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Giving Birth in Zulu

Giving birth is beletha in Zulu.  The process is uku-beletha.

It is also the act where the mother carries the baby on her back.  Beletha is an inclusive word that goes beyond the baby’s arrival.  It recognises that the child was safe and warm in the mother’s womb.  It is now in a strange place and proximity to the mother’s body helps its adjustment. 

The mother breastfeeds the child.  She sleeps with the child and carries it on her back.  Therefore, the warmth and security that was in the womb continues.  The child grows up and sleeps with brothers and cousins, a process which teaches it to love and deal with other people besides its parents.  Academics call it socialization.
Traditional societies in Africa and Asia had certain customs about giving birth.  Their sole purpose was to protect the mother and child because without children, there is no family, no race, no nation.  Nobody worried about the husband because he had more than one wife.

The dual meaning of be-le-tha should be seen in that context. The first part is in Belize, but a soft ‘b’.  The second part is pronounced as it let.  The last part as in tally.

U-zo-beletha nini?
When will she give birth?
She will give birth soon.
U-zo-belethe-la esibhedlela.
She will give birth in hospital.
U-zo-belethe-la ekhaya.
She will give birth at home.
U-belethe izolo.
She gave birth yesterday.
U-be-lethe kanzima.
It was a difficult birth.
She has given birth.
Sa-jabula.  Ube-le-thile.
We are happy.  She has given birth.
U-be-lethi-le.  Amawele.
She has given birth.  It’s twins.
u-fe ebeletha.
She died giving birth.
Beletha ingane.
Put the child on your back.
Mama, ngi-belethe.
Mother, please carry me on your back.
U-mama u-be-le-the ingane yakhe.
The mother is carrying her child.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness, a South African novel.


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