Arnold Mayibongwe Nkala
Last week we went through winter and its relationship with Ndebele history and culture. This week we cross over to spring, which generally takes place in August, September and October. Generally because it was stated last week that we will explore the seasons in a simplified and standardised way. In IsiNdebele spring is called intwasa, a word created by the suffix -thwasa which in this case means something new. This is because spring is a period when nature gets renewed. Another instance where the word thwasa is used when meaning something new is during the process of a new moon. Last week it was said that Isilimela (Pleiades) culturally symbolises the end of winter. Due to the reality that winter is followed by spring, this means that the coming out of Isilimela during that time also symbolises the beginning of spring.
August is called Ncwabakazi, which is a word formed by the prefix ncwaba- and suffix -kazi. Ncwaba means something fresh and renewed while kazi stands for a larger extent, as we also stated when explaining about Ntulikazi. This is because this is the month when many natural things get renewed and fresh. Plants start to bud and flower, snakes come out from hibernation and lizards become visible. Uncured illnesses and allergies also get renewed. The most prominent illnesses to be renewed in this month are sexually transmitted diseases (isiki) and mental illnesses. Allergies are caused by pollen because pollination is rife in this month.
September is called Mpandula, formed from the suffix -phanda which means dig. This is because it used to be the month of early ploughing during the good olden pre-colonial days when rain was early and global warming was unheard of. This is also why the name of the moon that came out in this month was called Mpandula or Mpandulo. The Zulu people changed it into Mandulo during the time when they were ruled by King Mpande because it is generally taboo to say words with prefixes or suffixes that make up the name of a King or father-in-law. The word Mpandula/ Mpandulo has the prefix Mpand- like the name of King Mpande. The Ndebeles were never led by King Mpande which is why they don’t see it taboo to say Mpandula/Mpandulo.
October is called Mfumfu; from the word -fufusa which means amateur. This is because many plants would not have reached the advanced stage of renewal. If ploughing was done early due to early rains, the plants would start to bud in this month, meaning they would be in their amateur stage.
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Spring rain is generally expected and it reminds people of the ploughing season in few weeks to come. In IsiNdebele spring rain is called imbozisamahlanga; which means the rain that has come to help decompose the maize stalks for manure. This also marks the end of cultural holiday and preparation stage for ploughing.
Spring is also a time when people do a cultural practice called umbuyiso, which means the bringing back of the dead home. This ritual is done to bring back the spirit of a dead person, usually the man of the homestead or one of his wives. A white goat or tree branch is used to bring back the spirit back home. Actually the spirit will be asked to ride on a white goat or branch as transport back home. After the spirit has been brought home, the white goat is then slaughtered by the family. This is followed by community celebration on the next day; because the Ndebele society is community-centred. This ritual is usually done in August when people have not started ploughing, which also gives relatives who live far an opportunity to also attend. Nowadays many Ndebele people have turned against their traditional religion to worship a Christian deity called Jehovah; they rarely practice umbuyiso. Usually they do the tombstone unveiling during this time.
A cultural practice called ukwebula ingxoza also takes place during this time. It is done to prepare for rain. It happens in District level; people go out to clean the forest because it is believed that rain won’t fall in a dirty environment. Ukwebula ingxoza literally means removing the strips of a tree bark. This is because trees whose barks have been tempered with as a way of getting strips (for tying, it’s a natural rope) are also removed as part of the cleaning spree. Other things that are removed in the cleaning process include crow nests, crow nestlings, bones and trees hit by the lightning. In modern times, the most famous Ndebele cultural festival, the King Mzilikazi Commemoration, takes place in September because King Mzilikazi died on the 9 th of September 1868. The ceremony is organised by the Mthwakazi kaMzilikazi Cultural Association (MMCA).
Read Also: THE FIRST NDEBELE-BOER WAR (PART 6)
Arnold MayibongweNkala is the author of the Mthwakazi history and culture book titled AbeThwakazi. Contact/Follow him:
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