The Sunday News
NOT so long ago we visited Beitbridge District to capture the voices of the youth. We visited Beitbridge East and the area provided me with an opportunity to reflect on naming, the subject that I am dealing with these days. The language spoken in the area is TshiVenda. However, the principles of naming remain the same as elsewhere where different languages are spoken. While various distinct environmental features have been named, man places himself at the centre and reflects on how the named place either sustains humankind but also the challenges presented by a particular place.
Names are rendered in a particular language. Sometimes the original names used may be supplanted by names given by later arrivals. A given area may have names traceable to more than one language. For example, not very far from Bulawayo there is a river named Umguza. The name is traceable to IsiNdebele. Umguza is a plant that women used as perfume (umqholo), alongside inkiza, ubande and imadlana. Yet in the vicinity of Umguza River, in its upper reaches, there is a stream named Gwabalozwi, probably referring to gwizi gwabaLozwi, a river of the Lozwi people whose language was akin to TjiKalanga. Quite clearly, the name is traceable to the Lozwi language. Indeed, we do know that the Lozwi people used to occupy the area around Bulawayo. I have always said the most powerful in a given society occupy the best land. That was and remains so to this day.
Naming thus becomes a way of documenting, a way of telling history of the succession of occupation, of peoples’ migration. There is a tendency for people to migrate with their names. In Zimbabwe, with regard to evictions, new areas of settlement were given the same names where the new settlers had once lived. Not far from Kezi there is a place named Manyane. When people from that area were evicted to Sear Block (Ward 1 or Silebuho Ward in Matobo District) the new place of settlement was named Manyane, now generally referred to as Sihwaba.
The distribution of related peoples, especially those sharing a common language, may be gleaned from the same names being used. The best known place going by the name Matobo, is one of a stretch of rugged hills found a few kilometres outside Bulawayo in Matabeleland South. The name refers to the wooden gadget that the BaKalanga and BaNyubi used to thresh zembwe (pearl millet) and mapfunde (sorghum). The gadget had two thick and knobby ends, and was called dobo, plural matobo.
In Botswana, not far from Nswazwi Village in Central District there is a place named Matobo. Along the road leading from Gweru to Loreto Mission there is a place called Matobo too. It is unlikely that this was similar to the Manyane case where the same migrating people named the three places. Be that as it may, the three shared a common language in naming the places in their world. The language of the people concerned must have been either the same or belonging to the same language group. We would not be too far off the mark to suggest the people spoke ChiNyai.
Very often an existing name may be altered or corrupted in line with the dictates of the new language. This is very common in Matabeleland where IsiNdebele supplanted earlier languages. Old Lozwi, Kalanga, Tonga and other names were Ndebelised, in some cases. Filabusi is a case in point. One version that was proffered was that the name Filabusi means a place where Busi died, okwafela uBusi. This to me sounds too far off the mark. For starters, the Ndebele people resident in Filabusi today were not in that part of the world. Evictions in the colonial period got them there. There are two words in that name: fila and busi. Both belong to the Nyai/Kalanga group of languages. Fila means to eject a fine spray such as when there is some mist. Busi in TjiKalanga refers to smoke. Busi, mosi are related words, both refer to smoke. Mafungabusi (spewing the smoke) and Mosi-oa-tunya (smoke that thunders) are names that carry the same meaning. As one old man told me several years ago, there was time when the Filabusi Mountain used to spew some mist, as if spraying at those coming close to it. Anyway, the credible interpretation has to come from a language with fila meaning to spray, and busi meaning smoke. The said smoke is, as a matter of fact, water in the form of a fine spray
I have also listened to some attempts at interpreting the meaning of Umzingwane as umuzi kaNgwane. This sounds like overstretching Ndebele imagination. Without doubt, the upper reaches of Umzingwane River were settled by the Ndebele for several reasons among them being cool climate, availability of water sources, good grazing and good soils. A place with such attributes would have attracted some powerful people. Indeed, the ruling Lozwi did occupy the place.
