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What Is The Importance Of Umemulo and How Is It Done?

In the southern part of Africa, certain traditions, ceremonies or rituals are not taken for granted, and the Umemulo ceremony is one of those.

Umemulo, also known as the “coming of age”, is an important Zulu ritual that celebrates a young girl’s journey into womanhood.

The ceremony indicates that the young girl has transitioned from a child and into an adult woman who can now get married.

Traditionally, umemulo was performed around the age of puberty and awarded to young girls who had respected their bodies but with evolving times and western influence on African culture, the ceremony is now done when girls reach the age of 21. (These days virgin or not).

The ceremony is a way of showing appreciation to the young woman for respecting herself and her family and community, along with following their teachings.

The girl’s family then slaughters a cow to congratulate her, and thank the ancestors for keeping their daughter safe. Parts of the cow are then used for deeper, traditional rituals.

In deep Zulu tradition, the father or older brother takes the cow’s bile and performs a number of customs with it; these include sprinkling it on the girl’s fingers, toes and the top of her head. This is believed to connect the girl with her ancestors and pleads with them to keep her safe and help in finding her a prospective husband.

Thereafter, the girl dresses up in traditional Zulu attire and is covered with a layer of fat taken from the cow’s stomach. Previously, this fat was not allowed to at any point break, as this signaled that the girl was no longer a virgin.

Other girls present at the ceremony must also wear traditional Zulu attire.

In rural Zulu culture, the girls sleep by the river on the eve of the ceremony. In the middle of the night, while naked and only covered with a blanket, the girls will leave for the river and spend the night singing and dancing around a fire.

On her return, the next day, the girl is then presented with a spear as a symbol of her victory and strength.

The father or elder brother then leads the girl to the gathering where she dances with the other girls.

The girl blows a whistle as a way of asking for monitory contributions. Whenever she blows a whistle, guests in attendance will then shower her with money (which is often put in the hat she’s wearing). When the hat is completely covered with money and the girl has received contributions from everybody, she is then led back into the house.

When she gets to the front of the home she will then throw the spear and wherever it lands the father or the head of the home must run shouting words of praise and dancing to symbolise his gratitude, excitement, love and pride before the whole community.

Community guests can then enjoy and feast in the festivities and food prepared.

If the girl already has a favourable boyfriend, he will then get introduced to her parents and family and if he so wishes, can begin to pay lobola – the two will then be officially engaged.





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