Young Women in Contemporary Zulu Society

by Sandra Klopper
University of Cape Town

Young women at their umemula ceremony wearing leather skirts of married women, South Africa. Photo by Sandra Klopper.

Either because they may already have had a child to prove to their future husbands that they are fertile or in anticipation of their married status, young women wear the leather skirts of married women at their umemula ceremonies. Their friends or "bridesmaids" are similarly dressed for this occasion. Like the caul of fat, the leather skirt (iskiwaba) is said to afford them the protection of their affinal ancestors. The caul of fat itself is usually cooked after the young woman has stopped dancing in front of those present so that she can reinforce the ancestral protection it affords her by eating some of it. Because it is conducted in the lead-up to a woman's marriage, the umemula ceremony is a joyous occasion of celebration that brings together any people from the district who might want to be present, in addition to the young woman's family and her future in-taws.