The gendered construction of mourning and cleansing rites of widowhood amongst the Zulu speaking people of Ndwedwe community, KwaZulu-Natal.
The gendered construction of mourning and cleansing rites of widowhood was studied amongst the Zulu community of Ndwedwe, 70 kilometres north of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. These cultural rites were investigated through in-depth interviews with six widowers and twelve widows. Respondents were asked about their experiences and perceptions regarding their compliance to the two rites. An analysis of these experiences, which were translated and transcribed into English, was carried out, using studies from other cultures internationally and locally as reference point, for the study. It was revealed that mourning rites, which follow death of a spouse can be stressful for both genders and must be observed strictly by the use of black or any mourning dress. The period of mourning is characterised by isolation and stigmatisation especially for the widows. Cleansing is a symbolic act that purifies all members of the household from defilement by death. This is done for all relatives following burial but a widow remains impure not less than one year of 'successful' mourning in most cases, before she is cleansed and is then absolved into society's normal life. This study has revealed that mourning and cleansing rites have psychological and physical health implications for both genders but with more negative impacts on widows than widowers.