When ukucelwa ukuzalwa becomes bride price: spiritual meaning lost in translation

Zethu Cakata*, Mogobe Bernard Ramose

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The attempted erasure and inferiorisation of indigenous languages by the colonisers have robbed and continue to rob African people of the authority to self-define. As a result, numerous knowledge forms African languages transmit have disappeared or lost meaning. With vehement calls from African people, world over, to reclaim African ways of being, we have decided to explore the manner in which language is central to reclaiming of African healing practices. While colonialism managed to marginalise indigenous languages in colonised lands, these languages have not been completely erased and they could play a role in building Humanities literature, which is relevant to the experiences of Africans in conqueror South Africa. In this paper, we use the IsiXhosa expression of ‘Ukucelwa ukuzalwa’ to illustrate how ordinary African practices carry a spiritual meaning. We also illustrate how this concept loses meaning when it is translated into English. Ukucelwa ukuzalwa could be literally explained as a process of requesting blood relations yet the English translation turns the process into a bride price negotiation. This loss of meaning occurs when it is absorbed into the Western value system. Thus, there is a potential for epistemological dissonance at every attempt to translate from one language to another.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)478-490
Number of pages13
JournalAfrican Identities
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • IsiXhosa
  • Language
  • indigenous language
  • lobola
  • marriage practices


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