Why I love the Zulu proverbs and idioms

When I think of proverbs and idioms, and how they serve as a mirror to the events of yesteryear there’s terrible event which comes to mind—the Bambatha rebellion, known to the Zulus as  “impi kaBhambatha or impi yamakhanda.”

Background: The story of Bhambatha and his rebellion began in 1905 when colonial rulers in Natal decided to impose a poll tax of £1 on all adult men in order to boost coffers emptied by the recently-ended Anglo-Boer War. In reality, the tax was meant to keep poor black labourers in white-owned farms and mines, because they needed the work to pay the tax. This tax led to a great deal of opposition by black people, and Inkosi Bambatha kaMancinza was the biggest challenger of such tax. Bambatha along with many Zulus couldn’t comprehend why they suddenly had to pay tax. Subsequently, a new proverb was born.

1. Insumansumane imali yamakhanda. (It (this matter) is incomprehensible like the poll-tax.

With that lets move on to some more Zulu proverbs…

2. Kayihlabi Ngakumisa – It (bull) does not fight according to the shape of its horns.
A bull that looks like a champion fighter may be defeated by an unimpressive looking one.

3. Usenga nezimithiyo – He milks even those in calf.
He is a liar.

4. Elisina muva liyabukwa – It (regiment) which dances last is admired.
This saying cautions one not to rush in doing something, for even later, he may do it with great success.

5. Ohlab’ eyakhe akaphikiswa.
He who slaughters his own beast is not stopped.

6. Lithath’ osemsamo limbeke emnyango. It (lightning) takes the one at the back of the hut and throws him at the door.
This saying is an expression that one needs not make fun of other people’s shortcomings as he may also find himself in the same predicament in the future.

7. Ukhasela eziko. He crawls to the fire.
When a child has reached a crawling stage he/she will inevitably crawl everywhere, even to a dangerous place like the fire-place
In short: Someone who acts in a blind and dangerous way which may bring danger upon him

8. Zawadl’ ebhekile. They (birds) ate corn in the watchman’s presence
Expression used to describe someone who is easily fooled

9. Injobo enhle ithungelwa ebandla. A good loin-skin is sewn in the company of others
Two heads are better than one, or some tasks may be accomplished more easily by two (or more) people working together than by one working alone.

10. Ulind’ amathons’ abanzi (He is waiting for the larger rain drops)
When rain begins to fall, the first few drops are generally small, but they increase in size as the rain becomes heavier. Therefore one is advised to take shelter while only the light small drops fall and not wait for larger ones.
Get out of trouble while you still can.

For further reading: Zulu Proverbs by CLS Nyembezi

Zululand, my beautiful home!

To many, Zululand is a place whose story does not mirror their own
To us it is a place we are proud and blessed to call home,
Despite all its challenges; poverty, disease and illiteracy.

We take comfort and pride in knowing that wisdom gleaned pre-colonial times has stood the test of time,
Our fields forever fertile
Our people just as beautiful and interesting beyond the colorful masaai beadwork
We need no photography, for our images are beyond beautiful
Nor theatres for our daily lives are theatrical;
Unrehearsed
Unscripted
Full of Tragedies—Personal and Collective
Disappointments
Achievements
Homour
Life
Love
Hope
It’s a place where a child is raised by a village,
For we are one people

Here we roam at will, and marvel at the history of our Kings,
Heroes and Heroines;
Jama,
Senzangakhona,
Shaka,
Cetshwayo,
Dingane,
Mpande,
Mkabayi,
Nandi,
Dinizulu,
Zwelithini,
Mkhosana ka Mvundlana Biyela,
Gala kaNodade,
Ndlela KaSompisi,
Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza,
The mighty Zulu regiments; Ingobamakhosi, Uve, Ukhandampevu,
and many others….

I’m yet to find a place that blesses and touches my soul like Zululand
A place whose drumbeat draws one into the pulse of Africa
Even if we have nothing
This place gives us everything!

With this, Happy 2015 and I hope you join us as we dance away https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQmRG0cUaJc

What makes your language rich? For me it’s the (Zulu) proverbs & idioms!

