Two days before I was to leave my village for university; my father called all close family relatives to celebrate his daughter’s matric pass (Grade 12). Most importantly, the event was intended as a sign of gratitude to my ancestors and for requesting for their continued guidance over me. We call this ritual, Umcelo Ndlelo.
My mother prepared Umqombothi (an African beer) for me and my father slaughtered two sheep for my ceremony. I felt important; however, this was still a lot to me, especially after my father had sold 12 sheep for R800 each to families who had sent their young men to initiation school. He wanted to make money for my university registration fee.
I had told him that a single white chicken would be more than enough, because I know how much he loves his livestock- at times it feels like he loves them more than his children. There is nothing in this world that I fear more than returning home from the velds with even just one of my father’s sheep missing, because I know I will not sleep that night from endless interrogation and accusations of carelessness.
Likewise, if a cow misses I know I will not eat that night. Additionally, I would be threatened that if that sheep was caught eating from someone’s farm I will not go to school, because money that was meant to pay for my school fees would now pay the fine.
Nonetheless, this threat was not enough to stop me from abandoning the sheep in the velds and running home to watch my favourite television show. Moreover, my father is very egotistic and a great show off; he refused my chicken proposal and assured me that his daughter only deserves the best.
Exhilarating emotions overwhelmed me in the morning of my departure. However, I was not afraid of the unknown; I had absolutely no idea of what was ahead of me but I was not scared, because I was certain my ancestors will never forsake me in my times of need. If amaNtsundu abomvu are with me who shall dare to contest me. I am unconquerable with their protective hands over my right shoulder.
Little did I know that my own mind would be my greatest enemy, my self-filing prophecy would be my master, and I would be the lap dog of my inferiority complex. Little did I know that my very own consciousness that sustained my spirituality and brought me closer to my ancestors would turn back and question their existence.
Infiltration of my religious doubt
Schools are simple in Transkei; their motto is “test students’ memory and not their intelligence.” We picked this up since Grade 3 when we would literally sing the mathematical times table every morning after assembly. Math tests were easy we could not understand Grade 12 pupils who failed it. If you wrote a test and did not know the answer, do not despair- silently sing the times table from the beginning until you get your answer.
Slowly this method was adapted to every single subject. For example, passing a Technology test was simple. The method is to think of your favourite song; replace its original chorus with the definition of globalization. Then replace the bridge with positive and negative effects of globalisation. This method never failed us until Grade 6. It was only in high school where we started to read with understanding, because we were warned that Grade 12 examinations don’t get marked by our teachers.
Even though we read with understanding we did not necessarily write our own opinions, thoughts or what so ever. Our subject notes were strictly our teachers’ understanding- all we ever did was ‘sit still, face the front and not speak unless spoken too.’ And that was our biggest fear- being asked a question in class. Failure to answer a question resulted to minimally two lashes of a red plastic pipe.
Universities are different- an absolute culture shock! Silence equals stupidity, classes are interactive and engaging, there is freedom of thought, encouragement of creativity and independent thinking, you are required to question theories written by great historical philosophers… and most importantly, they question religion- and in turn make you to question your own religion.
The scientifically proven backward religion
What is African Ancestral Religion to science? Simple, it is non-existent. Ancestors are dead. Our beliefs are superstitious, bogus and scientifically impossible. Our peaceful mountains that surround my village are shadowing us with close-mindedness and thus trapping us into darkness- a barbaric lifestyle. Those who sit by the kraal to study under the moonlight to seek a pass from ooTat’ umkhulu (forefathers) are simply hoping in vain, because such gods do not exist.
It is very hard to fight for your religion when, indeed, you do not have theories to justify its existence nor do you have respected philosophers of your kind who conducted extensive experiments to prove that ancestors do exists. It is very hard to believe in something when everyone around you does not- especially when you grew up associating skin colour with a certain religion. In Transkei everyone is predominately a black Xhosa who performs rituals and respects ancestors. In university you get a black Muslim, a black Hindu and a white Rastafarian.
When faced with such a challenge you have no choice but to eventually give in and assimilate the desired culture. It is ironic, quite frank unethical how those who question your religion never accommodate you nor teach you the ‘right’ religion. They make you doubt your religion and then leave you to fend for yourself. To this day, there is nothing more mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually draining than having to reconstruct a new world view that is in conflict with your belief systems and who you once thought you were. All this puzzling reconstruction is in fear of being ostracized by a society you do not even fit into already- and perhaps will never fit into.
