As 2023 began, I started to reflect on the year that had passed. Each day at Londolozi had followed a natural rhythm. Waking up to the dawn chorus of francolins and scrub-robins, and going to sleep to the haunting call of a hyena or distant lion roar. Few understand these rhythms better than Londolozi’s elders Freddy Ngobene, Jerry Hambana, Rose Ubisi and Judas Ngomane. They are members of the Shangaan tribe, who have lived in harmony with this land since the late 1800s, and developed a great affinity towards it. So much so that their entire calendar year was based around its natural rhythms.
January – Sunguti
Jerry Hambana describes this as his favourite month. A time when grazing for cattle was plentiful and the marula trees began to bear fruits. These fruits can be used to make jams and beer and, needless to say, for Jerry and most Shangaan people, this is a month of laughter and festivity.
February – N’yenyana
“When the birds begin to breed”
During the month of N’yenyana, most of the migrant birds have returned, and begin to breed. One particular bird species which marks this phenomenon for the elders is the Red-billed Quelea. These highly gregarious birds fly over in their thousands, creating a rolling wave of birds across the landscape. Once they reach their nesting site, the male sings while fluttering his wings in proud demonstration while completing the nest. “The noise wakes us sometimes”, says Rosy.
March – N’yenankulu
“When the chicks grow bigger”
The Quealeas lay their first egg as soon as the nest is able to hold it, and the male continues to build it thereafter. Once hatched after about 10 days, the tiny Quelea chicks start to open their eyes and grow their first feathers. At 20 days old, they begin to fly and are independent. The independence of these chicks marks the month of Nyenankulu.
April and May – Dzivamusoko and Mudyaxihi
“A time of plenty”
Shangaan people have survived for years by practising sustainable horticulture. Freddy describes this as a time for harvest, when the plants grow and when families are able to eat peanuts, pumpkins, green beans, wild raisins and mielie meal (ground corn) all together at this time.
June – Khotavuxika
“The beginning of winter”
Temperatures in the Lowveld typically drop to about 4°C (approximately 40° F) during our winter and the days become shorter. This marks the start of Khotavuxika. Fortunate, one of our staff chefs, describes this as, “a time when we all wear warm clothes, and sit around the fire when we are telling stories.” Storytelling around a fire is an imperative part of the Shangaan culture. Everyone must attend, and it is how elders pass on life lessons to the younger children.
July and August – Mawuwani and Mhawuri
“The windy time”
During these two months, the leaves on most deciduous trees, which have turned yellow and brown, are blown off due to the stronger winds experienced. This is necessary for the trees to begin producing new leaves when spring arrives, a time of new life. For the Shangaan people, when Mawuwana begins, it signifies the time to begin planting new seeds and getting the crops ready for the next season.
September – Ndhzati
“Starting to prepare”
Ndhzati marks a month of preparation for the upcoming farming season. To prevent animals from eating the crops, fences made from thorn branches are constructed around them.
October – Nhlangula
“The time of the Guarri fruit”
‘Nhlanguleni’ is the Shangaan name for the Magic Guarri bush. This tree has several significant cultural uses. The fruits, which ripen during this month, are sweet and relished by people and animals alike. The twigs, once cleaned and chewed, can be used as a toothbrush substitute together with toothpaste made from the ash of a leadwood tree. The Latin name Euclea divinorum is derived from the supposed ability of this tree to help people divine for water. Judas Ngomane is said to be one of the few people able to find underground water using this bush.
November and December – Hukuri and New’ndza mhala
“The month of the impala”
One of the best things about the summertime at Londolozi is the birth of the impala lambs. Starting from mid-November, impala ewes begin to drop their lambs. Within about three weeks, the majority of the lambs have been born. Towards mid-December, most of the wildebeest also drop their calves and the open crests are filled with young impalas, wildebeest and zebras. To the Shangaan people, this marks the end of the year.
I was fascinated by just how closely the Shangaan people lived to nature and how truly dependent on it they were, and still are. Judas summed it up, while Jerry translated;
“We survived together with the natural world, and we knew that if we did not take care of it, there would be nothing for us and our children the next year”.
Therein lies a powerful message for modern society, from the words of an ancient culture.
What a beautiful story about the rhythms of life and nature. Many ancient cultures impart this very same wisdom but it is always good to hear it again. I truly hope we as modern peoples can learn and adopt this wonderful love of nature.
Nice job. Thanks.
Freddy is a natural leader in his community with great wisdom.
The western world in a way is not so in touch with nature and what happens when. It is truly part of the older generation it seems. A skill the young needs to study and part of the Shangaan people.
Shaun your story on the Shangaan people is very interesting and they live so close to nature. They take care of the land and are respectful to nature and the animals. We can learn a lot from them and make sure that there will be enough fruit and vegetables for the next year , and years to come.
Shaun, Thanks for this “story’! We have enjoyed getting to know more about the Shangaan tribe and their history, and learn more on each visit!
If only the “modern world” listened to and read nature’s teachings, much as the Shangaans have learned from and adapted their lives to the lowveld near Mpumalanga. Wonderful post Shaun!
Beautiful! I love Judas’ quote at the end of your post Shawn!
What a great connection they have to the land and to nature – something many of us are missing.
I have learned a few (very few) words in the Shangaan language, and I treasure them in my heart.