The Umemulo tradition of the Zulus of South Africa in times past was a metric used in celebrating young maidens. The tradition was held for young girls who had stayed chaste before they were married
Though the rite is still in practice, the standard in modern times has been made flexible to allow for girls who are not even virgins to participate in the ceremony to prevent them from being stigmatized. Umemulo is the platform that parents used in showing appreciation to daughters for adhering to their teachings and preserving their pride as well as that of the family and the community.
The ceremony is used to train young girls on how to be a woman. They are taught how to sing and are groomed on the Zulu women’s dance called “ukusina”, as reported by The Guardian.
The maidens are given either a cow or goat by their family to celebrate them and thank the ancestors for keeping them safe. Remains of the carcass are used for deeper and traditional rituals later. The father or older brother of the young girl uses the bile of the cow to perform customs by sprinkling it on the girl’s fingers, toes and the top of her head. This custom is meant to link the girl with her ancestors whose blessings are needed to keep her safe and enable her to find a good husband.
On the day of the event, the maidens are made to dress in traditional Zulu attire which is immersed in a layer of fat taken from the cow’s stomach. The fat is not expected to break at any given point during the ceremony as this may suggest that the girl is no longer a virgin.
Other girls present at the occasion are expected to wear the Zulu traditional attire. The girls are made to sleep by the riverside naked on the eve of the ceremony. They are only covered with a blanket. They spend the whole night singing and dancing around flames of fire. The girls are later given a spear as a symbol of their victory and strength on their return. They throw the spear when they arrive at the front of their home.
Wherever the spear hits, the girl’s father is obligated to run shouting words of praise and dancing to symbolize his happiness, love and pride in the presence of the community.
On the day of the ceremony, the father or elder brother is expected to lead the girl to the event’s grounds where she dances with other girls. The gathering is mandated to make monetary contributions as the girl blows a whistle. The money is placed in the hat the girl wears during the ceremony.
When the hat is filled with money and everyone makes their customary contributions, the girl is led back to her house. The guests can now feast.
If the girl has a boyfriend, he would be introduced to her parents and family. If the boyfriend has intentions of marrying the girl, he pays the bride price known as lobola. This means the two are officially engaged after that payment has been made. Centuries ago, the Umemulo was the perfect period for a young man who is ready for marriage to present a cow to propose to a maiden he is interested in.
Umemulo, in literal terms, is the ceremony to signify the transition of a young maiden to womanhood and signal her readiness for marriage.