A traditional Swazi wedding, part three: Umtsimba

Umtsimba celebrations return to the groom’s family’s homestead for the final event of a Swazi traditional wedding (the first is the teka and the second is the lobola). This ceremony celebrates the completion of the lobola payment, which can occur even many years later.

The bride’s family will travel to the groom’s homestead with gifts purchased with money acquired after selling some of the lobola cows. The groom also returns the favor with gifts for the bride’s immediate family.

The bride’s family washes and prepares for the celebration and dancing at a nearby river. Eventually, they will be summoned to approach the homestead.

At the umtsimba I attended, we sang and danced our way onto the groom’s homestead and first headed to the kraal. There was a “fight” to enter the kraal where we all danced to symbolize our arrival.


The bride dancing in the kraal.

Then for a few hours, we performed for the wedding guests. There were traditional umtsimba, ummiso (female dance), and sibhaca (male dance) dances.





The sibhaca dance. The audience loved this one because these men were not wearing anything under their fabric.

The bride was paraded around the homestead, sometimes participating in the dances and sometimes sitting with her brother who was replacing the role of her father because he is dead.



The bride’s brother is holding the shield.

After the dancing, everyone partook in a fancy meal.

At some umtsimbas, a bed is brought into the yard and the bride and groom have to lie there during the ceremony as a symbol of oneness.



One of the male participants.


A close up of the bride’s outfit. The headdress is very similar to the king’s headdress for the main day of Incwala.



All photos are courtesy of one of my bhutis.

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Wednesday photo: Ndebele village

The first stop on my parents’ visit to Southern Africa was to visit a village I had been dreaming about since eighth grade.

I made a beautiful piece of abstract art that year with inspiration from a National Geographic article that featured the artwork of an Ndebele community in South Africa. I won two different prizes for it!

Only after arriving in Swaziland did I learn that the community that was featured was Ndebele and South African and that I was only a few hours away.

This journey truly started on a Girl Scout trip to New York City a few years before my art project. We visited the UN, where I purchased a doll with beadwork and many rings around her neck. This doll also happens to be Ndebele.

The village we visited deserves a full post, but for now, let me leave you with a photo.


Traditional decorations and a modern traditional dress.



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The curious incident of the rodent in the night-time

I have spent a lot of time wondering whether or not this story is true. Could it just be a figment of my Malarone-altered dreams, or do I really have a roommate?

In the week that this has occurred, my course of Malarone (malaria prophylaxis) has ended, and there are definitely rodent feces, and a tomato has definitely been consumed by something. And all those noises I hear once it gets quiet in my hut just before bedtime and after turning off the light, I have decided that they are not a figment of my addled imagination but real.

I have a furry roommate.

This story may have started while I was away for Thanksgiving, but I can only confirm that I started hearing strange noises on Saturday all throughout the day. It sounded like something was behind my kitchen counter. I moved some things around but found no evidence.

Then, while two of my kids were over watching a movie, I shifted a few more things and out ran a small, furry creature. I don’t know the difference between a mouse and a rat, so hence the rodent from the title of this post.

We all saw it and immediately went on the defensive. It took about an hour that involved emptying about half of my room into the front yard to catch the furry thing. We never really caught it though, because it ran out my door of its own accord.

We returned my belongings to my house without putting them away, deciding we should clean my house the following day.

I hardly slept that night, though, because I continued to hear noises all night, including my dirty dishes moving around in my washbasin.

My kids and I thoroughly cleaned my room on Sunday, but there were noises again that night. On Monday night my bhuti found a suspected black mamba right outside my door, and I asked for it to live, so that it could eat my furry roommate. My wish was not granted as make beat it to smithereens right away (yes, this is normal snake treatment in Swaziland).

I asked my tutor what I should do, and she suggested a rat poison that is available at the local shop. On Thursday I decided to purchase this after moving my kitchen counter away from the wall in attempts to scare away my roommate. I could not find it, but there were plenty of feces. It does not seem to be eating any of my packaged food, but only food that is uncovered and accessible. The food I have stashed on top of my water filter has not been touched, but the tomato on the top shelf of my veggie rack has been eaten two days in a row.

