Things ain’t what they used to be: Zulu calendar inaccurate thanks to climate change?

2011-11-28 00:00

CLIMATE change could be making the Zulu names for the months less accurate than they were many years ago.

Zulu months are dated from the appearance of the new moon. Consequently the months are 28 days long and there are 13 months in the year. The Zulu names of the months are usually derived from phenomena occurring in the natural world.

We are currently in the month of uZibandlela that began with the new moon on November 26.

The name is derived from the verb ziba, which means to pretend, deceive or mislead, and the noun indlela, referring to a path or pathway.

uZibandlela has been transla­ted as “what pretends there is no road” and it is thought the name of the month refers to the covering over of roads and paths at this time of the year by grasses and weeds stimulated by the summer rains.

But global warming and resultant climate change looks to be rendering such names inaccurate. Take the month of uNhlaba that occurs in April/May and which takes its name from the noun inhlaba, the Zulu name for the aloe that is then in flower. Or was. These now flower later, often in June and July.

Adrian Koopman in his book Zulu Names comments, “It is possible that global warming or some kind of climatic change has affected the flowering period of aloe plants.”

Koopman notes that the month known as uMbaso, occurring in early March and said to refer to the onset of cold winter winds, also “suggests that winter now occurs a month or two later than it did in earlier years”.

Or take the first month of the Zulu year, which begins with the new moon of July, uNcwaba, which means glossy green or attractive, probably because of the new grasses that appear.

An alternative name for the month is uNhloyile, the Zulu name for the yellow-billed kite that returns from wintering up north during this month. Or does it? These days it more usually arrives in early August.

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