Marriage as a deal: A Xhosa wedding custom

South Africa, also known as the “Rainbow Nation”, has a diverse set of cultures. A culturally driven nation, as a spectator one gets to witness different elements of culturally diversified customs and practises. As the preparation for Espousal South Africa kicks away, we are here to explore some of the different wedding customs across various ethnic groups present in South Africa!

Xhosa tribes have a very distinguished way of conducting a marriage. Infact their vision for an institution such as marriage is more on the lines of building fruitful ties with groups outside their communities. This has influenced the custom of weddings in a vast way. 

In most of the South African tribes, dowries are seen as a confirmation for a marriage. But in a Xhosa tribe, dowries are seen as a form of deposits. 

First off, the groom’s side gives the bride’s family a cattle. This transfer of cattle is known as “Ikazi ” and it is done to compensate for the loss of daughter’s labour in the father’s homestead. This negotiation process usually takes time as the conditions are strict and protracted. 

The ritual of Ikazi not only acts as a dowry but also as a form of insurance – ie, if the bride is mistreated or misbehaved by anyone in her new home, she shall return back to her family and the transferred cattle will be forfeited.

But this is not where the role of the cattle ends. The cattle can be used by the husband to marry another woman while being married already, or could be used to help their kins find a match. Either way, this transfer of cattle takes place again. 

Thus this entire process of transferring cattle can be seen as a form of circulating the bridewealth, with the bride moving in the opposite direction of the cattle. 

Although in modern times, many of the traditions have been relaxed, this very process of Ikazi is still yet to disappear entirely. In modern days, of not cattle, cash equivalent of the same is transferred between families. 

Typically, marriage is not seen as an institution for the expansion of lineage and family culture, but more for forging alliances with unrelated groups and tribes. Thus marriage was traditionally exogamous – marital partners were sought outside the kin group, which was a distinguishing trait of the Nguni in general. Every Nguni child is born into a patrilineal clan and marriage within the clan is a heinous offence and strictly prohibited. Among the Xhosa, who were particularly fastidious in this regard, marriage was avoided with the clans of all four grandparents.

This tradition makes Xhosa tribe one of the unique tribes of the world for employing exogamy culture.

Find out more about South African weddings from various experts! Visit Espousal South Africa on the 26th and 27th of March 2021!