Women Amagugu (Precious)
The way Jay-Z, the rap architect loves Blue Ivy Carter is not new. Fathers have loved their baby girls since the beginning of time.
Lost in Translation is the name of a film I think. That is where I find myself right now, trying to explain how amaZulu feel that women are precious.
GUGU is a favourite girl’s name, Gugu the precious one. There is no single word in English that can convey this emotion about baby girls who grow up to be women. Daughters are precious. They are the pride of people called amaZulu. They are their essence.
This was the state of affairs before culture left the countryside where its umbilical cord is buried and went to the city to work for money. Today’s reality is child abuse and the ease in which some men solve family problems by raising their hands on women. Be that as it may, there are millions of men who still remember that women amagugu, they are precious.
Let me borrow some salt from Caiphus Semenya, a South African music producer who is known all over the world. In his song Matswale, a husband goes to his mother-in-law to ask her to speak to her daughter, who refuses to forgive him. This is how men who remember that women are precious solve problems. This also recognises the role of the mother-in-law, something that has been partly degraded by cinema. Some married women in urban areas also regard her as a nuisance. This does not nullify the fact that there are mothers-in-law who are destructive.
Non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) that deal with wife abuse put a premium on counselling, which basically means to talk things over. That is not new. That counselling was done by the family when culture still lived where it was born. There were plenty of counsellors because grandparents lived at home, not in old age homes. There are reasons why some South Africans are warming up to old-age homes. One of them is abuse by grand children who don’t work and demand pension money from their grandmothers.
A man who remembers that women are precious respects his wife’s maiden name, because if it hadn’t been for his in-laws, he wouldn’t have a wife and children. Modern women live in wonderful times where they can identify themselves. We have ‘just my name’ women like Cher, Madonna, Beyonce and women who prefer double-dutch names like Thoko Cele-van der Merwe to show that they are married.
Men who remember always keep their wives’ maiden names alive by calling them Ma-Ngcobo, Ma-Nzuza, Ma-Goba, Ma-Jwara, Ma-Mofokeng, Ma-Zwane. They also use that when they are in a playful mood. A woman’s father-in-law even raises the bar and calls her by her second surname isithakazelo. If her surname is Msimang, he will say, “Thabizolo, ngicel’amanzi,” when he is asking for water. I call it second surname for lack of a better word. I don’t like the existing terms of reference like clan name.
Daughters are so loved it is common for them to be named after the whole family. Baby girls born into the surname Sithole are given the name Zama-Jobe, which means daughter of Sithole people. If their family is Ngcobo, they are named Zama-Nyuswa, daughter of Ngcobo people. If the family name is Cele, they are named Zama-Ndosi, daughter of Cele people. I don’t know naming practices of other groups like amaXhosa, abeSotho etc.
Men who remember that women are precious still swear by their elder sisters, omafungwase. This is normally said in a heated argument. They mean something will never happen. They are even prepared to die.
There are men who still slaughter animals and invite people to celebrate the beauty of their daughters in a ceremony called umemulo. It is loosely called a twenty first birthday party now. In the olden days a man was happy to see that his daughter fended off boys even when she had reached the age where she could choose one.
Her father loved that, because she was just enjoying being his daughter. Umisile in Zulu. Indeed, they are still girls today who are proud of their fathers and are quick to say. “Don’t fool with me. My father is so-and-so.” Umemulo the ceremony has lost that original meaning and unmarried women with children also do it for themselves.
These are a few examples of how women were revered in ancient times. It is also a reminder that despite the wife abuse, child abuse, sex for sale, the majority of men still remember that women amagugu akwaZulu. They are precious.
Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the novel.