Ndebele male rite of passage

By Thomas Sibanda

The puberty rituals for boys were not as friendly as the ukudunduzela ceremony for the girl child. When a boy reached the age of puberty he reported to a male elder in the family about his physical changes and experiences.

The village elders periodically gathered all the boys who had reached puberty stage. They were stripped naked and sent out into the veld. They were not permitted to speak to each other nor to eat anything except pumpkins. They were not even allowed to drink water as well.

After a few days, they were then summoned to the village cattle kraal. There the herbalist, inyanga, would be waiting for them. The inyanga prepared a concoction known as izembe, which he burnt. Thereafter he blew the smoke in each boy’s mouth using a reed.

Afterwards, the initiates were then beaten heavily by older boys with sticks known as uswazi. They were not expected to cry or run away but they had to endure the pain. The one who cried was mocked as igwala, a coward and was disqualified and had to wait for the next cohort.

Those who were successful were congratulated and were now qualified to join the military as carriers of blankets for the soldiers when they went to war. Each graduate was also given a spear and asked to wash it with the blood of his enemies and to kill a lion with it!

A celebration meal full of bitter herbs was prepared by inyanga. The boys were expected to eat with a stick that had small sharp thorns. The inyanga fed them with that stick. Painful as it was, the boys were not supposed to show any resentment, fear of pain or self-pity.

After demonstrating forbearance and strength, the inyanga would then administer a few blows on the initiates with a stick. His uncongratulatory message was, ‘Lokhu sikwenzela ukuba uqine ube yindoda’ translated to ‘We are doing this so that you a strong and become a man.

The initiates were all given gifts by the male relatives like uncles and the grandfathers. Often the gifts were in the form of small stock like sheep and goats and at times cattle. This stock usually became a nucleus for further stock acquisition for the young man.

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