The Sunday News
NAMING gives us the opportunity to document events taking place around us. Through the process, we express our wishes and desires in the future, through the given prophetic names and these may relate to our circumstances or those of named persons.
A name is an identity tag that one normally carries all times.
As we interact with our contemporaries and the broader environment, both terrestrial and celestial, we may earn new names that capture our deeds, be they bad or good.
An iconic warrior is given a parental name but through military exploits and feats, he acquires a name or names in tandem with his military heroic acts.
Our deeds give us names that follow us to our graves.
This is true of human beings and may not be entirely true of stars. In the case of stars, what has been given above may be true and yet there is a lot more to it.
There have been some noted associations and links between appearances of specific stars and events or changes that follow in their wake.
This is another way of saying stars seem to portend coming events. For example, when the Pleiades appear in southern Africa in July, they are a wakeup call for the people who practice agriculture to begin preparations for the coming rains.
Movements and resulting positions of stars in the firmament mark and create time, seasons and ensuing economic, ritual, cultural and social activities.
Accordingly, stars get names that capture events that follow their appearances. Celestial movements and resulting positions in the firmament and in relation to various places on earth are followed by predictable and consistent events.
Human beings learn through association. For example, the Pleiades were accordingly referred to as isilimela and marked changes in both the weather and climate. Shortly, the rains would be expected to begin in earnest.
The constellation known as pleiades is also referred to as the hoeing stars in English. In IsiNdebele the stars aee known as isilimela, a name that insinuates hoeing or ploughing. Association between the appearance of pleiades and ploughing is evident in several southern African languages.
The world of humans, their lived experiences guide them in interpreting the links between celestial movements, the resulting positions in the heavens and concomitant events on earth.
What stars portend may result in them getting names that reflect and express what comes in their wake.
It was this learning through association that was captured during the opening ceremony at Amagugu Inkelo Cultural Expo on 23 September 2022.
A wooden structure in the mode of an Egyptian pyramid was constructed, later torched, and completely burnt into white ash. Africa has used fire to symbolise change where the old state gives way to a new one.
Seven symbolic white balloons had been tied to the representation of the grave of an Egyptian Pharaoh. The cold winter, an approximation of death of life and conservation of energy for use when the environment springs back to life.
Hibernating reptiles abandon their hideouts when temperatures begin to pick up. Trees start budding and flowering. Movement of stars initiates all these changes that mark renewal, regeneration and rebirth.
The number and relative positions of the pleiades constellation to each other led to the naming of the stars — dogs and pigs, izinja lengulube.
The people were projecting their worldly experiences and knowledge on to the heavenly objects. As above, so below! The seven balloons that had been tethered to the tip of the pyramid were released thus symbolically marking their appearance in the firmament.
That brought in its wake a series of events that singly and collectively signified the processes of renewal, regrowth, rebirth and regeneration. The wooden pyramid was consumed by fire that is perceived as a terminator. Fire brings to an end what had been in existence before.
This is comparable to the initiation rites of Xhosa boys. In the winter months, the boys undergo initiation rites where they undergo circumcision and education relating to their history, their culture and future responsibilities.
The rituals mark, symbolise and express passage from one stage, that of childhood, to the next, that of mature and responsible adulthood.
To symbolise that transition temporary huts, the bomas, are torched to mark the termination of an old stage and passage to the next. Fire is used to symbolise the changed stages and resulting statuses of the boys who have become men.
The ritual at Amagugu was meant to be a way of reminding attendees of the forgotten ways of our ancestors where symbolism was used as an educational tool to capture and express deep-seated phenomena and interpretations. Symbolism concretises and facilitates learning, especially where difficult concepts are encountered.
The baritone calls of a ground hornbill shattered the serenity at Amagugu. Its call had been downloaded from the internet.
Africans had their own natural tools for handling weather and seasonal forecasting. This was a huge mass of meteorological arsenal that was at Africa’s disposal.
Today, all this has been reduced to Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) that, in essence, is trashed African knowledge.
Calls of certain birds were known to be associated with certain impending weather patterns. This happens to be the case with calls of ground hornbills, insingizi.
Then came the use of the resurrection plant, fazhamuka/umafavuke. Here is an example where different communities arrived at a common name for the same plant that abounds on rocks of the Matobo Hills.
In winter during the absence of water, the plant looks dead and pale. Winter cannot better be represented and expressed by the behaviour of the resurrection plant.
The torch that had been constructed for the rituals of renewal and regeneration at Amagugu embraced the plant that symbolises the life-death cycle.
After the Covid-19 pandemic, Amagugu is poised for renewal and regeneration.
Icing on the cake of rebirth was provided by two dances that are performed at the Njelele Rain/Fertility Shrine.
The first was iWoso (Amabhiza) followed by iWosana. Their order of presentation serves to immortalise the history and ownership of the rain shrine which used to have a large catchment in the past.
The initiation of songs, dances and associated rain-inducing rituals is ushered by the emergence in July of the pleiades constellation. Thereafter the shrine adepts, amawosana initiate the cleansing rituals (ukuthanyela) that are followed in the month of August by rain-inducing rituals.
The appearance and positioning of stars, in this particular case, the Pleiades constellation, Isilimela, portends and sets in motion events that translate to renewal, regeneration and rebirth and these were captured during Amagugu Inkelo Cultural Expo where Leo Zulukandaba Khumalo was the guest of honour.
Civilised or uncivilised, human beings cannot escape the influence of stars that are several light years away from earth. This was even more so among the ancients of the world regardless of where they were domiciled. Communities, through lived experiences, observed the role of stars in their lives and sometimes elevated them to the level of gods and divinities.
Some stars were keenly awaited in their rhythmic or regular movements and their appearances, monitored by upright stone circles and spiritually endowed individuals, were welcomed with pomp and ceremony. Offerings were given and so were sacrifices and libations.
Remains of bones have alerted archaeologists and historians to the lavish ceremonies that awaited and accompanied the arrival of stars. Movement of celestial and cosmic bodies had a bearing on the welfare and wellbeing of communities in various localities.
The question that we shall deal with later is just how eternal is eternity in as far as stars are concerned? It will be argued that eternity is a relative term premised on the short lifespans of human beings. The lifespans of stars on the other hand are infinite, inestimable and immeasurable and appear to human beings as eternal.