By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
IT was a Kalanga tradition to exhibit more happiness at the birth of a boy than at that of a girl.
Three reasons were given for that attitude which was certainly unfair to the girl-child according to modern social culture whose central thrust is on gender equality.
The reasons were, and still are in some BaKalanga communities, that a son would expand the family and the clan; the second was that the boy’s father’s name would live on after his (the father’s) death as it would be perpetuated by the boy; the third was that the village’s continued existence was assured if the family had male rather than female children.
It was important to give a meaningful TjiKalanga name to baby – boys in view of the above fatherly and hereditary roles they were expected to play, particularly if they were the family’s first sons by the senior wives. This is still reflected in names BaKalanga give to their children.
Names carry either messages or comparisons, descriptions, narrations, or sentimental feelings such as sorrow or happiness.
Those that convey messages include such names as Tawana (we have got), Matjiwana (you have got it), both names mean or imply that you have got something you have been wishing for.
That name can be in the passive voice as is the case in Tjawan’wa or Wawan’wa, meaning ‘it has been gotten or he/she has been gotten’. The ‘it’ refers to the baby in the diminutive case like ‘tjawan’wa tjisikana’.
Names that carry comparisons include ‘Tafanana, Sawebo, Namibo, Naswibo’ and others that mean that the baby’s parents are saying ‘we too are like you’ as is the case with all the four names mentioned above.
Before becoming a father, every boy went through a couple of sexual development stages, the first being the cutting of the muscle that joins the underside of the penis, and stretching from near the urinary duct on the glans to the scrotum.
That was done by a minor surgical operation involving a very sharp (pointed) thorn to pierce a hole under that muscle very near the urinary duct, and then putting through that hole a hair from a bull’s tail, and tying it up.
That hair would slowly but painlessly cut through that penis muscle in about three days.
That surgical operation was done about thrice at most. It enabled the penis to grow in length unhindered by that muscle, and to push the urine much further away than if the muscle is left undisturbed.
That surgical operation was done by each boy out there in the bush while herding cattle without the knowledge of his father, but with only that of his peers and involved boys aged between 12 and 15 years.
At about 16 or 17 years, immediately after a boy had become a man in sexual terms, something he would experience through wet dreams, an elderly uncle or brother and the boy himself would go out into the bush and dig some aphrodisiac roots of several very bitter herbs and trees.
The roots would be cleaned properly, and on returning home, the boy would be given some millet (zembwe, inyawuti) to stamp. All that would be done at the men’s fireplace (kulubahhe, edale) in the early evening.
While stamping the millet, the roots would be boiling in a clay pot on the fireplace.
Having stamped the millet, the boy would be ordered to remove the roots from the pot, and to prepare some sadza using the stamped millet in the clay pot.
That sadza was called ‘sinikwa’ and was cooked with the stamped millet, bran and all.
It was very, very bitter. The boy was ordered to eat all of it and without any relish, of course,
After eating the ‘sinikwa’, the boy was ordered to go and break the clay pot away in the bush where women could not access its remnants.
Having eaten ‘sinikwa’, the Kalanga boy would then move on to the marital stage, a socio-cultural process that deserves its own literal narration.
As he became a father, he would name his children at birth. Should there be a death in the family at the time or about the time of a child’s birth, they would name her Mihodzi or Mishodzi (depending on the dialect), a word which means ‘tears’ (mishodzi), a name usually given to a girl.
Descriptive names include ‘Tjakayipa, Gombalume, Nlefu, Ntjenjebvu, Mbulawa or Ntogwa’.
There are, of course, many others under that category. ‘Tjakayipa’ means the ugly one; ‘Gombalume’ means the physically big man with generally a reference to height; ‘Nlefu’ is simply the tall one (murefu in other Shona dialects); Ntjenjebvu means the wise one; Mbulawa means the one who is being killed (obulawayo), and ‘Ntogwa’ implies the one who is being taken.
A boy would grow up using his childhood name until he got married and became a father. At that stage, he would be called by his first born child’s name: Tata Nlefu or Tata Tafanana or Tata Sawebo (Baba waNlefu, Baba waTafanana and so on). If it is a baby-boy, they could call him ‘Lufu’ (rufu), which means death.
Should the first born die, the father would then adopt a mourning title such as ‘Mazwiduma’ which means the one who sends oneself, or ‘Nkuwelegwa’ which means the one around whom people wail and shout as if in derision.
Another such title is ‘Ntumazwikuni’; that is, one who sends sticks, as his children would have died.
Yet another such male title is ‘Mazwilumba’; which means the one who is responsible for oneself, that is who has no children to look after him.
Those were some of the names used by BaKalanga until the advent of Christianity with its Hebraic-Hellenic-Roman-Anglo-Saxon nomenclature.
The tragedy of it all is that we do not know what most of those names mean, to say nothing about their unquestionable irrelevance to every Bantu community.
Names such as Clement, Doris, Revision, Clarkson, Lucas, Dimitrius, Gregory, Parmenus, Levit, Larkson, Saul, Nicholas, Mediatrix or Lunnex, Anne-Marie, Elizabeth, Margaret and a whole lot of others may make sense to those who belong to the various cultures from which they derive, certainly not to an indigenous African of the 21st Century.
It made sense to call oneself or one’s child Claudius when the country was ruled by white people and the national economy was owned and controlled by them. At that unfortunate period, black people provided cheap labour and had to adopt names that were easy for the white employers to pronounce.
It was a part of a socio-cultural process sociologists term ‘protective social docility’. We had to be subsrviant culturally, politically, socially and economically to the dominant system to save ourselves.
That situation has now changed, and we should be proud of being what God created u to be.
We should refuse to be created anew by foreign cultures.
A rapist, homosexual, thief or murderer will not enter God’s Kingdom even if he changed his name from Dokonobe to Maximillian nor shall a human-loving, God-fearing and deeply faithful Dokonobe sent to gehenna just because he is not called Theophilus.
Giving one’s child a European name in today’s African continental cultural environment is to continue the now dead colonial culture that openly despised and oppressed the black African people.
Let us promote ourselves all round.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. firstname.lastname@example.org