From stories that I have heard, the river and the nearby hills today named Malungwane share the same interpretation of their names. Yes, there were several Ndebele villages in the locality including Intekelo (under Magazi Tshili), Amatshetshe (under Sifo Masuku) and Umzinyathi (under Majijili Gwebu) inter alia. Here is a case where the new arrivals adapted a pre-existing names to suit the dictates of their language. At the same time, there were physical features that were given Ndebele names. A good example is uNyawozibuhlungu, the little stream that one crosses before getting to Esigodini town. It was so named because Ndebele soldiers returning from raids had their feet aching by the time they got to the stream.
Thintitha outside Bulawayo is similarly named. The returning soldiers shook dust off their feet before getting to the royal town, KoBulawayo. Esigodini itself was named by the Ndebele, so was Isikhova Mountain, among others. Existing names that embrace many languages may be a pointer to the level of occupation of a given place by different groups of people: Mulungwana (Lozwi); Essexvale (English) and Esigodini (Ndebele). Memory of occupation lies indelibly etched in the conglomeration of names.
Indeed, there was a village that acquired the name of Isikhova Mountain. One native commissioner Jackson stormed the village in 1896 and accordingly named himself uMatshayisikhova and a school in the Luveve Township, Bulawayo is named after him. Mlungwana is a diminutive of mlungu, a white person. Sometimes the term that is used is muzungu, hence muzungwana in the diminutive. One person posits that there was a white person who lived in the area. Malungwana and Mzingwane are, after all, close to each other. What we need to acknowledge is that there were Moyo people whose section of Moyos is Mzingwane. That could be Ndebelisation of Muzungwana, thus suggesting that this particular group of Moyos was descended from the muzungu/(muzungwana/mzingwane/mlungwana) who must have married into the royal Moyos who had the practice of demanding that children born of their daughters assume their maternal uncles’ totem. They however, were not to assume the royal Dewa/Dhewa, Sahai/Sayi, Bvumavaranda/Vumabalanda appellation. It is the same practice that got the Nguni-derived Bhebhes to become Moyos. The same was the case with the Mangenas, who in some quarters are regarded as Moyos. What is true is that both groups assumed the Moyo totem because they are descended from a royal daughter of the royal Moyos, actually Mambo’s daughter.
Now we turn to our Venda experience. One mountain that is well known in the land of the VhaVenda is Malungudzi. Apparently, the mountain is close to the BaPfumbi people whose chief is Matibi of the Ngwenya/Ngwena totem. We have in the past, written about the succession procedures of this particular group of people who we were told are related to the Mbedzi group. Their language still exists although now living under the shadow of TshiVenda the language of a people who arrived later than the Mbedzi /Ngwenya people. In fact, the BaPfumbi refer to their royalty as Mathibi (‘thi’ pronounced as in thick). Matibi is how the VhaVenda refer to them. The mountain in question is, in their language, Malunguji. Given my curiosity and insatiable quest for knowledge, I sought to know the interpretation of the name of the mountain. My informant identified two words, malungu and ludzi. Malungu he said, citing a man who used to live at Chasvingo, our final destination, refers to beads. I presume he meant glass beads. Ludzi, on the other hand, refers to bark fibre that is threaded through the malungu/beads so that strings of beads may be tied around one’s body: neck, waist, ankles and wrists.
Trade in beads was undertaken with the East Coast where Moors and later the Portuguese traded in that commodity in exchange for gold from the interior. River valleys provided routes, sections of which were navigable, into the interior. Malungudzi is not very far from the Limpopo River, nor is it very far from the Save/Saba River. Both rivers were followed by traders to get to the Indian Ocean ports. It is possible some traders branched off the rivers to get to the mountain where threading was done following acquisition by residents.
I could not help drawing similarities between Malungudzi and a village in Whitewater in the northern part of Matobo District known as Silungudzi. Historically, the latter was an area where the BaNyubi lived. The BaNyubi are said to have come from the Masvingo area and to this day their architecture is closely related to that of the Karanga people of Masvingo. Within the Matobo Hills there is a plant called uluzi which provides exceptionally strong fibre. Who knows, uluzi in IsiNdebele may be a corruption of ludzi, the Nyubi word for fibre. Chaswingo, Masvingo, Luswingo, certainly there is more to names than meets the eye!