Zambian Marriage customs.
Marriage in Zambia has a special and rich cultural background. As time has gone by, a few diversions from the original meaning of certain cultural marriage ceremonies have occurred and become more conventional. Nowadays the whole essence of some of the cultural practices have been derailed from the original, making some of the acts meaningless.
In Zambia there are several premarital ceremonies that are practised between the two families of the man and woman who are to marry. Unlike western cultural marriages, in the Zambian culture, marriage is not just a bond between two people but two families. Even upon divorce of the two, their in-laws still maintain the same relations until their death. Most of the ceremonies practiced are common in all tribes. Some tribes do a few things differently but most tribes that originate from the same areas have common practices. Some practices of old have been now done away with.
Pre-colonial marriage traditions.
Before Zambia became a British colony, the general marriage steps taken by all tribes in the olden days was that parents would approach the family of a girl they would be interested in usually without the consent of their son (the would-be groom) to discuss the marriage proposal. They would arrive at the home of the woman’s parents with a token called in some languages as “insalamo”. This token would be in the form of beads, ivory bangles or even raw uncooked food. The raw food signifies that the man needs a partner to cook his food. Once an agreement has been reached including the “lobola”, the marriage preparation could the begin and its at this stage when the man and woman are informed of the marriage.
After the bride and the groom have been involved a day will be set for the groom’s side known locally as (ba shibukombe) to go and present a small amount of money to let the other family know that they intend marriage from their home. At this meeting the bride will be presented but will not be able to say anything as the proposal has already been decided by her parents or guardians.
At this meeting the lobola will be charged in form of money or animals depending on the tribe. This amount or animal /s is negotiable by the groom ‘s family until the arrive at what they can afford
The groom ‘s family will give a period in which they would pay so that they can get the bride. This means that the bride is now officially engaged to the groom. And can visit the groom ‘s family and see the husband to be in the presence of a third person.
At this stage the bride’s parents or guardians will arrange for an elderly woman or women known locally as (nkonu or banachibusa) to start teaching the bride how to keep her husband and his relatives as well as her home in general. The same will be done to the groom by (shibukombe).
As soon as the amount charged, or animals is paid, the bride will be presented to the groom ‘s house by the same women. This ceremony would take place in the evening. The bride will have her head covered in a wrapper locally called (chit age) surrounded by women singing songs to inform the groom ‘s family that their bride is ready to be a wife.
On the wedding day the bride and groom are serenaded with traditional songs with special messages. There’s a whole lot of drum beating, traditional beer drinking, dancing as well as reciting of proverbs fill the day. In our past there was no ‘White wedding’, vinyl’s, or radio cassettes all music was singing by people present to witness the union.
On the wedding day the couple was showered with gifts by relatives and friends in form of livestock and essentials needed in a house like hoes, pots, bed, axe etc.,
Modern Day Zambian marriage customs.
Zambia like many other countries attaches immense importance to marriage. With more than 72 ethnic groups with similar religious beliefs and culture Zambia has been able to make intermarriage s across tribes and race thrive.
With changes in Social and economic trends Zambian marriages have also evolved. About 50 years ago marriages were determined by Parents of the bride and the groom. But today it’s by the bride and the groom.
When a couple decide to take the next step to marriage after a short or long courtship, the man in the relationship will approach an uncle from his dad or mum side to state his intension. The Uncle then informs his parents of their son intentions to marry. The family then do a little research into the background of the woman and her family especially when a family is unknown to them (this research is also carried out by a woman ‘s family when approached for her hand in marriage). When the go ahead is given to propose, the man has an emissary who oversees approaching the woman’s family. At this first meeting, the woman is asked only to confirm the man asking for her hand in marriage and if she consents to it. Then negotiations for “Lobola” then commence until a closing price the groom’s family can afford is agreed on. (keep in mind that before the man ‘s approach, the woman would also have already informed her side of the family of her partner’s intention for marriage giving them time to find out about the other family as well.) a day will be arranged when the man ‘s family will return to pay the Lobola. Deposits are now usually accepted unlike in the past when no wedding would take place till the full payment agreed.
Once the “Lobola” is settled (this is always the first premarital ceremony), the next common pre-marital ceremony done by most tribes in Zambia today is called “icilangamulilo”. The meaning of this ceremony is for the woman’s family to show the man’s family what type of foods to find in their homes and to introduce themselves to the man and his family. Another similar ceremony known as “Amatebeto” is also usually done by most tribes. This is finally followed by a “Kitchen Party”, done for the woman getting married but this can be optional depending on a couple wedding budget.
A wedding date will also have been set while these pre-marital ceremonies take place. The budget and financial status of the couple will usually determine the kind of wedding that will take place. The most popular ceremonies are western style “white weddings”, then western style Christian weddings, Registry and civil weddings and finally traditional weddings. Different kinds of ceremonies and customs are also being introduced to the Zambian scene due to Zambians who have married across different racial and religious lines.
Modern Zambian pre-marital wedding ceremonies.
Here are the 4 most common practised Zambian pre-martial wedding ceremonies in Zambia. Bare in mind that several tribes may differ in how they are done and not all tribes follow the most common ones.
A common mistake people make is to translate “Lobola” to be bride price. Its not meant to be translated. The word “Price” invokes the act of buying and no bride is ever bought. (unless as it was in the slave trade era)
The “Lobola” is paid differently according to the different Zambian tribes demanding it, which is that of the woman’s of course. The Tribes of the Bantu Botatwe that are found in the southern and central parts of Zambia, i.e.: the Tonga, the Lenje and the Soli tribes, usually demand for several animals usually cattle or other livestock. Some tribes found in the western province of Zambia of the same but usually not more than 3 in quantity. Some other tribes would request for monetary payments in addition to livestock. The amount of “Lobola” will also depend on the woman’s status example things like her education, virginity, being a single parent, her number in the family ‘s lineage and other matter of her being, but most important of them all is her level of education. The woman’s family will charge a man according to how much they may have spent educating the young woman. The essence of paying the “Lobola” is to show that the man and woman are now engaged to be married. Its is just the same as the meaning of the engagement ring in the western world.
This ceremony is indigenous to the “Bemba” tribe from the northern province of Zambia. This ceremony is usually done before a couple get married. The meaning of this ceremony is for the woman’s family to show the man’s family what types of food to find in their homes and to introduce themselves to the man and his family. The woman’s family will cook all sorts of traditional food. Some food is cooked without salt and oil to signify to the man that his wife is only “human” and will at times make mistakes or may cook certain food if salt or oil is not available in the home.
Due to intertribal marriages, this ceremony is now being practised by a lot more tribes in Zambia.
This is another ceremony indigenous to the “Bemba” tribe in Northern province which is now wildly practised by a lot of tribes in Zambia due to inter – marriages. The right way to practise this ceremony is that it was to be done five and above years after a couple has already been married. it’s a ceremony done to show appreciation to the husband as well as thank him for looking after his wife and her family well. The kinds of food cooked includes traditional and western types of food.
This ceremony is now being practised differently in modern day Zambia. A lot more tribes in Zambia do this ceremony before a man marries to show the future groom what kind of foods he will come across from the family of the bride. The fact why it is more popular is that it is a service now being offered for commercial purposes by a lot of wedding event planners in Zambia
This ceremony is held for the future bride. Its also know as a bridal shower. Its usually up to a family to hold one if their budget allows. The reason for this celebration is to assist the bride in setting up her kitchen. The bride is showered with kitchen gifts.