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Words of Knowledge - the Ukhamba (Calabash) Metaphor in Southern Africa
The word ukhamba is a Zulu word for a huge clay pot. It is commonly used by all African cultures. In Zulu ukhamba consists of two words: ukukhama (which means to squeeze out or compress out as in milking a cow) + bamba (to hold in place so as to receive that which is squeezed out). This meaning clearly explains the metaphor of thinking hard (ukukhama) and receiving the treasures of thinking into human memory (ukubamba). Therefore ukhamba is a container, a reservoir, and a protector of that which is valuable and good for physical and spiritual nourishment. It is a central piece in the rite of social fellowship. The rite itself is treated with respect and studied deference.
As a spiritual concept ukhamba shares the same status as the female womb, which offers protection, sustenance and nurturing to the unborn child. Its contents have the potential of becoming something more greater than itself, like the unborn child who one day gets birthed and grows into an important leader. It may be likened to the eucharistic rite and those who share the contents of the ukhamba to others do so from a squatting or kneeling position.
In the strict Zulu ritual it is never placed on a table or coffee table. It is placed on the floor on a reed mat. The kneeling position symbolises its potency and strength and two messages are conveyed by the kneeling posture: first it is a sign of respect to the fellowship ritual taking place and secondly it is a sign of strength because kneeling symbolises humility in strength by not assuming a proud upright posture yet conserving one’s energy and reflexes to be used with deliberate control.
The place of the ukhamba is the centre. The gathering may sit is a semi-circle or full circle depending on the number of people present. People sit according to their sex and age group. It is then dispensed by a younger member of the gathering who approaches it kneeling and uses a smaller gourd umancitshana or udiyo (literally a stingy measure) and first tastes off a small amount before giving it over to the gathering. Quaffing and swallowing in one gulp are not encouraged. A simple small sip is preferable and the contents may only be finished by those who are wiser or older.
This tasting off is always done in a kneeling position and those who receive the gourd may drink from it from a kneeling or sitting position. The tasting off is euphemistically called ukukhipha ubuthi (the removal of poison) meaning that there is no malice or any hidden grudge in the ritual. More in the spirit of the participants of the holy eucharist making up with one another before partaking the Lord’s emblems.
It is a social offence to behave recklessly or disrespectfully during social drinking. Good public deportment and less talkativeness are the hallmarks of good breeding and manners. The young person must keep quite and speak only if addressed and listen attentively to the elders.
This ritual combines the four elements of Zulu mythology in a dynamic interactive process.
The reed is a very important emblem of Zulu myths. Zulus and many Africans believe that the first humans emerged from a primordial reed. This is not a literal fact but explains the mutual interdependence of human life and plant life. The hollow reed played a very pivotal role in the myths of Osiris, Moses and the Exodus of Jews from Egypt. The common thread to all myths is the emerging of all players in the stories into a better life. Hence Zulus emerge from the reeds. The Sotho’s do even better to validate this point, because when a child is born a reed is transfixed next the hut where the new born is kept. It is no wonder that Zulus eat from a reed mat (isithebe) , sleep on a reed mat, protect the Queen Mother’s hut with a stockade made of reeds; Swazi and Zulu maidens symbolise their virginity by carrying reeds to the Queen Mother’s hut in ceremony of First Fruits, and any gift is placed on a reed mat on the floor.
The clay pot is made out of earth. The earth symbolising the Eternal Mother and Womb from which all emerge and gets buried in order for others to emerge. The clay pot gives shape to its liquid contents and this means the shaping of all human knowledge by a lived life on earth. There is also another dimension of the earth which Zulus believe is necessary for human life: namely the earth is called umhlaba (literally that which stabs or brings about adversity). This resonates very well with Judeo-Christian concept of the Fallen Nature. Zulus conceive the earth as Umhlaba (the stabber) but are also mindful that healing and recovery is also brought about by herbs (therefore inhlaba (the Aloe plant) and man’s duty to strive against adversity and bring out the best of his ingenuity and creativity.
Water is the base substance which forms part of the contents of ukhamba. In Zulu water is amanzi (literally the heaviest substance in Zulu cosmology). If something is heavy or difficult in Zulu it is said inzima. Like all ancient languages Zulu is amenable to anagramatic analysis. Hence Nzima is the word manzi spelled backwards. This heaviness denoted by Manzi is not about weight but is about the magical cleansing properties of water in purification, preservation. While nzima makes heavy and difficult Manzi is the opposite but equal force which unmakes the heaviness by cleansing And restoring balance. This property of water resonates very well with the Hebraic concept of MEM (the water, the nursemaid, the cosmic mother). This has even prompted other researchers to conclude that Zulu is an ancient language because all ancient human languages denote water by the letter M and Zulu is the only surviving ancient language where the M-sound is preserved as a root sound to denote water.
The Fire is not explicitly seen here because it does not refer to physical Fire or the phlogiston but Fire is seen in the vivifying influence of the social gathering as seen in the sharing of beer and knowledge. This fire hides inside the watery beer but imparts a viva force to the drinkers of the beer. This living force stands for the pioneering spirit of all knowledge as a forward driven advancing and groundbreaking power that consolidates human knowledge and creates possibilities for knowing further and more.
The power of our knowledge systems lies within the power and original meaning of the words within our languages. I have demonstrated how the humble drinking of African beer within a Zulu culture can unlock the formidable latent power of African power. It is this power which resides within our subconscious that needs awakening so that it can help reserve the forgotten teachings of our Ancestors called Ubuntu. Ubuntu is more than humanity it is the sum total of all teachings and concepts that Unkulunkulu (not God), but Unkulunkulu, the first to emerge from the reed, as the First Human Prototype was entrusted with to teach those who follow.
Submitted by Qhakijane on 24 May 2009 - 5:07pm. categories [ ]