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Relationships among Ndebele people


RELATIONSHIPS that will be discussed in this article refer to connections among people resulting from being members of the same family and having descended from a common ancestor.

This may not be a precise definition but it explains what we are talking about. Relationships may be similar across different national groups, but not exactly the same. Each group of peoples understands and explains relationships in a way that is peculiar to itself.

My Ndebele understanding of umnewethu is similar, but not the same as brother in English. In English brother is restricted to biological connection, being born of the same father and mother.

Umnewethu means my parent’s boy child who is older than me (biological ) and/ or the boy child of my father’s brother (relational). In the same way the terms umzawami (umzala) and cousin are not equivalents.

The word umzawami in Ndebele is restricted to my father’s sister’s child or of my mother’s brother’. But who is your cousin in English?

The term uncle does not mean the same as umalume in Ndebele. Umalume refers only to my mother’s side, her brothers and her male abazawakhe.

But uncle in English is both maternal and paternal. My father’s brother is my uncle, but is my baba in Ndebele.

The relative status of ubaba is defined by ubaba omdala (ubab’omdala) or ubaba omncane (ubab’omncane). The same applies to umama.

The relational terms umama omdala and umama omncane are applied to your mother’s sisters whether they are older or younger than her.

But they apply also in a wide and more general context in reference to your father’s brother’s wives. The wife of your father’s elder brother is your mamomdala as you would say to the wife of your father’s umzawakhe.

This is straightforward and uncomplicated to a native Ndebele it is something else to a non-Ndebele.

In a polygamous situation all father’s wives are mama with the status symbol of omdala or omncane depending on the marital timing of your mother.

The concept of step-mother, step-brother etc does not exist in Ndebele or half-brother and half-sister. (No-half father of course!).

The boy child of your father born by another woman or of your mother by another man ngumnewenu.

By extension the man who begot a child with your mother, even though she subsequently married your father is your baba.

The relative terms omdala and omncane/omncinyane are important relational words used to designate positional status, e.g ugogo omdala is the gogo older than your gogo, the mother of your father or of your mother or umalumekazi of your father.

The suffix —kazi is feminine and denotes that which is female, as in ubaba, a female father ubabakazi (my father’s sister).

Hence, malume> umalumekazi. It is in this context that inkosikazi is derived from inkosi. Thus isibhuzikazi, (imbuzikazi), isikhukhukazi (inkukhukazi), imvukazi, inkomokazi, isiphondokazi, imofukazi, and so on.
Umntanami does not always mean my biological child.

The child of my father’s brother is umntanami. So is the child of my sister . My sister’s child calls me malume, but my brother’s child calls me baba.

The man whom my father calls mzawami I call him father and I call the man’s son brother. That man’s father my father’s mzawami is to me grandfather and his wife grandmother and I give them all the due relational regards.

I interact with him as I would with my father’s biological father, that is, my babamkhulu.

On my mother’s side, as pointed out already, her father and mother are babamkhulu and gogo. All my mother’s male siblings are omalume and her female siblings are mam’omdala or mam’omncinyane depending on their relative age positions.

These relationships carry with them certain relational responsibilities. The following statements imply some of the these responsibilities:

  •  Mina ngakhulela komalumami uSekaNdenda
  • USoniwe wondliwa ngugogo wakhe ozala unina
  • Wena MaMpala, kanti umkhulisa njani umntaka dadewenu?
  • Wahamba wayabelethela koyisekazi.
  • Angithi wena wafundiswa ngumnewethu waze waqeda isikolo.
  • Kulungile ngizakulobolela umntaka babakazi .
  • Uyisomncane umbambe ngoswazi lomklampunzi wamcinisa ukungezwa kwakhe.
  • SekaNgcili mzawami, umangoye uselala eziko ngakwami. Angisakwazi ukuthi ngibambe ngaphi oqotho. Ake ulamule.
  • Isidandane lesiyana wasihanqelwa ngunina omncinyane.
  • Thula Ndlovu, thula uthi zwi! Nguwe ubabomdala lapha ekhaya. Pho uthi sifundeni kuwe?

The above is a wide range of responsibilities which Ndebele custom requires that they are discharged and fulfilled.

A relative may bring his/her child to you and say: Mfowethu, nangu umntwana, uyafunda. Ikhanda liyavutha kodwa kangila mali. Sengimbeka ezandleni zakho.

Obviously it is no longer as easy as all that nowadays.

Life has become more complex and we are moving more and more towards nuclear family systems.

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