Family Life

Everyone is his brother’s keeper. We are obliged to look after each other. Members of the same family, same clan, same tribe have a reciprocal obligation to care for each other. The young look up to their elders for guidance and support, and in return they show respect and deference to the former.

All children belong to families. Orphanages have no place. Street children are a foreign phenomenon. Old age homes are unknown. Ukuzala kukuzolula, meaning that when the parents are no longer able to care for themselves their off-spring looks after them. At the same time the elderly act as nannies to their grand-children and in the process teach them moral values through story-telling and about their family histories.

There are cultural rituals which every individual is required to undergo, each one marking a significant stage in his life. At birth the child’s umbilical cord is buried in a place that indicates the child’s claim to the place where he is born, hence the saying “inkaba yam isekuthini.” Later on a sheep is slaughtered for a ritual called imbeleko. While this signifies the welcoming of the child to the family fold it also serves to provide the mother with a skin by which to strap the baby onto her back. This one is closely followed by the slaughtering of a goat or even an ox in a ritual called ukuqatywa komntwana. Through this ritual the baby is being introduced to his ancestors whose task it is to give him their blessings and to look after him and guide him as he grows.

When a girl reaches the stage of menstruation she is ready to be taught about important aspects of womanhood. She is ready to give birth to children of her own even though she may still be immature. This is where the teachings of the grandmothers and elderly aunts come handy. The appropriate ritual for this stage is intonjane. This is the rite of passage from being a girl into womanhood. Here she is trained on how to be a woman. She is prepared for a life of marriage. She is taught on the responsibilities and rights of being a wife, a mother, a leader.

The conclusion of a marriage involves the families and clans of the prospective couple. It is not a matter for the two individuals alone. The emissaries – oonozakuzaku -from both sides, as well as the cattle presented by the groom’s family to that of the prospective bribe as lobolo form the unbroken tie between the two families and clans. Oonozakuzaku and members of the two families and clans have an interest in the success of the marriage. Each one of the couples has a right to call on them for help when there are problems in the marriage.

With respect to the boys, they too undergo their own form of training to be responsible human beings. They grow up with the understanding that they must look after the family livestock with a view to providing milk and meat for the homestead. They are taught to look after their younger siblings and all vulnerable members of the family and the community.

At an appropriate age boys undergo the rite of passage into manhood. Ideally this rite of passage should take a period of about three months. Here they are trained about being a man. Men are the protectors and defenders of the women folk and vulnerable community members such as the elderly and the disabled. This means that child and women abuse are not to be tolerated. They are taught to be industrious defenders of the tribe and its lands; builders of their families and communities.

Just as birth is a shared occasion for celebration, so is death a shared period for mourning and mutual assistance. Each family member is expected, to the best of his ability, to contribute to burial arrangements. This is an occasion where all involved are expected to speak in subdued tones, to conduct themselves in dignified and solemn ways. The homestead itself is supposed to be daubed in somber colours, usually of grey mud. On the occasion of the burial itself the food to be served is supposed to be a humble fare, lacking in condiments such as salt and other spices.

The burial is followed by a period of mourning, with the family expected to desist from participating in functions celebration and joy. The widow is required to wear clothes which show respect for the dead husband for a period of a year – this is the period after which a ritual is performed to mark the end of mourning. The black weeds worn by widows are themselves a foreign concept introduced by the Christian missionaries. In our case widows should be wearing their normal traditional clothes, except for a black head-dress worn over the eyes.