HomeOpinion & AnalysisUkuhlonipha (respect) the Ndebele way (Part I)

Ukuhlonipha (respect) the Ndebele way (Part I)


I am not sure whether ukuhlonipha means the same as the English word respect.

I am not sure, but I think that ukuhlonipha has a wider and deeper meaning and the term respect although having the same general meaning falls short of those more subtle connotations.

Ukuhlonipha has the delicate sense of subduing self and elevating the other. That is why in the traditional sense or respect or rather ukuhlonipha was expressed by acts of kneeling, squatting (ukuqotshama), sitting down, ukuviyoca (curtsying) and in some extreme cases, down-on-knees and elbows and face-touching ground.

Obviously the term ukuhlonipha is relational, it describes how individuals relate to each other in terms of their social status, as for example, father and son, husband and wife, son-in-law and mother-in-law, chief and his subject, and so on. It is this relational aspect of ukuhlonipha that we will deal with in these series.

Ukuhlonipha is a societal requisite of all age groups. It is expected of children and youths no more than it is expected of men and women.

Although the cry nowadays is mostly against children and young people it is also true that adults do not display as much respect as would be expected of them in the Ndebele culture.

Some people say that the lack of respect shown by today’s children is copied from their elders who do not respect each other.

They easily talk bad things about their neighbours or pass derogatory remarks about other people in the presence of children.

How can children give respect to someone who they know is despised by their parents? They also learn to despise their agemates and to think very little of them.

Unless adults go back to the former Ndebele status of ukuhlonipha (umuntu) azihloniphe yena angenzi ihlazo emehlweni kazulu aphinde ahloniphe abanye abantu) we will continue to cry and moan about our children having lost a sense of respect (kabasahloniphi).

It is even doubtful whether many parents nowadays ever take time to teach their children Ndebele manners and modes of respect.

This lack of respect is getting equally prevalent even in the rural areas where one would expect that tradition is still strong.

Our starting point concerns children and the youths.

The Ndebele saying is: Umntanakho ngumntwana loba esenganani.

It’s a pity I cannot translate this saying into English. The implication is that your son or daughter remains a “child” to you no matter what age they are.

A fifty year old son is a “child” to you the father and is bound by custom to give you due respect a son should give at any age.

There are many forms of ukuhlonipha that children should give their parents.

All of these are taught by parents as they grow up. The first form of respect begins with the child learning to say mama and baba because the child will use these words throughout its life to call, refer or respond to its parents when they call.

Nowadays children refer to their mothers as umasalu and their fathers as itopi, or some other words.

These are slang words which may be regarded as fond or endearment words by some young people.

Other people regard them as rude and distasteful. Whatever it is they lack that true Ndebele ring and respect of umama and ubaba.

You say, uyabizwa ngubaba and not Itopi iyakubiza.

These two hlonipha words umama and ubaba are also used invariably throughout life to respond to your mother’s or father’s call.

When mother calls: Dumisani-i-i!, you respond: Ma-a-a! for Mama and you answer Baba! to your father. Anything else is unNdebele and would be disrespectful. I have heard some children answer in English, “Hello/Hullo/Hallo.” My! Hello to your father! And you call yourself Ndebele? Very rude! This same response: (Baba ! or Mama) is applied to all elderly persons because a respectful child regards them as father and mother.

Your brother and your sister are “ umnewethu” and “udadewethu”.

You refer to them (strangely) as ubhudi and usisi which really are not Ndebele terms but are here to stay.

You don’t just call your elder brother’s name, you say “ubhudi” or to designate him from other obhudi you prefix his name with ubhudi, Ngidinga ubhudi uSazini.

A respectful child will not say: “Ungaphi uSazini?

This same respect is used in response to your brother’s or sister’s call. The child replies, Bhudi-i-i!” or Si-i-si! respectively.

You may answer we-e-e! to your younger siblings. Parents always answer We-e-e! to all their children irrespective of their age.

The child applies the above respect to all other relatives designating their relationship, such as responding Babakazi when called by their father’s sister or Malumami in response to their mother’s brother.

But it is Ba-a-ba! to any of their father’s brother or Ma-a-a! to their mother’s sisters.

Their parents’ parents on both sides are Babamkhulu! or simply Khulu! for grandfather and Go-o-go! for grandmother. All other elders the size of babamkhulu or gogo are responded in the same way.

This is what we meant at the beginning when we said that to a greater extent respect is relational. We shall see more of this as we proceed.

To a non-Ndebele these forms may appear a bit complicated, but they are natural, simple and straightforward to one born in a Ndebele community.

Children must show far more respect than what has been described above. When a girl child is talking to her father she kneels down until she is finished.

She must not look her father straight in the eyes. In fact looking (not at) an elderly person in the eyes is disrespectful. How different this is from the whiteman’s ways!.

A boy must squat before an elderly person — it is disrespectful for a child to stand before an elderly person, kuyazila (it is taboo). Umntwana kafike aguqe kumbe ongumfana aqotshame.

Kakhumbule ukuthi umntwana kakhangeli umuntu omdala emehlweni. Uyakhophoza.

Umntwana nxa ephiwa ulutho ngumuntu omdala (when a child is being given something by an elderly person) he/she must receive with both hands.

It is wrong to receive or to give with one hand. In any case giving or receiving must always be with the right hand — the left hand must never, never be used even when giving to your age mate (sebenzisa isandla sokunene).

A child must never point a finger at an elderly person – anybody who is older than you.

As a general rule a child may not drink water or any other drink while standing. A girl kneels or bends with the left hand resting on the left knee then drinks.

A boy squats to take a drink.

Children in the company of elders must be quiet and not make noise or start a conversation or play among themselves.

They are expected to go outside or elsewhere away from the elders. Otherwise they will be disturbing the conversation of the elders.

We are not finished with ukuhlonipha of children.

More in Part II.

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