Sunday, June 23, 2024

Elements of Ngwaketse wedding

For a couple to marry, there are strict traditional protocols to be followed by the two families. A groom’s family, led by a maternal uncle and senior members of the extended family, delivers to a bride’s family a notice of intention to marry known as go isa mafoko “to deliver the news”. This is done by a groom’s delegation (of about five to fifteen married men and women) which delivers the message in person to the bride’s family. The groom’s delegation is received by the bride’s uncle who leads the bride’s delegation. In such a meeting, the groom’s uncle states when they wish to marry. A standard eight cattle bogadi (bridewealth) and a sheep known in Setswana as mokwele (Matthews 1940) which the groom delivers to the groom, are discussed and agreed upon (Denbow and Thebe, 2006; Kuper, 2016). Unlike in the past where bogadi would have been contributed by members of the family, bogadi is now the sole responsibility of the groom (van Dijk 2017). The two families also agree that the groom’s family upon delivering bogadi, will receive two adult cattle: kgomo ya motlhakanelwa and kgomo ya perepetsha (or perepetsha for short) from the bride’s family. The standard Ngwaketse wedding occurs over several days with the principal celebrations happening over two weekends or on consecutive Saturday and Sunday days. This is what Solway (2016: 311/312) terms “fast bogadi”. After months of negotiations, three weeks before the wedding on a Thursday, the two families register for both a customary and a civil marriage. The customary marriage is registered at the main Ngwaketse kgotla with the kgosi, while the civil marriage is registered with the District Commissioner’s Office.

Thus many, marry under both customary and common law on the same day and therefore have “a double marriage” (Jobeta and Nwauche 2015). The intention to marry is then advertised on a public noticeboard for three weeks, to allow for any potential objections. This registration of a marriage is in Setswana known as pego “a putting up”, go pega “to put up” or go plaka “to plug – in the sense of advertise” which refers to the pinning up of a notice to marry on a noticeboard. Three weeks later, early Thursday morning, the two families retrace their steps to the main kgotla and to the District Commissioner’s Office for the finalization of the wedding processes. The groom’s family drives bogadi of eight cattle and a sheep to the main kgotla to show it to the kgotla official before they deliver it to the bride’s house to finalise the customary wedding. The groom’s family also has to certify to the kgotla officials that they have built a house for the bride in a separate piece of land. Once the kgotla officials are satisfied that everything is in order, they issue a marriage certificate as proof of customary marriage. The couple and their families then move to the District Commissioner’s Office for a civil marriage, either to marry there and exchange rings, or receive documents that licenses them to be married in a church (Jobeta and Nwauche 2015). This stage of a wedding is known as pholoso (from the verb go folosa “to take down”) which signals the taking down of a public notice to marry. Once the kgotla and District Commissioner’s officer processes are complete, other traditional wedding processes kick in. After bogadi has been presented to the kgotla official, it is then delivered to the bride’s home to begin the patlo process.

Patlo is the official asking of a woman’s hand in marriage (Ellece 2011) which is gendered and is in two parts. The men and women hold patlo at different times and sequentially. From the District Commissioner’s office, the married men’s delegation moves to the bride’s homestead and conduct a patlo at the kgotla in front of the yard. The men from the groom’s side kneel and some sit on the ground in front of an assembled group of men from the bride’s side who would be sitting on chairs or stools and proceed to ask for sego sa metsi  “a water calabash”. Once their requested has been acceded to, they file out of the kgotla to fetch the eight-cattle bogadi which would have been kept nearby and deliver them to the kraal of the bride. The bogadi cattle are accompanied by a sheep that is known as lengwaelo or mokwele. Mokwele is never given as cash. Upon its arrival in the kraal of the family of the bride, the sheep is slaughtered immediately and cooked because it is believed that if allowed to urinate in the kraal, such an act will render the new bride infertile. These are received by the maternal uncle of the bride 

After the groom’s family has presented bogadi and mokwele to the bride’s family, the father of the bride in reciprocity presents to the family of the groom two mature cattle. These could be male or female, but never a bull (A bull would be considered as an insult to the bride’s family). The first of these is called kgomo ya perepetsha (the beast that goes out running). It is an adult cow from the maternal uncle of the bride who gives it to the groom’s family as a wedding gift after he has received bogadi. The groom’s family drives this beast to their home and later kill it when the second wedding celebration takes place at their home. The second adult cow, kgomo ya motlhakanelwa “the beast that is shared”, is presented to the groom’s family by the father of the bride. This beast is called motlhakanelwa because it is slaughtered in the kraal of the bride’s family and shared between the family of the bride and groom. Motlhakanelwa is never offered as cash since it is a ritual cow. This beast is known by three additional names. Because it is given by the father of the bride, it is also known as yorraatsone (the one from the father). Another name for motlhakanelwa is kgomo ya kapesi (lit: a cow that dresses someone up). One of the key features of Ngwaketse traditional wedding is the ritual of hanging a thin string of omentum around the neck of the bride and groom on their wedding day (Pilane 2002). The placing of a string of omentum around the neck of the couple and their children (if they have some) is known as go apesa lomipi (to dress one with omentum) or simply go apesa (to dress). Since the omentum for this ritual is taken from the motlhakanelwa beast, this cow is also known as kgomo ya kapesi (a cow that dresses someone up). During the ceremony of putting a string of omentum on the couple and their children, the Ngwaketse also use traditional medicine to doctor their bride and groom. They do this by taking a piece of meat known as tshiamo “goodness” from the motlhakanelwa cow, mix it with traditional medicine, roast it, and feed it to the couple. Tshiamo is a piece of meat taken from the tenderloin of a cow. The traditional medicine that is smeared on the meat is believed to have powers to protect the couple against the effects of witchcraft that could separate the couple and lead to divorce. It must be noted here that many Batswana Pentecostal Christians while they may give or receive motlhakanelwa, they do not take part in the dressing of omentum and the eating of the doctored tshiamo. They consider this practice to be against their biblical views. They also do not allow the use of a traditional doctor and traditional medicine. They instead use a priest to bless the wedding. Finally, kgomo ya motlhakanelwa is also known as kgomo ya kgolagano (a covenant cow). This is because it is used to bind the groom and bride together bringing together two families.

Once the men’s patlo is complete, the women’s patlo starts inside the homestead of the bride. The married women from the groom side file into the yard of the bride to ask for her hand in marriage. This can only start once bogadi has been received at the kgotla. Once the groom’s women have been officially handed the bride, she is given the marriage law (o a laiwa) by only the women from the bride’s side (Campbell 1970). 


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