How women acquired wealth under Ndebele customs

By Thomas Sibanda

Ancient Ndebele customs were devised to ensure that women acquired cattle they could permanently own and utilise for sustenance. Cattle were also spiritual assets as they were a medium to access the ancestors.

Inkomo yohlanga -This female cow was given to the girl’s mother by the groom during the marriage ceremony. This cow was not part of the lobola cattle. Where the groom was constrained, the father-in-law had to give one to his wife. This cow was in honour of the woman’s clan.

Isipho – this beast was given as a present to the bride by her maternal uncle to celebrate her marriage. The more uncles the bride had the more cattle she would accumulate.

Inyembezi (tears) – this beast was allocated by the male heir to his sister (the daughter of the deceased) during the umbuyiso ceremony when the estate of the deceased was being divided.

Amadliso amasi – (to eat sour /thick milk). For the daughter-in-law to start eating amasi at her new home, the father-in-law had to give her a beast. Without being given this beast first, she would refuse to partake of amasi in her new home.

Usungulo (needle for extracting thorns) – This was stock given by a male relative to assist his female relative in times of distress. The stock and its increase became the property of the recipient. A male could also request for usungulo from his male relatives.

Inkomo yezandla zakhe (a beast for the works of her hands) – this beast was a payment to a woman for her special services, eg for being a midwife or herbalist or in exchange for her personal crops. The beast was given to the husband who had powers to take it for himself.

Igula lomntwana (the baby’s calabash) – A father had to give his daughter a female beast on her marriage to accompany her /ukuphelekezela. The cow remained the father’s but she could use it’s milk and also acquire its offsprings as hers.

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