The Zulu Nation is very rich when it comes to Proverbs and Idioms. Proverbs and Idioms are some of the language features that help us glean insights and wisdom about our heritage and life during pre-colonial times, they often carry deeper meanings about events of the past, serve as warnings to help us avoid (bad) history from repeating itself.

I often use Zulu proverbs to substantiate my argument or to emphasize my point, and often times I have to explain the meanings, which shouldn’t be the case when I’m speaking to a grown up Zulu whose mother tongue is IsiZulu.
In order to avoid these distinctive language features from totally diminishing, it is my plea that we use forums such as this to keep all that is our culture and heritage alive and burning!

A collection of a few Zulu proverbs and meanings;

1. Uthanda ukubukwa njengesiyephu – He likes to be looked at like a long-hairy goat
Meaning: He likes all the attention unto himself
(My assumption is that hairy goats were very rare and special at the time)

2. Ikhiwane elihle ligcwala izibungu – The nice fig is often full of worms.
Meaning / English equivalent: All that glitters is not gold

3. Enethunga ayisengeli phansi – He who has a milking-pail should not be obliged to milk on the
ground.
Meaning: He who has own resources should not have to suffer because he has lent his resources to another

4. Isitsha esihle asidleli – A nice plate is not long eaten off from.
Proverb used to lament the damage done to any nice thing or death of a dear child. A fitting phrase when referring to death of a good person could be “Gone too soon”

5. Akukho qili lazikhotha emhlane – there is no cunning person whoever licked himself on the back.
Said of someone who has tried some trickery beyond his cunning and been caught
Meaning / English equivalent: There is no paragon of excellence

6. Uphakathi komhlane nembeleko – he is between the back and the sack (that carries a child on the back)
Meaning: He/she is between the comfortable circumstances

7. Akulahlwa mbeleko ngakufelwa – The child’s sack is not thrown away after the death of one child (Because there might be another child forth-coming and sack required carrying him/her)
Meaning: Never despair in adversities

8. Kuhlonishwa kabili – Respect is two way
Meaning: if you want respect, you’ve got to give it

9. Libunjwa liseva. The day is worked while it is still fresh
Meaning / English equivalent: Make hay while the sun shines

10. Ikhotha eyikhothayo engayikhothi iyayikhahlela – The cow licks one that licks her
Meaning: People help those who return the favour

11. Iso liwela umfula ugcwele – The eye crosses the full river
Meaning: A desire goes beyond the possible

12. Iqaqa alizizwa ukunuka – no polecat ever smells its own stink.
Meaning: Nobody recognizes his own fault

13. Akukho mango ongenaliba – There is no hillside without a grave
Meaning: Death is unavoidable, and therefore will find you where ever you go

14. Isikhuni sibuya nomkhwezeli – the lit fire-brand has returned with one tending fire
Meaning: If you play with fire, you could get (your fingers) burnt / He (trouble-maker) got what deserves

15. Ukhuni luzal’umlotha – the fire-log brings about ashes
Meaning: He brings forth a worthless thing or child

16. Amaqili kathengani – The cunning men do not deal with each other
Meaning: People that know each other’s cunning practices / shrewdness avoid each other

17. Uchakide uhlolile imamba yalukile – the weasel is at ease because the mamba has gone out
Meaning: When the cat’s away the mice will play

18. Ukubona kanye ukubona kabili – Once beaten twice shy

19. Amanxiwa Kamili Mbuya
Meaning: A rolling stone gathers no moss
Could be used to refer to / warn someone who changes jobs a lot

20. Uphembela emoyeni – He lights fire in the wind
Meaning: He favours strangers (whom he might never see) than his own people

21. Udla indlu yakho njengentwala – You eat your hut (hair) like a lice
One who destroys the same thing he benefits from just as the lice eats the hair it accommodates
Meaning: One who bites the hand that feeds him

22. Akukho nkwali yaphendela enye – There is no partridge that scratches for another
Meaning: Each one must look out for himself / do things for himself

23. Ingwe Idla Ngamabala – A leopard eats by means of its spots
Meaning: Each person survives off his/her talent

24. Inkunzi isematholeni (the bull is among the calves)
Meaning: Leaders of tomorrow come from the youth

I would be very interested to hear about those special characters (phrases, sayings, proverbs, idioms etc.) that make your language more interesting and distinctive.

