The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #79655   Message #2033256
Posted By: GUEST,A Xhosa Boy- This is LONG..Patience please
23-Apr-07 - 06:32 AM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: Bantu Original Words to 'Somagwaza'
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Bantu Original Words to 'Somagwaza'
Hey all, I had a good laugh reading all these postings. I laughed because of the different directions the discussion goes. Anyway, here is my contribution: Somagwaza is a Xhosa song sung mostly by men when the initiates go and/or return from the mountains.[Mountains is now a generic term referring to the place where boys stay during their initiation period, ie their rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. In some parts of South Africa, the 'monuntain' can even be a few meters from the family's homstead].Right now nothing is necessarily literal about the mountain, even though in some parts, people can still have the boys secluded. Traditionally, initiates are not to freely roam and be seen by people, more so women. In the 'mountain' far away from people, that they can do.

The lyrics are:

Leader/Call: Somagwaza ndizakugwaza ngalo mkhonto,
Response: Yho/(He) ha,
Leader: Iyo-ho-ho
Response: Yho/(He) ha...

Roughly, this means Somagwaza (I am not sure who this is, but it is a referent to a person)I will stab/cut you with the spear. The rest of the lyrics are more of exclamations.

Within the context of the ritual in which this song is sung, it might be the surgeon (usually the old man who performs the circumcision). Or it could be the surgeon referring to the boys on whom the cut will be performed. (the latter makes more sense).

The complexity in finding clear meaning in Xhosa songs at times lies in the multiplicity of 'speakers' within a song or even a single line. At times one has to really have a good sense of what might be going on to get the subtlety (if not untangle the confusion) in meaning.

So, as Peete Seeger wrote this song, the rhythm is competely incorrect as it does not fit the text that would otherwise be used with this song... And my suspicion is that the people from whose book he got the song, they did not speak the language themselves. As it stands, the Seeger version sound to me like singing Silent Night or the happy birthday tune, forget both the tune and the lyrics and then just figure out how you get to the end, more so when you do not even know the language! So, imagine the shock we as English speakers might get when we get such versions of the two songs.

Usually, the song is slow and sung solemnly. Rhythmically, it is more like most songs sung by women in their dance called umngqungqo. (Google up Dave Dargie's book on Xhosa music to get what all this is). What is not clear to me is the recurrence of the root word 'gwaza' which is a verb meaning 'stab/cut' in other 'Bantu' languages such as KiSwahili. I cannot comment on what 'wena gwaza' means. In Xhosa it would literally mean (wena-you, gwaza-stab). Without understanding the full context, this does not make much sense. Maybe the workd was about cutting something?

I now shift the discussion to the offensiveness of the word Bantu. Someone commented about Bantu being a plural for people. Yes, in Xhosa and Zulu, possibly Swazi and Ndebele, it is that. However, the B is not sounded in the same way as the 'b' in a ball. I have no other language equivalent to make this clear. Why linguists decided to call a large group of people in Central and Southern Africa 'Bantu', while all of humanity is literally 'abantu-human beings' is not clear. Yes, there is a cosmological connection to the idea that the geneology of (at least Xhosa people) is linked to a first man, a father of most nations called Ntu (that beiing the root word in the noun 'abantu'). Perhaps linguists might know this better.

However, the South African apartheid regime used the word Bantu in ways that were downright derogatory for all the Black people. The various ethnicities ceased to exist as various linguistic referents and were collectiviely called Bantu. If you listen to Hendrik Verwoed's speech (pobably available on the net) on his justification for apartheid, you hear the word Bantu repeated so many times that it assumes decidedly problematic connotations. I think the video Amandla! Revolution in Four Part Harmony also carries a clip where the word. In fact, I think the same speech is shown there!!

I am curious to read other reactions to this posting. Please bear in mind, in 2007, a lot of 'expert knowledge' from the scholars of the past century on African culture has come under close scrutiny. Therefore, their 'expert knowledge' is faulted and strongly criticised by postcolonial and postmodern scholars...