Little brother returns from the mountain a young man
CLEAR skies make for ideal conditions to prepare a fire. With help from neighbouring women the peeling, chopping and dicing of veggies goes swiftly.
While my mother, our neighbours and I stay about the iziko (fireplace) preparing the day’s feast, my dad is in the kraal with the other elderly men, awaiting the arrival of Tyhila, his youngest son.
After a full month of being an initiate, my little brother, 18 and the youngest of our siblings, is finally being welcomed back to our homestead as an indoda (a man). The first Friday of the new year marks the day of his Umphumo (the coming back ceremony), held at his birth home in Libode.
Family, other relatives and the villagers have come out to celebrate with us. Suddenly a melodic chant in the distance captures everyone’s attention. The women break into a jubilation of ululations, but since my ululating skills are not as polished, I resort to whistles and praises.
With numerable stories of deaths of young initiates from our Pondoland region making headlines, I feel I ought to give praise that my brother has returned safely.
As the self-appointed camera(wo)man I have to run off and follow the song to shoot every minute as the procession of young men makes its way to our homestead. I recognise most of the army of young men from the village from our younger days.
At the sight of the knobkerries each of the men holds high up as they chant Somagwaza (the song of victory), I am reminded of the infamous Marikana massacre. Notwithstanding that, however, something inside me releases an unrefined ululation, refusing to be sad.
Right then, I spot my brother’s bare feet amid the crowd surrounding him, and I scream: "Hoyi-a yabuy’ indodana!” (The young man has come back).
I walk beside the procession, taking pictures galore – I don’t want to miss anything – the stick fighting, the singing, the dancing, the works. I have all these memories on record.
Back home, my mother cannot contain her excitement. She breaks into dance, and later I spot a tear running down her cheek.
The men gather in the kraal for discussions and ceremonial slaughtering. The women are not allowed in for this part of the proceedings.
I see my brother later sitting, still barefoot, on the reed mat in the kraal. His face is covered in a reddish mask, he has a black scarf decorated with a silver safety pin on his head, and he wears a khaki shirt and pants and a tartan blanket over one shoulder.
He holds out a rod to me in greeting, and I respond by taking the other end. He seems quieter than I remember, thinner, and his voice is somewhat deeper. Or have I just missed my little brother?
It is a day of celebration, filled with feasting, drinking and singing. Traditional beer was brewed a week in advance and some commercial liquor is available to quench more expensive thirsts.
Wise words from the elders are shared to welcome the young man to manhood. Looking down modestly, my little brother, now a young man, seems to have taken to heart all the lessons.