What we have learnt about the Zulu culture and the Zulu History has more often than not been described through the eyes of our former colonial masters, it is time for us to reclaim our heritage and rewrite our histories, the purposes of this blog is to examine the Zulu culture and open up debate and dialogue on its importance and impacts today.
From what we can ascertain we understand that since the Zulu language is a spoken one, it is often expressed in different oral expressive genres. We know that the Zulu history is a series of allegorical stories passed down from generation to generation. At times the function of these stories is such that they are not entirely based on reality as they are based on stories passed down from generation to generation as a series of anecdotes, used to explain heroic deeds that have done by the ancestors of that family.
Izithakazelo eventually became a way in which a clan of people ended up defining themselves; it became a way in which the clan name though eventually dispersed from place to place became amalgamated by means of what we call in isiZulu (verb) ukuthakazela.
Hence when one refers to a person who is of the “Mhlongo” clan he refers to that person as “Njomane”, according to the isithakazelo or praise name of the ancestors of that particular clan.
Women in the praise poetry of the Zulu language
It is an incorrect assumption to say that women were not included from the izithakazelo or izibongo. Usually in the days of the old Zulu order, girls and boys of an age would gather together in what is general called amabutho, something that colonial historians and phd types called “regiments”. These were not regiments as seen in armies but groupings of people, men and women of the same age for a number of various functions in Zulu society at the time an important part of which was the protection of the nation especially by the male population.
Amabutho for men and women meant different things, for the women it was grouping girls of an age together for the purposes of marriage, which is not only an important social activity but also a very important economic activity.
Often when girls of an age would gather together they would give each other praise names or izibongo, describing as with the men, the heroic deeds of a certain girl or an event which happened around a certain individual. There are many instances where women are celebrated in Zulu society and there have been prominent women who are revered highly in Zulu history, an example can be of how old Zulu people refer to the old Zulu kingdom as “elikaMthaniya” who was a great grand parent of the Zulu kings Shaka, Dingane and Mpande the sons of Senzangakhona.
There are also the stories of Nandi and Mkhabayi both of whom have their own izibongo, some of which are used in the praises of the Zulu kings but also in the izithakazelo of the dominant Zulu clan.
Mkhabayi is called “iqili likaHHashaza elayenga umuntu ngendaba” uNandi was then called “uMathanga kawahlangani ahlangana ngokubona indoda”. These two izibongo referred to the characters of the two women as they were both known to be very influential people in the courts of the Kings right until the death of the kingdom in the 1880’s. UMkhabayi was known to be a very cunning individual which is why they call her “iqili likahhashaza” and uNandi was known to be a very short tempered woman who was forever causing stress to Senzangakhona and which is why it is said they had many differences.
With refences to our majesties as Zulu people the mothers of the kings were often given very high prestige within the Zulu society. For instance at times when referring to his majesty King Dinuzulu KaCetshwayo he is called “inkonyana kaMsweli”or “OkaMsweli” who was the wife of Cetshwayo and the mother of Dinuzulu. Cetshwayo himself was called “OkaNgqumbazi”, his mother and a highly respected wife of King Mpande who took her from the Zungu clan, a highly respected Zulu clan even to this day.
In the praises of the present king Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu he is referred as being “Ogijime ngandlelande eya kwadadewabo uNonhlanhla” meaning he who ran by a long path to his sister uNonhlanhla. Until her death, being a woman of great importance in modern day Zulu society. The incident of him running referring to when he went to where Nonhlanhla his sister was living, because he feared for his life.
What must be understood though is that the Zulu culture is by nature patriarchal and therefore does not allow for the outright empowerment of women, however the role played by women in society was understood and they were respected and often revered for those roles. Also if a woman was found to be intelligent and shrewd in her dealings it was not uncommon for her to be put in charge of an ikhanda or ibutho homestead as the matriarch and mother of the warriors gathered there.
A king could not do what they wanted unless they consulted with not only their councillors but also their mothers who were esteemed for having the honour of giving birth to the kings of the nation.
Since languages are now written and memories can be archived and stored so that generations and generations can see the recorded history of any particular family or clan. Izithakazelo have not lost their importance on Zulu people from all walks of life and from many diverse circumstances. Izithakazelo have become a way preserving the Zulu culture through language and with the advent of the written version of the Zulu language it has been able to be dissected and properly analysed which was not something that was highly possible before. So in a way, I could say that the importance of izithakazelo has been enhanced and therefore will continue to be relevant for generations to come.