Gathering sheaves, the Ndebele way

I N MPOFU (uNyandeni oMpofu)

THE English hymn says, “we shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves”. This “rejoicing” is more applicable to the Ndebele who inhabit the semi-arid part of Zimbabwe where droughts are frequent.

When a good season comes people work hard in fields, ploughing, sowing, weeding and protecting their crops from wild animals and birds. At the end of their hard work they are rewarded with a good harvest. Thus, the rejoicing of bringing the sheaves.

Another English song says, “You’re going to reap just what you sow.”

Ndebele people responded to their environment and sowed hardy crops like sorghum, imunka and uphoko in addition to peanuts, indlubu, indumba, amajodo, pumpkins, amakhomane and any other.

Maize, was grown to a limited extent and it was not new to them. They had experienced it on the high veld of the Transvaal in their contacts with the Boers.

These are the crops that they harvest for food and they stored them away for winter and more so in anticipation of a drought during the next season.

Harvest was done in winter during the months of June to August. Usually it was done and finished quickly in June because after that cattle were let loose to stray unattended, in fields (besithi zitshayamahlanga).

It should be noted that seasons have now shifted and are not what they were earlier in the 1950s. Usually towards the end of August there would be heavy rain for a day or two (imbozisamahlanga). Then it went away for a month or so.

In mid October the rain season started with a heavy down pour (insewula). Sowing began in earnest and by January preliminary harvest of amakhomane, amathanga and amajodo was done.

People began “rejoicing” as they ate the fresh harvest (ukuchinsa – dolo qina). By end of February to early April ikwindla is in full swing – izisu sezilala zibomvu, lejwabu labantu likhanya selibutshelezi.

Real harvest began at the end of March to April by digging up pea-nuts and ground nuts (indlubu) when they were fully ripe. The nuts were dug up and heaped together. One or two central patches in the garden were selected.

The nuts were arranged in a ring or circle with an empty diameter of about two metres inside. The ring of nuts was built up the trees with their nuts together and turned up-side-down so that the nuts were exposed to the weather to dry.

Some people fixed poles into the ground with horizontal sticks and hung the nuts there. After a while the nuts were dry (esehwamile) they were pulled out of their stems (ukuqunta amazambane) and carried in baskets to dry up on a prepared patch near home.

Ukuqunta amazanmbane is not an easy job, it needs the patience of women who have more nimble hands than men.

During February to March the grains would have fully formed on the stalks and begin mature. This is a very anxious time for the farmers because birds and wild animals (baboons, warthogs, kudus) tend to invade the fields and eat the crops.

Sometimes the farmer and his older children have to spend long nights watching over the fields. By June the grains on the crops have dried and are then reaped.

Men usually help to reap the crops so that they will be relieved from the nightly watches. (Amadoda abuvila!)

Harvesting was done manually by cutting off the heads of sorghum with a knife. The heads were called izikhwebu and were thrown into big baskets (mostly made of reeds).

Some called these baskets (izitsha) imitshitshi. If there were flat rocks nearby the Ndebele made isiza, that is, they cleaned and fenced in the required amount of space, say fifteen to twenty metres diameter.

All the harvested crops were carried into the isiza (ayethuthelwa esizeni) in separate zones and spread out to dry. This may be for a month or two.

Where there were no rocks (njengeTsholotsho) a space was cleared and fenced to keep wild animals (and domestic animals – imbuzi lenkomo lenkukhu) the crops spread out separately on it until they dried.

It is curious that wild animals rarely raided the isiza. Perhaps it gave them the feeling of being trapped in if they went inside.

Thieves did not dare steal from isiza. Babesesaba imithi. Amabele abantu ayengaqalwa – uzatshwabhana isandla.

Meanwhile the farmers will be collecting and gathering melons, amakhabe, pumpkins. Amakhomane are not harvested in this manner. They are eaten straight from the field because they do not store for more than a day before they go bad.

The melons and pumpkins can be stored for months, but not amakhabe which are limited to a short time of about a month. Melons and pumpkins may be stored in a special enclosure called isibuya or isihonqo, other than the isiza.

They stay there until they are further processed. Imfe is not reaped but is eaten straight from the field. Its bark is sometimes stripped and the bare stem is dried in the sun.

This is for eating during the winter months. The imfe is treated it is called umhlutshwa. The grains of imfe are not good for making porridge meal (impuphu) and not even yeast like amabele.