The role of music in the traditional marriage ceremonies of the Bemba-speaking people of northern Zambia

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Bemba traditional society views marriage as the union of a man and woman forever. In addition, marriage also signifies the bringing together and amalgamation of the bride and groom's immediate and extended families, thereby extending the sense of communalism in Bemba society. Because of the Bemba people's strong sense of oral tradition, marriages are contracted by word of mouth and not by a certificate. This strong sense of oral agreement has endured and is revered and respected, despite the rapid increase in literacy and the impact of inter- racial relations and modernization. From the time a man finds a woman to marry to the time they actually marry, there are different ceremonies that have to be performed. These ceremonies include: Ukusonga (proposal), Ukukobekela (engagement), Ubwinga (wedding), Amatebeto (honoring) and Ukwingisha (lit. putting something into a container or enclosure, but denotes the highest level of honor). Ukusonga marks the beginning of the marriage process. It involves the delivery of a marriage proposal by a man to a woman through an intermediary (go-between or spokesman) known as Shibukombe. Ukukobekela follows immediately after that, and involves the presentation of a betrothal or engagement present called insalamo, to the family of the woman. Once all marriage negotiations are concluded the two families begin to make necessary preparations for the wedding ceremony Ubwinga, which is celebrated at the home of the bride. With time, a married man who proves to be a good husband, a good father and indeed a good member of the community, will be honored by his inlaws who will initiate the Ukwingisha ceremony on his behalf. Since the notion of having honor and being honored is highly valued in Bemba society, this ceremony is particularly important to a married man as it establishes a strong sense of pride and belonging both for him and his family. As such, this ceremony can be regarded as a public display of worthiness, which suggests that certain codes of conduct have successfully been negotiated, on the part of both the man and the woman.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 194-199).