The munched-on tomato

What I have decided is that my roommate has been coming and going during the nighttime hours. I have spent every day of the last week in my room, and since Saturday, there have been no daytime noises. I have found no holes in my wall, which leads me to believe the creature is coming through my door unannounced. I have spent most of my time in my room at my desk, which is immediately next to my door, or sitting on the floor or my bed with a view of the door, which means the creature is stealthy, until it is makes it way behind my counter and starts making noise.

The potential entrance route

This whole situation has put me on edge, where I look up at every little noise and wonder if it is the creature. I have been sleeping with earplugs in an attempt to reduce the noise it makes once I have turned the light off and climbed into bed.

I have taken so long to choose the poison because I am concerned the rodent will die in a place that is not visible and I will only find it once my room smells like dead rodent. But I cannot keep living like this, so the poison seems like the best option.


The title of this post comes from the book by Mark Haddon, which I read several years ago and have remembered nothing but the interesting title. Intriguingly enough, this title comes from a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and one of the things I have occupied myself with during this curious incident is binge-watching the first three seasons of Sherlock. You should watch it, but maybe not while paranoid about a rodent living in your house.

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Wednesday photo: Pies

Last week on Wednesday I was so busy baking pies for Thanksgiving that I forgot to post. 

Twenty-one pies and a week of sleep later, I have generally recovered from my most intense 24 hours of baking. 


The dessert table

Thanksgiving for 100 people really is a lot of work, but it’s truly a meal like no other here in Swaziland. 

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A traditional Swazi wedding, part two: Lobola

After the teka, the bride will return to her parents’ homestead. Her family will need to decide on the bride’s price, and then the whole family will travel back to the groom’s homestead for the sitsinjana, or lobola negotiation.

In addition to bringing a stick with notches to equal the number of cows the bride’s family wants, they will bring dishes, grass mats, and 25 liters of traditional alcohol for the groom’s family.

Before the bride and her family are allowed on to the groom’s homestead, the bridal party must stand at the gate to the groom’s homestead and sing. After enough songs, a gogo from the groom’s family will throw money down at the gate to welcome the bride’s family to the homestead.

The bride’s family will be shown to their sleeping areas, and then they can distribute the gifts they brought.

A male or female elder from the bride’s family will put down the stick with the lobola price. The two sides of the family will come to an agreement about the number of cows. The price can change based on the bride’s level of education, prior children, if she is currently pregnant with the groom’s child, and family status. The price is usually between 15 and 20 cows. The groom’s family may not have this many cows, so a monetary amount could also be determined.

After the price is settled, the groom will slaughter a goat that will be given to the bride’s family. Dancing, drinking, and eating will follow.

On a later date, the groom’s family will deliver the cows to the bride’s family’s homestead. The cows will always be delivered around midnight on a Friday. The groom’s family will stand at the gate, waiting for permission to enter the homestead after calling, “Siyalobola gogo” (We have the lobola, granny).

In addition to the lobola cows the groom brings, there will also be two additional cows that will be slaughtered on Saturday for food on Sunday.

On Saturday morning, the gozolo, the messenger from the teka, will slaughter the two extra cows that were delivered.

If the groom’s family did not bring all of the required cows for the lobola, the families will negotiate when the next delivery will be made. The delivery ceremony happens only on the first delivery, though.

The other important part of this ceremony is that the bride’s family will give a female child to the groom who will take over as his wife if anything happens to the woman he teka-ed. This child is in addition to the child that was given to the bride and groom during the teka ceremony from the groom’s family.

After the slaughtered cows are eaten on Sunday and all of the dancing is complete, the groom’s family will return home. Once the lobola is completely paid, the groom’s family will prepare for the umtsimba ceremony that completes the wedding.

