By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
ONE of the most unfortunate effects of the impact of Christianity on the African people is on the identification of their children which features Roman, Greek, and/or Hebrew names, and is predominantly and originally a Roman Catholic church baptismal ritual.
Missionaries came to this African region and other parts of the world not only to convert indigenous people to Christianity, but to spread what they termed ‘Christian civilisation’, a reference to a process that denigrated local and indigenous customs, traditions, mores and life styles, replacing them with Western culture in effect.
One such cultural community on which they had a negative effect on its cultural way of naming and honouring their female children were the BaKalanga
They said the tjiKalanga honorific titles lacked culture or moral principles. They then prevailed over those people to abandon the practice, and those people did with the passage of time.
The practice referred to was that when a couple was blessed with a daughter, they would give her a name, that is a personal name such as Ludo, Ngoni, Talubva, Matama, Bokani, Tjeludo, Bayeti, Biti, Tjandapiwa, Pamani, Tawana or some other name associated with some current happening such as Mihodzi (Mishodzi) or Lufu.
The girl would grow up under the close eye of her mother, grandmother(s) and aunts, especially paternal aunts.
On the occasion of her first menstrual period, she would be confined to a hut, and would be accompanied to the river or well for bathing.
All that period would be referred to as ‘ngupe’, a very important stage of her life as she would be sensitised to the fact that she should refrain from having sexual intercourse as that might result in her becoming pregnant.
She was strongly told that her honour and personal respect rested on her virginity, and that without that she would become a more or less unrespectable woman.
In the remote past, some incisions would be made on her waist, to indicate that she could become a mother, but not that she should.
At about the age of 19 or 20 years, some more incisions would be made to indicate that she had become an adult and was a respectable and responsible person.
These set of incisions were called ‘tshulo’ and were cut on the waists of only those girls who were still virgins at that relatively mature age.
The author could not recall the name of the first incisions.
That could be because by 1944, when he was told about this cultural process in the life of Kalanga girls, the incisions had ceased to be a part of the BaKalanga culture for many, many years.
If a couple of years after the ‘tshulo’ incision, the girl was still not married, she was given an honorific title, that is to say, to show and express respect for her by whomever, particularly those younger than she was.
In tjiKalanga culture, as is the case in virtually all Bantu/Vanhu/Bantu/Batho cultures, younger people may not call older people by their childhood names.
So, the girl was given an honorific title to indicate that she was old enough to be respected but was childless.
If she had had a child, she would be called ‘Baka…’ followed by the name of the child (Baka Ludo).
There were four honorific titles, each being given to a grown up girl according to her birth position in the family.
‘Balumbila’ was given to the family’s most senior daughter, and seniority was not determined by age but by the order of priority based on the marital position of the concerned girl’s mother.
The most senior daughter in a polygamous family was thus the first daughter of the most senior wife.
There were many cases in which men’s first wives were not their most senior because they would have married them after they had already been offered much younger girls, or baby-girls, or even as yet unborn babies as their wives.
Such a bride was known as ‘nlongo buta’ (the ‘bu’ is pronounced as in ‘bunhu’ or as in ‘bumbulu’, an egg).
The honorific title for the next senior daughter was ‘Banimbulumbi’; the third daughter’s title was ‘Banipakala’, and the family’s most junior daughter was called ‘Banijikali’.
We should remember, however, that it was very common that all these honorific titles were given to girls in one family even if there were more than four of them (girls) as most young women would get married quite early, and become mothers, in which case they would be called by their first children’s names as has already been stated.
However, should a married woman fail to have a child or children, a daughter of one of her brothers would be offered to her husband to ‘go and give birth for the aunt’ to put it in a literal form.
In such a case, that girl’s first child would be referred to as a child of its biological mother’s aunt who would henceforth be called ‘the mother of Tjidzani’or whatever the child’s name was.
We now come to the fourth and last category of tjiKalanga cultural female titles.
They were not given but were adopted by a woman whose very close relatives had died, leaving her in an extremely vulnerable situation.
An example could be that of a woman whose husband died, followed by a child, say her first-born.
That woman would give herself a title expressing either sorrow or distress or helplessness, wake ezwidumbula.
She would call herself ‘Babhungayigwa’, which means one who is walking aimlessly or purposelessly.
She could also choose another title such as ‘Bahayapalumbe’, which means one who has no place to call her own, or one who is no-one’s responsibility.
In cases where a woman’s two or more children had died, she would call herself ‘Bamemula’ which means one who covets, by implication, other people’s children.
‘Bantuta’ is yet another title and it means one who carries several or many loads or things.
In such a case, it implies one who carries several or many corpses (to bury). There is also another interesting title, ‘Bamalinga’ which means the one who gazes or looks at, by implication, other people who live happier lives.
Other female titles of this category are ‘Bampembelegwa’ which means one for whom groups of people mill around making derisive noise; ‘Bankuwa’ which means one who wails loudly and uncontrollably; ‘Bampedza’ which means one who finishes (by implication) one’s own children.
This title was adopted in cases where there were allegations that one was responsible for her children’s deaths, through witchcraft of course.
‘Bankulugwa’ means one from whom one’s children are plucked like fruits from a tree; ‘Badlanje’ is a zwidumbula title coined after the arrival of the Nguni (Ndebele-speaking) people among the BaKalanga in 1838, hence the Nguni suffix ‘nje’. The title means one who just eats and does not or cannot conceive and have children of her own.
That title occurred in tjiKalanga communities with a relatively heavy siNdebele (language) influence.
It is of great interest that all those titles begin with the prefix ‘Ba’, and in some cases, followed by the interfix ‘ni’. The ‘Ba’ is the equivalent of the Zezuru, Karanga, Korekore (va) or Manyika ‘sa’ as one would say VaNyandoro or in chiChewa baNyirenda.
The next article will be about the tjiKalanga nomenclature concerning the boy-child.
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