Accepted paper:

Umabo in contemporary Kwazulu-Natal: art, grace and skill in performing a Zulu wedding


Antonadia Borges (University of Brasília)

Paper short abstract:

Umabo is the closing ceremony of traditional Zulu weddings. Focusing on an Umabo performed for a living man by his late wife's relatives, the paper discusses how weddings become sites in which aesthetics, dispersion, social ties and cosmological location conflate into a mutually shared concern.

Paper long abstract:

Zulu weddings have long inspired anthropologists who have elaborated on theories of ritualized exchange and reciprocity based on their analyses of the negotiating process of Lobolo ('bride wealth'). However, while Lobolo forms a central part of Zulu weddings there are also other, equally important, ritualised performances such as the Umabo, that require further analysis. More particularly, the aftermath of apartheid's segregationist policies of displacement and relocation and their impact on the dynamics of so-called traditional Zulu weddings has not as yet been sufficiently explored in studies of Zulu society. More than 15 years after the end of apartheid rule, many Zulu families are still struggling to come to terms with economic scarcity and political violence and the resulting effects of these on the very practicability of traditional marriage customs. This paper focuses on an unusual Umabo that was performed by the family of a deceased bride/wife on behalf of her living groom/husband. The paper analyses how Zulu families, in their industrious effort to properly seal the marriage through the performance of Umba, negotiate the intricacy of displacement in and around South Africa, the relationship between mundane and sacred worlds, global exchange of 'traditional' commodities made in China and sold in stores owned by 'Indians' as well as the shifting experiences and expectations in inter-generational relations. The paper thus sheds new light on a subject that continues to be of perennial interest to both anthropology as well as related academic disciplines.

panel P48
Weddings: identity and aesthetics in a globalising consumer world