Friday, 23 December 2011

Four Generations of Sibanyoni

Christmas is just about upon us and many people are heading for holidays or heading back home to family from the big cities. Emmelinah, a good friend of mine, needed a lift home to Middleburg about 2 hours drive away after working as a migrant worker in the big city of Johannesburg. The local taxis tend to charged way too much when the commuters arrive with tons of stuff bought over the working year. So naturally I was not doing anything important, offered to take her.

Arriving at her house in Mhluzi, the township just outside Middleburg, we were greeted by Emmi's mother, daughter and two granddaughters. Emmi went straight to her youngest granddaughter Bonani only a few months old whom she has never seen and just held her and smiled. It has been a tough year for Emmi but those who know Emmi, will know that she has this big smile which can light up a room and now holding baby Bonani she simply smiled and smiled and smiled from deep within.

I was fascinated being among four generations of women, so with baby Bonani sleeping I took the opportunity to take a photo of the women. From left to right, Hope (Hilda's daughter), Emmi (Johanna's daughter), Hilda (Emmi's daughter) and the gogo (respectful Zulu way you call an old woman) Johanna.

While driving back to Johannesburg, I was thinking about these four women and how the traditional way of life has changed so much for gogo Johanna to her great granddaughter Hope. Hope of a brighter future for her family. It reminded me of a traditional Zulu story normally told by the old gogos to the great grand children about why people must grow old and die. I cannot do it any justice as you need to tell it in a long interesting story way around the fire teaching the children but here goes.

After God created the all the things in the heaven and earth, he stopped and looked around and was greatly pleased with what He saw. Especially with the first man and woman as they were the most like himself. But after a while God noticed that the man and woman kept getting injured. They would heal but most of the time the injuries left scars. After many years their bodies started looking old and tattered. It was time for new bodies.

So God summoned the chameleon and instructed him to urgently deliver a package to the man and woman. So without delay the chameleon set off to find the man and woman. While searching the earth for the man and woman, chameleon stopped at a large river to rest and quench his thirst.

While resting, the snake happened to come to the river to drink. After greeting each other, chameleon asked the snake if he had seen the man and woman because he had a package to deliver to them from God. Now the snake didn't like God and was bitterly jealous of man and woman so he schemed up a plan to make sure that the package wouldn't get delivered to the man and woman.

Working on the chameleon's good nature, the snake invited chameleon to come to dinner before going on his urgent errant for God. Thinking that there was still plenty of time and not wanting to offend snake, chameleon relented. Snake's wife had cooked up this huge feast of sumptuous food and utshwala (traditional Zulu beer) and was honoured that chameleon could join them. After the feasting and drinking, chameleon eyes began to droop and was soon asleep.

While chameleon slept, snake gently took the package from chameleon and opened it. Snake and his wife were happy to find new skins in the package because when their old skins wore out too quickly from slithering along the ground and now they could change into new skins when theirs got too old.

Now when chameleon woke up and found that he was tricked. The new skins were meant for man and woman but now the snake and his wife had the new skins. Chameleon was very sad that he had let God down and didn't know how to face God again. So he hid away from God by moving slowly in the leaves of the trees and changing colour to camouflage so God would not find him.

And that my friend is why we grow old.

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