Umendo awuthunyelwa gundane - Literally: You can’t send a mouse to spy out your intended marriage.
This proverb is directed at a young maiden. The Zulu culture being patriarchal, the young maiden literally married into her husband’s family. There are many distinct cultural events associated with marriage in the Zulu culture.
E.g. Ijadu – is some kind of debut ball in which marriageable maidens were literally paraded and the prospective suitors had a field day preening themselves and trying to make a good impression of themselves.
Ukugcagca – the actual ceremony of marriage accompanied by all kinds of rituals.
Ukwenda – the actual journey and state of having joined a husband in matrimony.
Umendo being a state of being married. In other Southern African cultures like the Chewa , Shona, Nyanja , Sena the word kwenda still retains its original meaning of “undertaking a journey” hence ulendo is a safari or a journey while mlendo is the esteemed traveler who is culturally entitled to be well looked after and Africa not having Inns and B& B’s every family had a duty to look well after a traveler.
The young bride always found out after the event that her life at her new in-laws would be fraught with all kinds of relationship problems. This proverb was some kind of counseling offered to the young bride that had she known she would have sent a surreptious little mouse that would have spied the place for her and told her of the problems she was about to face, maybe she would have walked away..
A Zulu man may only build himself a family compound at a place designated to him by his father. He remained a minor until his father died. Generally these homesteads included extended family members of brothers, aunts, unmarried sisters, and all members of a polygamous marriage. This has enriched the Zulu culture with a refined culture full of diplomatic language and etiquette well calculated to avert the obvious clash of interests that the extended family members found themselves thrown it.
When an elderly woman tells a young Makoti (bride), that “umendo awuthunyelwa gundwane” it is a civilized way of saying I also acknowledge the problems that you experience but take it from me I am still around and surviving; it’s not the end of the world..
In a culture where divorce was unheard of and never easily countenanced, umendo is a form of a journey-of-no-return.; and quite often the new bride literally wailed and cried her eyes dry for leaving her maiden home.
However, something must be said of the resilience and strength of African women. While men may be the virile masculine bricks that create the family wall, African women are the mortar that bind and keep the bricks permanently together. It is not unusual for Zulu’s to ask each other in greetings with a total stranger: Uzalwa umma bani? (“Which mother gave birth to you?”/who is your mother?).
This affirms the sterling role which women play in creating clans and in enriching the clan gene pool and in strengthening the clan. Sometimes the mother may be Swazi, or Xhosa or Ndebele or Tsonga or Sotho, that never detracts or debases the Zulu culture. It is not far off to assume that some 40% of Zulu mothers come from outside the ZULU culture. If anything African women are true polyglots and in their own quiet way, help to improve the culture of the husband. Zulu as a culture and language has remained singularly intact.
Overtime this has contributed immensely to the virility of the Zulu language and culture. No wonder the Zulu language had a singular feat of having a vocabulary of over 20 000 pure Zulu words without the benefit of a schooling system, press media libraries and dictionaries. This was well documented by missionaries towards the turn of the 19th century.