When a woman gets married in the isiXhosa culture, which is most prevalent in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, the event is called ukuhota. In-laws teach the new daughter-in-law (umakoti) all things traditional, such as language, customs, and etiquette. When becoming the new daughter-in-law, there are customs and duties that are expected of her. This can put tremendous strain on her, especially if she comes from a different culture or tradition.
It is customary for the umakoti to be the first person in the household to rise in the morning. She is responsible for preparing and serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then cleaning up afterwards and sleeping after everyone else has gone to bed.
She is given a new name, new clothes, and new everything. In traditional South African black culture, when a girl or woman gets married, she marries not just her future husband but also the entire community, including extended family, the whole extended clan, including the family church.
‘A makoti is one of us‘
When Phathiswa Magxunyana’s brother was getting married in Tsomo, Eastern Cape, her brother believed he could leave his bride at home while he went to the city to work.
“Our mother questioned him as to why he not taking umakoti with him,” she says.
Magxunyana believes that ukuhota is a thing for the black community, but that it should not be forced or expected of someone who was reared in a different environment to adapt quickly.
“As a mother myself, I should realise that I have children that are lethargic to do other tasks, and I have accepted that. So why does it become a problem when someone’s daughter joins my family? The same interpretation should also be applied to umakoti.”
Premarital counselling is needed
Ndyebo Mazawule of Qonce (King William’s town) in the Eastern Cape feels like there is a need for counselling for both the groom and the bride before going to the setting of ukuhota.
He suggests that perhaps the education department, as part of the life orientation curriculum, might provide advice on how to have a successful marriage. He adds that we have socialised the female child in such a way that it is pointless for her to take care of her home as long as she supports her parents.
Women should enjoy marriage
According to Siphokazi Lisa Zatu, the director of Masonwabeni International Pty Ltd, being a umakoti humbles and fortifies you in ways you never imagined possible, and it is filled with both joy and tragedy.
Zatu is married to the Zotsho clan, and since 2007 she has worked with initiatives to empower women of all backgrounds.
“I am committed to spreading the message of love and harmony. I deeply believe that women may enjoy marriage. This is why I began the royal wives and coffee dates movements.
In this respect, Zatu says she perceives a division between the two families. A space where both families can explain the environment in which the female daughter is raised and how she is catered for. Then, it can be considered how merging the two families can be equitable.
“Your spouse may accept you as you are. However, the family may be clueless, and when circumstances become difficult, the problem may emerge.”
She feels a need for openness regarding these matters. For both families to comprehend the new family member, her employment, and other essentials, not just the atmosphere in which umakoti is expected to do everything at once.
Society has changed
According to Mlise Maxongo of Worcester, the groom should take a stand and be fair to all parties.
“In my opinion, women do not need to be groomed for umendo (marriage); rather, society must adapt. The culture has adapted to the ukulobola with money from ukulobola with cows. The transition from izirhwaqu to umbhaco attire has taken place as well.
“The culture has transitioned from umqombothi to beers and branded beverages. Society has adapted in so many ways, from the makoti naming to their ability to wear trousers freely in the city,” he explains.
The clan to which umakoti is married, according to Maxongo, must adapt to the modern way to accommodate her. He adds that when umakoti does not know how to do certain things, their in-laws and society should teach her.
An emotional journey of discovery
Sandile Radebe, an educational psychologist and student counsellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, notes that it is extremely difficult to give advice to a person who has not yet tied the knot since you can never truly know, families vary, and so does marriage.
Adjusting to a new environment is tiring, and you may experience homesickness and other negative emotions, but this is a possibility regardless of whether or not you are getting married. Similar to migrating to a new location, it takes time for the body and soul to acclimatise, explains Radebe.
“Acclimatisation entails a variety of factors, including the perception of familial acceptance. We all want to feel at home, and if you don’t, it’s easy to give up and leave, which is why so many people get divorced.”
Husband’s support crucial
For everyone’s sanity, it is essential that the husband be supportive, adds Radebe.
“In this case, I believe the men might benefit from premarital counselling. Therefore, to comprehend and obtain direction on how he might manage the differences between his two families.
“Things like umakoti’s work nature are important to be discussed prior so that family won’t be surprised when she doesn’t pitch up to some family ceremonies.”
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