Inyangas …

I have been in hibernation. Alas, not in a deep slumber waiting to be awaken by some kiss from Prince Charming. I have been patiently toiling for a future harvest that may or may not reflect my efforts at honest labour.

In between my toiling, I have allowed myself a few distractions. For example, during the famous Grahamstown Arts festival, I saw Marikana—the musical! It was an incredible piece flawed but in one way: it butchered, in my opinion, the inyanga scene.

All parties represented on stage but the inyanga were given voice. The inyanga enters and exits the stage twice to perform unexplained/unexplainable rituals on the miners. In his first entry, he hastingly walks in with a suitcase and opens it up to scatter in a ritualistic manner some “baby powder” on the men. After departing, the induna (aka leader) reminds the men to not have sex…yadi yadi yada! The second time the inyanga enters the stage, he performs a different ritual on the men—ea ho phats’a!

I cannot really translate. However, I can, to a limited extent, explain the personal trauma of that scene. The men just dropped down their pants and undressed—without doctor’s orders! The doctor then went about doing what needed to be done without a single word or musical note coming from his mouth. We, the audience, were literally left with the interpretative burden of dealing with what unfolded in the (caricatured-continue-to-think-whatever-you-like ) scene.

So why am I visiting this now? Well, a few days ago, I learnt that I could watch (on YouTube) the entire Marikana documentary—Miners Shot Down. I was ambivalent about watching. In part, because the idea of dealing with the inyanga bit of the story in addition to the brutality of men being shot down, is something that I find hard to bear.

I nonetheless decided to take the opportunity to watch the documentary while it was being made available for free.

The documentary, unlike the musical, treaded carefully around the inyanga story. This, I greatly appreciated, since a lot of nuance is required. Precisely because we are dealing with the belief system of people, on the one hand, and on the other because the inyangas, being human and all, are not immune from unethical behaviour and corrupt practices.

The latter bit is significant. It explains why we make a distinction between the good and the ‘questionable’. We, for example, call the good ones bongaka-chitja and the not-so-good bongakana-ka-hetla. 

Naturally bongakana-ka-hetla don’t declare themselves as possibly dishonest. They just use dishonesty to prey on others. To me, this is partly the reason I was incensed by how the inyanga scene in the musical was executed. I was denied the opportunity to discern for myself the kind of inyanga that the miners put their faith in, at a time when they could have also benefited from the counsel of ngaka-chitja— a well-rounded healer who knows at times dispensing medication/muthi may not be as effective as dialogue...hoba motse ho hauoa oa morapeli!

But then again, in the case of Marikana, the tragic of the situation has little to do with the distinctions that one may try to make about inyangas—good or bad, the miners were already condemned to death by exploitation or other means.

This in my mind contributes to the reasons we have done so poorly in understanding, for example, that the role of inyangas also has deep spiritual dimensions to it. Some miners in fact use muthi in the same spirit as those who use holy water and adorn rosaries.

As a very small and modest contribution to cultivating some appreciation that we indeed have different kinds of inyangas, below is a brief listing of terms we use to describe inyangas in Sesotho.

Ngaka-chitjaThis translates roughly to a well-rounded doctor. A classic historical example for me is Chief Mohlomo, who when King Moshoeshoe I (then Letlama) asked for medicine for building a formidable nation, he responded with: "Pelo ke setlhare", the heart is medicine (as in love conquers all).
Ngaka-matsetselaHo tsetsela is a form of a longing cry that is somehow subdued. A word like whining could be used but it is not quite accurate. Ngaka-matsetsela can therefore be regarded as a doctor with sufficient expertise to ensure that whatever the patient longs for, they get. These doctors also have the capability to commune with the spirits. Thus, can also be regarded as spiritual doctors.
Ngakana-ka-hetlaNgakana is a diminutive word of ngaka. Ka hetla refers to an act of looking back. In context, ngakana-ka-hetla translates to a fake (or semi-trained) doctor with paranoid tendencies like always looking back.
RamethokhoMethokho more or less translates to (herbal) medicine. ‘Ra-’ is a prefix indicating male. So, ramethokho essentially means medicine man.

15 Days of Amazing

The 15 days of amazing was truly amazing! I enjoyed a lot of paint work on the streets and all the crafts. Much of what I saw affirmed that this continent has a lot of talent. However, there is a need to cultivate innovation. Many of the stalls tended to have very similar art work. For example, if there were, say 50 stalls, then more than half of them would have paintings of women with clay pots on their heads. Believe me, there were lovely! But with some, it felt like one was seeing replicated work that seemed to suggest that the artist had far more potential than reflected on their paintings, if only they were to try something else or dare I say play with more colour!

