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Iqhude, the coming of age of a Ndebele girl

June 29, 2017 8:20 am

Iqhude is a period Ndebele girls engage in when learning about womanhood, it is a coming out ceremony. Different cultures function or practice their traditions in different ways, however, most of these traditions are similar within each African culture.

Ndebele initiates, Gauteng province, South Africa

The Ndebele people

There are three main groups of Ndebele people: The Southern Transvaal Ndebele (now Gauteng and Mpumalanga); the Northern Transvaal Ndebele (now Limpopo Province) around the towns of Mokopane (Potgietersrus) and Polokwane (Pietersburg). The Ndebele people of Zimbabwe, who are called the Matebele. Ndebele people trace their ancestry to the area that is now called KwaZulu-Natal. The isiNdebele language, of which there are variations, is part of the Nguni language group.

Mother daughter relationship

Ndebele girls seem to have a close relationship with their mothers. Within this close relationship, the girl is expected to report everything that happens to her, to her mother. This includes the condition that when she menstruates for the first time she has to inform her, who will inform her father. The mothers and sisters, as well as the elderly women of the closet family are also informed, so that they can also become involved in the related ceremonies.

Variations of iqhude/iqude

However, iqhude varies from area to area and country to country. The influence of time has also changed this custom. The Ndebele people still respect this stage of growth. Some do individual ceremonies and a few still do group ceremonies for initiates. This article will focus more on the individual ceremonies which are now prominent amongst the Ndebele people of southern Africa.

Purpose of iqhude

Learning the secrets of womanhood. These teachings included aspects such as the rules of hygiene and privacy, advice with regard to sexuality, childbirth, married life; and on how to be a good and loving mother and the best honoured wife. Self-respect, self-discipline and submissiveness are highly valued and expected of any Ndebele girl after the initiation. The teachings also include lectures on sexuality and relationships with members of the opposite sex.

Iqhude

Initiation at puberty dominates ritual life in Ndebele society. Girls’ initiation (iqhude/iqude or ukuthombisa) is organised on an individual basis, within the homestead. It entails the isolation of a girl after her second or third menstruation in an existing house in the homestead, which is prepared by her mother. The weeklong period of isolation ends over the weekend, when as many as two hundred relatives, friends, and neighbours attend the coming-out ritual.

The coming of age is completed with the slaughtering of cows and goats, cooking and drinking of traditional beer (unotlabalala), song and dance, and the large-scale presentation of gifts (clothing and toiletries) to the initiate’s mother. In return, the initiate’s mother presents large quantities of bread and jam to attendants. The notion of reciprocity is prominent.

The final event sees female graduates – topless and wearing only colourful beaded hoops stacked on their arms, legs and neck, and stiff board aprons around their waists – hand out small tokens of candies and matchboxes, and perform a dance. During the iqude, women sing, dance, and display traditional costumes as the men remain spatially isolated from the courtyard in front of the homestead.

Clothes

The girls wear a unique traditional outfit before and after the initiation. Initiates wear aprons made of beads in a very special pattern that represents their new status. The apron is known as (utshogolo). Initiates will be now expected to wear beadwork (rholwani) around their necks and (ingolwani) around their waists with strings and beadwork around their upper arms. The outfit is very colourful and is made creatively.

For the southern Ndebele in South Africa, their rites of passage have always been the mechanism used to affirm their identity as a scattered nation. Initiation ceremonies provide the chance of bonding with other AmaNdebele and the celebration of these ceremonies ensure frequent contact with each other.

Author: Refiloe Nthama

Photo credit: The Beret Project

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