What kind of Ndebele girl doesn’t speak her language?! I get that asked that question a lot by other Ndebele people and before you jump the gun, I am not an oreo so you can put the milk away.
Like most people who grew up and live in cosmopolitan cities, I am culturally mixed. I am both Ndebele and Setswana. But I identify more with my Setswana heritage.
It’s ironic really, both my parents are culturally mixed but it was their paternal heritage that dominated. Not in my case.
The term speaking one’s mother tongue is quite literal for me. I suppose when my parents moved to the city they assimilated to the culture that dominated here – Setswana or rather SePitori (Pretoria Setswana) the urban lingua franca of Pretoria.
My name and surname reflect my mixed heritage and this tends to confuse most people. In fact, if you were to ask me “what am I?” referring to my culture I would without hesitation spew out the words “I am Motswana, who’s Ndebele on paper”.
The way I see it if my grandfathers insisted on teaching their children their heritage, I cannot be blamed if mine did not.
To be fair though, the most famous Ndebele tradition (artwork) is passed on to girls by their respective gender elders. With no mud houses and a late grandmother, I couldn’t exactly expect my father to pass on these traditions to me. And to quote one the most famous Ndebele women Esther Mahlangu “Children are unlikely to practise something they weren’t taught and thus the death of what links us to our heritage.
However, I do ask when certain cultural practices are done forcing my introverted father to pass on knowledge which he himself acknowledged that he failed to do.
The lack of knowledge of my own culture perhaps further intrigues my interest in other cultures as I quite admire those who uphold theirs.
Heritage cannot be assumed to be preserved by mere exposure. Heritage is preserved when it’s purposely communicated and consistently so or its practise runs the risk of being something we only do on special occasions.
Happy heritage day