Find your way back. This is not only the title of Beyoncé’s song from The Lion King Soundtrack: The Gift, an ode to finding your way back to your roots, but for couple Barbara Furlow-Smiles and Ernest Smiles, this declaration is the theme of their love story.
The pair met in New York City at a New York Sports Club training gym by way of a health consultant who thought Ernest would be the perfect trainer for Barbara. After many training sessions together, their love for each other was undeniable. Barbara and Ernest just celebrated their 8th wedding anniversary, January 11, 2021, but this time they wanted to renew their vows by having a traditional African ancestral Zulu wedding known as umabo.
People of the Zulu tribe value family, strength, and community which is why the couple knew their marriage renewal had to be on sacred ground and had to include ancestral traditions. Barbara always knew she wanted to return to South Africa. She attended Spelman College and had the pleasure of studying abroad at the University of Cape Town years prior. “This was my dream, I’m going to bring my family here some day” she recalled.
During the holidays, Barbara and Ernest agreed to renew their vows in Durban, South Africa which is known to be sacred Zulu ground. Luckily, Barbara’s Morehouse College friend lived in Durban, South Africa so he connected them with the top wedding planners in the area. Mbali from SMPL Creations chose the Indlondlo Cultural Village in South Africa to host the wedding and they designed the wedding in two days.
“It takes a village”, that African proverb reigns true when it comes to the entire process of planning an African wedding. The “mothers” helped Barbara get dressed into her traditional Zulu attire. The “mothers” are married women and they give the bride tips on how to be a good wife. The skirt (Isidwaba) is made out of cow skin as well as the shoulder coverings that have bright colors surrounding it which represents happiness and prosperity. The hat (IsiCholo) with beads is specifically worn by married women, and Zulu people believe that brides should cover their heads as a sign of respect. Beads are worn around the waist symbolizing the protection of fertility and having many children. The knife represents strength and protection.
“A Zulu bride doesn’t approach the groom’s family as a damsel in distress, she’s the matriarch of the family. She’s powerful, she’s empowered, and she is respected”, Barbara says.
Ernest wore a male skirt (Ibheshu) that’s made out of cow skin as well as cow skin shoulder coverings that represent protection during the stick fighting sports during the wedding. The shield and spear displays manhood and the commitment to protecting and providing for his family.
The Chief (Zulu King) officiated the wedding. He asked Barbara three times if she agreed to take Ernest as her husband, and on the third ask, Barbara said, “yes” and they’re brought together as one. Barbara then laid her husband on the bed and washed his feet, this represents her role as being the caretaker of the family.
The wedding theme was “The Garden of Eden” with gold accents with “the belief that authentic love was founded on African soil, and the decoration depicts all things earthly, full of color and elements inspired by true love.” The use of gold horns was to “showcase the majestic element of kingship.” The wedding reception was held in a white tent. The white tent means that there is a wedding celebration, so people of the village attend. Initially there were 25 guests, but when people of the village saw the tent, there ended up being about 75 guests in attendance.
The Smiles’ wanted to continue their love story by honoring traditions and connecting with the ancestors, and they did just that. At the end of the night, The Chief pulled Barbara to the side and told her the ancestors wanted him to tell her something, ”they’ve been waiting for you, welcome home!”