Swing your hips, baby: The theatrics of Zulu Courtship and pick up lines

When a true Zulu warrior bumps into a beautiful woman, something in him awakens – he flourishes his best smile for her, becomes totally weak in the knees – though not too weak to tell her how he feels. His heart beats wildly, furiously. And following the physical effects of the encounter, comes explosive poetry:

Dudlu Ntombi!
[Hey Girl!]

Zala Abantu Ziyebantwini
[“They (girls) reject men, only to choose other men (not animals) … and because I’m a man you might as well save yourself some trouble and choose me”]

Nkosazane Emhlophe Efana Nezihlabathi Zolwandle
[Beautiful you are, as white and pure as the sands of the sea]

Mhlophe lo’dlilanga Wana Sikucoshe
[As bright as though you eat the sun itself … how I wish you’d fall right now so that I may pick you up]

Nkosazana Nami Kangizenzi;
Ngenziwa Luthando Olusha’mangqanqu Kuhle Komlilo Wothathe,
Ngithathwa Umsinga Wothando
Vuma Ngikwazise Ngomzwangedwa,
Ongidla Izibilini Imihla Namalanga
Ngivulele (Enhliziyweni) Ngingene
Ngifisa Ukuba Impukane, ‘ze Ungiphunge,
Sengibunamathe Obakho Ubuso Ngothando.
Ngifisa Ukuba Umoya, ‘ze Ngingene Ezibilini Zakho,
Ungiphefumule Ngize Ngiguqule Inhliziyo Yakho Emnene.

As in any culture, the language evolves, as do the people of that language. This is evidenced by the emergence of new Zulu pick-up lines evolved from those heard over the years:

1. Thambo lami lekhentakhi
2. Sthuthuthu sami sokujika emadilayini
3. Swidi lami lomkhuhlane
4. Umuhle ngathi ugeza ngobisi
5. Ngiyazi awuyena umakhi kodwa ngicela uzokwakha umuzi kababa

And of course my friend Erick had to coin his own courtship line, which cracks me up each time he puts it to use: “Awu kodwa ngangingafi ngani ngempi kaBhambatha?” or “Oh, how I wish I had died during the Bambatha rebellion” (because then I wouldn’t be tortured by your amazing beauty, as I am now). Mind you, that rebellion took place in 1906, 70 years before he was born.

What this creativity demonstrates, I think, is the ability of our people, whether framed as fierce warriors, or violent taxi drivers, notwithstanding, to be romantic lovers.

However, in the midst of such creativity there always has to be a “Ungom’uyayona” or “party pooper” and my cousin fitted that profile perfectly. His courtship lines were not only appalling; they worked so little magic that he would resort to insults when rejected. I remember once when he was trying his luck with a particular young lady, that, upon realizing that she was not interested, he had no option but to let her go, only to shout at her before she was even 50 metres away, exclaiming: “Hey, angiyigqokile i-anda” – or “Hey, by the way I’m not wearing underwear.” As if this would make her suddenly change her mind. I suppose he was trying to pull a Senzangakhona stunt, who, when Nandi played hard-to-get suggested that they partake in “amahlaya endlela” or fun on the roads, otherwise known as ukusome or sex without penetration.

I also knew an old man who was, as they say,” so into” a woman of a similar age as he. Now my assumption is that, not only did she take his breath away, but she made him speechless. What he did was remarkable! Somehow, the old man laid hands on her “skhaftini” or lunch box one day – opening it to tuck a R50 note inside. When the favoured lady opened her lunch box, voila, a surprise was waiting for her. What I could not comprehend was how a R50 note, accompanied by no letter expressing interest by someone named, would help him get “the girl.”

Maidens had their own creative ways of expressing their love acceptance or disapproval. They would even communicate in a more profound manner simply to prove they were just as capable of creativity!

During the courtship at the river, or any place for that matter, a man would often try all sorts of tricks to behave as though the girl had accepted his love proposal, and to prove this to his friends and the girl’s guardian, known as Iqhikiza. The would-be lover had to produce a proof, in the form of her beaded necklace, bracelet, or any wearable item that she possessed, for that matter. This would be the item she had supposedly proffered to him. If she wouldn’t voluntarily give it to him, the thwarted lover might simply wrest it off the hard-to-get maiden.

In instances where she had accepted his love, she would often still make him sweat a bit and confuse him as to where she had placed the “parcel” or beadwork for him to collect. The lines given below, uttered by maidens, became very common:

1. “Gibela esihlahleni uyothi mawufika egatsheni eliphezulu kunawo wonke impahla uyoyithola khona lapho.”
Climb a tree, and upon reaching the furthest branch, “the parcel” will be there waiting for you.

Of course she didn’t meant this literally … if the lover was not sufficiently alert, he would continue wooing his “girlfriend” without realizing that she had accepted him.
Because courtship happened at the river, this often meant that the beads were hidden in the water container the girl was carrying. To lay hands on the treasure, one had to snatch the water container from the maiden’s head. Alternatively, the beads could be hidden in the bundle of fire-wood the girl was carrying, amongst other tantalizing ploys.

2. Impahla oyifunayo ingale kwentaba
“This parcel (beads) you are looking for is on the other side of the mountain.”
Again, this statement was not to be taken literally.
It meant that the beads the lover was searching for are in a place so far away that it might take you a while to locate them – this often meant that the beads were around her waist; mountains could be figuratively referring to her buttocks or you know where:-)

There was also a Zulu love letter, often written by a maiden to her boyfriend. She would fashion him a necklace selecting the colours expressed the message of her choice. Below are some of the common colours used in Zulu love letters, together with their meanings:

White: My love for you is as pure and true as my heart.
Red: I’m bursting with love for you.
Blue: If I were a dove I’d fly the endless skies just to see you.
Black: My heart has turned as black as the rafters in the hut, as I hear you have another maiden.
Green: I am yearning for you day and night. Come back soon, if not, you will find me as thin as the grass that is blown away by the winds.

There was also provision for those who only wished to appreciate the sight of a beautiful a maiden. Their line was/is “Ngishikilele Ntombazane” or “Swing your hips, baby!”
Because she was so proud of her body, she would usually not mind showing it off.

Credits:
Photo: Val Adamson (for Zulu Fire Cultural Village)
Some Courtship lines taken from: M.A.J Blose 1960 Zulu drama; Uqomisa Mina Nje Uqomisa Iliba

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