Ndebele superstitions

I N MPOFU (uNyandeni oMpofu)

I am not sure if superstition is altogether wrong. The universe is such a wide expanse that the human mind cannot fully comprehend all its phenomena.

Man is afraid of darkness, for instance, that one can venture into darkness at his own risk. But man has been endowed with the spirit of adventure and this adventure has helped man to understand what were hither to hidden secrets of nature. Science has greatly advanced his knowledge and understanding.

As he probes more and further into the unknown he increases his understanding so that those phenomena which were mysteries now became familiar.

This way superstition becomes less Somebody said that superstition is a product of ignorance. The greatest mystery of all is the human soul – where does it come from and what is its destination (and destiny, if you like)?

In this regard all human beings are ignorant. No one has ever died – I mean really died, that is, life cut off his physical self and then come back to life again.

Most religions are full of tales where people die only to rise or be risen again. Look for evidence of this, I mean real concrete evidence, not hearsay, you get none.

Religious writings of most advanced religions have tales of people who died and rose again but there is no evidence besides what is written in their books. Believe it if you like.

Ndebele culture continues to grapple with this problem, the destination of the soul. There are so many superstitions surrounding this mystery. Firstly, why does the soul depart from the physical body? In simple language why do we die?

There are many answers which can be summarised by: When the physical body is overcome by diseases or when the physical body is subjected to a violent force.

Ndebele people believe that there are no natural diseases, konke ngamaloyo. Lesalukazi esingakanani siguliswa ngamaloyo sife.

Kakulamuntu ozifelayo nje engaloywanga. Someone might say, yes, the Ndebele believe this way because of their ignorance about the cause of diseases. Hence, their superstition about witch-craft.

In our last article we described briefly about the activities of witches. It is sad that some people live a very restricted life for fear of being bewitched.

If a woman bears a deformed child that is the work of a witch, if a man works hard so that his field gives a good harvest, manga uledibisi.

A young man can use a certain charm to gain the love of a girl he so much desires, some students pass their exams with high marks because they use certain “medicines”. The list is endless.

In extreme cases small children (even adults) are killed and their bodies dismembered to mix “medicines” with body parts, especially private parts. Superstition can push people to any length.

Another popular form of ukuloya is ukuphosa. In this case umuthi works without any physical contact between the perpetrator (the witch) and the victim. The witch uses certain imithi which he concocts while calling the name of the victim who may be 10 km away.

You see, the verb phosa is a very active word which means to throw at and the object so thrown lends with force. Thus, ukuphosa has disastrous results. Umuntu ungamphosa afinyele unyawo and in extreme cases aqumeke amathumbu.

You have often seen those people of unbalanced mind. Some of them go down the streets talking to themselves or just shouting obscenities not directed at any particular person or umuntu wakhona uhlala egxoza indenda. Kabazenzi, baphoswa.

Ukuphosa should not be confused with sorcery or magic. Ngokwakhiwa lokho. In sorcery or magic you invoke the evil spirits or the Devil himself whereas ukuphosa depends upon your concoctions. You do not necessarily have to invoke your ancestral spirits.

You can phosa the victim to go mad, to lose a limb, to fall sick of any disease you want or you cast a spell upon his possessions ukuthi zithintitheke umnikazi engaboni ukuthi ziqedwa yini.

Perhaps uzimu which is not traditional to Ndebele is a stronger form of ukuphosa because it is aiming at wiping out or exterminating a whole family by the person who has been seriously offended, such as when one man has stolen another man’s wife or if one has killed someone’s relative either physically or by witch-craft.

In revenge the offended will “send” uzimu bafe baphele abakobani. Uzimu luyathunyelwa njengamaphoso. Yilokho abakaNehanda abathi “yingozi” hatshi ingozi ngesintu.

There is another form of ukuphosa. Just listen to this one: A prominent small-scale farmer kithi le koGodlwayo, koMahlabayithwale had his herd of 25 cattle stolen. The thief came from somewhere towards Vendaland.

Late in the afternoon as he hurried the herd southwards he heard a loud sound of whistling, roaring and hissing sound high up in sky. Suddenly this sound shot down like thunderbolt and floated at the front of cattle forcing them to change direction and go back.

This was a big bird, the eagle. The thief was undaunted. He drove the herd back in the direction he wanted. This happened three times, still he was not going to give up such a loot. The fourth time the bird-thunderbolt came down straight at him and dug its talons on the man’s head, tearing his face as well.

While he was still dazed the eagle herded the cattle back to their home and the poor man returned to his own home a miserable skin-scratched person.

This was many years ago but those who lived at that time still talk about ingqungqulu kaMlobeki. Fact or fiction? Uyadlala ngabantu wena ngezinto zabo!

Another form of witch-craft or just pure superstition, namely, ukuhlola. Omen which means a pointer to something that is going to happen in the future, both favourable and unfavourable.

But ukuhlola is a sign of coming evil, a pointer to a coming catastrophe.

Ukuhlola generally has a negative if not frightful import. In the case of the hare at Nhliziyo’s home umvundla wawuhlola (ubahlolela) and it was needful that Nhliziyo had to take preventive measures.

We are not finished yet. Next issue next time.