Photos & Video: Umkhehlo

Umkhehlo (Zulu engagement ceremony) is a rite of passage ceremony for a Zulu woman about to get married. Family, friends, neighbors, her in-laws come and rejoice and pin money on her hat, scarf, umbrella. This money is given so as to help her prepare for the wedding and buy gifts (umabo) for her in-laws.

Umkhehlo is slightly different from Umemulo (Coming of age ceremony). Umemulo is done by a girl’s father to thank her for showing good behavior  and to mark her transition from just being a little girl to a woman – in Western terms this the 21st birthday celebration. Both rituals involve slaughtering a cow and dancing.

This event here took place in April 2019, deep in the heart of Zululand in an area called Encanyini, Melmoth.

Advertisements

Video: Izibongo zeSilo uShaka kaSenzangakhona {King Shaka’s praise poem}

https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=5AXOpIsTGhU

UDlungwana KaNdaba!

UDlungwana woMbelebele,

Odlung’ emanxulumeni, Kwaze kwas’ amanxulum esibikelana.

UNodumehlezi kaMenzi,

UShaka akashayeki kanjengamanzi,

Ilemb’ eleq’ aamnye amalembe ngokukhalipha;

UShaka ngiyesaba ukuthi nguShaka, UShaka kuyinkosi yasemaShobeni.

UNomakhwelo ingonyama; UMahlome’ hlathini onjengohlanya;

Uhlany’ olusemehlwen’ amadonda.

UDabaz’ ithafa ebeliya kuMfene;

UGaqa libomvu nasekuphatheni.

UBholokoqa bazalukanisile Zalikaniswe uNoju noNgqengenye;

EyakwaNtombazi neyakwaNandi;

Yayikhiph’ eshaba libomvu,

Ikhishwa elimhlophe lakwaNandi.

Bambiz’ eMthandeni beyisela, Bathi ‘Singesinelane neNtungwa lasenhla’, Kanti uzawudl’ uPhakathwayo empindelweni.

UDlungwana wavuma na?

Umvumeleni uGodolozi, Ethi ngowanganeno kwaNandi, Kant’ ukude kwaNtombazana ?

Kalokhu liphahl’ eliseMthandeni.

Amazwi mabili engiwabongayo, Ngibong’ elikaMpandaba nelikaNdungenkomo,

Bethi ‘Ucu aluhlangan’ entabeni’; Akenibuze kwabaseZinkondeni,

Bath uHilwayo bayakumhlaba kwaHlokohloko,

Kwaf’ amasi kwaf’ uqephe.

UTeku lwabafazi bakwaMgabhi, Betekula behlez’ emlovini,

Beth’ uShaka kakubusa kakuba nkosi, Kanti unyakan’ uShaka ezakunethezeka.

Inkom’ ekhal’ eMthonjaneni, Izizwe zonke ziyizwil’ ukulila,

Iziwe uDunjwa waseluYengweni, Yezwiwa uMangcengeza wakwaKhali.

UMlilo wothathe kaMjokwane; UMlilo wothathe ubuhanguhangu, Oshis’ izikhova eziseDlebe, Kwaya kwasha neziseMabendlana…

 

 

 

 

How does virginity testing, the annual Royal Reed Dance benefit our girls…why do we continue to raise our boys differently?

How does virginity testing, the annual Royal Reed Dance benefit our girls…why do we raise our boys differently? 

By Soka Mthembu

Other than the King Shaka memorial and the Isandlwana battle re-enactment, there are two cultural events that I always look forward to each year; one being the Royal Zulu Reed Dance, a centuries-old event taking place at King Goodwill Zwelithini Enyokeni Royal Palace in September, early spring. It’s a spectacle of an event in which thousands of virgin girls come out together wearing only colourful beads, and in some cases short skirts, known as izidiya. They sing and dance to celebrate, each girl carrying a cut reed which is presented to His Majesty, King Goodwill.

My favourite event, however, is the brain child of Dr Nomcebo Mthembu. This is known as the Indoni Carnival, and takes place in Durban around October of every year. The main aim of the Indoni Carnival is to bring young people of various indigenous cultures from around South Africa to teach them about social ills, and the importance of upholding traditional African values. The parade takes place along the streets of Durban. Over 8000 spectators line the streets during the parade during which many different South African tribes showcase their costumes and dances: Zulu, Ndebele, Xhosa, Pedi, Swati, Venda, Batswana, Khoisan, Mpondo, Tsonga, and Abathembu. Indoni has become my favourite event for the simple reason that it’s not just about one tribe. Moreover, Indoni includes boys who go through some intense training in winter camps on what it means to be real men. (I’m using the word tribes cautiously, for some prefer to be described as nations). However, that’s a debate for another day, because as far as I know (or have been brainwashed), the description of nation would refer to the inhabitants of the entire country.

