I had my first fullblown Swazi experience last weekend. My host family invited me to a Labola ceremony and you wont believe what I did there.
WARNING: animals were harmed in the making of this story (don’t read if your sensitive)
First off let me explain the Labola. Here in Swaziland it is still traditional to give a dowry when asking to marry a man’s daughter. Cows determine a man’s wealth so when he wants to marry a woman he has to provide as many cows as her father demands. The ceremony that marks the exchanging of the cows and the marriage is called a Labola. It is a four-day long affair where both families come together to do a number of rituals and events to celebrate. I went on the third day, or what I would call “cow slaughtering day.” It’s a big deal and everyone gets involved. It starts with two cows in a pen, one from the bride’s family and one from the bridegroom’s family. A man is selected from both sides to do the slaughtering, and I won’t get into detail but they slice its neck for those who are wondering how it’s done. I only arrived to see the second cow and watched from a distance, still unsure how I felt, but in true Swazi style I was rapidly encouraged to come closer and socialize. Once both cows are dead all the men and un-married women from both sides come into the pen and help skin each cow… and yes this single, white, female did in fact go into the pen.
My host brother and I held one of the legs tight as the skin was cut off. I was actually impressed by the process. Aside from a pig in 10th grade biology and the chicken I plucked the week before, I had never seen anything dismembered. It was done very precisely so as to make sure every part could be used. The bride’s cow, once skinned, gets hauled into a hut to be saved for use the next day. The bridegroom’s cow gets completely taken apart. The feet get cut off, the thighs get detached and hung on the poles of the pen, and then the insides get taken out. I was fine up until the cleaning out of the stomachs and intestines. As you can imagine the smell was awful, but I maintained my composure. Once the whole thing is done everyone celebrates with a giant meal that the married women have been preparing all day. No we didn’t eat the cow yet, we had what I call the Swazi Thanksgiving meal: rice, chicken, spinach, butternut squash, beets, and salad. Being obviously not of Swazi heritage I talked to a lot of people who were curious as to why I was there. Unlike weddings in the states, weddings and funerals here are a community event and anyone can come. Many were surprised when I told them I came with the bride’s family (the bride is cousins to all of my host brothers and sisters), because I didn’t need to be related to be there. They were all so nice and wanted to know what marriage was like in the states and if we had a dowry. I explained that we don’t and that we have a bachelor/bachelorette party to celebrate before the wedding. An old man (makhulu) even offered to marry me, but thankfully my Make (host mom) stepped in to save me.
The whole thing felt exactly like a family BBQ feels at home; everyone hanging out in the yard, cooking, eating, playing cards and yard games. It was so different and yet so familiar. One of the best days I have spend here in Swaziland!!
For those who want to send letters/packages they can be sent to the address I put on the mail page of my blog (and yes I updated my wants/needs).
Bethany Leech PCV
US Peace Corps
PO Box 2797
Mbabane H100, Swaziland