal, the man then informs his father of his intentions of marrying the woman.
    • He also tells the father details of the woman’s family and background.
  2. Ukuhlolela: What is Ukuhlolela?
    • This is when the girl’s parents show interest and decide that they want their daughter to get    married to a son from a specific family.
    • They may or may not tell their daughter of their intentions,
    • The bride-to-be’s family will send one man (an elder brother/ an uncle) with a spear to plant in the family compound of the man they want their daughter to get married to.
    • The planting of the spear is done at night without anyone seeing the man sent to do the task. In the morning, when the family of the groom-to-be notices the spear, they will enquire about it. Once they know where it is from, it is up to them to accept the proposal or decline it.
    • If they accept the proposal, they will take back the spear and plant it at the bride-to-be’s compound. If they do not accept the proposal, they will not return the spear but keep it.

Ukuzeka – 4 ways marriage can be initiated cont…

  1. Ukuthwala : What is Ukuthwala?
  • Ukuthwala is when the bride-to-be and the groom-to-be agree to marry without the knowledge of the bride-to-be’s parents out of fear that her parents may oppose their union.
  • The man will come to the girl’s home in the evening without anyone seeing him and meet with his woman at the agreed place. They will then go to the man’s home, where his family will be waiting for them.
  • The following morning, the man’s family will inform the woman’s family that they have their daughter with the intention to marry her.
  • It is up to the woman’s family to agree or disagree with this decision, but they agree in most instances.

The man’s family will be penalized for this deed.

  1. Ukufilisha : What is Ukufilisha?
  • Ukufilisha is when a man is interested in a certain woman and instead of talking directly with the woman, he goes straight to her parents and tells them of his intention to marry their daughter.
  • The decision to agree or not lies with her parents.

Ukuzeka nokulobola Proceedings

Step 1:  Ukuthunyelwa Kwencwadi 

Step 2:  Ukuvuma (Acceptance)

Step 3: Ilobola

Step 4: Marriage Ceremony

  • Umdudo/ Umtshato
  • Ukwambesa
  • Ukusiwa Komtshakazi Emzini
  • Ukutyiswa Amasi – Utsiki Nokuthiywa Igama
  • Ukuhota Komakoti

Step 1: Ukuthunyelwa kwencwadi (The letter)

What is Ukuthunyelwa Kwencwadi? 

  • Ukuthunyelwa Kwencwadi is when the groom’s family writes a letter to the bride-to-be’s family to formally request a meeting.
  • This is done once the groom-to-be’s family has agreed to ask for a hand in marriage from a certain family for their son
  • In the letter, their intentions are clearly stated. They also include the exact date that they propose to have the lobola negotiations.
  • It is up to the bride’s family to accept the requested date or suggest an alternative date.

Step 2: Ukuvuma (Letter acceptance)

What is Ukuvuma?

Ukuvuma is an acceptance letter written by the bride’s family in which they state their proposed date for the lobola negotiations. This is a response to the letter from the groom’s family.

  • When the bride-to-be’s family receives the letter from the groom’s family, they will call for a family meeting.
  • The most important family members, like oomalume, oomalumekazi, the mother, and the father of the bride-to-be, agree on the date that best suits them.
  • They are under no obligation to accept the date that the groom’s family has proposed, however, if it suits them, they will accept it.
  • Acceptance is done in the form of a written letter in which the bride’s family state their proposed date for the lobola negotiations.
  • Sometimes the bride’s family will state what to bring or what to expect on lobola day.
  • Two men will be appointed to deliver the letter to the groom’s family.

Step 3: Ilobola

What is Ilobola?

Ilobola is the custom by which a bridegroom’s family pays cattle or cash to the bride’s family.

  • It is understood to be a token of gratitude from the groom’s family for the bride.
  • It also serves to build a relationship between the two marrying families.

The bride price

  • The bride price is usually paid in the form of cattle. The cattle charged differs from one tribe/culture to another, but it ranges from 10 to 12 beasts.
  • The bridal price is the groom’s responsibility.
  • In some instances, the father and uncle pay a part of the bridal price to assist the groom (ukuhlolela/ ukufilisha)
  • Should the bride’s family request cash, they would determine the value of one beast and multiply it by 10 to 12 depending on the cattle charged by the bride’s family.
  • Ikhazi is the bride price along with gifts of offerings such as livestock and alcoholic beverages.

What are the typical stages of the lobola process?