Now this brings me to something that really riles me as a father of three girls, although I also have boys. As much as there are efforts to rope in boys into these events, there remains the fact that many such events are aimed at girls: how they should conduct themselves, how to remain pure and virgins for as long as possible…till they finish school, and how they should only engage in sex after marriage. And the biggest drivers for these initiatives are women. These become important days for men to lust over young women; and for tourists who take delight in taking photographs and recording videos of something they have never experienced before. These videos and images are copyrighted and sold for profit, while the girls receive nothing. This does not benefit the youngsters at all.

Something else irks me: besides telling these girls not to engage in sex to avoid HIV, STIs, teen pregnancy, what else are we offering to these girls, when they will end up with boys who have no clue how to treat, respect, and value them?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said something very profound in her TED TALK titled ‘We should all be feminists’:

“We police #girls, we praise girls for #virginity, but we don’t praise #boys for virginity, and it’s always made me wonder how exactly this is supposed to work out because …I mean, the loss of virginity is usually a process that involves…”

This can only mean one thing: As fathers, we are failing our boys, and even more so, our girls. The question of whether we will show anger when our boys sleep around and impregnate girls demands an answer. It is even more hypocritical that, when hashtags such as #MenAreTrash emerge, we become confused; or when our boys rape elders, or children, or brutally murder girls, we seem to forget that most such behaviour arises in the absence of a good father figure as a role model.

We should stop making boys feel stupid for having not slept with a girl early enough. We, as parents, should be furious with our boys if they impregnate girls whom they are not able or willing to marry; just as we are angered when our girls fall pregnant. If a pregnant girl is taken out of school, which shouldn’t happen, we should also take the boy out of school, because he’s just as guilty, if not more so.

Women have been doing all they can, and they make every effort to raise their girls really well – some even lock them up so they don’t go out! I’ve yet to hear of fathers doing the same to their boys.

We become excited when our boys as young as three years old show an interest in girls; however, God forbid that girls of a young age should show a similar liking for the opposite sex!

Everything has changed – the way we speak, the way we dress, the cars we drive – even the food we eat. One thing, however, never changes, and that is patriarchy, which is faithfully perpetuated, especially amongst Africans.

 

Photos: Indoni Multi-Cultural Parade

Indoni Carnival takes place in Durban around October of every year. The main aim of Indoni Carnival is to bring young people of different indigenous cultures from around South Africa and teaching them about social ills and the importance of upholding traditional African values. The parade takes place along the streets of Durban. Over 8000 spectators line up the streets during the parade and various South African tribes showcase their costume and dance: Zulu, Ndebele, Xhosa, Pedi, Swati, Venda, Batswana, Mpondo, Khoisan, Tsonga, Basotho.

IMG_5515IMG_5513IMG_5505IMG_5498IMG_5491IMG_5492IMG_5493IMG_5497IMG_5484IMG_5485IMG_5486IMG_5490IMG_5471IMG_5478IMG_5479IMG_5482tsonga1IMG_5294IMG_5321 (2)IMG_5356

Asimbonanga uMandela, but we saw Johnny Clegg

Knowing that your chances of ever meeting the Great Nelson Mandela are gone forever can be quite devastating, especially when you see people, way younger than you are, posting images holding his hand or posing alongside him. Then you suddenly beat yourself up for not having tried harder to meet him. So, from myself and many other South Africans: ‘Asimbonanga’ uMandela, but we saw Johnny Clegg. And that for me is enough.

By Soka Mthembu

Earlier this year I was devastated to read in the papers that one of Africa’s greatest icons, Johnny Clegg, had been living with cancer, and that he was doing his final World Tour starting in Cape Town on 30th June. Upon hearing the news, I immediately contacted my mentor, Barry Leitch, a close friend of Johnny “Skeyi” Clegg, who confirmed that Johnny was indeed conducting his last world tour. From that moment, I made the decision to see him in action on the Durban leg of his tour. Little did I know, however, that my stay here in South East Asia – Vietnam to be precise, where I’m currently performing with my dance troupe ‘Beyond Zulu’, would be extended by another 6 months. That was the nail in the coffin for me.

Okay, let me tell you how I met Johnny Clegg, and why I’m inspired by him: When I was 14 years old in Zululand – in fact I was 14 years everywhere − I met Johnny Clegg, who had come to visit his old friend Barry “Mkhomazi” Leitch.  Barry, just like Johnny, is a white Zulu, whose love for Zulu people and their culture is inspiring. Coincidentally, Barry is also an anthropologist by profession, just like Mr Clegg.

