I grew up on the red, white, and black. Palms thumping solid against leather-clad bibles – worn, dog-eared, yellowed. Hymn vibrations through wooden pews. Altos and sopranos harmonising and punctuated with a steady vibrato. Chords in chorus climbing to God’s ears. I grew up on this and on other things too; impepho choking the night-time air, thick and turbid in our bedrooms. Umhlonyana - a bitter tea for flu, harvested from the backyard amidst the mint, tomato and spinach. Sacrificial slaughter to the ancestors in supplication.
My grandmothers died here – in the house I grew up in. On different walls in separate rooms are photos of oomakhulu. My mother’s mother, umam’Cirha, is pictured ezilalini, framed by the multi-toned soil. A wooden structure, possibly a kraal, peaks in in the background. She has a heavy-set headwrap, shades darker than the corrugated skin of her ground clove face. She’s wearing umbhaco, beads in layers, and colours, and patterns – an exhibition around her neck.
My father’s mother, umam’Khomazi, wrinkles folded in cinnamon, hangs on a different wall. The frame has disembodied her, capturing her from the waste up. The black skirt, the sensible slip-ons, the stockings are implied. But the red jacket, white collar and hat starched to hold its shape are bold within the frame. The skirt, it is written, denotes sin. The belted jacket – the redeeming blood of Christ, the buttonholes His wounds. The white collar, the round hat representing cleansing from sin through His holiness. Cleansing through Christ.
My siblings and I were yielded by parents who straddled Christianity and tradition. My parents housed these ideologies in their bodies as mutually beneficial – as symbiosis. A ceremonial slaughtering in the kraal just weekends after a sermon at church. We bestrode these belief systems while our grandmothers, whom we’d looked after in their last years, now looked on vigilant from their vantage points on the walls. Keeping us, reminding us of housing dichotomy under a roof.