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The traditional 'Zulu Valentine'

NG Biyela


In traditional Zulu society, the national ukweshwama (annual ceremony of the first fresh produce) was celebrated in January. The izinsizwa (unmarried young men) had to abstain from sexual relationships in order to prepare with undivided hearts and minds for this ritual, in which they had to take lead roles, such as offering the sacrificial bull. During the festival, the king would grant courtship freedom to the youth regiments of both genders of marriageable age. This article associates the celebration of giving ‘love-beads’ to loved ones with uNhlolanja (February) in the beginning of what is, traditionally a month of relaxation and abundant fresh produce. Beaded messages in red and white colours also dominated the February courtship milieu, which this article calls a traditional ‘Zulu Valentine’. The Zulu name of February is also traditionally linked to the mating of dogs, suggesting that, in traditional Zulu society, February was a ‘love in the air’ month not only for humans. Based on first-hand interviews with local informants of KwaZulu-Natal, the present investigation attempted to examine the as yet insufficiently explored deeper meaning of indigenous beads called imibambanhliziyo (heart-holders) through which Zulu girls of yesteryear communicated their experiences, anxieties and attitudes to promote better relationships with their romantic partners, after ukweshwama abstinences.

Keywords: Beads, dogs, February, festival, mating, messages, romantic, ‘Zulu Valentine’.