I also attended a few shows. I went to Sibongile Khumalo with Danilo Perez and attended the gala concert. These were excellent but I am not sure if that had anything to do with the fact that I was with my two beautiful sisters – Shono and Fila. I really had fun! Sibongile is truly captivating and Richard Cock is a wonderful conductor. Part of his charm is that he is comfortable in his own skin, and at his age, he understands that he has very little to lose. Trust me, he is not that old, but frankly: “ho hole mo a tsoang, ho haufi mo a eang”. (Translated with a bit of context: in his journey of life, it is far where he is from and near to where he is heading. In other words, he has run the distance and all that awaits him is ….[hint is from the bible])

In support of Injairu, I went to watch a street performance from a group of disadvantaged youth comprising of street kids. They demonstrated a lot of potential. What I liked the most was their use of rubbish as their metaphor. This was intended to convey the message that what one regards as rubbish to another, it is something more. Part of what they did to convey this message was to tailor their costumes using plastics and all sort of rubbish. They also made musical instruments with it. They used cans and filled 2 litre oros containers with whatever that would produce a rattling sound. Overall, I was really moved. I was reminded of the sesotho saying: “le sehole se setle ho ‘masona”! Translated with a degree of political correctness, this means each child is precious to their mother able bodied or otherwise! In part, I guess this saying came to mind because I realised that the metaphor extended beyond creating environmental awareness to appreciating the humanity of the street kids. I know sometimes it easier to see them as potential thieves, but the truth is that, to someone else, they are precious. Injairu I commend you my sister with your efforts. It is people like you that give humility a new meaning. Keep up the good work and soon I shall be assisting but not on the artistic side…(yes I know that is an obvious ‘duh’ but had to say it nonetheless).

I am trying to keep it short but with so much amazement how can I? I also went to see Judith Sephuma unplugged. Wow, she truly was unplugged! She sang a few of her own songs and songs by other wonderful and gifted artists. Her line up included the following: There’s music in the air; don’t let the sun go down me; wind beneath my wings; cry, smile and dance; etc. I enjoyed every bit of it. There was even a touch of gospel…talk about music being the food for the soul!

As the icing on my cake, I also saw Hugh Masekela and Sibongile Khumalo perform in a musical called: Songs of Migration. It was mind blowing; Hugh not only can he play his trumpet he is still capable of getting right down to the floor when he dances. I wonder how many people beyond 60 can do what he does? Well back to the point, he and Sibongile demostrated that they were multi-talented. They narrated, conducted and sang wonderfully!

This musical is really really worth seeing — all of the people on stage including the band were clearly gifted! I don’t want to deprive anyone the pleasure of enjoying this musical but just so you know what it is about let me offer you a taste… As the name suggests it is about migration. To be exact, songs that capture different scenarios of people who have moved from their native land and the realities of their day to day lives and that of their loved ones left behind. These songs conveyed a number of things using the many languages that South Africa has. For the simple reason that I am not good with languages I didn’t understand many of the songs. However, this does not mean I couldn’t follow! That truly was the beauty of it all! Whatever the language we all as humans share the same emotions. When we are separated from our loved ones be it because of the politics of the day or to seek employment in the city, we worry and experience feeling of longing. Hence, why we may visit our favourite drinking holes (aka shebeens) to numb our pain. Or perhaps sit around and laugh at it all by imitating our so-called bosses or those in our new environment. Yet other times we allow ourselves to be in a complete state of denial. Why? Because it perfectly human for us to want to be in denial. Denial allows us to convince ourselves that we are not the forgotten. Our loved ones will write to us those letters that we so desperately long for. Even if it is obvious that those letters are not forthcoming, denial becomes a companion of hope. And we cling to that hope, on the one hand, because we love them and pray that love will conquer it all. On the other hand, we cling to hope because we are battling with the reality of returning empty handed should things not workout as hoped for. Blah blah blah! I really cannot unpack the whole production but given an opportunity to see it again I will.

Overall, my 15 days of amazing were amazing but I can’t capture it all. Next year I think I will attempt to blog each day. So that I don’t end up lacking the energy to describe wonderful performances like one by the Wits choir – diverse, well conducted, and simply marvellous.

People do visit the Grahamstown arts festival, it is absolutely inspiring to say the least. God willing see you all next year. Much love and peace to all!

Piss elsewhere …


The end of “sekotlo sa monna ke leralla”!

The practice of some men pissing all over has over the years pissed me a lot (pun intended)! To my defense, I suppose it is because I could never comprehend the Sesotho saying: “sekotlo sa monna ke leralla“. This saying is often used to explain why some men can actually piss in public without remorse. Translated, it states: ‘the back of a man’s head is a rock’. Interpreted I believe the saying means, as long as a man is facing away, like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand, he can assume that all that is behind him is non-existent!

Right or wrong about my interpretation, I was delighted to finally see signage that practically said: whether or not as a man you believe, sekotlo sa monna ke leralla, not at/in/on [OUR]* house! You want to piss? Please don’t desecrate our building, piss elsewhere and peace be with you! 

And given the timing of the signage, the enjoy your the 15 days of amazing at the Grahamstown Arts Festival was implied 😉 !

*Personally I have taken God as a partner, so I regard that to also be my house 😉 .