Bapedi Marriage Customs
Please review this information or tell us how different bapedi in your region conduct a marriage.
1. A man identifies a woman she wants to marry. He informs his parents, who then inform uncles and aunts. The uncles and aunts gather to discuss the man’s matrimonial intentions. The man gets called up and is screened and counseled. He should insist that he is ready for marriage and prove that he has money/cows for Lobola.
2. His uncles set an appointment to visit the prospective bride’s family to discuss the man’s intentions to marry their daughter (a process idiomatically referred to as ‘Go kgopela sego sa meetse’). The man must provide the uncles with a precise description of how the bride looks like.
3. At first appointment date, the request is usually declined by the prospect’s family with a reason that they do not have any bride available for marriage. [Ga go na sego sa meetse]. They do it on purpose, just to play ‘hard-to-get’.
4. The man’s uncles would visit the prospect’s family once more to discuss the man’s intention to marry their daughter. All daughters, excluding the bride, in that family would then be called up and the uncles of the man would be asked to identify which one from the girls is their prospect. This is to test if the girl had already fornicated or visited the groom’s family before– an act which is forbidden. Should the uncles declare that the prospect is not amongst the girls, they would have to provide reasons why they believe so. Their acceptable reason should be that their prospect is of particular height, complexion, body size and/or even tell of any scar she may have.
5. To further play hard-to-get, the prospect’s family may insist that there is no other single girl in the family and that perhaps those uncles went to the wrong house. In the mean time the prospect could be locked up in the room. The uncles must then provide reasons why they are sure they are at the correct address. They must be persistent… to convince the bride’s family that they really NEED their daughter, and theirs only.
6. The prospect’s family would then call the prospect out of the room. She must be good looking, modestly-dressed and portray the utmost respect as she comes to meet the man’s uncles. They should be impressed. The prospect would then be asked if she knows the visitors. She must not agree with confidence as that would suggest that she pre-dated/fornicated with the man. She can only tell that they LOOK LIKE (man’s name)’s family. After that, the family of the prospect informs the bride that the visitors are sent by (man’s name) to ask for a hand in marriage on his behalf. She is then asked if she accepts. If she declines, another similar visitation is scheduled , to give her time to reconsider. Once she accepts, the uncles are sent back home and are given a date for lobola negotiations. Sometimes the negotiations start off right after the proposal was accepted.
7. Once the lobola negotiations are over, the uncles would give feedback to the man’s family back home on how it all went and how many cows (or how much cash) the bride’s family want as lobola as well as other supplementary gifts. For inter-tribal marriage, different tribes would request different gifts. Normally it’s;
⁃ Lobola (e.g. 3 cows or R20000,00)
⁃ Aunt’s Tobacco or +/- R20,00 instead
⁃ Bride’s Father’s Jacket or +/- R300,00
⁃ Bride’s Mother’s Blanket or +/-R500,00
⁃ Bride’s Mother’s Duke or +/- R50
⁃ Bride’s Blanket+ Duke or +/-R600,00
⁃ Entrance Fees (Matseno) +/- R500
⁃ Rods/Sticks (Real ones. Cannot be substituted by money)
8. The groom’s uncles would also request some gifts. Usualy they need:
⁃ A knife and a coat (Real ones)
⁃ Half of a lamb dipped in boiling water.
9. The man’s parents, uncles and aunts gather together to discuss the lobola date as well as to elect a go-between (mmaditsela) who is to be sent to formally to ask for the bride on that set date. She must be a nice person who’d make the prospect love the proposing family.
10. On the set date, it is [lobola] celebrations at both families. People of the respective villages as well as friends are invited (by default) to come celebrate. No formal invitations, ceremonies are for everyone.
11. At the bride’s home, a lamb is then slaughtered for the groom’s uncles. The bride’s father would eat a lamb’s liver while the uncles eat tripe (mogodu). The half of the lamb’s body (without organs) would be taken home by groom’s uncles after deliberations and the other half remains to be eaten by guests.
12. The groom’s uncles and maditsela are sent to go to the bride’s family with the requested gifts. Upon arrival, they must wait at the gate and they would be welcomed by some light beating, often thrown by dried maize. Then they will be required to pay entrance fees. This one comes from the uncles themselves, not from the groom. The two families would meet and make humble introductions. Then they would exchange gifts as per agreement. The groom’s family would then pay out lobola.
13. If they pay in full, they will be told of the date on which the bride would be handed over to them officialy (This is a date at which people do the white wedding). The uncles may request (with money of course), to go back home with the bride immediately, just to display her to the guests and to return her later (they normaly do not return the bride).
14. The uncles go back home with (or without) the bride and her children if she has some. The uncles then give a full feedback of what had transpired. The bride is seen, and cherished but will be welcomed the day she is brought in officialy.
15. If they do not pay in full, they do not get to have the bride and they will have to come back again to pay off their debt. In this instance, the bride is usually ‘stolen/snatched’ by the groom’s family until they come to pay off the debt. ‘Theft’ charges are normaly required before settling the lobola debt. Theft is more like an “official vat-en-sit.”
16. Then lastly, when a day for official handover has come, a smaller ceremony called ‘go lahla dipatla’ (translated, ‘to bring back the Rods/Sticks’)is done at the groom’s home, not at his own house. The bride would be welcomed on that day and be issued with a new bridal name by the new family. The bride’s family (aunts only) will bring along the following:
⁃ Rods/Stick given to them during gift exchange,
⁃ A sour porridge called ‘ting’,
⁃ An African beer called ‘tshehlana’/ ‘lentsene’
⁃ A groom’s mother’s blanket
⁃ The groom’s knife and coat.
16. After that ceremony, the aunt’s do not go back home. They remain by the groom’s home for a week to do all wifely chores on behalf of the new bride as to teach her how to look after her new family. They would also have to wake up every morning and prepare baths for the old women who would normally come to ‘assess’ the bride’s competency. The old women would teach the bride’s aunts about the culture in the village. The aunt’s must then relay info to the bride.
That almost sums up the whole process of a traditional wedding according to the Bapedi people.
Feel free to comment and ask for clarity.
My name is Mohau Ngoepe. ( Amazon.com/author/mohau )