In the life of a Zulu girl child, one of the most remarkable and important birthdays of her life is her 21st birthday. If she is a ‘virgin’, she is celebrated, however, if she is not a virgin, she does not get one of the most important celebrations that usher young girls into womanhood. Umemulo ceremony is a Zulu cultural celebration that is done to show that a woman has come of age. The ceremony is marked with a virginity test, receiving of gifts, dance, and wearing of a Zulu attire.
Whether you are a Zulu person or not, knowing about the Umemulo ceremony and the traditional attire required would be an interesting take. And if you are of Zulu origin and wish to learn about what is required for the Umemulo ceremony, you will also find this article very beneficial.
What Is Umemulo?
The literal meaning of Umemulo is “to come of age”. It is a ceremony that marks the transition of a girl into womanhood and shows that she is now ready for marriage. Although Umemulo is a Zulu word, the ceremony can also be found in other races like Hispanic Quinceaneras.
The Umemulo ceremony is celebrated when a girl turns 21 years old and it is seen as a big reward for keeping her virginity. Although there has been a lot of protest about checking a girl’s virginity in modern times, especially because the hymen is said to be false proof of virginity, the Zulu people still uphold the Umemulo ceremony and trust the Ngobese to come up with a valid virginity test result.
So many Zulu ladies look forward to their Umemulo even though the ceremony costs a lot. However, considering the value and joy it brings to the lady, it is worth celebrating for Zulu ladies.
How Zulu People Prepare For The Umemulo Ceremony
Now, we have established that the purpose of the Umemulo ceremony is to mark the transition of a girl to womanhood. The next thing you should know about the ceremony is that girls start preparing for it as soon as they reach puberty.
As soon as a Zulu young maiden becomes a teenager (13 or 14 years old), or immediately she begins to see her monthly menstrual cycle, she and her family begins to count down to her Umemulo Ceremony. It is a good thing that the countdown takes almost a decade, as it gives the family time to plan because the ceremony is usually expensive.
In order to prepare the girl for the ceremony, she undergoes a series of classes from the start of puberty until she turns 21. The aim of these classes is to teach her about what is expected of her as she becomes a woman and ripe for marriage, and also what she is to expect if she disappoints her family by failing the virginity test.
The girl is made to understand that the Umemulo ceremony is only for virgins. In the course of the classes, the girl takes the virginity test and once she gets to her 21st as a virgin, she can then prepare for her Umumleo ceremony.
What You Should Know About The Umemulo Ceremony
The Umemulo ceremony starts a week before the D-day. For a period of seven days, the girl is expected to stay indoors without coming outside – anything she needs is provided for her by her friends (izimpelesi). For a whole week, the young maiden is treated like a wife-to-be.
The day before the D-day, she is covered with a blanket and allowed to go outside to welcome the cow her family bought for her as a gift to celebrate her Umemulo. The cow is a very important and significant gift from her family and it signifies the fact that they are proud of her and the fact that she has not disappointed them by losing her virginity prematurely.
In the middle of the night, before the morning of the Umemulo ceremony, which is usually on a Saturday, the girl and her friends go to the river to sleep beside it. In the morning, the lady and her friends take their baths and get ready for the celebration. Before the celebration begins, the Ngobese carries out the final virginity test on the girl and if she is a virgin, so many ululations are done to announce it to the family and the celebration can now begin. The cow is killed and the fat from it is placed around her head.
Ukusina and Omkhonto: Zulu Traditional Dance For Umemulo
The Umemulo ceremony is marked by dancing and merriment. A young girl being celebrated is expected to perform a dance called Ukusina. She is expected to practice and master this dance which she will perform on her day. Some girls even take dance lessons to master the dance steps.
In the course of the ceremony, the girl throws a spear called Omkhonto to anyone she desires, and whosoever it lands on is expected to present a gift to her. In modern times, this gift is usually in form of cash, however, those who are not family members are not allowed to throw money on her, there is usually a basket where they can put their money.
What Kind Of Food Is Cooked For Umemulo?
During the Umemulo ceremony, it is not unusual to see both modern and traditional Zulu foods being served, however, some of the meals that are usually served during the Umemulo ceremony are curdled milk, porridge, locally brewed beer, amazi, and fruits. The food is usually delicious and spicy.
It is also noteworthy to add that most Zulu meals are vegetarian meals, however, considering that a cow will be slaughtered, you can expect meat.
Zulu Traditional Attire For Umemulo
Zulu people have different attires for girls, unmarried ladies, and married women. For girls, they wear grass-reed beads embellished skirts, cut their hair short, and leave their breasts exposed. Engaged women allow their hair to grow and cover their breasts, while married women cover their body completely with cowhide skirts and izicolo, (a grass hat in circular shaped cotton).
The girl celebrating her Umemulo also exposes her breasts, however, that celebration means that she is now ripe for marriage and is ready to transition from leaving her breast open to covering them.
For men attending the Umemulo ceremony, only royalties are allowed to use leopard skin; the other men wear isinen, an apron that covers their genitals and is made of feather or animal skin, then an ibheshu to cover their backside. Married men add headbands to their attire.