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How I spent September’s PCV stiped

I started spending September’s living allowance the day we got paid in August. Albeit two trips to the office, purchasing lots of food, and lots of transport for Umhlanga, I still came in under budget. I still ran out of money, though, because I upgraded my internet and had to pay in advance for the last two months of the contract. My internet upgrade runs on the same network as before because the company I switched to is sharing cell phone towers, but I have much more internet for more money. The automatic bill pay has not worked, but otherwise, the switch has been worth it.


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Wednesday photo: Umtsimba dancing

A few months ago I participated in my first Swazi wedding. The bride had already been teka-ed and lobola was finally paid. The bride was my make’s elder sister, and I am guessing it had been 40 years since her teka.

I did not know that I would be an active participant in this umtsimba, but it was fantastic. Fortunately there was a practice session that made me feel confident.


Watching a special dance.

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A traditional wedding, part one: The teka

Making the bride cry tears of sadness because she is leaving her home and becoming part of another family is an integral part to first large segment of a traditional wedding.

The teka follows the kujuma (sleepover), where the bride is introduced to the groom’s family.

At a later sleepover, the groom’s family will decide that it is time for the marriage to begin. Fortunately, brides are now supposed to know of and agree to a teka happening. My future sikoni (sister-in-law) even knows the date of the upcoming teka.

During the teka, the groom’s female family members wake up the bride at 3 a.m., dress her in traditional bride attire (only a long black skirt made of cow hide) and have her carry a spear, and lead her to the sibaya (kraal, location where the cows are kept). The land inside the kraal is sacred because it is the home of the ancestors, and the bride has to be properly introduced with her tears touching the ground.

The female family members throw insults at the bride to make her cry. She has to cry to show that she is sad to be leaving her parental home and afraid of what might happen at her new home.

After she cries, she is thrown out of the kraal and taken to the forest.

At noon, three calls will be made to her from the homestead. After the third call, she is allowed to return.

She makes her way to gogo (grandmother), who counsels her on her role at the homestead and her expectations as a wife. Then a child will be allocated to her, so that she can have someone to do her chores until she has a child of her own. This child needs to be a sibling of the groom, rather than a niece or nephew. The child will be selected by the family, and the groom will be present when the child is presented to the couple.

Then the bride will be covered in red ochre, which happens only on her first marriage. It will be applied to her forehead and upper body and also applied to the body of the child assigned to her.

Next, the bride and groom are required to drink the bile of a goat that is slaughtered for the event.

The final activity of the day for the bride is that the bride must cook that day’s dinner to show that she is taking her new role on the homestead seriously.

Also that night a male member of the family will be given the role of gozolo (groom’s messenger, defined in the dictionary as the master of ceremonies in dowry negotiations). He will deliver the message to the bride’s family that she has been teka-ed and is now a member of a new family. The gozolo will stealthily approach the bride’s family’s homestead and toss the umsasane (a special piece of goat meat) onto the homestead, which signifies that a daughter has been wed. It is important for the gozolo to not be caught. If he is, he will be beaten. When the bride’s family finds the umsasane, they will call the gozolo to return to the homestead so he can explain the wedding.

Once the ceremony ends, the bride and groom are officially married and can never be divorced. A separation can occur, but when the female dies, she will be returned to her husband’s family. A teka marriage certificate can be prepared. If there will be a white wedding (a modern wedding), it will occur next.

The next step of the traditional wedding is the sitsinjana, where the bride price, or lobola, will be discussed.

Commentary on the teka: an important piece to understand is that a bride does not marry only the groom during a teka, but she marries the family. The bride’s responsibilities will be determined by how traditional the family is and the number and combination of people on the homestead.

I collected the information for this post from a session during PST, my tutor, and a sisi on my homestead.

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Embracing Swazi culture

In the two months that have passed since the end of Umhlanga, I have met so many astonished and proud Swazis and Zulus. People are still telling me that they saw me dancing and everyone is impressed.

Some ask me to sing and/or dance for them. I sing “Gwalagwala” for them, followed by “Mine ngilitjitji paca” (I am a pure maiden), which gets a rise out of everyone.