  1. Imvulamlomo
    • This is when the bride’s family requests a small token or fee from the groom’s family before the negotiations commence.
    • Imvulamlomo is typically in the form of brandy or a small token fee.
  1. Isazimzi
    • This is a cordial penalty charged to the groom for his investigative affairs into the brides fathers’ family and choosing his daughter for marriage.
  2. Ikhazi
    • Ikhazi is the bride price along with gifts of offerings such as livestock and alcoholic beverages.
    • Among the cattle that the man will pay, there is a cow known as “ubuso bentombi” (face of the bride)

Ubuso bentombi is a cow given to the bride’s family by the groom’s family to show gratitude for the bride.

○ Acceptance of the cow also signifies acceptance of the groom by the bride’s family.

○ The groom’s family also gives “inkomo yomothuko” (cow of shock) to the bride’s mother.

Cow of shock: It is assumed that when the daughter tells her mother that someone wants to marry her – she (the mother) is overjoyed but in shock that her daughter has now reached such stage of becoming someone’s wife.

○ It is also a sign of appreciation and thanksgiving to the bride’s mother for giving birth and nurturing her daughter until she reaches the stage of marriage.

Step 3: Ilobola cont…

  1. Uswazi
    • The bride’s family will then request what is known as “uswazi,” meaning the stick that the groom’s party were using along the way to bring the cows to the bride’s home.
    • The payment is brandy or whiskey that is given to the bride’s family.
  1. Isivumo
    • After all the negotiations – as a form of acceptance, the bride’s family will slaughter a goat for the groom’s family to show them that they accept the new relationship between the two families and the groom as their part of their family.
    • The bride’s family will always accept the bride price even if the groom’s family does not have all the required items/cows/bulls that the bride’s family charges them.
  1. Intlawulo
    • In instances where the bride already has children with the groom, a ‘fine’ is to be paid and added to the bride price.
    • This fine is usually a cow and a goat to cleanse the family’s name as the groom damaged their daughter before marriage (umwise ibele – he has made her breast sag, took her from girlhood to womanhood before time).
    • The fine restores respect and dignity to the bride’s family.

Step 4:Marriage Proceedings

After all the above have been done, the marriage arrangements will commence as per below:

  • Uduli
  • Umdudo/ umtshato
  • Ukusiwa komtshakazi emzini
  • Ukwambesa
  • Ukutyiswa amasi/ utsiki
  • Ukuhota komakoti

Step 4: Marriage Ceremony  – Uduli

After all the above have been done, the marriage arrangements will commence as per below:

Uduli: What is uduli?

  • Udli is the bride’s party.
  • This party is made up of men and women (old and young), including the bride,
  • The day before marriage they go to the groom’s family and they are allocated a special hut on arrival.
  • A goat (umathulantabeni), meaning dropped from the mountain) is slaughtered for them.
  • They are given some small items except the firelighter.
  • The bride’s party pays a small token fee called ‘isiphembamlilo’ (meaning something to start the fire with). Everything they are given at the groom’s place is raw.
  • The bride’s party remains at the groom’s home until the marriage ceremony is over.
  • The bride’s party will later give one cow to the groom’s family. This cow is called inkomo yobulunga.
  • This cow, given to the bride, is for her new journey at her new home, for her use.
  • The children will be given fresh milk from this cow during their growth to make them strong.

Cow from the groom’s side

  • Later in the evening, the groom’s family will slaughter a cow and offer the right leg, called “inxaxheba,” to the bride’s family.
  • This is a token of appreciation and the beginning of a good relationship between the two families.
  • The younger women from uduli(the bride’s party) will help the bride collect the firewood to prepare her first firewood store to use when the younger women are gone.
  • The uduli will not leave until after the big celebration day.

Step 4: Marriage Ceremony-Umtshato

Umtshato: What is umtshato?

  • Umtshato is a traditional Xhosa wedding ceremony, indicating acceptance of the bride by her parents-in-law.

  • Uduli will dress up in traditional Xhosa outfits, ‘imibhaco’ with beaded necklaces, bracelets, and dotted decorations.
  • The bride will dress up and be covered with a white blanket called ingcawa.
  • It is here that dancing ‘umdudo’ takes place. They will exchange songs between the two families, men ‘ukududa’ and the women do ‘ukungqungqa and ukuyiyizela’ (to acclaim).

Presenting the bride to the groom’s family and counselling.

  • During this time, the bride’s family takes the bride to present her to the groom’s family, where the groom’s family assembles ‘enkundleni’ (forum), waiting for their bride.
  • Two men from the bride’s side will uncover the ‘umtshakazi’ so that she can be seen.
  • After this, older men from the groom’s side will counsel the bride. This is called
  • When the men are done with ukuyala, the bride is taken to the women. They also counsel her.
  • Then the feast will start where traditional food, umqombothi (traditional fermented beer), and some alcohol are enjoyed by both parties with dancing, singing, and ukuxhentsa (doing the traditional dance).

What is the significance of spear throwing by the bride?

