HomeOpinion & AnalysisUkuhlonipha the Ndebele way (PART 2)

Ukuhlonipha the Ndebele way (PART 2)


IN Part I we explained that ukuhlonipha was a much wider term than the English word “respect”. We further explained that ukuhlonipha was fundamental to the Ndebele culture and that it went across all age groups.

Children were taught from infancy different forms of respect relative to their age. These forms of respect became more detailed and complex as children grew up. There were further forms of respect that were relevant to the person’s age and status.

Adults must show various forms of respect to other members of the community. We did say that ukuhlonipha was relational, that is to say you respect each individual in accordance with the kind of relation you have with them as for instance you hlonipha your teacher different from the way you hlonipha a storekeeper.

We started discussing about how children should hlonipha. Some of the major highlights are repeated here for emphasis and also to underline their importance:

A child does not stand in front of an older person the size of his/her father. A girl kneels down and a boy squats. Ungameli abadala, uyabadelela nxa usenza njalo.

Do not look an elder in the eyes. Khophoza.

When a child is given something (no matter what) he/she must receive with both hands. You give or receive with the right hand. Hatshi esenxele.

A child must always, say ngiyabonga. Ukubonga is also fundamental to Ndebele culture. Children must learn to bonga by the person’s isibongo: eNyandeni, baba; eNtshangase, mama.

Children do not just join in the conversation of their elders or start their own conversation in the presence of their elders. They must be quiet. The dictum that “children must be seen but not heard” is not Ndebele. The Ndebele do not restrict their children that much. Children must go out and enjoy their freedom. Umntwana angathanda ukulalela inkulumo zabadala uzaba lamanga.

Umntwana ohloniphayo kakhulumi inhlamba loba akhulume ingcekeza. It is really bad and shameful to hear a child use foul language, especially in public. Such a child shows no respect for himself and for society. The same is true for a child who cannot control his temper.

Girl children are taught from an early age how to sit properly and respect their bodies. The expression Hlala kuhle wena means a lot in Ndebele.

Greeting elders is an important feature of Ndebele culture. A child or young person must greet an older person, Sabona, mama!/baba!

The older person replies, Yebo, mntanami/ nkazana, or whatever. The younger person stops there. It is not proper to ask an elder, Kunjani/ Linjani mama? No, you don’t ask Linjani? when you are a child. It is for the older person to ask, Kunjani? If our young people would please stop saying linjani? when they meet an elderly person that would be an improvement of our culture. Look, young people, we know life is hurry hurry! Just give a quick Sabona, mama! and rush on, instead of Linjani?”

Let us now look at young people and discuss how they should hlonipha. They are going through a very active stage at which they think they know it all . Some of them are very difficult to advise. Part of the problem nowdays comes from the parents who do not want their children to be corrected by someone other than themselves. They will tell you, “Leave my children alone, they are my problem.”

(Tshiyana labantwabami, kangitshongo ukuthi sengehlulekile. Ulani labo?). Some young people will respond, Awusuye baba/ mama wena, tshiyana lami. It is most disrespectful for a child or young person to tell an elderly person such words. Some young people will say, Ngizakukhohlwa, mdala!.

In Ndebele culture any old person is your “parent” and you give him the same respect as you give to your biological parent. Ndebele society expects any elderly person to correct and discipline offending children. If necessary you may apply corporal correction and the parents of the erring child will thank you for that. Lamhla, yiya! Ungalutheza olulenkume. You dare not touch someone else’s child. So, what do we expect from today’s children? Some parents are the problem.

There are certain things that young people did not do in the presence of elderly people especially those things that were regarded as bad behaviour. You could not display violent temper or fight in the presence of an elderly person. If he found you fighting he would shout something like, Yeyi lina, lenzani? and you stopped at once.

Or he got a small stick and beat you up lightly and you separated and ran away. A young person of say, twenty two years did not smoke or drink in the presence of elderly people. In fact, young people were not allowed to drink. Only badly behaved boys stole a drink now and then, but a young person could not be seen drunk. That was disrespectful.

Those who disobeyed were brought before the umlisa and were disciplined: alaliswe phansi phambi kwamadoda. Some people may consider this as a crude way of enforcing discipline and respect but one wonders whether that is more crude than the filthy behaviour of drunken young people that we see staggering senselessly on our streets.

They shout using foul language, they fight each other like diseased dogs, they steal, they get into everyone’s way and bump against you: Bhasopa mdala, baleka endleleni sizakurola! They are drunk with beer and giddy with dagga (imbanje). Just a rowdy and uncontrollable lot.

Boys and girls — My! Sebekhombisa nje laphambi kwabazali. Mpthu! This is perhaps one of the must disrespectful acts that young people do nowadays.

You see them walking down the street arm in arm, arm over shoulder, arm round the waist, heads tilted against each other and what not. You see them round the corner leaning against a pillar simply glued together into a shameful bundle.

This is altogether unthinkable in the Ndebele culture. Love matters are a private affair that is kept away from old people as much as possible. This, of course, is totally different from the Western culture which they say is more open and transparent.

But Ndebele culture is much stronger on morals. More in the next issue.

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