My favorite story is from the Johannesburg airport. I was eating a meal, and I greeted the staff at the restaurant in siSwati. All of the waiters took a detour to my table for a small conversation. One of them asked me if I participated in that “dancing event.” I responded in siSwati, saying I had danced at Umhlanga. He still did not believe me and asked for photos. When I showed him, he was so impressed.

Umlanga 2017 1130

Dancing on the field for the king.

I am sure that I am not the first non-Swazi or non-Zulu to participate. I am also sure that I was not the first white imbali to participate. But either way, I have left a lasting image in peoples’ minds.

I am happy that my community and fellow participants will remember me in a positive light, especially when I feel like I have accomplished so little here.

Since the end of Umhlanga, my tutor and I have been practicing other traditional songs, particularly for weddings. Weddings have many parts in Swaziland, and they rotate between the bride’s homestead and the groom’s. There may also be a modern wedding celebration, called a white wedding because of the bride’s dress.

I attended the final stage of a wedding just before Umhlanga. One of my make’s elder sister’s dowery was finally paid by the groom’s family, which meant the umtsimba could finally occur.

I was worried this would be my only wedding and I would not be able to sing along with all the new songs I know, but it turns out my bhuti came home this past week because he has chosen a second wife and he needed to tell make. The fiancee came to visit yesterday. She looked terrified. I don’t know if it was because no one told her about me or if she really is totally terrified.

After she was introduced as my sikoni (sister-in-law), make asked if I was ready to lead her to the kraal on the day of her teka. Apparently I will be taking over as the eldest female child on the homestead.

The first step to getting married is to have a sleepover (called kujuma) at the male’s homestead so his family can decide if the fiancee is acceptable. The second step is to continue having sleepovers so that the fiancee can be teka-ed.

This week I will write about the teka, lobola, and umtsimba, the three main stages of a traditional wedding. I look forward to actively participating in this wedding and sharing it with you.

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A funny story about my vomit

This was my second round of vomiting since moving to Swaziland. Both lack explanation and both were incredibly misery-inducing. The first round was during PST, and I had to participate in a presentation while trying not to vomit on my fellow PCTs.

This time, though, was worse.

I vomited on my bed and on my grass mat. I fell back asleep. I woke up, realizing what had happened, so I stripped my vomit-covered clothes and bedding and put on new clothes and socks, and then I got back in bed. It was 4:30 a.m. and entirely too early to deal with a vomit-covered room.

At 7:30 a.m. I decided to take care of my mess, mostly because the smell was out of control. It had been long enough that some of the vomit dried, so I was able to shake it off. I couldn’t decide what to do with it, so I swept it outside. I fetched 40 liters of water and was able to start soaking everything else.

Time crawled by at the most miserably slow pace. I decided to scrub off the vomit that somehow got to the foot of the bed. Then I heard some chickens outside. They were eating the undigested pieces of food from my vomit.

This was thoroughly disgusting and hilarious at the same time.

I managed to get through the rest of the day. Sisi went to the store to get me a soda. I ate some crackers. I washed my vomit-covered clothes and sheets and pillow. I watched a few hours of YouTube. I had a packet of oral rehydration salts mixed into chicken broth. I had chills. I had to sleep in my sleeping bag because it was too cold out for my sheets to dry. I couldn’t sleep because my feet were cold. I finally put on a second pair of socks. I slept and woke up to my sisi knocking on my door at 6:57 a.m. (seriously!) because make wanted change for a 20. I have no idea why that couldn’t wait for me to have opened my door for business at some point later in the morning.

Fast forward to the afternoon. It is finally warm enough for me to take off my two pairs of socks, and I discover how I got vomit at the foot of the bed. Apparently I stepped in it after vomiting on my grass mat and covered it up without noticing when I put socks on the day before. I had a vomit-covered foot for more than 24 hours and did not notice!

But the moral of this story is never vomit on your bed. The smell lingers even after the vomit is gone. And invest in chickens if you don’t have trash disposal or a garbage disposal. Chickens do a great job cleaning up my food-related messes.

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