A NEW phenomenon of celestial magnitude would not pass without ceremonies and rituals of some sort in traditional Africa, which attached much significance in events of cosmic inspiration. The New Lunar Year was no exception. Sadly, I am not sufficiently informed about the inspiration behind the Gregorian calendar of the Western world.
Africa had three calendars, namely the Cosmic Calendar, the Solar Calendar and the Lunar Calendar all of which were inspired by cosmic events. Just as the names of the calendars suggest, they are informed by the celestial bodies.
Heavenly events determine those on Planet Earth. As above, so below. More specifically, it is the movement of cosmic bodies and their positions relative to places on earth that leads to new seasons and the New Year.
Did the ancients have instruments to measure time? The answer is yes, they had. Invariably, it was circles of vertical stones that told time. These served as astronomical calendars or watches.
There were times for various events, which events were attended by ceremonies and rituals. For example, the Stonehenge was one such astronomical calendar that told time and provided the cue to the priests to kick-start requisite rituals. My weekly series in the Sunday News dealt with that astronomical calendar.
I also wrote on the Nabya Playa, a similar astronomical calendar located close to the border between Egypt and the Sudan. Apparently, this particular astronomical calendar predated the Stonehenge, which is estimated to be 5 000 years old. Michael Tellinger, a South African researcher and writer is drawing attention to some ancient settlement in that part of the world.
South Africa’s Adam’s calendar shares many features in common with both the Nabya Playa and Stonehenge. Relevant to our article is the presence of an astronomical calendar that has been named the Adam’s Calendar.
The area of interest is located in the vicinity of Nelspruit, in Mpumalanga Province about 150 kilometres from Maputo on the Mozambican coast. Interesting about this particular astronomical calendar is the fact that it is estimated to be more than 200 000 years old and thus possibly the oldest human settlement on earth.
Also of particular interest to me about this site is the fact that it was here in 1939 that the famous isangoma Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa of “Indaba My Children” fame visited the site as part of his spiritual initiation. That suggests the presence of spiritual power at the site.
Michael Tellinger noted the presence of an Ankh in the mould of the Egyptian ones. Credo Mutwa used to don a necklace with an Ankh and some metallic crescent moon. The two are of some significance in the African spiritual world. A calendar such as Adam’s Calendar would have told the time and the seasons.
In southern Africa the New Year, which marked the onset of the rains in the Akhet Season, commenced in September. The commencement was not some kind of fortuitous event, guesswork or decided upon on the whims of some inebriated priest. The events were informed by events at the cosmic level. The heavens determined what man would, after receiving the cosmic cue, initiate on the Earth’s plane.
The marker of the event was the appearance of the Pleiades stars, which became visible above Orion has left palm. Orion, in the shape of a man, is a constellation in the Milky Way, umthala. The three stars known as ingulube in IsiNdebele are Orion’s belt, occurring on his waist.
These circumpolar stars around the Great Star are seven in number. They are perceived as seven cows with a Bull. The Ndebele people called them isilimela. As the name suggests, their appearance signalled the onset of a new season and a New Year during which the rains came and the relevant ceremonies and rituals were conducted by the rain queens who were the embodiment of the Rain Goddess, later referred to as Mwari, Mwali, uNgwali or Muhali (Mogale).
As a way of marking the onset of the New Year, the rulers asked their followers to gather firewood that was piled up in such a manner that they resembled the design of the Egyptian pyramids. The pile was set alight and that signaled the arrival of the New Year and the new season.
The fire symbolically burnt and brought to a close the old year and the old season. This apparently was the case when male initiates during the rites of passage burnt the bomas in which they lived. That took place when their initiation process ended. An old stage of childhood was terminated while a new one was ushered in. The old was burnt to pave way for the new. Fire is a terminator.
Africans believed rain could be induced to fall. As a result, there were people, the rain queens, manyusa, iwosana, who played the role of ensuring the fertility of the land. The rulers who were regarded as divine or sacred, initiated measures in which the rain queens took a leading role.
Queen Modjadji of the BaLobedu people plays this role every year when the rainmaking ceremony is conducted. The ceremonies were calculated to invoke the astral ancestors, represented by the seven Pleiades stars. These appealed to the Rain Goddess to bring the rains.
Significant at the commencement of the New Year and the new season was planting of the seed. After all this is a new season for the seed to be planted and thus perpetuate the species of both plants and animals. This is the stage where uNomkhubulwane is involved. The people get to the fields and prepare ground by removing tree stumps and other impediments in readiness for putting the seed in the ground.
As may be known, the culmination of the season takes place in the following year when the Festival of the First Fruits is held, and presided over by the King. Animals have been breeding during this season. For example, the Ndebele refer to the month of December as uMpalakazi, the time when impala are dropping their calves.
Similarly, the trees are beginning to develop buds and ultimately flower, ukuqhakaza. In January the grass is so grown, it is covering paths. Hence, the month is known among the Ndebele as uZibandlela, when the grass is covering paths. Ziba means to cover; and indlela is word for path. The name of the month of October is uMfumfu and refers to the budding process.
What is important is to realise that these names underscore the development of seed and the prospect for the perpetuation of the various animal and plant species. In this regard, we should note the name for the first month in the New Year that begins in September, uMpandula. It is the time of change, ukuphendula.
As already pointed out, its change that is initiated at the celestial level. What takes place at that level result in changes at the lower plane, the Earth. The preservation and development of the new seed and the subsequent perpetuation of the animal and plant species characterise the New Year and the new season. Without this critical stage, of the production of seed, the species have no future.
While writing this article cats next door were making high-pitched and piercing noises during mating. I understood the sweet noises as part of the process of developing the seed and ultimately perpetuating the cat species.
In the next article, we shall look at the conservation and protection measures that were embarked upon by African communities to ensure the perpetuation of the animal and plant species.