Listening to the silent ones

2014-09-25 13:45

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Milisuthando Bongela considers the times her and her family’s present has collided with what came before, and our continuous connections with the past

In the early 1980s, my father, KS Bongela, wrote a novel called The Silent People. The theme of the book, as summarised in the preface, is based on the accepted Xhosa belief in the existence of ancestral spirits that control the lives and destiny of mankind.

Health, intellectual gifts, social eminence and prosperity are all visible signs of the ancestors’ benevolence and generosity towards those who recognise them.

Soon after I blew out the candles on my 11th birthday, a strange thing happened at home. My family lived on a quiet suburban street in East London. On that grey autumn day, swarms of bees congregated at all the entrances of our home.

A medium bunch occupied our gate, a smaller lot occupied the area around the back door and a large, slow-moving mass occupied the area around the front door.

Initially, we thought nothing of it and attributed it to the changing season. On the second day, we tried to Doom them away. But all the insect repellent did was give them stamina and strength.

On the third day, we called exterminators and, as if they knew who was coming, the bees were nowhere to be seen when the men with masks came to do their job. The bees returned to their posts on the fifth day.

My nonplussed father, a traditionalist, decided to enlist the help of our relatives and ixhwele, a traditional healer, who all told him this was a good omen from our ancestors and that we needed to slaughter an animal and brew some beer to heed their call.

It made sense. We had only recently moved into that house, there were two new cars in the garage, my sisters and I were attending new schools and both my parents were doing well in their respective careers.

A beast was sacrificed, blood was spilled and smeared at the entrances to the house and on all the wheels of the cars, and an effervescent and impatient brew was spilled on to the ground for the silent people to drink.

With the dawn of the new day, fed and no longer thirsty, they took back their bees and we continued with our lives.

When we were children, my father, who has since become an ancestor, made sure the elders taught us the meaning of our various family totems, the spirits we call upon when we do what is called ukuzithutha, which literally means “to collect yourself” and figuratively means “to list the names of your clan”.

Some of our clan names are animals and we were taught that when one is visited by these animals in dreams or in waking life, one should not be afraid because they either bring a message of approval or affliction from the other side.

So when the bees returned two weeks ago at my sister’s house, she knew the silent people wanted to be extolled for the birth and wellness of her baby boy. Without question, she did what she needed to do to appease her heritage, and the bees returned to their senders.

But there still remains an inherent fear and truculent attitude towards the pagan or pre-colonial roots of African people.

One has to ask, after all that has happened to the physical properties of our heritage, why so many of us Africans are still so committed to not acknowledging, let alone understanding, the spiritual nature of our vast heritage.

I have a friend who is searching for a spiritual connection.

He is an academic and is generally dismissive of any religious doctrine, but recently found himself going to church to satisfy his thirst for something higher than himself.

During his first church attendance since childhood, he was more interested in the syntax of a problematic sentence in one of the hymns, so he tore the page out and went to a different church the following week, but was bored by how cheerfully tearful the congregation was.

Despite his interest in his ancestral spirituality, he has no idea how to approach his sleeping heritage.

Although he feels like he is, he is not alone.

This belief in something that has come before us, however it manifests in families and cultural groups, is no less significant than the physical properties we inherit such as the earth, our history, language and culture.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.