In today’s world where the youth are worried about loosing their cellphones than loosing their virginity, this clearly hasn’t been the case for 25 year old Nozipho Ntshingila whose proud parents recently had umemulo to celebrate her coming of age into womanhood this past festive season on the 17th of December 2011. Umemulo is a traditional Zulu/Swati ritual that is done for virgin maidens when they reach the age of 21 and above to celebrate and to prepare them for womanhood and to a large extent for marriage. On the day of the ritual, umakoti the maiden and her izimpelesi the bridesmaids wake up very early in the morning to the river where they get cleansed off all bad luck as they enter into womanhood. Ugogo Thembi Sibisi who handled the entire ceremony then speaks to Nomkhubulwane who is known and respected as the oldest Zulu virgin maiden to bring good luck/ blessings to this young woman and to protect her against anything that may sabotage what the ritual intends to do. The father of the bride awaits her esibayeni at the kraal where the cow was slaughtered to proudly dress her in umhlwehlwe the specific type of fat that covers the insides of the cow and this is done to protect her and to symbolise that she is indeed still itshitshi a virgin. Family and friends then put money on her head as they thank her and celebrate on this day.
‘Izimbali zesizwe’ a term coined to describe these Nguni maidens which simply means flowers of the nation, are encouraged to attend ‘umkhosi womhlanga’ the annual Royal Reed dance at Enyokeni in KwaZulu Natal and in Swaziland from a very young age where they get tested for virginity and are motivated to take pride in that. Being a virgin is nothing to be ashamed of, it is in fact the most cherish-able and beautiful thing that can never be compared and every young girl needs to know that regardless of whatever tribe, nation, or ethnic background. It has become sad how we live in these modern times that are greatly influenced by what we see as ‘glamorous’ and ‘exciting’ western culture where we get attracted by what we see on TV. We have found ourselves wanting to be part of the ‘sex conversation’ to be ‘cool’ and we want to experience the excitement of being in a “no strings attached” or “friends with benefits” relationships in order to ‘fit in’ and be part of the ‘clique’. Our traditional upbringings are not as appealing but are rather ‘boring’ and belong in the past; our cultures and values as Africans are threatened with extinction. We have lost our own identity and as young people we do not know who we are anymore. Being a virgin is so last century and who wants to not have sex? is what comes out of teenagers lips all over the world these days.
This has been my parents’ dream since they first realised my behaviour as a ‘good girl’ when I was still just a teenager and the interest that I took on my culture and African languages. They knew that this had to be done for me someday but what they didn’t know is that they would have to do it for a twenty five year old virgin which they saw as a huge blessing from God and the ancestors. It feels so good to know that I made them proud and I will never forget the look on their faces that day when it was clear that nothing will ever make them as proud. However for me it was always more than having umemulo for the whole of Vosloorus to see and to know that I am still a virgin. The message here is clear and it is all about having respect for oneself as a young woman, knowing who you are as a young African and taking great pride in that today. It is not that I totally agree with every African/Nguni culture because some of them are a bit extreme; however this one makes perfect sense for me. As much as I am curious about different cultures and how different people live in various parts of the world; I am just not curious enough about having a baby out of wedlock that I would not know how to take care of on my own and a sexually transmitted disease that I do not know where I got from. I may be 25 and that alone comes with great responsibility but I am still very young and there is a lot that I still want to do in my youth like travelling. I want to go out there to meet the rest of the world and share my beautiful culture and experience with them. But how can I present myself as an African ambassador when I shy away from who God chose me to be? Because I do believe that we are all put wherever we are for a reason and that nothing there is no mistake about it. What will I tell about me if I do not know who I am? Well I do not know much myself but I do know that I am a beautiful South African flower, one of its kind, and it is about time that the rest of the world got to know its true origin and be curious enough to want to come here and discover the natural garden where it was grown. Who knows? Maybe instead of forever following trends like having a 21st birthday party or a white wedding, South Africa could be a trendsetter that will attract young girls from China or Britain or maybe even Spain into wanting to have ‘umemulo’ in a decade of years from now or sooner because God knows that there is so much more to this beautiful country that our tragic history and HIV/AIDS.
We are a nation that is rich in culture and ethnicity, umemulo is just one of them and we need to share this with the rest of the world. But first it needs to start at home and instead of pumping millions every year into child support grants and indirectly encouraging young girls to go out there, have sex and make babies our government needs to invest more in arts and culture and start promoting efforts that will have a positive effect on our youth and the future of our country. In the near future we could have less teenagers falling pregnant and getting affected with HIV/AIDS. Our government will surely save millions and this will therefore mean a richer economy for our country. It is not too late something can still be done; it can never be too late.