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.

Bokholoa Monologue!

Ao chehe …kea bots’aba bokholoa! Ke ne ke lumetse e le kannete hore ha e le ‘na ha ke lekholoa la puo. But to my utter shock and dismay, it does seem like I am a “foreigner” when it comes to language—my mother tongue language. I have lost that easiness of navigation and articulation of what could be expressed even in sleep. Hmmmm… if my understanding is not lacking, then I must belong to a group of those otherised individuals known as “makholoa”—the people, who after being away from their native land for ages, are sometimes laughed at for making incredulous remarks about the changed (or unchanged) landscape of what was once familiar to them at an intimate level.

Lekholoa? ‘Na taoana ea lihlaba le lithaba tsa eena Thesele, ruri ha ke lumele! Ke hlapanya joalo ka majakane hore hona ke toro—toro ea Fako! I am/should be a dual citizen—or, if you prefer, a proper bilingual. So, what went wrong? Ke fihlile joang moo molepellaneng1? Ke bua ka oona molepellane oa ho ts’oana le oo libali-bali, matjelo-tjelo2, a o rehileng “fiscal cliff”. Ke re: ke fihlile joang ho iphumana ke lutse leralla leo ke sitoang e le kannete ho fumana mantsoe ka puo ea ka a ho itoloka ka botebo hore le haeba lebitla le ne le se le ahlame, Seokamela thapeli ea ka a e utloe?

Ha ke na karabo empa le ha ho le joalo e re ke hakanye feela. Morero ha se ho nyela lehala kapa hona ho luka metsi a liliba tse etseng hore kajeno e be ke thope ea ho ts’oarisoa teu3—hoba chehe, ke ithutile “ho lema” fats’eng la bokholoa hore ke tsebe ho ikemela le ho ja ka mofufutso oa phatla ea ka. Potso-kholo ke hore: na ha metso ea puo e fokola, ke tla hola ho le ho kae? Kapa bo-nkhekhe ba fositse ha ba re puo ke mmetla-tsela oa boitsebo? Clearly, this can’t be!

I am here with poor roots stemming from soil fertilised with love. This is the undisputed truth: ‘nete ea ‘mamaruri. Taba-tabelo e kholo ea baholisi ba ka e ne e le hore ke be le lenyora la ho noa selibeng sa thuto: seliba sa maphetlaka libuka oona matjelo-tjelo! I am here because their quest and sacrifice to ensure that I have a bright future came at the expense of compromising my potential to grow in my own language, ergo cultivate a strong sense of identity rooted in my own Sesotho culture.

I wrestle with the language just to be nuaced enough to tell my truth without being insulting or disrespectable. But, I really shouldn’t wrestle with Sesotho: I should be able to use the language in a powerful manner that even allows, if needs be, to address royalty as peers in a formal setting—and, more importantly, get away with it! Invoke a simple idiom like “e khotjoa e le maoto mane”, or daringly declare: “ngoana o nyela kapa ho rotela ‘ma’e a mo pepile; haeba ke fahlile ‘muso ka lehlabathe, thupa shapa fats’e boo!”. As it stands, it seems I can potentially be expressive at this level in English not Sesotho; even though, for reasons I still cannot articulate, I had assumed that I possessed reasonable command of both languages.

Senyesemane se re: “it’s never too late”. So, instead of wasting more precious time thinking up reasons of why you are deficient in Sesotho, taoana ea thaba, namame e ts’ehla, just work hard to increase your proficiency. Hoba ruri ha li na motloha-pele. U noele, u bile u futse lefats’eng la bokholoa, joale e fihle nako ea ho fula hlabeng sa puo ea heno. E fihlile nako ea hore: “khomo boela haeno o holile”!

  1. steep downward hill
  2. Batho ba bohlale –the clever people
  3. “handle” of ox drawn plough

Translation Woes …

Recently I was engaged in a brief translation task aimed, in part, at promoting multilingualism in our society. On the surface—despite the embedded politics, which I shall attempt to avoid—the task seemed easy. There was but a single expression to translate: “a proud service co-creator”!

The expression in question is the new tag line for the project I research under: Siyakhula Living Lab project. Living Labs operate under the philosophy that to create (or build) meaningful services or products, end-users have to be involved actively as innovators together with those who will provide or develop the services or products. To highlight this partnership between users and providers, words like “co-creator” and “co-innovator” are typically used.

Using the above as context for translating the tag-line into Sesotho, I crossly underestimated the dynamics of the language. I attempted to create a more or less direct translation: “moetsi-mmoho ea motlotlo oa lits’ebeletso”. This translation is not flawed, but from what I gathered, “moetsi” as a representative word for creator, brought a degree of confusion. Of course, I found this a bit surprising given we do have idioms in the day-to-day Sesotho that suggest “moetsi” is a familiar word that can be understood in context; the most popular idiom being “moetsuoa ha a lebale” (the victim never forgets) and by implication “moetsi oa lebala” (the perpetrator forgets).

