THE Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines superstition as “belief which is not based on reason or fact but on old ideas about luck and magic .”
There is so much in our modern world that is “not based on reason or fact”. Many of the Ndebele expressions were in fact not superstitions but teachings in special sayings. Some of these are difficult to translate into English because they lose their true meaning.
Consider the following
Ukutheza izigodo ezakhele ingcwaba uzakufa wena loba ufelwe yisihlobo esiseduze. (Do not make a fire with logs taken from a grave fence, you will die or your near relative).
Owesifazana kaqumi phakathi komhlambi wenkomo; zizaphunza. (A woman must not pass through a herd of cattle; the cows will abort).
Ungabonatha umi (hatshi umile) umuzi uzatshaywa ngumbane. ( Do not drink standing, your home will be struck by lightning).
Ungagigi ngomgigo phansi, unyoko uzakwephuka iqolo. Njalo ungahlala phezu kwengiga uzafelwa yindoda. (I can’t translate this).
Ungamemeza omunye ngebizo ebusuku, ilizwi lakho lizathathwa yimikhobo. (Do not shout someone’s name at night, your voice will be stolen by fairies).
Ungachemeli emlilweni (boys do) uzakuba lesichenene. (Do not urinate on the fire)okungabafanyana (you will have bilharzia).
Ungabohlabela usidla uzakuba yisigxangu/ibhimbi. (Do not sing while eating, you will lose your good voice).
Ungabokuthi upheka uyekele uphini lusembizeni ngoba abantu abazakudla ukudla lokho bazahlatshwa yisihlabo. (Do not leave a stirring stick standing in the pot with food; those who eat it will suffer from pneumonia).
Ungadlela ediweni (loba embizeni) wena uyindoda uzakwaliwa zintombi kumbe ngabafazi. (A man does not eat from a pot, girls or women will have nothing to do with him).
Ungemukeli kumbe uqhubele ngesandla senxele ngoba uzazala abafana bodwa. (Do not receive or give with the left hand because all your children will be boys only).
There are a thousand other sayings. There are not superstitions per se but teachings, such as Ungahlali endleleni, uzamila amathumba. (Do not sit on the road, you will develop boils) This was to warn children to keep off the road. That is how children were taught not to do harmful things.
Nevertheless the Ndebele people believed in the existence of certain things or phenomena which defied reason or fact.
Ukuloya/ukuthakatha (witchcraft). The Longman Dictionary quoted above ascribes witchcraft to women only but a witch-doctor is a man.
I have yet to hear of a society that does not completely believe in witchcraft. Ukuthakatha/ukuloya is the major superstition among the Ndebele.
You just say the word about somebody, uncengani uyaloya and people will believe it without reason. You don’t have to prove it ukuthi kungani kuthiwa uyaloya.
Just say the word and the accusation will spread around like a veld fire. People will start shunning Ncengani and they will not accept food from her.
We call this superstition because such an accusation is never proved. It is always attributed to someone else who is said to have seen or noticed Ncengani doing such a thing.
Nobody ever says I personally saw Ncengani actually engaged in the practice of bewitching. If they say they personally saw her doing it their evidence is merely fairytale.
They can’t prove it. Wambona esenzani? A, yeyi wena, izinto zabantu kazikhulunywa; angaqabuka engiloya. Hawu, bantu, pho ngani kuthiwa ungumthakathi?
Notice that we are not talking about poisoning or ukudlisa which means actually administering poisonous staff in the food or drink of a victim. The so called ukuloya/ukuthakatha may happen (so it is said) without any physical contact.
It is believed that one can bewitch somebody kilometers away by putting together and mixing certain concoctions and then calling the name of the intended victim and stabbing the mixture with thorns: Naka Zondile, kasikuhlabe sikujuqe isihlabo uhle ufe ungaphindi uwadle amabele.
Utsho njalo usephehla ngoqunga, akhafule amathe aze abhubhudle amagwebu ngomlomo. At that same time NakaZondile will feel a sharp pain on her side and will start moaning . She won’t last the day. Uyadlala ngabathakathi wena! Is it a fact or fiction?
The matter of ukuloya is a very wide field and we will discuss it in two instilments, this and the next issue. Strange things are said to happen.
The English people once believed that a witch (a woman) could ride on a broom and cover a long distance to reach her victim. Well, perhaps.
The Ndebele say that a big fat woman the size of my mother can and does ride on ant-bear (isamabane) or a hyena to cover distances at night to perform her nefarious duties.
She arrives at Ncube’s hut. She will spit on the door and sprinkle a bit of medicine water on it, “Vula Ncube ngingene”.
By the way she is stark naked. Ncube will rise in his sleep, open the door and return to his sleep with his wife. The witch will come in and perform all her activities on them but they will not hear or feel anything.
Once finished the witch goes out and commands Ncube to shut the door while she triumphantly rides her ant-bear back home to hide it in a hole somewhere during the day.
On waking up in the morning Ncube has a tuff of thick hair in his mouth and a feather stuck in his nostrils. His wife has blood smeared on her forehead and some oozing down her under ear. Sound weird doesn’t it? Fact or fiction?
How do you explain this: Izinja zakoNhliziyo zabamba impunzi egqize amangqongqo (they caught a buck that had heads round its neck) Wena, Ungadlali ngabantu! Bathi yi-Afrikeni sayensi. If that is a fact how did the buck come to wear those beads?