How one initiation death incident changed my life
Photo credit: Scene from Inxeba
Only cautious men should be involved in the initiation process, for me a cautious man would be someone who doesn’t drink while given a task to look after the initiates.
Inxeba has been trending and everyone is talking about sexuality and same sex relationship that we have seen happening at initiation school between the caregivers. That I will not expand on because I don’t want to spend so much time analysing it. I am a Xhosa lady, I know what to say and when.
However, what bothers me is how they make drinking so fashionable in the initiation school. What you see on Inxeba is exactly what you witness while visiting at the initiation school. Finding caregivers drunk and no one sees anything wrong with that.
Just in the previous initiation season, it was reported that six initiates including a traditional nurse or caregiver died after their initiation school caught fire in Qumbu in the Eastern Cape. I am not saying the caregiver who died was drunk but from my experience, some caregivers lack care and drink at such a critical time.
And to watch Inxeba, a well written and produced movie was a heart-breaking moment and it felt like I am forced to revisit a room I never wanted to open, not in my lifetime.
In a Xhosa culture, a pure little girl is always chosen to cook for the initiates. I have been blessed to be amongst those who were always chosen for the task in my family. I say blessed because you are treated with respect for executing such task and in a Xhosa culture it shows you are an independent and wise girl.
I used to prepare food for the initiates three times a day. I would wake up before 4am to cook the breakfast because at 6am the initiates must have their food with them, I would prepare lunch at 12pm and at 6pm it would be supper.
Once I am done cooking I had to take the food to the initiation school‚ situated on the outskirt of the village and was built of grass and straw. So, in a day I would see my initiates three times.
They were four initiates in total, two were my brothers, the third was my cousin and the fourth was a neighbour but had shared an initiation school with my brothers.
That was a nice experience, I love my culture. But I’ll tell you one thing- there’s nothing more painful than taking food to the initiation school only to find that the initiates are no longer the same number as they were initially.
I remember one morning in the year 2003, I was called from my sleep around 2am by the elders, and I was informed that one of the Abakhwetha(initiates) had passed on.
It was as if I was dreaming, for once I felt broken. That man used to compliment my food whenever he gets a chance, he would eat and leave some food for me- those were my benefits as a good cook that fed them.
That man was my loving brother, when other initiates were smoking he would lend me all of his time and laugh with me. He was a non-smoker, a man full of life. When he went to the initiation school he had finished writing his matric exams, so we were all waiting for the results which were to be released in January.
“Uswelekile uLuvuyo”, the words were uttered and they meant “Luvuyo has passed away”. The least I could do was to nod my head unconsciously. I stood for a while not knowing what to do, I could see myself staring at his face and how “Imbola”- the red soil paste suited his tiny, friendly face.
Luvuyo was no more, yet back at home we were preparing for his outing ceremony called “Umgidi”. I stared a dark cloud on a sunny day, Luvuyo was not sick he was strong as an ox just the night before.
I cried alone in the room, as much as I wanted to know how he died I knew there was no way we would be told how he died, we were young and men don’t give too much details about what happens in the initiation school.
Maybe elders in my family were informed because I overhead my grandmother and her sister whispering what they were apparently told by men from the initiation school.
Luvuyo had complained of some pain, he took a nap and that was the end. He never woke up. What a plain death for a young person who was never reported to be sick, I thought to myself but I had to pretend as if I overheard nothing.
Part of me blamed the traditional nurse or caregiver who was assigned to look after them and I knew how he always bunked sleeping at the initiation school yet he was paid, even when Luvuyo passed away the caregiver was drinking at a ceremony held in another village, but I could not express such views because I was only 11 years.
The preparations for the funeral were in progress meanwhile the preparations for the outing of the other initiates had to be suspended. That incident changed my life, I chose to distance myself from the initiation school since then. Losing my brother like that is a wound that no amount of happiness can heal.
Even though initiation practise is a very sensitive topic in my Xhosa culture, but based on my experience my heart bleeds when people take the matter for granted especially when boys die in illegal schools without parent’s consent.
People need to give respect to initiation practise and those who open illegal schools should be thrown to jail. As for traditional nurses, they must be well chosen and the first requirement should be not to drink.
Siwaphiwe Myataza, a Political Science graduate from the University of the Western Cape. Currently, a content producer at the Media and Writers Firm.