It was during the time that I was a Zulu dancer at the beautiful and unique Simunye Zulu Lodge, a secluded lodge that was built on a cliff face, and attached to a cultural Zulu village (don’t Google it or attempt to go there…let’s just say it was one of the government’s Land Redistribution deals that fell into the wrong hands, and therefore was completely ruined).

Back to my story: It was a dark night in Zululand with stars winking at us, and the trees above us dimming them in jealousy. Had it not been for the yellow flames coming from the home-made hessian and paraffin lamps scattered around the Zulu dancing area, it would have been even darker. The Mfule River behind us created a soothing sound, and the frogs, without fail, added their voice to the drumbeat. Nduna Luthuli was a lead singer and dancer (igoso) on that day − one of the ablest and most creative dancers I have ever met. We took our turns after an Umzansi dance routine. Before we knew it, Johnny had risen unexpectedly like a Colossus in front of us. In a fraction of a second he was on the other side of the fireplace, dancing as he would have done for an audience of thousands of people, ignoring our off-beat drumbeat, the-not-so-professional singing, and the small crowd. Our jaws dropped, as did the tourists’, as we watched with great admiration and envy, forgetting to clap (which forms part of Zulu dancing). This mlungu had put all of us to shame in front of internationals and our fans from the nearby Njomelwane community, but we loved him for it: for his great and inspiring performance, his humility, and for being kind enough to give us pointers in respect of the Umzansi Dance. It was a treat for us − for me − for tourists − a place where no one famous, especially not Johnny Clegg, should have dared go. I would later learn that Johnny did the same in hostels, places that I, as a Zulu, am afraid of going to: they are so often associated with conflicts and violence.  I often wonder how he manages to dance and find peace in such places?

How tragic that someone who has played such a meaningful role in society, and is such a fearless man, should be assaulted by cancer. But Johnny can overcome.

Together with countless others the world over, I wish Johnny Clegg good health and many more years. And as ever go f**k yourself cancer!

HAS UMABO REPLACED THE TRADITIONAL ZULU WEDDING AND ALL THE RITUALS THAT GO WITH IT?

HAS UMABO REPLACED THE TRADITIONAL ZULU WEDDING AND ALL THE RITUALS THAT GO WITH IT?

By Soka Mthembu

There’s a common trend by Africans, Zulu people, to be specific in this case, to conduct a traditional Zulu wedding as an afterthought – perhaps something to ease our conscience, as we have fully adopted the Western ways and abandoned our own. Or could it just be an honest, light-hearted celebration, without having to go deeper into unknown terrain? Hardcore, traditional wedding rituals, for instance, may be perceived as threatening, especially for the younger generation. Whatever the reason, it is rather alarming that, in a few years to come, many features and aspects that make a traditional wedding the sacred ceremony that it is, would have been totally eroded.

I should be the first to acknowledge that there is a transformation and some new ways of  uniting two people in marriage. If, however, that transformation and “civilization” makes us forget, even look down on our own traditions, we need to reflect on and question our identity.

Allow me to rant a bit: The new trend of events is that a couple holds a glamorous umabo (bringing of gifts to the groom’s family); and on a different date hold a white wedding – both of which cost exorbitant amounts of money. Umabo then becomes the substitute for a ceremony at which the ancestors would have been appeased, and asked to give their blessings on the event, protecting the newlyweds, ukuthethwa kwedlozi and ukubuzwa komthetho: this has all fallen by the wayside. Family praise poets are now hired acts who recite a few lines of izithakazelo, in some cases Shaka’s praise names. The point is − family doesn’t care or even notice whether the praise singer recites Mandela’s or Zuma’s praises.

It goes further: Expensive marquees have replaced isigcawu (an open field where the climax of the wedding ceremony takes place) accompanied by a sound system, caterers, and wedding coordinators hired to manage this spectacle. Then there’s a display of fancy contemporary costumes, expensive drinks dispensed from those expensive liquor cold rooms that we spend fortunes on hiring. Everything is hired, including some traditional Zulu dancers – something which should come naturally to us Zulus, and should be performed by family and neighbours. As the drumbeat draws one back to one’s roots, unknown to many, one has a sense that the spectators are thinking to themselves, “Where do these people (dancers) come from – the rocks?”

The role of elder women to the bride-to-be has become redundant. The bride’s guidance by the elder women has been outsourced to bride’s friends, who in most cases are young, and unmarried, and therefore not equipped to impart the marriage-life experiences and wisdom to the bride-to-be. And when the marriage does not turn out to be what was hoped for or expected (perhaps even before a year has passed; perhaps soon after), some of the bride’s friends become the first to urge “Shiya phansi mngani” – “friend, you have to walk away from this marriage”. Whereas the immediate reaction of an elder is to say: this marriage is not only about you and your husband  – wendele emndenini – “let us attempt to help the two of you resolve matters, because you married the entire family.” Friends cannot play this mediating role and shouldn’t be expected to.

