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Gender inequality as a recurring theme in songs performed at a specific traditional and ritual ceremony in Zwelibomvu

Nompumelelo Zondi


This article presents material about Zulu umemulo (girl’s coming-of-age ritual) songs. It focuses on songs that  respond to an incident which took place about a decade ago in a traditional village of Zwelibomvu in the outskirts of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. The lyrics serve as a case study of how new memulo songs and songs in other related genres emerge out of community-specific concerns. The article further examines the role of women in inadvertently perpetuating gender inequality in their societies amidst public landscape of South Africa which challenges gender oppression of any kind. This will be interrogated through an exploration of songs composed by older women but sung by young maidens on such ceremonies. The songs condemn a fiancée for infidelity to her fiancé. Such condemnation in this society is commonly levelled against women, where infidelity by men is tolerated. I argue that the root of this inequality lies in the patriarchal social practices where male power is viewed as natural. Women feel themselves obliged to side with the men of their families in such matters, and to inflict punishment on other women. Whilst identifying the injustice of such condemnation, I argue that song is a less damaging response to social deviance than violence.

Keywords: Gender inequality, patriachy, traditional and ritual ceremony, social deviance.

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eISSN: 1683-0296