Doing wedding photography for ‘traditional’ Zulu weddings is not quite the same as doing it for the type of weddings white people see as ‘traditional’. To white South Africans a ‘traditional wedding’ is so called because….well it is the type of wedding we have become accustomed to. To the Zulus it is literally a very traditional affair, with very specific events dictated by old traditions from their culture that have to take place during the day.
For the Zulus it is more important that these traditional events are captured, rather than the ‘traditional’ couple shots where the photographer and newly weds goes off to a specific location to do a shoot, and where creativity and originality is at the order of the day. Don’t get me wrong though…photographing a Zulu wedding is a whole different challenge, and just because traditional events need to be photographed doesn’t mean all creativity and originality goes out the window. You just have to be creative and original in a way that suits the requirements.
Khulekani and Buyile’s wedding was the first one I photographed where the ‘white wedding’ and the traditional Umabo (that is the traditional Zulu part) was in one day. For those of you who don’t know how it works, here is a quick lowdown of how things work in the Zulu culture when it comes to weddings….
Before the groom has any hope of getting married to the bride, there is a certain requirement he has to meet, called a labola. A labola is whatever he has to pay the bride’s family for the privilege to be married to her, and is usually in the form of cattle, money or whatever other bits and bobs the family require. The size of the labola also depends on the standing of the bride and her family in society. Falling in love with a chief’s daughter could mean financial suicide. Not much different from Western culture if you think about it…rich marrying rich, keeping the money where it ‘belongs’.
When all the monetary requirements have been settled, there is a ceremony where the bride’s family welcomes the groom into the family, and as most things with the Zulus, you can expect plenty of song and dance, a very festive occasion. The groom and his family also give the bride’s family gifts in the form of blankets and clothing. Bear in mind that these gifts form part of the labola.
This is then followed by the ‘white wedding’, so called not because it is what white people do, but because of the whole white dress and so on. It has obviously got a Zulu twist to it, because you can’t have anything Zulu without song and dance.
Finally, and by no means least (in fact, this is the most important part), it is time for the Umabo. At this ceremony the bride is welcomed into her ‘new’ family by the groom and his family. This time it is the groom’s family receiving the gifts from the bride’s family, and finally the newly weds receive their gifts from the bride’s family – bed, couches and other furniture to help set them up. And guess where they get the money to buy all this? That’s right, the labola paid to the bride’s family. Like an exchange, making sure it stays in the family, or just a shrewd investment…
This post is on Khulekani and Buyile’s wedding. The ‘white’ part was held at Platrand Lodge just outside Ladysmith, and the ‘traditional’ Umabo in Ekhuvukeni, a rural settlement about 50km outside of Ladysmith. Doing photography for two weddings in one day, 60km apart, for the same couple…a busy day. The hospitality of the people once again astounded me, and the festivities at the Umabo were something to behold.