The same applies to a man: The elders would usually sit him down and they are usually the first ones to say “ngeke ulande ingane yabantu le uzodlala ngayo la, lomfazi wathelwa ngenyongo layikhaya,” (you will not dare ill-treat this child (bride); you are the one who brought her here, and besides, she’s not only your wife.) They are quick to remind the bride-groom that, as much as she is his wife, she’s also the wife of the ancestors, and therefore enjoys the same protection and love.

Whilst some of these changes are exciting, reflect the times we live in, I believe that there are certain rituals that must still be performed even at the most glamorous of weddings: certainly there are specific duties which should never be outsourced. I have great respect for cultural entertainers − after all, I am one of them. However, I do not believe that a fellow Zulu must spend money hiring dancers, something community girls and boys should be able to do with relative ease or at least with a bit of coaching and training. And in planning this union we should never ever leave the elders out of the planning process – if anything, they should be in charge of planning.

NOW THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO DO THINGS RIGHT BY THE ANCESTORS IN INVOLVING THEM IN THEIR MARRIAGE. HOWEVER, THEY MAY NOT KNOW WHERE TO START, BECAUSE OF THEIR UPBRINGING, RELIGION, OR FAMILY DYSFUNCTION, INTER ALIA. HERE IS MY ATTEMPT AT ASSISTING YOU TO FIND SOME LIGHT:

Go to an Isangoma (diviner) or Umthandazi (prophet) and find out about your life, or about that ancestor who has been your shining light all along. That is the person you should look to appease, not your hundred ancestors, some of whom may have been turned against you by witchcraft, performed by close relatives, in most cases.

In most cases those that look after us are from our mothers’ side, yet we tend to forget about these. Some problems could arise if by mistake you may be appeasing the wrong ancestors – take R100 or less and find out – even seek 2nd or 3rd opinions before you make that decision – just as you would do with a medical doctor. Avoid people that want to charge you thousands. For me, personally, it doesn’t make sense to keep slaughtering for the people who may have turned their back on you. When you burn impepho, ask that one person who is looking after you, appease him or her, and leave it up to that one person to decide with whom to share “the meat or umqombothi”. – He or she knows, but this is not reciprocated.

NB: Acknowledging and pleasing your ancestors does not always have to cost a cow or a goat – sometimes diviner or prophet would suggest that you make  “itiye” which is basically “biscuits, fruit, cold drinks, sweets, burning of impepho by your father on your behalf to thank and appreciate the ancestor/s for having your back against adversities. As a token of appreciation, you have brought him or her itiye to be shared with whomever is selected. For these things to be properly done, you do need a guidance of a sangoma or prophet, and there’s no shame in consulting a sangoma or a prophet, just as there’s no shame in seeking marriage counselling. Ancestors are the foundation of everything we do: let us involve them.

For me, these are some of the non-negotiables:

  1. Ukubikwa komsebenzi ngembuzi esayidini likamakoti. I believe that a bride must at least take a week off work, and have her father or uncle slaughter a goat. The male relative should inform ancestors of the bride’s upcoming wedding – at which time they should protect her and keep her strong. Umgonqo is important, because it gives the bride time to reflect. She should spend at least a week with elders who impart wisdom to her on how to carry herself as new bride, how to face challenges and shortfalls, amongst other valuable advice.
  2. Ukushiswa kwempepho at different stages, including when the bride leaves her home for the last time. It is always very important that the bride depart from the emakhaya la kulele khona okhokho bakhe (rural homestead where the ancestors lie buried), because then there’s usually a kraal to which her father or uncle leads her by the hand, before departing at dawn.
  3. Imvunulo (traditional costume) must be proper. I feel that the bride and groom should aim to buy instead of hiring, because of the sentimental value. Brides and grooms need to put more effort into the traditional attire for the wedding than we are currently seeing.
  4. During the ceremony – a bride should be able at least to sing her “inkondlo”, or perhaps start it before having someone take it over if she is not musically gifted. A bride may compose her own “inkondlo”; however, there are old ballads, such “Baba Nomama”, siya kwamama ongemama, wemathambo kababa, and many others – you just have to ask – even look on YouTube.

Your happiness is important, but that of ancestors is also greatly to be regarded. The rewards it brings to you and your family are unimaginable. Lets go back to our roots. Azibuye emasisweni.