The use of proverbial names among the Xhosa society: socio-cultural approach
Simelane-Kalumba, Phumzile Innocentia
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IsiXhosa is one of the Nguni languages. It falls under the Bantu Languages and is spoken mainly by people living in the South Eastern and Western regions of South Africa. Traditionally, language symbols were frequently used by the Xhosa people to shape their culture as well as to instil values that were highly regarded in their society, such as ubuntu (humanity). Their oral traditions were passed on from generation to generation − through narratives, proverbs, idioms, riddles, songs and praise poems. The elders would name their children using phrases from oral expressions and by doing so, help in the preservation of societal norms and values. IsiXhosa names that are taken from all forms of oral literature are known as proverbial names. During the colonisation of South Africa, the arrival of European settlers with different culture and values rapidly overhauled the Xhosa society and their customs. Given that certain, if not all oral traditions, including that of the traditional naming system, did not meet the approval of the new masters, a new naming system was imposed on the population. However, the end of the apartheid regime in the 1990’s ushered in a new era of indigenous cultural revival and in particular a trend to revert back to traditional isiXhosa naming practices. Conversely, most proverbial names have overtime been detached from the original oral literature and do not necessarily convey the original meaning or message. Therefore, this study undertakes to explore the meanings of isiXhosa proverbial names in relation to isiXhosa culture. It also provides a deeper insight into the origin and conceptualisation of isiXhosa names in relation to isiXhosa traditional oral literature, namely proverbs, idioms, riddles and poetry. A review of historic data related to the subject and a survey was conducted with adult isiXhosa speakers to ascertain whether the meanings of proverbial names are transparent to them. The study shows how naming practices played an important and defining part in the oral history of the Xhosa people. It also served as a system to record the events that happened around the time of birth. The comparison of results from the desk study and the respondents’ interpretations revealed that the meanings of names from oral traditions are inseparable from a socio-cultural matrix.