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“Basiya namunayi”

“Khupa kwitse”

“Nastya putu putu, nakobola patapata”

After all the other children failed to get the right answer, he asked his colleagues to reward him.


I have given you a cow.

It is symbolic but the way the cow is offered you may take it for reality. The one offered the cow also receives it and polishes her words with imagery and a sense of hyperbole that you may think a real cow has been offered.

“Having given me a cow, I take good care of it until Christmas time. I now slaughter the cow, eat the whole of it and throw bones at you”

“The riddle was, natsya putu putu, nakobola patapata”

“It means that I went on foot and returned with slippers.”

All the other children clap in recognition and appreciation. Another one brings his riddle:

“Natsya ibukeni basalila ingokho iye shikyele shitwela”

(I went for a visit and they slaughtered for me chicken of one foot)



This one was solved quickly; they go on challenging themselves to the riddles in the presence of Kukhu Penina. She was more of an arbitrator whenever an argument could arise when telling these stories, riddles and the folktales.


Riddles, or kiminayi forms a good part of entertainment for the children in the evening as they wait for supper. They learn these riddles from their elder siblings or the parents but most especially the grandmothers. It matters not whether there is a biological relationship; a grandmother is for all, a mother is for all. That is why we all call her kukhu Penina. She is the grandmother of us all and it is very common to find children and some adults gone there to hear about the past, tell a riddle and other folktales.

When she tells the story of Seela and Mwambu she tells it with passion that you could feel the characters, identify with them, choose sides and from amongst you, you select Seela, Mwambu and Wanesilikhe (the monster). Here and there she could throw a riddle and let you struggle in solving it. And when she sang, she could with her gracious voice imitate Seela; the same she could use when imitating Wanesilikhe. But all these stories are told to nurture children, to drive home a piece of advice that would otherwise have been difficult to do.


Penina tells us about the man who used to sit on the cooking stone in the kitchen whenever he bought meat just because he never wanted his wife to eat the meat from the kitchen and yet women must be the first to taste the meat.

“He could sit on the cooking stone as his wife cooked but even if fire reduced, he could never help his wife split the firewood or push the wood into the furnace. One day he woke up and felt very heavy underneath. It is then that he realised that what the legendary holds is true; sitting on a cooking stone causes liffaa” She tells her attentive listeners.

“Kukhu, what happened to him after?” Wolayo asks what all of us are anticipating to hear even without asking.

“Since then whenever he could come to the kitchen, his wife would whistle. Do you know that when you whistle in the presence of a person who has hydrocele, that persons feels pain in his testicles?”

“You should never do it”

“And also, never whistle at night, never mention a snake by its name; when you do the two, you will attract snakes into your house at night”


There are those customs that are defeated with age but some stay for a lifetime; theY say that an owl bleating near one’s house is an indicator of misfortune to befall a family is centuries old and it so happens that it is true. When an owl bleats from near your house, one or more of your households will surely fall sick or a relative is sick if not within the house from somewhere else. And in the extreme that the owl lands on the house and bleats from there, it is a sure death; it may not happen immediately, but in most cases it does, it may also happen a few days after.

Much as they are hated, owls announce sad news and thereafter we chase them with burning wood (shitsikhi).

Another feared bird is “wududu”


They say that “Wududu” meat is poisonous and if mixed with chicken, one can easily identify it because it is sour.


It is exactly three days to the Big day. We are therefore busy preparing alcohol, busela which has fermented by now. Everywhere you pass, people are busy; the men are frying tsimuma and the women are crashing kamamela, grinding it into fine flour ready to steer the alcohol to maturity. This takes three days but on the second day is when the children can taste the alcohol; the one we call “bubwana”, the name suggests that it is for children. On the third day is when the alcohol is mature and ready to serve not to the children but the adults. They say that if one wants to know whether the alcohol is ready or not, you give it to a baby; if it cries after taking, then the alcohol is ready, if the baby doesn’t show any gesture of bitter substance then that alcohol is not ready.

But when the alcohol has not matured by the third day in one home, we approach those whose alcohol has matured well and we mix so that each household can have what to drink on the big day.


The problem is that the big day is coming just a day after Sunday. You wonder whether to use your new cloth for the Sunday service or endure with the old one for the Sunday and keep the other one till Monday. You all decide not to go to Church until tomorrow.

“Basiya Namunayi”

“Khupa kwitse”

“Natsya ibukyeni batsakanila aleyyi”


Till then we shall keep you posted!


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