Young Women in Contemporary Zulu Society

by Sandra Klopper
University of Cape Town

A young Zulu woman wearing banknotes to represent her dowry and a caul of fat to represent ancestral protection, South Africa. Photo by Sandra Klopper.

The umemula ceremony is characterised by two important features: the provision of a dowry, visibly displayed in the banknotes attached to the young woman's head, and the provision of ancestral protection, through the caul of fat she wears on these occasions. The former is provided in part by her parents, in part by the guests attending her coming-of-age ceremony, who are encouraged to run up to her as she dances to pin bank notes to those already displayed on her head. The caul of fat worn on these occasions is obtained from a ritually slaughtered ox provided by her father. Since this ox is believed to facilitate communication between the living and the young woman's affinal ancestors, it ultimately serves to protect her against the possible wrath of her future spouse's ancestors, who are believed only to accept a young bride into their care once she has born a child.