Multicultural Wedding Spotlight: Japan Meets South Africa – A Zulu Union


Keeping up with Japanese-American bride, Jessica Rebert and her Zulu prince, Bonga Chiliza is quite the romantic adventure. A meet in London; second run-in, Vienna; third date, Barcelona; almost fourth trip, South Africa. Sadly, a passport fully decorated by storytelling stamps kept Jessie grounded at the airport with tears, no beau, and a return trip to London.

There was only one thing for Jessie to do. Call dad! In the midst of her vent session about airports and visas, she witnessed a father’s charm…

”this guy better be worth it,”said dad.

Three years and many round trips later, Bonga was ready to express to Jessie, family and friends, the airlines, and the rest of the world how “worth it” Jessie was to him.

A rhinestone bedazzled sign that hung on the refrigerator door, more tempting and alluring than any sweet tooth craving inside, read: “Love, will you marry me?”

Jessie’s absolute “YES” was the commencement of the event planning for the two day “Zulu Japerican” (a term Jessie and Bonga adopted as their future kid’s ethnic makeup) celebration!

Zulu Wedding Tradition

A Zulu wedding, like most African weddings, is vibrant with colors, music, dancing, and then some. There are other traditions when it comes to South African weddings but Zulu weddings are among the most popular because of the vast population of members of Zululand.

When a Zulu girl is ready for marriage, her father will arrange a coming-out ceremony to introduce her to society and formally make her availability for marriage known. Among the Zulus, the bride has the upper hand. Once the woman gives her consent, the number of cattle that will be given to her father in exchange for her is negotiated.

Beaded jewelry is the language of love in Zulu weddings. Brides-to-be will typically make two sets of bead necklaces in matching colors – one for herself and one for her groom-to-be. Their matching color-coded necklaces and bracelets will let everyone know that they are an item.

Wedding Dowry (Lobola)

Once a couple has decided to move forward with marriage they are allowed to spend some nights together with the permission of the senior girls in the bride’s kraal i.e. her village …as long as she remains a virgin. She will be periodically examined to make sure that she is still a virgin, and if she loses her virginity, the groom-to-be or his family will be required to pay a fine and the wedding ceremony will be carried out immediately.

The bride’s dowry is in form of cattle given to the bride’s family. The cattle serves as insurance in the event of his death OR if he rejects her or leaves her unjustly. The cattle will be a source of financial support for her (and any children they may have). This lobola i.e. bride price, also serves as a guarantee to the girl’s father that he (the groom/husband-to-be) will take care of his daughter.

Wedding Day…

On the day of the actual Zulu wedding ceremony, the bride is decorated with red and white ocher designs on her legs and arms. Bags of pebbles are tied to her ankles (these are primarily for their rhythmic effect during dancing). She wears a veil made of beads and twisted fig leaves; oxtail fringes are tied to her elbows and knees and a goat’s hair fringe is worn around her neck.

She typically also carries a miniature knife, an assagai, pointed up to symbolize her virginity. After the marriage is consummated, the knife will be pointed down.

For a Zulu bride, marriage means disconnecting from her ancestral line of birth and joining her husbands ancestral lineage.

This forms the basis of the ceremonial wedding dance competition wherein a ritual antagonism between the family of the bride and the family of the groom is displayed. This dance is actually the highlight of every Zulu wedding ceremony. At some point during the during the ceremony the bride does a dance of her own during which she kicks her leg high in order to show her mother that she is a virgin.

The dowry negotiations are mainly fueled by the father-of-the-bride demanding top payment for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Eventually, the bride leaves her father’s house with gifts in tow for her new husband’s family… gifts will include such things as cows, mats, beads, baskets, etc.

Over time family relations between her family of origin and her new family do improve. After much feasting and being welcomed into her new home, the bride’s mother-in-law rubs butter fat on the skin of her new daughter-in-law at the end of the ceremony.

For the reception, the bride and groom sometimes change into another set of tailor made outfits. The guest tables are adorned with themed overlays and place settings, batik tablecloths, wood napkin holders, wooden candlestick holders and small stone sculptures in the center. The main buffet tables may have large stone or  wood sculptures, flower arrangements, wood or beaded serving spoons and salt and pepper shakers.

The bridal party may have their table setting on a stage where everyone can see them and of course the dance floor is mandatory. 

Jessica and Bongo’s fusion of traditions…

Although each day was denoted as the Western or Zulu celebration, both fused elements from each of their heritage: traditional tunes, dance offs, attire, and international travel décor (seating chart with country flags and city names that Jessie and Bonga traveled to). Luckily, we had Bright Girl Photography there to document and share in all of the festivities.

Day #1 weaved their religions into a half Christian and half Quaker ceremony which included Bonga surprising Jessie with humorous vows recited in Spanish. Knowing full well that Jessie would understand, Bonga was able to create a private, intimate moment for them in the midst of a crowd.

Jessica and Bonga’s fusion of traditions…pt. 2

Jessie arrived to Day #2 in Japanese kimono style, but before her marital wardrobe change into a beautifully beaded Zulu headdress (“inkehli”), necklace, and skirt (“isidwaba”), the group took part in a time honored South African lyrical custom. Jessie explains that it’s tradition for the bride “to stand at the gate of the groom’s house with her family,” the families exchange harmonies, and “the groom’s family has to try to coax the bride to come into the house.”

Fully dedicated to embracing this South African tradition, once Jessie and her family procession met up with Bonga and his entourage they broke into song and surprised Jessie with a personal remake of a popular American tune where her life memories became the lyrics.

Both families’ efforts are what created the couple’s favorite moments. Their dedication to pulling off the wedding in its brilliant detail not only illustrated their love for Jessie and Bonga but the union of their families.

After the Wedding Ceremony

In the morning, the bride with her maid of honor and an Aunt or two called the “Sanyowami” (meaning remain with me), remain with her at the home after most of the visitors have left. They have brooms to sweep the yard and clean up all the pots and dishes used at the party – before anyone is awake, then make breakfast for everyone.

The bride now called “Umalokazana”(daughter in law), has to make sure everything is done so her parents in law know that their Umalokazana is a good housekeeper and will take great care of their son, their grandchildren and themselves.

Now the “Umalokazana”or daughter in law and “Mkwenyana” or son in law can live happily ever after as husband and wife.

Julie & Justin’s wedding was originally featured in  Wedding Nouveau.



8 thoughts on “Multicultural Wedding Spotlight: Japan Meets South Africa – A Zulu Union

  1. Beautiful wedding. I had no idea Zulu was in South Africa. I know so little ಠ_ಠ. As a Blasian woman, I love the fusion of Asian and African.

    • You’re not the only one who needs to travel the world more. I made that one of my New Year’s resolution but I haven’t done anything about it yet. Why is it so hard?

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