As always, I took the criticism in my stride. And through the help of those who speak the language, I began to interrogate how the simple idea of working in partnership is communicated in Sesotho, particularly in a context of trying to emphasise the individual. As I re-engaged myself to the task, one thing was clear: anything with “ts’oarana ka matsoho” (holding hands) would be a lazy translation—precisely because the expression is popularly used and I didn’t want to take part in reinforcing a prevailing and very misguided idea that our African languages lack the capacity to serve the knowledge society.

Driven by my ‘politics’ and, of course, the desire to see the task to completion, I generated a number of translations. Ironically, many of these translations stemmed from attempting to run away from the holding hands metaphor. Some were literally centred on how the word ‘hold’ is used to convey different kinds of participation in collaborative work.

As an individual, I can communicate, in at least three ways, my role in collaborative work: 1) “ke a ts’oarisa”, 2) “ke a ts’oarisana” or 3) “ke a ts’oarisoa”. The first two expressions are similar in that I would (supposedly) be defining my role as one of helping (lending a hand), but in a manner that may suggest differing levels of commitment. In the third expression while the idea of teamwork is not lost, I am not necessarily being coy about my role and that of others in performing the task at hand: I am the lead and others are the supporting act. If you detect a hint of militancy, then it means you grasp the depth of the language; you appreciate that such an assertion is occasioned by circumstances that deviate from the norm—circumstances that warrant clarity on whether we are all in this (work) together as equals—“re Makaota, mmoho ts’ebetsong na?

Again, I should stress that Living Labs operate under the ethos of ‘perfect’ partnership. That some animals may be more equal than others is a taboo.

With the above in mind, the following translation won hands down (or should I say hands out of the picture): “Tjaka ea tlama-thata kahong ea lits’ebeletso”!

In my (not very humble) opinion, this translation brings some oomph to the tag-line. “Tjaka” (used often as a synonym for “seithati”) embeds pride at a level that is dependent on how one chooses to interpret the word: epitome, role model, heroine or hero are a few possible candidates. The translation then becomes: A role model for building services in tight-unison!

Sesotho the language

The language is deep and very artistic. This is a fact and perhaps the only fact I know about Sesotho as a language. In recent years I have come to know that the dynamics of the language can be very confusing. For example, growing up, the plural of teachers was ‘matichere’ and not ‘litichere’ (or is it the other way round?)

For purposes of this post, I will not venture in what is confusing to me. I shall instead discuss the artistic depth of the Sesotho language. To me, Sesotho seems to be layered, with some layers only accessible to people I would label as “submarines”. At the layers of submarines, the language is rich but far from direct. It is filled with insinuations and innuendos that are presented in a very subtle and delicate manner: to give the speaker total deniability (if needs be).

So what makes the language rich at those layers? In my opinion, it is a combination use of riddles, deliberate distortions of words, and, of course, the manner of articulation. And the latter is important! I have seen individuals prepare to fight to the death (‘ho loana ea khumamela’) for being called ‘ngoetsi/makoti’ (daughter-in-law). This, at a superficial level, may seem strange unless one recognises that the reaction was due to an invocation of a deeper meaning to the word; the word is a distortion much like ‘mokhoenyana’ (son-in-law) is, but I shan’t elaborate on them. Instead I will choose a neutral word like ‘majakane’.

Majakane is a distortion of the expression ‘ba ja, ba ikana’ (they eat and vow). This word to many (land-dwellers) is accepted as an alternative word for referring to the elite, the affluent, etc. To an extend, in the context of today’s world, the interpretation is valid. However, the historical origins of the word suggest to me that the word was “coined up” to jeer at the Christians (after Christianity was introduced). The reason for this was that the ‘newly converted’, aside from publicly making a vow before eating to live by Christ loving ways, they were overly critical of the non-converts. In their interactions with them, there was no element of humility— since they thought they were better, as they had seen the light! In a nutshell, the word originated as a response to this behaviour and for this reason, it was deliberately loaded, with what I term, the double ‘dees’: disdain and defiance. Defiance because if the utterers were overt about their disdain, they would have suffered the fully wrath of the law, since Moshoeshoe believed in peace. So, by using ‘majakane’, the burden of the proof lied with majakane to convince anyone that the reference is pregnant with any other meaning, other than ‘they pray before eating’.

With the above, I hope I have illustrated my point. Sesotho is a language of depth and one has to always establish whether they are on land or sea. If at sea, above or under? Whatever the case, I think one is better assuming he/she is deep under swimming with the sharks. But this becomes a very bad and dangerous habit….ask me I know!