  • Later, the families will gather enkundleni and proceed with the bride being given a spear to throw to signify her acceptance in her new home.
  • Enkundleni is a stage/place that is chosen where the feast gathering will take place.
  • There is a belief that if the spear anchors into the ground – she will have a successful, long-lasting marriage, but if it falls flat on the ground – her marriage will not last. This ceremony will continue until late in the night.

What happens if the spear falls flat on the ground?

  • The marriage still continues.
  • It is believed the couple will not have a happy marriage, they will have problems.

Step 4: Marriage Ceremony-Ukwambesa

What is Ukwambesa?

  • Ukwambesa means gifting.
  • Ukwambesa is a ceremony practiced to establish a long-term relationship between the two families.
  • It also signifies the appreciation of the groom.
  • The morning after umdudo, the groom’s family will gather, and the bride’s family will come and present gifts to them.
  • These gifts are in the form of blankets.
  • They are given to the father, the mother and close relatives like aunts, uncles, and sometimes even the groom’s siblings.
  • The bride’s family will also present the gifts to the new bride to use in her new home as the wife.

Step 4: Marriage Ceremony-Ukusiwa komtshakazi emzini

What is Ukusiwa komtshakazi?

  • This is when the uduli (the bride’s party) leave the new bride at her new home with one young girl called inkubabulongwe (beetle dung).
  • On this day, uduli will return home.
  • For the next few days, this young girl will assist the new umakoti (bride) with domestic chores like fetching the wood, fetching water from the river, cooking, and cleaning. In ancient days, cow dung (ubulongwe) was used to clean the huts.

What is the significance of inkubabulongwe (beetle dung)?

  • Beetle dungs are believed by the Xhosa to bring good luck and rain
  • Therefore, the young girl signifies good fortune for the newly weds.

Step 4: Marriage Ceremony-Utsiki nokuthiywa igama & Ukutyiswa amasi

What is Utsiki?

  • Utsiki is the ritual where umakoti (bride) eats goat meat and drinks sour milk provided by the groom’s family.
  • This is when a sheep or goat is slaughtered on behalf of the newlywed, after which she is also allowed to taste sour milk known as ukutyiswa amasi.
  • The sheep or a goat is slaughtered in the evening, and a part of it -the waist- known as injeke, is given to the new bride to eat it alone and not share with anyone.
  • This is a belief that after eating the meat, she will bear the heir for their son when she gets pregnant.

What does the bride wear for the ceremony?

  • The bride is dressed in a makoti attire in the form of umbhaco or amajelumane (long blue attire worn by new brides), iqhiya (black headscarf), a small blanket around the waist.
  • The bride is also given a small grass mat(ukhuko) called umahambehlala,  (something that stays everywhere), and will sit behind the door.
  • The new makoti will use this grass mat wherever she goes to sit; for example, when speaking to the elders of the family, instead of sitting on the chair, she sits on her grass mat.

Step 4: Marriage Ceremony-Ukuhota komakoti

What is ukuhota komakoti?

  • Ukuhota komakoti is a series of activities and chores a newly married woman will undergo for a period that ranges from at least a month to about three or four months or longer, depending on the family she married into. Throughout these activities, the bride is expected to show respect (ukuhlonipha).
  • Ukuhota activities include (but are not limited to) the following:
    • Compulsory domestic chores
    • Appropriate attire
    • Ukuhlonipha language where she can’t call some of the things or people the way she used to when she was still an unmarried woman,
    • Relevance of certain places (ukucweza)
      • Ukucweza is a rule that prohibits the bride from approaching the premises of the household directly from the front but rather from behind.
      • Some Xhosa people believe that the ancestors stay at liberty within the premises of their homesteads at the inkundla (open spaces between the houses and the cattle kraal).
      • Ukucweza(walking behind) the dwelling structures she a sign of respect to the ancestors of her new home.

Step 4: Marriage Ceremony-Ukuhota komakoti cont

5) How to address the older men in the family.

  • She cannot approach the house by walking directly to the courtyard but must approach it from behind as a sign of respect for the elders who reside in the house.
  • She is not allowed to enter into any kraal in her new homestead.


  • The marriage or ukwenda for a woman in the Xhosa culture is one of the respected rituals. A lot of things have changed due to changing times. The indigenous society was purely traditional with no sophisticated luxuries such as hiring or buying a white wedding dress and a suit for the groom and bridesmaid. All involved when a woman is getting married.
  • Traditionally, when makoti joined the family, she was expected to practically do all these domestic duties from dawn to late in the evening. Most couples do the white wedding as well because most African cultures have also adopted the Western culture wedding.
  • Despite all this – lobola still stands as it gives dignity to the woman and the man getting married.