This led to my double consciousness. Who I was at school was not who I was at home. School recess became a curse; a reversed time machine to backwardness. It profoundly frustrated me how my elders, my chief and entire village were so dumb. According to African Tradition old age equals wisdom, but to me old age now meant barbaric. My double consciousness fatigued my soul. As a result I made a goal; during the December holidays I will enlighten my people, show them civilization and a ‘proper’ religion.
By the end of the semester I had obtained 7 A’s, and NMMU’s International Office granted me a bursary to study as an international student in the US; at St Cloud State University. I did not call my family, because such great news need to be told in person- I especially wanted to see my grandmother’s facial expression.
Finally, I was home and my grandmother was there. Immediately after I told her my brilliant news she hurriedly grabbed my hand and dragged me to the kraal to thank my ancestors. At this point my double consciousness had faded- I was a fully-fledged Westerner.
My psychological backlash
As she was singing praise songs, I was busy thinking of polite ways of telling her that livestock lives in a kraal- her husband is no longer amongst us. He was relived off his duties of being a breadwinner, a commander and head of the house the day he passed on. It is scientifically impossible for one to be an ordinary human being and then become a God after death. Quite frank, a next life does not even exist according to science.
But how can I tell her? She is too backward minded and illiterate to even comprehend such enlightening information. Perhaps I should tell my uncle, Notoyi, when he comes home. He used to love to listen to me recite uYehove nguMalusi yam (the Lord is my Shepherd) in English. Maybe he is capable of understanding my knowledge of enlightenment.
Who am I kidding? How can I make someone who was named after witchcraft to believe our religion is bogus, superstitious, un-factual and baseless?
His name, Notoyi, means literally a toy. My grandmother had 11 children, however, today only two are alive; my uncle and my father (Mongezi) who is 25 years my uncle’s senior. My uncle was named Notoyi because my grandmother believed her family was bewitched by a family enemy as every child she gave birth to either disappeared or was murdered. When death occurs sequentially to children in black culture a Tikoloshe is said to be responsible for their death. Therefore, when she was expecting my uncle she was adamant that he too would not live longer than 25 years. Thus, my uncle’s name is a sign of my grandmother’s suffering, hopeless and sorrow at the time.
So, how could I, a so called educated young black possibly convince such a man that ukuloyiwa (bewitchment) and ukuthakathwa (witchcraft) do not exist?
A people of great resistance
My village is called Ross Mission and is situated in the far east of Transkei. It was colonized by British Missionaries who came to enforce Christianity upon my village. Of course, they justified their imperialism as “God’s angels who came to bring ‘light’ to the Dark Continent.”
As scientists justified why African Ancestral Religion is barbaric and baseless through supposed scientific facts and theories; Christians continuously quote biblical scriptures that deem African Ancestral Religion as sinful and against God’s will. A prevalent thesis made by Christians is that our forefathers are burning in hell for eternity- and if we do not correct our ways and live righteously and honour God- we too are going to join our ancestors in hell to burn for eternity.
After great resistance, uprisings and wars; today, my village is divided. A great majority regards misfortunes as a sign of troubled ancestors, the sick seek medical help from Sangomas, a white goat is slaughtered for peace offerings and the distress burn Impepho to seek guidance from ancestors. While a minority believes in the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They attend our historical missionary church to be closer to God.
If my people can retain their customs, religious beliefs and culture at the face of missionaries and the forever changing democratic Republic of South Africa; who am I to question their intelligence and declare them backward?
Indeed, a great majority is illiterate, even the literate seem illiterate at the face of modern technology. For example, my mother a senior government Foundation Phase and Primary School teacher cannot even type on a computer- let alone to switch it on. My father a foreman plumber of the Department of Public Works is a respected man because he has a Standard 7 Certificate (Grade 9) and three children at university.
However, I was not sent to school to undermine my people, culture and forsake my religion. I was not sent to school to enforce a backlash upon myself, culture and people.
I was sent to school to elevate my village from poverty. I was sent to school to be the voice of my misunderstood people.
If our Rainbow Nation gives citizens a right to religion and belief, who then dares to question my religion? Who has the authority to declare my religion backward and thus needs to be updated?
Education should give different viewpoints to help in expanding ones knowledge- it loses its purpose when one starts to question who they are.
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