In the footsteps of a Makoti – the Xhosa bride
When I was asked by Lizel my tour guide to partake in this very traditional cultural ritual, which was part of the cultural walk in the Graaff-Reinet Township called Umasizakhe, it sounded like fun and I liked the idea of getting dressed up and being part of a wedding ritual, but one never realises that this is a very personal experience for a young Xhosa woman.
I stepped into the private bedroom of Susan and was dressed by Catherine, who is known to her family in law as “Nothembile” the one who we have faith in, and the reality dawned on me. As she narrated, in her soft-spoken voice of the things you should know as a Xhosa woman prior to marrying into a Xhosa man’s family, and the expectation and dynamics of delicate do’s and don’ts of what you should and shouldn’t do, how you should behave as a proposed women left me pretty apprehensive and relieved that I am not part of this conservative culture, I had this eerie feeling that I might have been kicked out and isolated for being a rebel as a Xhosa women.
But Catherine’s voice came across calm as she gently explained each of the items I was dressed in, and the placing of each garment on one’s body, the couth and kempt manner of this young woman is held in very high regard and is ultimately what establishes her relationship with her husband’s family.
Catherine spoke about her personal experience as a young woman and I was blown away by her gentle strength and her story of how she crept into the hearts of her family-in-law and winning them over, for these bonds can set your for life or destroy you.
I was eventually dressed, in what felt like 300 blankets and my face covered and the feeling of wanting want to break out and run away screaming, as it is pretty stifling under all the coverings, they coaxed me gently towards my potential groom along with another women as a decoy, I think, something like Jacob in the story of Rachel and Leah in the bible, the groom had to choose between the brides, fancy that!
Lo and behold I was not chosen, the gods must have known that I was trouble. The reveal of the other women left cries of laughter and disappointment and I had a good chuckle under the blankets.
But the ritual had to continue and I was placed on a mat in their church building, with gifts that were offered to my family as part of the Labola, and a young Xhosa girl came to stand in front of me to announce my new name given to me by my adopted family “Nothembile” (I know, it was stolen from Catherine, but it was appropriated for the moment)
My face was now ready to be revealed and the black “doek” that covered my face and hair was now neatly tied back in the nape of my neck. Proudly I stood up and took a seat among the other women of the community, And suddenly I felt so part of them, and there was a feeling of acceptance. What a surreal experience, if you would like to understand other peoples lives and their ground roots I would recommend standing in their footsteps, even if it is only for a moment, as my travel companion Kenny said to me, “The more you want to learn about others, the more you learn about yourself”
Thank you Graaff-Reinet for this great initiative, this is a true way to discover a townships and peoples lives.
For more information have a look at their website