Do share!

MY BOSS BARRY, THE BEST MENTOR I EVER HAD

Barry Leitch, known to the Zulus as uMkhomazi (Zulu Praises: Umkhomazi ogcwala ngomoya –“the Mkhomazi River that floods with wind”) is a renowned Zulu cultural expert and entrepreneur, who, together with Kingsley Holgate, created Shakaland, the cultural experience near Eshowe. Shakaland was originally created as a filmset for a movie series: Shaka Zulu…the movie documented the life of the Great King Shaka, the most influential leader of the Zulu empire, credited with uniting, through his military genius, many of the Northern Nguni people. Barry was a driving force behind the creation of that movie. His other interests, besides tourism, Zulu culture and heritage, included marketing & advertising, and Nguni cattle farming. He grew up with the Zulu people, learned to stick-fight, to Zulu dance, and about courtship at the river; just like a rural Zulu boy would do. There is nothing a rural Zulu boy did that he didn’t or couldn’t do. He ate, drank, and breathed Zulu culture.

Barry graduated from UCT with a degree in anthropology. I am told that, as a child, he had to repeat Grade One at school because he couldn’t speak proper English. Astonishing as it may sound for a white boy to be more fluent in Zulu than in his mother tongue, I’m afraid this is the truth. Barry is what I would call a living legend, a Zulu language and cultural expert who would at any time during a conversation surprise you with a Zulu proverb you’d never heard before. He did this often and without any effort. His Zulu is impeccable and he is a marvel to listen to. He is also the greatest marketer I’ve ever known —one insanely creative and funny; and he simply has a way with words. As a marketer, he never took consumers and clients for granted. One piece of marketing advice and consumer insight he shared with me when I worked at Simunye Zulu Lodge around 2007 was that guests were not there for the food, accommodation, Zulu cultural experience, etc. — all they bought and paid for was the “feeling”.

HOW I MET BARRY
In the months leading up to the democratisation of South Africa, Barry Leitch founded a lodge, building it right on a cliff face: Simunye Zulu Lodge. Simunye is tucked away in the magnificent Mfule River, deep in the heart of Zululand, in the area known as Melmoth. The lodge is coupled with a cultural village offering tourists the opportunity of spending the night with and amongst the Zulus; to partake in a cultural tour of the Zulu village, and to watch some traditional Zulu dancing. It is here that I was introduced to Barry when I was a boy, at the tender age of 11. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a long journey of mentoring.

It is in this very place that I was to meet famous people like Vanessa Williams and many others. Vanessa Williams taught me as a child, together with my fellow dancers, a song; “To Be Young, Gifted And Black” and she would sing this song every evening until she left the lodge. This was when she was at Simunye for the filming of “Woman Of Colour”. It is also here that the lotto slogan “Tata ma Chance Tata Ma Millions” originated, where Uthingo (the then lotto Management company) held their conference. I had great fun, from being a Zulu dancer to being a director of the very lodge where I had started as a dancer, earning R6 per show. In between, I had held the position of Front Office and Reservations Manager, General Manager, and Production Assistant for New York Times/Granada factual during the filming of “World Wedding Day”. Had I not met Barry or had the privilege of being mentored by him I would not have had all these opportunities and experiences.

Barry had an inexplicable faith in me. What he taught me has remained with me throughout my life. I remember working for him as a trainee at his below-the-line Communications Company, Ingwe Communications (which he later sold to FCB South Africa). Here I trained as receptionist; however, I was also involved in the exciting stuff. It was here that I learned “telephone etiquette”, to excel in typing, and how to use computers in general – I was a fast learner, although I made many mistakes in the process. I remember there were two gentlemen that used to call looking for Barry. Both of them were named Victor. When they asked to speak to Barry, my response would be something like this: “We have Victor from next door and we have Victor who is a Unilever client: which one are you?” That was my way of screening Barry’s calls: it was poor etiquette and rather rude. Barry didn’t shout at me – he found it funny. He allowed me to make those mistakes in the knowledge that I would learn from them. Luckily, the two Victors were not offended. There were many other mistakes that followed, which of course were forgiven.

