The Sunday News
INDABA enkulu. The two words may translate to “a big story”. The big story is about the route that King Mzilikazi, founder of the Ndebele nation, took when he left King Shaka’s Zulu kingdom to found his own in what is today south-western Zimbabwe.
Researchers have adequately covered the section of the tumultuous and challenging journey up to the time when King Mzilikazi separated his people into two groups. The one group he himself led with the assistance of Maqhekeni Sithole leader of Igabha and Gwabalanda Mathe who was in charge of Amhlophe.
The second group, under his maternal uncle Khondwane Ndiweni embraced Amakhanda under Dlundluluza Dlodlo and Amanyathi Amnyama angankomo under the leadership of Majijili Gwebu. The separation referred to above at Mkhwahla (Mosega) took place in 1837, in present day Northwestern Province of South Africa. The separation was occasioned by the clash with the Afrikaners under Andries Hendriek Potgieter, uNdaleka, and Piet Uys leaders of the Great Trek initiated in 1835 from the Cape in protest against English rule.
However, the trip from 1837 to settlement in Zimbabwe is not very clear as it was not sufficiently researched upon (see my book on The History of the Makhalima People). However, that has not presented serious challenges as there are other ways of unearthing that part of the migration through Botswana.
All this may seem like some historical rendition pertaining to Ndebele history. It is not. It is just part of indaba enkulu, the big story. It is a story of great significance in that it is a narration of the migration of the Ndebele people from present day KwaZulu Natal (KZN) to found a settlement in present day Zimbabwe. It is a historical rendition by a people who documented their history without recourse to writing.
All orally literate communities devised ways of documenting events taking place around them. These were done in several ways. Oral narratives were one such way. Stories were told about historical events and, that way, these were transmitted to future generations. Adults who took part in the history-making events told these to the younger generation.
Names were another way of documenting and preserving historical information. As I often say, meaningless names were not picked from a basket without justification. The relevant circumstances surrounding the birth of a child dictated what names were given as a way of preserving history but also to tell time.
Apparently, the name Mzilikazi is a short form for uMzilawegazi likaMatshobana. A story is told that Mzilikazi’s father was out on a raid leaving his junior wife Cikose Ndiweni okaNdlovu expecting.
During the raid, Matshobana was injured and bled profusely, in the process leaving behind some trail, umzila, of blood, igazi. From that the name of his son who was born at the time when Matshobana kaMangethe (also known as Zikode) kaNgululu (also known as Mkhatshwa, hence King Mzilikazi’s praises start with “uMkhatshwa wawoZimangele”) was out on a raid. On arrival home, a baby boy had been born and was appropriately named uMzilawegazi likaMatshobana.
There were mischievous writers such as Peter Becker who argued the name Mzilikazi was given by Matshobana who anticipated that his son was going to leave a trail of blood in his creation of the Ndebele nation as he led his people in a migration referred to above.
You wonder just how Matshobana in about 1879 he would have known about the political career of his son. Names were contemporaneous with the times or circumstances of the birth of a baby.
As already alluded to above, indaba enkulu was about accurate historical rendering of King Mzilikazi’s migration. One who would have graduated in her/his spiritual journey, a process known in IsiNdebele as ukuthwasa, did this. At conception, one’s spiritual character was fixed. Endowment was given then.
It would await biological maturity to begin manifesting itself through illness or misfortunes of sorts.
The parents approached traditional healers to seek guidance on the matter.
They sought to find out what lay behind their child’s illness or misfortunes. Guidance would be duly given, leading ultimately to their child being apprenticed to some traditional healer where they underwent some rigorous training in various ways that sought to attain the person’s spiritual maturity.
It was not just a question of time taken undergoing training, but a question of ukuthwasa when the individual would have undergone numerous processes such as body cleansing, ukugeza, eating of ihlambo,(consumption of froth by both hands calculated to enhance one’s spiritual potency) smudging, (ukuthunqisela), undergoing a ritual to enhance their spiritual endowment/spiritual strengthening(ukweshwama).
From time to time, the initiate is tested (ukulijwa) to see if he/she were sufficiently prepared and ready to practice as isangoma or isanuse. An object was chosen and then hidden.
The initiate who has for several months been undergoing a rigorous training was then told about the test. He/she was supposed to identify the object used in the test and beyond that, indicate to all privy to the test, where the object had been concealed and bring it to the spiritual teacher.
Among other lessons that an initiate was introduced to was knowledge of astronomy.
This now sets us on course in what the current articles are about. For success as a traditional healer, one has to have linked with the ancestors who are the sources of ancient knowledge and information. That presupposes the opening and linking up with communicating channels to the spiritual realm and its residents, the spirits.
Here there is a presumed link and connection between the ancestors and knowledge of the stars. This is where astronomy comes in. Thus as we lament the waning knowledge resulting from preoccupation with the darkness of city lights we should know about the stellar constellation known as Orion and the Pleiades, isilimela, to access knowledge resulting from lived experiences and preserved for downward transmission and the benefit of future generations.
The process to test for knowledge or indaba enkulu is initiated by the emergence (interestingly also referred to as ukuthwasa) of Pleiades, isilimela. Essentially, therefore to possess spiritual potency and operate as a traditional healer presupposes having garnered knowledge of the movement and messages contained in the stars.
Pleiades, izingulube lezinja, are important markers of the African New Year in southern Africa. It is a rebirth, and a regeneration in the never-ending cycle of life, of stars and wisdom deriving from them.
To have an intimate knowledge of the stars is to have the ability to link with and connect to the spiritual realm that is perceived as the source and repository of ancient knowledge and information that is availed to future generations along the safe spiritual channels among people availed with spiritual heritage.
When the Pleiades appear in the night sky, it is time to subject the initiates, doctors in training, to the tests for maturity and readiness to access the secrets of the world. It is argued that the stars and indeed other cosmic bodies have been privy to the goings on in the world. They are the natural surveillance satellites for all things happening every time and everywhere.
Are there no artificial satellites that keep an eye on everything we do? Intelligence organisations of this world, whatever the reasons for their undercover work, keep track of what other nations are doing. Only if we knew how to communicate with the natural surveillance systems, would we know all there is to know about friends and foes.
It is only when it is proven beyond doubt that one has made it in terms of linking up and connecting with Source that their ancestral spirit is summoned. In its appearance, it is expected to identify itself and how it is related to the host/medium.
The spirit has to give a very accurate lineage from ancient times to the present. This may not be easy even for those who do history. Africans are worse off now in terms of accessing their history. This has largely been a result of warped, perverted and mutilated perceptions relating to the much-maligned African Spirituality.
To many of us indaba enkulu is unimaginable outside of the historical method and the oral narratives which the likes of historian Dr David Beach argued could not extend beyond three generations.
How wrong! Indaba enkulu stands as testimony to the efficacy of spirituality and related knowledge of astronomy to access historical information and transmit it to the present generation. The stars have seen it all and continue to do so in a timeless world. Time is man’s temporal construct to cope with what is incomprehensible to his limited mental capacity.