The Sunday News
In the Ndebele Kingdom serving in the army with distinction opened doors for promotion to join the ruling elite, acquire wealth and marrying within the royal and aristocratic families.
Men born from the ruling elite families enjoyed the privilege of succeeding their fathers as chiefs, in terms of Nguni customs.
Those born from rich families of warriors who possessed a lot of cattle had access to the king and could earn a sit in the royal council, umphakathi.
The only other way a young man could join the ruling elite or lead in the military was by distinguishing himself as loyal, courageous, brave and reliable in defending the king and the nation.
The test that one needed to pass was the lion ibhonga test. Ibhonga is small collection of hair or fur formed in the stomach of a lion, that is occasionally vomited up when it becomes too big. The lion normally vomits it before having a fresh meal.
The lion ibhonga test required that a man retrieves ibhonga that has been vomited by a lion. It was believed that generally before a big meal, a lion vomited the round ball made up of hairs from previously killed and eaten animals.
In most cases the lion would vomit the hairball, dig a shallow hole and then deposit the hairball. It did this close to where it was going to eat its new kill as a pride with other lions. The men had to be close by to observe the lion depositing ibhonga.
It therefore, took men of valour and rare courage to advance towards feeding lions with the aim to retrieve ibhonga from where it was deposited. It was believed that whenever a lion roared before a meal, it was vomiting ibhonga.
This test was done in the company of other soldiers and men who had to be witnesses of the great act of bravery. At times ibhonga had to be retrieved from the lion’s den.
Upon retrieving ibhonga, the man was showered with praises for his courage and valour. Word would soon spread to military leaders and ultimately the king, and the man was positioned for promotion.
Ibhonga was mixed with other traditional medicines to make the man strong. A man who used ibhonga instilled fear and shivers to any person who beheld him. His presence had an aura, awe and carried honour and dignity. When he spoke, he sounded like a roaring lion! (source: @RealMzalaTom)