The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu , Sunday Life Reporter
THREE weeks after most of the world had been lit up by fireworks, with couples locking lips as they celebrated the birth of 2022, some would have been shocked when the Chinese began celebrating their own new year.
For some, this celebration, coming at a time when they were feeling the worst symptoms of the dreaded “January disease”, seemed to be several weeks too late.
However, to the Chinese it was all normal. On 22 January, they could now celebrate their new year, befittingly named the Year of the Tiger. It is said that children born in the year ahead will be brave, competitive and strong, just like the jungle predator the 2022 was christened after.
Being a step behind in New Year celebrations Celebrating is nothing odd to the Chinese.
Celebrations begin with the rising of the second new moon after the winter solstice (21 December) and this can occur on any date between 21 January and 20 February. Also known as the Spring Festival, New
Year festivities usher out the old year and are meant to bring luck and prosperity in the new one.
This week at Amagugu International Heritage Centre, under the shadow of the mystic Njelele shrine, historian and cultural guru Pathisa Nyathi will seek to revive a long-lost tradition, one that saw Africans celebrate their new year closely aligned to their own seasons, in the same manner that the Chinese do.
“Before colonisation and the use of the Gregorian calendar in Southern Africa our new year started in September and probably you see quite clearly that a new year has arrived.
Firstly, we are getting into a new year, as temperatures become warmer, flowers are budding, trees are getting new leaves so it’s clearly distinct from the months that are past. So, it clearly is a new year which I don’t see being the same as 1 January. There’s really no difference between January and December because the rains are still falling and the grass is still wet,” Nyathi told Sunday Life in an interview.
Central to this revival of the African new year will be an elaborate ceremony, which will see the construction of a pyramid that will be ignited during the opening ceremony to mark the beginning of the Amagugu Cultural Expo, to be held on 23 and 24 September at the heritage centre in Matobo.
“With our African new year, things are a bit different. The signal came from a constellation of stars known as Pleiades which in isiNdebele we call isilimela and as the name suggests, it heralds the come of the rainy season. It heralds the coming of the new year which brings with it the rains. Sometimes they call those set of stars the hoeing stars, because it is the time when we prepare the ground for ploughing.
Sometimes these stars are called the seven stars because that’s their number. In southern Africa, we used to construct a pyramid out of wood and the apex of that pyramid would be pointed towards a constellation of stars called Orion.
They would then try to burn that pyramid and that is what we are going to try to do, probably for the first time in Zimbabwe. We are going to construct a pyramid and then ignite it,” he said.
No African ceremony, especially one that is done with the intention of soliciting for heavy downpours from the heavens, can be done without song or dance, two aspects that Nyathi said would be an integral part of welcoming the African new year.
“To capture the symbols of these stars, we are going to use seven balloons, because stars are white, representing the seven stars. We are then going to tie the balloons to the apex of the pyramid before cutting them off.
This will be symbolising the arrival of these stars. After that there will be a call of certain birds, particularly the ground hornbill, because that is a bird that is associated with rain. We shall then follow this with two dances, the first one being the hoso (Kalanga) or amabhiza (isiNdebele).
Immediately it will be followed by the hosana or the Njelele type of dance. I attended the ritual and ceremony in Njelele this year including the rain inducing ceremony up the mountain in August. We bring these dances and rituals in because their timing is also influenced by the movement of these celestial bodies. What marks the rainy season is the movement of the sun so that’s what we want to capture through these images,” he said.
However, before these rare rituals that are meant to welcome the new year, Amagugu is set to finally raise its own flag at the centre, something that has not been witnessed in past cultural expos.
“We are going to start with a flag raising ceremony. We have identified the colours of our own flag as Amagugu and we have designed it so on the opening, we shall raise the national flag, accompanied by the singing of the national anthem, followed by the raising of our flag, and while it is raised praises will be narrated.
The flag raising signals the start of activities, including the opening ceremony is meant to capture the movement of these celestial bodies and some of these forgotten ideas that Africa was commemorating which were meant to celebrate the coming of a new year, a new season. This is meant to be a season of hope. If the rains don’t come, tough luck, there’s no life on this earth,” he said.
The centre will also finally name some of its structures, with several high-profile figures set to feature at the unveiling.
“Afterwards there will be naming of structures at Amagugu. The first will be named after King Mzilikazi, the second will be named after King Lobengula, another will be named after Queen Loziba, another will be named after Queen Lozikeyi and then others named after Princess Famona.
The reception will be named after my owner father, Menyezwa Nyathi then the kitchen will be named after my mother, Selina Ndlovu.
There are people who will be unveiling these names. For Lozikeyi Dlodlo, it will be Professor Dlodlo, the VC of NUST. For Loziba, it will be former National Gallery director Voti Thebe and for the Famona structure it will be Chief Nkulumane Masuka.
For King Mzilikazi it will be Methembe Khumalo while for King Lobengula it will be Middard Khumalo. The idea is to have people from that surname, that lineage, opening these places up,” he said.
The last day of the expo is set to feature several events, including the traditional crowd puller, the Braai on the Rocks held on a picturesque mountain-top opposite the majestic Njelele.