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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

MKHOSANA KAMVUNDLANA BIYELA -THE GREAT ZULU WARRIOR WHO SACRIFICED HIS OWN LIFE AT ISANDLWANA

The Zulu Kingdom has never had a void in selfless leadership. This was a time when traditional leaders also took to the battle to defend their land and their people. Their leadership style was beyond delegating – they led from the front! Shaka had instilled those values, because he too led his own army in tribal battles. This was a time when Amakhosi and warriors served their King, their country, and communities, with distinction. One unsung hero who comes to mind is Mkhosana Biyela of the Biyela clan, the son of Mvundlana Biyela. He lived at a crucial time in the history of the Zulu people during the Anglo-Zulu War. He died at Isandlwana, but he did not die in vain: I am here to tell his story.

When it became clear to King Cetshwayo and the Zulus that Lt General Lord Chelmsford’s ultimatum was untenable (which amongst other things demanded that the Zulus disarm, and Cetshwayo forsake his sovereignty), the king had no choice but to prepare his +/-20,000 warriors for what was to become the greatest defeat the British ever suffered at the hands of men armed with only shields and spears.

BACKGROUND: ANGLO-ZULU WAR
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, umtwana wakwaPhindangene, during the unveiling of Inkosi Mthiyaqhwa kaDidi of the Biyela Clan, described the battle of Isandlwana very succinctly when he said: “The resistance to colonial rule in Southern Africa reached a climax when the British colonial powers deployed a force larger than the force that they used to conquer the continent of India, in order to destroy the Zulu Kingdom. A full-scale war took place in order to destroy the old Zulu order, and to subjugate the Zulu nation. It was our ancestor, King Cetshwayo ka Mpande, whose regiments took on the British forces. The British at that time had the mightiest army in the world. King Cetshwayo’s regiments were only armed with their spears and their shields”.

It was on 22 January 1879 that the Zulu army, led by Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza, (a Senior General Commander and hereditary Chief of the Khoza in north-western Zululand, an old man in his 70s) were prepared to lay down their lives to defend their land, to fight the battle which they had never wanted in the first place. Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza, along with his men, had run all the way from Ulundi (about 92 km) to Isandlwana over 4 days, to lead his warriors against the invading the British. His high rank in the kingdom and his recognised abilities as a warrior made him a natural choice as a senior commander. Amongst the regiments which fought there were the mighty Ingoba Makhosi, Uthulwana, Udududu, Udloko, Indlondlo, Umcijo, Imbonambi, and Uve regiments, to name just a few.

Mkhosana kaMvundlana Biyela led the Ukhandampevu regiment (identifiable by their black-and-white shields). He did this against the request of the king, who had asked him to stay behind. His excuse was that “Ngeke ngilibheme igudu noKhandampevu uma ngingayanga eSandlwana, ngiyofela eSandlwana”: “I may never smoke the pipe again with my regiment, Ukhandampevu, if I don’t go with them to Isandlwana. I’d rather die at Isandlwana than stay behind.” The King gave him his blessing and he left for Isandlwana. What a remarkable and dedicated leader he was, determined to fight alongside his comrades!

When the British were firing their Martini-Henry rifles, the Zulu army became shaky, with most warriors already pinned down on their bellies to escape the bullets, almost as though they were ready to surrender. Something remarkable happed at that very moment! uMkhosana kaMvundlana stood up like a Colossus in front of his men. Turning his back on the British, he shouted “Yeyinina Laphaya Ningabaleki”, followed by the reciting of the king’s praises: “Isilo Uhlamvana Bhulumlilo Kashonga Njalo”—”Don’t Run, Don’t Run, The Little Branches of trees that extinguish the Great Fires gave us no such order”, He had barely uttered those words then the British shot him right through the head. He died instantly. As the brave warrior fell on the ground, after this selfless act, not a single warrior moved back an inch: they all rallied forward, more determined than ever to annihilate the British army. By sheer numbers and force of attack, the Zulu regiments won the Battle of Isandlwana. King Cetshwayo celebrated this victory. Had Mkhosana not intervened at the time he did, something could have gone seriously amiss, and today we would be living a different story!

Mkhosana was buried by his brother; weeks later his family went to Isandlwana to fetch his body so they could afford him a proper burial. However, the vultures had eaten his body, leaving only his traditional regalia —so the family buried his traditional regalia. He made the nation, the king, his commander, and his warriors proud. Ukhandampevu, (his regiment) was then known as “Ukhandampevu olwenqaka amatshe ezulu”, meaning the Ukhandampevu regiment which caught the hailstones…hailstones being the bullets!

How many of us today would be prepared to serve our country the way Mkhosana did? Would we expose ourselves to bullets like he did? Do we take the responsibility when our colleagues stumble, and try to inspire them? What kind of a man would abandon his own special occasion such as his wedding, choosing rather to go to battle? Mkhosana kaMvundlana Biyela was that man! I am eternally grateful to him and to many of his people for the respect which the Zulu people embrace today. It is the spirit of these warriors that kept the flames of our Zulu Culture burning. Ndabezitha! wena owadela uzimba emaNgisini Esandlwana!

By Soka Mthembu