Eleven Cows and Not One Less

Valley of a Thousand Hills,

South Africa

July 30, 2016

He saw her on her way to the river to collect water and has decided that she is the one. Being eloquent, he has convinced her to marry him. The wooing was spirited, indeed more haranguing than whispering sweet nothings it seemed. But he prevailed and the beaded necklace that she placed around his neck was proof that she agreed. Now comes the hard part – he has to take a family member along with him and approach her father. Eleven cows are apparently the price a young man has to pay to a bride’s father to win his bride. But like all things, this too is negotiable and the family member is chosen with an eye to his negotiating expertise.

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Not far out of Durban lies a place with the beguiling name of Valley of a Thousand Hills. The number of hills may not quite be a thousand but the area is hilly with ravines and rivers, villages and towns making it a picturesque place. There were villages here that still live in the traditional manner I was told. Where people still wear the leopard skins and beads, where the houses are the round beehive shaped bomas, and where the old ways still hold sway. But it was not quite that. The chances of villages in South Africa where this way of life is still  in practice are slim to none. Perhaps in villages deep in the bushes but not otherwise.

The place I was directed to is one of the most commercialized touristy places with carefully designed models of bomas. It is where folks from nearby townships are bussed in, dress in the traditional costumes and put on a show for the benefit of tourists. And while I cringed at the thought, I figured that my chances of visiting a real village, not to mention being present at a wedding is non-existent. This was likely the only place I would get to see a Zulu dance. This was not just a dance but the re-enactment of the marriage process. The wooing at the riverside, followed by the mandatory visit to the Sangoma who throws bones and reads the omens in them. Satisfied that she had foreseen four children in this union, there follows a lively negating process. And then comes the marriage ceremony, all of it lavishly peppered with exuberant dancing by both men and women.

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