|Cultural Heritage with Pathisa Nyathi|
|Saturday, 28 July 2012 19:12|
Mlisane’s descendants: Another house of the BabirwaThere are seven of us under a shady and thorny acacia tree. Animated noises from those imbibing beer at nearby bottle stores harass our ears and compete for our attention. We are at Ntabazinduna Township. All the seven of us are of the Nyathi totem.
Besides me, there is Mlindiseli Captain, Sikhumbuzo, Phithiza, Themba, Albert and Evans. I taught Science and SiNdebele to two of the now grown up men at David Livingstone Memorial Secondary School in 1980. I am conducting a group interview on the ongoing history of the Babirwa.
My approach with regard to the Babirwa in Zimbabwe is to deal with the two distinct groups: those who were part of King Mzilikazi’s migrant kingdom. The Babirwa in this group lived not very far from the Khumalos who were at Ngome. In fact, they were part of the Sotho groups that Mzilikazi, then not a king, used to raid. It was during one such raid, the one associated with the famed beast of many colours (ibhidi) that resulted in the Nyathis joining King Mzilikazi’s people.
We saw in earlier chapters two men that were in the group that set off with King Mzilikazi from the very outset. These Nyathis were incorporated into Ndebele society before the migration commenced. The one man that we made mention of was Dontoni whose son was Sihlahla.
We then saw another man who left with the Ndebele. The man was Letsatsi. Their names do point to their Sotho origins. Dontoni was a corruption of Dautuna. Letsatsi is clearly a Sotho name meaning sun. While Dontoni had his name Ndebelised, Letsatsi got an Ndebele name in old age —Bathumbani. In the case of both men their sons had Ndebele names: Sihlahla and Dontoni respectively.
It is this group that we are presently dealing with, the group that got assimilated into Ndebele society at a very early stage. Their names, family praises, however, still point to their Babirwa origins. Having identified the descendants of Letsatsi and Dontoni, I was keen to identify more Nyathis in this group.
Perhaps before we deal with the group at Ntabazinduna we need to point out the other larger group of the Babirwas in Zimbabwe. It is those who got to Zimbabwe before the arrival of the Nguni groups who included those under Kings Mzilikazi Khumalo and Zwangendaba Jele. This is the group found in Gwanda District, the southern part of it. Several of them have migrated to other parts of Zimbabwe as we shall see later when we focus on them.
After about an hour and a half of interviewing the Nyathis at Ntabazinduna, I posed the question: “Who are the other Nyathis outside Ntabazinduna that you are related to?” There was hesitation and later a response in the negative came. They were emphatic they were an isolated group unrelated to other Nyathis.
Further probing ensued and allowed the older members to ponder over the question. It was Mlindiseli Captain who from the blue shouted, “Sihlahla”. That was enough for me to get on to the track and provide the link.
Next it was some memory of Zibomvu, a son of Mgobo, who was reported as from time to time travelling along the rail line to see relatives. The rail line in question is the one from Bulawayo to Harare. The Nyathis in the group did not know where Zibomvu was going to. That was common among the Ndebele men of the time. A man would get his kaross, ixaba, and start on a journey to visit distant relatives.
From earlier installments in this column you would almost guess where Zibomvu was going to. Indeed, the rail line led him to where Sihlahla lived, at Shangani. At the time when I interviewed the descendants of Sihlahla they had indicated that there were some of their relatives at Ntabazinduna. Bigboy Nguye Nyathi the poet from Inyathi had provided this piece of evidence.
So the older members in the Nyathi clan such as Zibomvu knew where their relatives were. They used to visit each other though the distances were vast. Times then changed. Families became more and more nuclear and the clan members ceased to know and visit each other.
Zibomvu’s name is a good example of how naming among Africans was, among other things, a form of documentation. Bomvu means colour red. One could ask what it is that was red. It was the people’s hearts, and the people in question were the Ndebele. Their hearts were sore or broken at the time Mgobo’s wife MaNgwenya gave birth to the baby that was named Zibomvu, izinhliziyo.
Zibomvu was born in the year when King Mzilikazi died. We know that was in 1868. Time was created by events; it was not an independent entity. Actions, events and happenings gave meaning and significance to time. You wonder why there is no hurry in Africa.
Thus to date three components of the Babirwa/Nyathis that came out of KwaZulu-Natal with King Mzilikazi have been identified.
These are the descendants of Bathumbani (Letsatsi), Dontoni (Dautuna) and Mlisane the father of Mgobo who is the ancestor of the Nyathis at Ntabazinduna.
The name Mlisane is also quite clearly a corruption of Moletsane, a common Sotho name. Are these three the only ones in this category? I doubt, research will tell.