Saturday, October 25, 2008


A matebeto is a ceremony that usually takes place before a Zambian couple is married. It is a ceremony where the women in the family of the bride-to-be (it is often family and friends) cook food from the culture of their tribe for the family, friends, and guests of the groom-to-be. This tradition is usually held for marriages between two different ethnic groups or tribes. It is supposed to ensure that the husband doesn't get offended or upset when his wife brings him a dish he has never seen or eaten before. So the women stay up for a long time preparing pots and pots of food for others to consume at the event. The guest are suppose to make small donations for every pot of food as it is presented.

Today I had the privilege of being invited to a matebeto.  It was SO interesting and lots of fun! A friend from church invited me to the matebeto for her niece.  I arrived at the home of the bride-to-be just as they were finishing her part of the ceremony.  The atmosphere was very light and there were 4 ladies playing drums and leading songs the whole time.  The bride-to-be and the lady they called the Matron were sitting on the floor with all the food spread around the room.  At the end of this part of the ceremony, the bride-to-be laid down on the floor and mimicked sleep.  Then the ladies began to pick up all the pots of food and carry them outside to make the trip over to the groom's home.  The bride-to-be does not go.  

After we arrived at the groom's home we all stood in the street holding our pots (they gave me one too....a very small one!).  The drum music continued and many of the ladies danced until the women of the groom's family came out to welcome us.  They did so by dancing over and throwing money down on the ground in front of the Matron.  Then we filed in the gate and to the front door where each lady, holding a pot on her head, turned around and backed in the door.  Some of the pots and bowls were so huge that I didn't see how these women were carrying them, especially walking backward!  

The groom's family began to throw money on the floor and the ladies, in turn, put their pots down on the floor.  The Matron was the last to put down her pot, which she would not do until a sufficient amount of money had been laid at her feet.  She just kept dancing and smiling as the ladies of the groom's family put down more and more money and even laid down on top of the money, in a way begging the Matron to put down her pot.  She finally did and everyone clapped and cheered.

The groom, who honestly looked like he'd rather be anywhere else, was seated on a sofa at the end of the room next to an advisor who was explaining everything to him as it happened.  The bride's family is Bemba and the groom's family is Kaonde.  I was told that these Bemba traditions were all new to the groom.  As the ceremony began, the Matron and another lady began to open the huge bowls and pots of food - with their teeth - to show each dish to the groom.  At any point the Matron would stop, begin dancing again and wait for more money to be placed on the floor in front of her.  When she felt it was sufficient, she would continue.

After each dish had been displayed, the Matron was handed a bowl of water, a bar of soap and a towel with which she washed the groom's hands and face.  I was told they would wash his feet, but they didn't.  Then, the Matron laid down on the floor, was covered by a chitenge and pretended to be asleep.  She wouldn't "wake up" until, you guessed it, enough money had been placed around her.  Ultimately the family got the groom himself to put some money down and to "wake" the Matron.  To finish the ceremony off, the ladies of the groom's family did a traditional Kaonde dance for all of us and brought out gifts for the bride's family - two cases of soft drinks, a bag of mealie meal and a live chicken!

We left the house and went back to the bride's family's house where another feast was waiting for us.  It was quite the event!  I was so grateful to have been invited to the matebeto and to have been so graciously accepted.  I will never forget it!


Anonymous said...

I just stumbled on this and was happy to see something on the internet about my tradition. I live in DC and my niece will be getting married to a white young man here in DC. My family will be doing Matebeto for our young in-law this weekend and I am looking forward to it. It will definitely remind me of home - we already have Zambian food lined up for cooking. We had a kitchen party - Zambian style - last weekend and the groom's family were very happy to see how we do things. They actually did not touch any 'western' food but had 2nd and 3rd helpings from the Zambian and went away with plenty of food to share with their families. I am happy you enjoyed the Matebeto in Zambia.

catherine Muuka said...

I am Lozi but my young sister got married to a bemba man and we asked about Matebeto and the bemba elders explained clearly to us that when just getting married the ceremony they do is called CHILANGA Mulilo meaning showing and preparing the young couple to know the type of foods they are to eat, and Matebeto is done after several years in marriage to appreciate the good things the man has done to tebeta him and say thank you for joining and looking after the womans family.

Anonymous said...

So useful and interesting to read your account of Matebeto. My husband and I (British - living in the UK) are sort of stand in parents for a young Nigerian woman who was lving with us until recently with her 2 year old son. She is going to be marrying a Zambian young man next summer and we have just been discussing with the couple what Zambian traditions his mother - who has lived and worked in the UK for about 7 years (father no longer alive) - what traditions she wants us to be involved in. Matebeto was mentioned! Thank you

Chilongoshi said...

The ceremony you just described is actually called Chilangamulilo, loosely translated into 'showing the delicacies'. Many Zambians make the mistake of calling this ceremony Matebeto but that is a similar ceremony that comes later on in a couples married life.

Anonymous said...

This was amazing to read! Very illustrative. I am a Zambian (Bemba) and I laughed where you said it looked like the groom looked like he would rather be somewhere else. He is actually told to look like that - sort of. He is to be humble, quiet, minimal smiles and talking..
Just thought I'd add that on here.
Lovely post once again!