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uMemulo Traditional Zulu 21st Birthday

uMemulo A Traditional Zulu 21st Birthday

In this blog, I will discuss how to successfully capture the real meaning of an age old traditional custom referred to as uMemulo. This is an important and widely celebrated event in a young Zulu woman’s life. It is a milestone with grandeur celebrations and many well wishes.  I will attempt to give you most important photography and videography shots.

Among the Zulu’s, birth, puberty and marriage, are all celebrated and marked by the slaughter of sacrificial animals to ancestors.  The puberty ceremony (uMemulo) is a transition to full adulthood.  Nowadays it is performed only for girls. It involves separation from other people for a period to mark the changing status from youth to adulthood. This is followed by "reincorporation," characterized by ritual killing of animals, dancing, and feasting. After the ceremony, the girl is declared ready for marriage. The courting days then begin. The girl may take the first step by sending a "love letter" to a young man who appeals to her.  Zulu love letters are made of beads. Different colours have different meanings, and certain combinations carry particular messages.


01) Preparation

It is important that to attend the event as early as possible.  Preparation starts very early and the processes that lead to all the events need to be captured. 

Shots that should be considered are:

a)      the process and procedures leading up to the event

b)      Chopping of vegetables ,

c)       cutting of meat (after the slaughtering)

d)      Cooking

e)      Creating all the dishes and salads

f)       Decoration and the décor team

g)      the family, friends and their contributions

h)      the different groups of people like the men, youth and children

i)        the beverages


02)  In her bedroom

Here, she is joined by the matriarch of her family, other female family and female friends who offers her words of wisdom and they break out into music with the Zulu drum.  This is a celebration, passage into adulthood and they all assist her in her traditional attire.

Shots to be considered for this phase of her celebration:

a)      In her traditional outfit

b)      The other woman joining her (her friends and family)

c)       Her gogo (grandmother)

d)      Speech or presentations

e)      The ladies with the Zulu drum


03) Gift Giving

The young lady has a traditional Zulu hat called an Isicholos and she will be showered with gifts in the form of monetary notes, which are attached with safety pins on her Isicholos. The young lady carries a Zulu spear and she will be escorted by two or more ladies also carrying spears.  In this celebration there will be a Zulu dance group playing drums and dancing in the background. While the escorts place there spears at the feet of people in the crowds and then they present their gift to the young lady.

Please note the following shots need to be prioritised:

a)      The young lady draped in the cow’s skin (which was slaughtered in her honour)

b)      The mother of the young woman presenting her gift.

c)       The father of the woman presenting his gift to her.

d)      A important member of the community (Chief, Pastor ect.)

e)      The Zulu dance group

f)       The Escorts and the Young Lady with hat covered in all the money notes.

g)      The crowd, their celebrations and the dance group


03) Birthday Party

For the celebration of the 21st Party, please note that all the traditions of a birthday party should be followed:

a)      The cake, décor

b)      Disk Jockey

c)       The Master of Ceremony

d)      The speakers

e)      Prayer/thanksgiving

f)       The toast

g)      The guests

h)      The cutting of cake

i)        The handing over of the 21st key by the parents to the young woman

j)        The dance

k)      Any special item (dance or music etc)

l)        Vote of thanks


Photography is always full of surprises and I have attempted to show you the most important shots yet always expect the unexpected.

As I write of the uMemulo, I realise that we are so privileged in South Africa to share and marvel at each other’s traditions.  Wow!!!  I am blessed with a great job of being at traditional events like this.  I am grateful for this outstanding beautiful country that celebrates diversity. 

Please view my website for more photographs whether you want to learn more about this traditions, enjoy beautiful pictures or just be taken aback and marvel at our great country

Website :


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Tags: 21st, Birthday, Traditional, Zulu, uMemulo

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