Thursday, April 19, 2012

What it means when someone wants to "teka" you

Groom and grooms' men dancing

Bride and groom
Taken at a traditional wedding/umntsimba

Make teaching me the right moves

Swaziland is not a rich place, but one thing it is absolutely known for is its rich cultural heritage. People come from miles around for Uhmlanga and Incwala ceremonies. The preservation of culture is something that is more profound in a place with only one main tribe, whereas in America, a place of many “tribes”, loses a lot of traditions to our beloved melting pot. I love our melting pot, but its pretty cool to be in a place where people treasure the ways of their ancestors rather than in America where many of our ancestors were forced to give up their ways in order to “assimilate”, as they say in West Side Story, “better get rid of your accent”.
Getting down on one knee and asking a woman to marry you is so boring when you hear how an engagement takes place here. It all starts with the Teka. If a man and a woman are dating, or in the past, if a man wanted a woman, he need only invite her to his house to visit his family. Sometimes this can be non-consensual, and I have heard stories of women being “kidnapped” by their boyfriends they did not want to marry, but modern Swazi’s who respect their culture will agree on the day of the teka in advance and their engagement. In the wee hours of the morning, the women of the household would wake the woman up and take her outside. They next strip the woman to be topless and lead her down with a spear to the kraal, which is where they keep the cattle. She marches with her spear in a line, back and forth, topless, and she must cry loudly for all to hear. If she doesn’t cry, she may be a witch or elsewise not welcome to stay with the family. She does this for about an hour or two and then can go back to sleep,. Again in the morning, she must do this march for 30 minutes for all to see that she has been tekile (this is past tense of teka). The man’s family gives the teka’d woman some new clothes and she brings the old clothes she was wearing back to her grandmother as a symbol that she is opening a new chapter of life. She will have a stick on which her family will mark how many cows they want for their daughter, a reverse “dowry” if you will (thus having many sons is expensive!). She returns to the man’s house with the stick and presents it to the Babe there to accept. I have been told the average price for the woman is 15 cows. Royal family members command 25 and being educated and a virgin also add to your worth. Being pregnant, with children, widowed or divorced will drive your price down. The presentation of the cows is a ceremony of its own called lobola. Then, the family will present the woman with a goat and ask if she accepts to slaughter it in celebration. She must do this, I am told, but if she doesn’t, she must take the stick back to her family causing great shame. The traditional wedding ceremony is known as an umntsimba and I went to one when I first arrived at my site. It’s a long, long wedding with lots of dancing and deserves a post of its own someday.
Last weekend, my oldest bhuti was getting married via not-so-traditional wedding and I was able to go. White weddings in Swaziland happen and have many similarities to the weddings we go to in the States. There is a white dress, bride’s maids and grooms men and they even feed each other cake. There are a lot of differences though, the major one being the dancing. All the guests took our seats as instructed and the house music began, soon after the first members of the wedding party were doing a synchronized dance down the aisle, followed by the rest. The groom, whom I know to be a great dancer, did his own dance to his spot on the ‘altar’ in a Michael Jackson fashion. This went on for 5 minutes and I caught it all on video. I thought this was so creative and unique but apparently its common for White weddings here. The ceremony itself was pretty long and the entire thing was DJ’ed, with different songs for each part, the bride and groom walked down the aisle to Endless Love, etc. There are speeches from the groom’s and bride’s side, the priest gives them a short lecture about what it means to be married (“It doesn’t mean you can go off and watch soccer every single day”), they did the cake-cutting and feeding, giving of gifts and also signed their documents there for everyone to see at the altar. By the time it was over, we had a very nice meal and it was done. While the ceremony was long, there was no fan fare after the wedding, just eat and go.
So all in all, it was a very fun time and I was glad to experience it as well as learn about the underpinnings of weddings in the culture. Many Swazi’s have a White wedding and also do a lobola. After all this, I went to Mbabane to celebrate Passover with some other volunteers, which happens to be one of my favorite holidays (shiksa alert). La chaim!
 Random Swazi Fact: There are two main soccer teams popular in Swaziland, the Orlando Pirates and the Kaizer Chiefs. I'd say its like being either a Mets or Yankees fan, but there are no Mets fans so that'd be inaccurate. This is a bitter rivalry of South African football teams complete with hand gestures to signify which team you support. Its time for me to decide between my bhuti's teams and my Babe's, and I am going to get a Pirates jersey ASAP. kuX!

Note: I acquired lots of info on teka and lobola just from being here but I had my Babe explain it to me in detail and had it corroborated by a divorced woman who is against the ceremony of teka.

1 comment:

  1. great post Kay! Glad to hear that you're doing well!

    keep it up