Khoisan wedding vows

Colourful traditional procession draws attention

The smell of incense lingered in the air as a Khoisan chief braved a two-kilometre walk in Wednesday’s scorching Port Elizabeth weather to marry his sweetheart in a traditional Khoi wedding.
Chief Brendon Billings and the group who took the walk with him softly sang Vat ons vorentoe (take us forward), bringing the Cleary Park and the Bethelsdorp communities to a standstill.
Billings and Headwoman Chrissilla Booysen, dressed in springbok skins, walked to the Grootkloof Education Centre where their wedding ceremony took place.
Last year, Chief Billings and other Khoi activists walked more than 1,200km from the Eastern Cape to Gauteng in an attempt to have the Khoisan people recognised as the first nation of South Africa.
Cars hooted while some people stopped to take pictures of the walk, which Billings said was undertaken as walking is integral to the Khoi culture.
At the venue a makeshift kraal had been set up for the couple to perform all the wedding rituals.
As the wedding was a rare occasion, each ritual undertaken was explained by Paramount Chief Willie Human.
Instead of rings, the couple married using a set of brown bead necklaces.
The bride and groom had designed the necklaces for each other and each bead signified a different meaning.
“In the Khoisan tradition we give beads to show that you have chosen her as your wife, and these beads, Headwoman Silla[Chrissilla], you must hang around the neck of your husband,” Human said.
The couple then held onto the two ends of a “verbondstok” (covenant stick), with Human explaining that the stick signified the material from which Khoisan homes were made.
“May the Great God of Outeniqua provide them with many happy years. That they will carry on the ritual goat slaughter between the two families. With these words I declare them husband and wife,” he said.
This was met with huge ululations and a traditional dance performed by the bride and a group of organised dancers.
The dance was used to connect to the ancestors and invite peace into the couple’s union.
A traditional drink of aloe and honey was drunk by the couple, which Chief Billings explained symbolised the trials and tribulations of life.
“The [couple] drink the honey and then afterwards drink the aloe, this symbolises the trials and tribulations one faces in life.
“It means that they must not be despondent, better days will come,” he said.
Guests were treated to a menu of kudu, warthog, dumplings, mdoko (drinkable porridge), seasonal vegetables and ginger beer.
Chief Billings said the wedding was important to him as it showed people that the Khoisan people existed and that their struggle to be included and heard in society was important.
“I invited everyone to celebrate this wedding because I wanted everyone to see how we do things as the Khoisan.”
“We did not do everything we wanted to do because we are so marginalised and we do not have land.
“In our true tradition as a man I [have] to walk to the house of my wife with cattle and livestock and ask her to marry me.
“Now this government is withholding us from practising our culture because it is not giving us the land,” he said.
“Now if we want to hunt we have to ask permission from the government because you have to go and get a certificate before you go hunting.”

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