Changing Ndebele culture: 1

A QUICK survey of the Ndebele culture will show that most of it is no longer observed and is of historical significance only.

Western culture (European) has taken over especially with the increase of communication technology which has brought the world together.

What happens in Hiroshima in Japan is easily accessible to the people in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe at that same moment. Some things done by people in the Canary Islands are very similar to the things done by people in Tasmania.

Indeed the world belongs together as a global village. It is now possible and correct to talk about world culture rather than national or tribal culture. We share the same mode of travel and we may easily choose to eat the same kind of food.

Nevertheless there are distinctive modes of behaviour which are followed by certain people that are peculiar to them. For example the click sounds c, q, x are peculiar to Southern Africa, to the Koisan and Nguni people.

However, this article intends to show that because culture is dynamic the Ndebele people (and many others) have abandoned many of their ways of living and have adopted European culture. Let us take some examples:

Marriage (Umthimba v umtshado)
The two families (of the man and of the woman) negotiated the marriage through a long process and once they agreed umthimba took place. There was no church or magistrate’s court, but these two institutions are now mandatory. Does the marriage certificate really make the marriage? For whose benefit is it?

Which has greater security, umthimba wakithi or umtshado? Why? Polygamy was practiced. Compare it with masihlalisane or more recently “the small house”. Consider also the divorce rate.

Ukondla abantwana (Child up-bringing)
Children were a very important element of society. The idea of a nuclear family was uncommon and so a child was socialised from birth and was being acculturated all the time.

That is to say that the child belonged to everybody in the family circle. The child did not suffer want in the presence of so many relatives who were bound by custom to care for him/her, to teach and to correct. All adults in the community were loco parentis. As a result there was a high standard of discipline among the children.

Nowadays children will tell you, “You are not my father. Leave me alone”. The school, yes, it has its place but it deals with large numbers of children and falls short of socializing them as individuals and in smaller groups. One is horrified by the moral rot that pervades our society nowadays.

Children are nobody’s business. Ngumhlambi kazalusile. Father and mother are too busy making money. Lafa elihle kakhulu!

Neighbourliness (Ukwakhelana)
This is the curse of urbanization. Our culture was very strong on neighbourliness and it emphasized that one should maintain good relationship with one’s neighbours: Yibo abazakulahla mhla ufayo. No matter their social status you will need them some day. Yeyi, ngapho bantu, ngilamulelani. Ntombi, akuye ngicelela itswayi ngako NakaNjonda. Hambobiza uSekaNgcili sizophephuluza isalukazana sentusikazi leyana. Uthi aze lengqamu.

In urban centres it is not uncommon to bear someone say: “We have been here for the last two years, but I have not seen my neighbour beyond the wall.

I have often seen the back of his car as he drives away to work in the morning.” Somebody said, “My neighbour, what do I want to know him for?” sad, isn’t it? Walls, walls, walls! How do they affect neighbourliness?

Ukudla (Food, eating)
You can make bread out of any cereal: wheat, maize, sorghum and so on. Bread can be any shape and can be prepared in different ways. Wheat bread came from the northern hemisphere (emaKhiweni) and therefore we prefer wheat bread, hatshi isinkwa somumbu or amaqebelengwane awamabele.

Whereas the manufacture of wheat bread has been perfected little effort has been made to improve sorghum bread (amaqebelengwane).

Angithi isinkwa sengqoloyi ngesamakhiwa? Utshwala-ke? Much effort has been made to improve the manufacture of traditional beer under very hygienic conditions (Ingwebu, for instance), but no, the elite prefer the whiteman’s beer.

By the way how do we eat our food? With knife and fork. That is good. But what is wrong eating with your fingers — ukudla ngesandla? Ubumbe isitshwala sakho utshebe uqotshele emlonyeni.Yeka usukapula amasi akho aze agelezele endololwaneni! Ithambo lenyama silibamba ngesandla siliklamuze kube njeya. You can comfortably choose any of these ways of eating even at the Cresta Hotel. What is wrong?

The point is this — the whiteman’s culture has taken over and has overshadowed the Ndebele ways. We marry our children in the white man’s ways. Ngobani kithi abasaphehlelela izithundu? Ukumekeza kusaziwa ngubani?

We bring up our children in the whiteman’s ways. What are the cost in terms of behaviour and general morality? Sad, isn’t it?
We have neglected our traditional foods – fruits, vegetables, roots, insects and what not: Kanti bona abamhlophe baya zidlela amaxoxo abo lezimfudu, lemnenke lani konke. Muntu onsundu usukhonzile lase masikweni. We move with the times, yes, nobody disputes that, but we do not have to lose all of our culture.

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