It was also at Ingwe Communications that I met my “first” girlfriend, Nombuso. By any standards Nombuso was beautiful; there was nothing that gave me more joy than the feeling that she was beautiful and that she was mine. But I remember how Barry sat me down, (unexpectedly) to have that serious conversation, as a father would to his son. He called me in. The conversation went something like this: “I know that you’ve met a girl and that she’s a most beautiful girl; but my advice to you is to be careful not to let this distract you and destroy your life”. I came out of that “discussion” feeling worthless. However, that was tough love; it is a conversation along the same lines that I will have with my sons when the time is right!

Barry, throughout my career, was to play that fatherly role. Most of us referred to him as “ubaba”. Come to think of it, I never discussed father-son issues with my own father. The only serious discussion I remember having with my father was when I was about 24, a year before I was married. I was ready to pay ilobolo (a herd of cattle given to his parents-in-law by their son-in-law, as thanks for bearing him a wife, to cement the relationship between the two families. This is also, in paying for cattle, a way of proving that the man will be able to care for their daughter). When I told my father that I was preparing to pay ilobolo to the Biyelas, his first reaction was “Ungabe ulahla izinkomo njengobaba wakho omdala uDlawu” — loosely translated as: “I do hope you’re not wasting/ throwing away cattle like your uncle Dlawu did throughout his life”. That was the only serious conversation I remember having with my father; however, there were many conversations I had with Barry.

Another story about Barry that comes to mind is that he believed in people more than they believed in themselves. I remember his domestic worker, Manala, one of the most talented beaders I know. Manala couldn’t speak English at all, but one day Barry left his cellphone with her, requiring her to answer it for him. He told her what to say to people looking for him. The wording was quite simply: “Barry is sleeping in”. I happened to be the one calling. All I heard from Manala was “BARRY SLEEPING IN!”. As funny as it was at the time, it shows the confidence and the belief Barry had in people, taking them out of their comfort zone and making them see that they could do more!

Barry instilled humility amongst all his people. He is genuine; he is unassumingly engaging. During the construction of Sibaya Casino, a project in which he was very instrumental, I would accompany him to all his meetings, including those where the likes of Peter Bacon (ex CEO Sun International) would be present, as also many other important people. At no time did Barry ever introduce me as his PA. He always introduced me as his colleague. He never saw colour; he treated people the same, regardless of their age, colour of their skin, status, gender, etc. — come to think of it, I think he is also a feminist.

Barry is one of kindest, greatest mentors I’ve ever known. A force of nature who believes in people. I’m forever grateful for his guidance, and for using his resources in the advancement of my career, as he would have for his own son. Barry paid for my Business Management course, my Computer training, and my Marketing Management training. I have to add, however, that I didn’t copy his dress style:-).

I’m also grateful for his amazing and true stories, some of which formed part of my growing up. Right now, I’m chuckling as I remember “Ngema and the condom story”, in which Barry gave Ngema advice about wearing a condom to prevent STIs and HIV. Ngema wore the condom for 48 hours, only removing it to pee or to bath. On the third day Ngema came to tell Barry: “Mkhomazi, iyangilimaza lento — this thing you asked me to wear is hurting me”.

This is the man who understood the true meaning of mentorship, having mentored hundreds of other people from all backgrounds. He believed in transferring skills. This was his passion, and he offered his assistance without expecting anything in return. He is a legend and an absolute original who should be emulated by all…but whatever you do, do not copy his fashion style!

If this story about Barry’s great service to this country, particularly to rural communities fails to move and inspire you, it is not because Barry failed in changing lives, but because I have failed in the telling of his story.

By Soka Mthembu