“GATHERING the sheaves” is a Ndebele cultural way of sharing. Sharing what and sharing how?
At this point it is useful to learn the expression ukuvunisa the causative form of vuna which is vunisa does not mean to cause or make vuna but rather to help to vuna or to harvest together.
When a relative or neighbour found that their crops had failed and was unlikely to give him enough food for their family they would go to a relative who had a bumper harvest and offered (not asked) assist in the gathering of the crops. The good farmer needed this assistance to gather his crops: kuvunwa umumbu, kuvunwa amabele loba uphoko lenyawuthi.
The one who has come to “vunisa” will most likely stay with the family and share their everyday life – laye apheke , akhe amanzi, atheze inkuni, alale labo, athini lokuthini.
They become part of the family during the duration of the harvest. They go with the family to the fields to help in the harvest. Normally working with more diligence to prove their worth.
They will help in carrying the harvest to the isiza until it is all in. Ukubhula (threshing) is a direct consequence of ukuvuna and is part of it. Therefore, the one who has come to vunisa will remain until the ukubhula is done.
It should be understood that ukuvunisa is not a contract between the parties. Therefore, there is no such understanding of so much work for so much pay.
Ndebele culture loathes the idea of payment for this kind of assistance. In the first place the person who has come to vunisa has come to express her need for food assistance
When the reaping and threshing have been done the owner of the harvest will thank the helper. The helper will receive a portion of the harvest that is met to feed them and their family back home.
Kithi sasibapha amasaka (90kg) mhlawumbe afika itshumi: MaNtuli, ukudla kungaphela ukhulume ungesabi. This is the same as saying come back for more if it is finished.
An important element here is that ukuvunisa was not a form of begging. In fact, begging was almost unknown in Ndebele society. If you had need you just offered your services.
A man would offer to fence your fields, to tend your livestock, or to do whatever services seemed needed. This was sharing in the highest sense: The one shared his services and the other shared the material needs.
This is a virtue that has now been lost by the Ndebele people. Beggars in the streets of our towns are a sore eye.
Lafa elihle kakhulu! Today you say to a beggar, “you want $2? Come along and cut grass around my house and I will give you $2.” He will refuse. Beggars want something for nothing. Somebody said that giving a beggar is misplaced kindness.
Sharing at harvest time is far wider than what has been described above. This is a period of joy for most people because there is a lot to share with neighbours, friends and relatives.
We have pointed out that harvest begins much early, about January when mothers come back from the fields laden on their heads with baskets of green mealies and amakhomane.
These are cooked for every family member to feast on almost everyday during the summer and autumn. Those whose crops have ripened earlier will easily share with their neighbours: Wena Saziso, ake uyekupha uNaka Mjubheki nanka amakhomane. Thatha lomumbu lo udlule usipha ugogo uMaDonga.
Harvest bound the Ndebele people together into a strong community – abantu abaphanayo, abantu abazwelanayo, abantu abalobudlelwano obuphilayo labantu abanakekelanayo.
The Ndebele proverb that, Longelankomo uyayidla inyama applied truly here during the period of harvest. If a family did not have cows for milk they received milk left from their neighbours.
That applied to the “greens” that were being harvested. People visited each other freely and were treated to enjoy the harvest .
They harvested from the bush and shared with each other nature’s gifts: amakhowa, ulude, inyosi, why not! As pointed out before the main feature of harvest was ukuvuna when the crops were reaped from the fields and brought in to the insiza to dry up completely in readiness for ukubhula. Ukubhula applied more to the small cereals, amabele, inyawuthi, uphoko.
Long but stout supple sticks were used for ukubhula (threshing) the izikhwebu, forcing the grain off. The useless tassels were thrown away while the grains were sifted from the chaff by a system of ukwela (winnowing). Winnowed grain was then carried in large baskets to be stored away in granaries.
If the harvest is good the song says, “we shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves”.
Maize may be shelled by hand or threshed with hard sticks (usually with hoe-handles) but this method damages the grains. Measuring the harvest by amasaka or in tones was unknown.
Harvested crops are stored in various ways and places. Every Ndebele home had isiphala (granary), a special hut on a raised platform (to prevent white ants or water in case of a chance flood).
Some grain was stored in an isilulu, a big basket like structure that took in a large amount of grain, two to three bags. There were also izimbiza zamabele which were big earthern pots placed inside at the back of the kitchen-hut.
A special way of storing grain called umncatsha will be discussed later under The Ndebele ways of preserving food.
To be discussed later as part of harvesting is communal joint help, amalima, a system of helping each other as a community to “gather and bring in the sheaves.”