APPENDIX II. The Final Rites of Tshikanda

I witnessed the final rituals of tshikanda only once, in September 1957 in the district of Lukau in the country of chief Ne-Thengwe, but information from other sources suggests that what I saw is the pattern of action followed in most parts of Vendaland. As I have said, throughout the initiation the girls are taught songs, dances and milayo every night in the council hut.

At a quarter past five on the afternoon of the last day, some senior women from the district came up to their headman's home, ululating and blowing the phalaphala (a side-blown trumpet made of kudu horn). They were rejoicing, because tshikanda was to be concluded: the Venda often say tshikanda tsho pembela (tshikanda has been danced with joy) when the school is over.

About half past seven, when it was dark, several women assembled in the council hut and talked quietly. After a while a group of women, led by the almost naked novices, came round the hut from the inner courtyard of the homestead, and filed in through the door. They stood close together, each holding the upper arms of the person in front of her, in the style of the domba dance. They shuffled their feet slowly in time to the rhythm of the music that they sang. They came out of the hut, and then returned inside once more.

They sang and danced ndayo until eleven o'clock, when the old lady in charge decided to move out of the hut because of the heat. They had performed chiefly the music of vhusha, including a song which was supposed to make the novices weep, another in which their breasts are 'kneaded', and another in which fat is smeared on their thighs. The girls' knowledge of milayo was also tested, and now and then the old ladies blew the phalaphala kudu horn or played on the drum a characteristic rhythm signifying joy, known midalo ya u pembela (lit. celebrations of dancing for joy). This was usually a sign that another pot of beer had been brought to the lady in charge of the proceedings.

After an hour and a half, most of the women moved back into the council hut with the novices. They stripped them naked, made them cry, smeared them with fat, and then dressed them with musenzhe leaves. All but the last of these rituals are common to vhusha.

At one-thirty-five in the morning, they came out of the hut once more, and each girl had a few musenzhe leaves hanging out from the 'belt' of her public covering. The musenzhe tree (cabbage-tree: Cussonia spicata Thumb.) is noted for its fast growth, and there is a song of vhusha which is also sung at tshikanda: "Why should I grow up? I have grown up already, and musenzhe will not help," they said. They maintained that the leaves were chosen because they resemble the tassels (ma) of the thahu, a formalized fertility doll which is worn by noble novices only after they have attended their puberty school (Stayt 1931:109-10, and van Warmelo 1932:54-55). Commoners were thus being dressed up in the same way as nobles.

The dancing continued outside the council hut. The married spectators and women in charge became more and more excited and hilarious as the novices grew more and more subdued and tired. Whenever senior women danced with the girls the ritual song of tshikanda, the novices who were not dancing had to stand up, with folded arms and bowed heads. One novice had only recently finished her first menses and had joined tshikanda on the final night. She did not know how to do the ndayo dances, and was instructed by the more experienced girls. She always failed to dance properly even the simple movements. Her performance convinced me that girls of the ruling clans could not possibly have learnt the dances satisfactorily if tshikanda had lasted only one night, as reported by Stayt's and van Warmelo's informants.

At half-past four in the morning, the lady in charge ordered everyone into the council hut and insisted that I stayed outside. They sang songs, made a great deal of noise, and hurled 'abuse' at the novices. Amongst other things, the old ladies inspected and discussed the length of the novices' artificially stretched labia minora. At half-past five, when it was light, the novices came out of the hut in file, holding their hand above their heads and singing i a wa (lit. the redness has fallen) (Vhusha Song No. 11). A piece of gourd with amber in it (ludongo lu na mahali ) was then passed along by the novices, each one holding it on her head. The lady in charge said that this was done to teach girls that they should be kind to their elders; but others said that the embers, as in other contexts, referred to the dangers associated with menstruation. I prefer the latter explanation, because in the song refers to the redness of menstrual blood.

After this, the older women danced until just after six o'clock, and the novices sat in a corner of the courtyard. At half-past six, the novices were chased down to the river to wash, preceded by a woman blowing the phalaphala kudu horn. This is called mugidimo (from -gidima = to run), and if the girls do not run fast they are beaten on their backs with sticks. They sang i a wa again, followed by the song Mabwanana o bva mwavhoni (the puppies have come out of their hole) (Vhusha Song No. 13), which refers to the emergence of the 'new-born' initiates. Then they crawled on their sides into the water. They returned at a quarter to eight and sat in the courtyard by the side of a hut, looking tired and haggard. At eight o'clock they began to dance ndayo for a while. One of the girls was told that she was insolent because she did not try hard enough to imitate the motion and sound of the bus of Mr Lukohoto, who runs a bus service in Vendaland.

From nine o'clock until twelve-thirty, everyone dispersed in order to rest and eat the morning meal. Then they all gathered in the headman's public meeting-place (khoro) in the shade of a large tree.

Some of the old women lay down under the tree, and a few dozed off now and then, whilst the initiates danced ndayo under strict supervision. Although this took place in public, there were no men present. After a song referring to a novice praising her relatives, the girls were told to recite praises for their relatives, the girls were told to recite praises for their parents and their husband's people. Then more ndayo were danced until about half-past two, when the novices were called to the council hut to prepare for the drama of Thovhela and Tshishonge, which marked the end of the school.