The various role of a wife: A Tsonga 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!

In traditional Tsonga society, choosing a partner was not straightforward, as the  process followed a set of rules. First cousins could not marry; child betrothal was not practised, but a father might recommend girls to his son. A suitor commonly sent the woman a grass ring or thorn to indicate that he wanted to marry her. If the feeling was reciprocated, she would send him a grass ring or a thorn, confirming their relationship.

The traditional ceremony is still practised by many Tsongas. At the girl’s departure from her home, a sacrifice is made, and she formally takes leave of her family and their ancestral spirits. This is followed by a ‘handing over’ of the bride to her new family. After a marriage feast at the bridegroom’s ‘homestead’, the couple are considered formally married.

Traditionally the bride had to follow well-defined rules of behaviour and etiquette in her new home. After her marriage she stayed in her mother-in-law’s home, helping her mother-in-law in her daily duties and in cooking the food. Her mother-in-law would instruct her in the customs of the family. She had to observe a range of rules of behaviour towards her father-in-law and his brothers. She usually moved into her own home after the birth of her first child, but continued using her mother-in-law’s cooking area until her husband’s younger brother got married. The new wife then moves in with the mother-in-law.

The Tsonga tribe believe that familial relations can be strengthened through marriages. Typically, as soon as the bride gets married, it takes her a lot of time to get a powerful status at home. Here is when things get pretty unique in a Tsonga household: The man’s first wife insists on him acquiring other wives. Many may ask curiously why or the reason behind this. The very basic reasoning behind this is that, if the husband marries again, this only enhances the status of the first wife in the society. According to the Tsongas, this also has its own economic advantage for the family. Mainly, the work gets divided between wives, and their respective children. So what earlier one wife would have had to work, can now be done better and more efficiently by few other wives. This means that the nuclear family develops into a fully functioning economic unit made up of different families, in which each individual had a specific status and set of responsibilities  for contributing towards the common good of the family and in some ways to the society as well. 

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