Rain. Petrichor – my almost most favouritest smell. The road was slushy with red mud; at last we had had proper rain after a very dry winter. My friend Sandy did a half gasp as we negotiated a muddy patch. I’d said I hadn’t driven in mud for ages, and needed a bit of practice ; she thought I would limp through the nasty parts. I didn’t – that’s a recipe for getting stuck., so we did a few skids, and a few bumps, but eventually we got to Nyandeni Great Place, near Libode, in Pondoland, Eastern Cape, South Africa, after having flagged down a few taxis to ask if we were on the right road.
Rain, is regarded as extremely auspicious in Pondo culture. Rain at a wedding is a sign of a marriage being a long and happy one.
Rain at a coronation, is an extremely good sign of the king having a long and good reign.
It rained today, 3 October 2018, at the coronation of Ndamase Ndlovuyezwe Ndamase, as King Ndamase ll of Amapondo ase Nyandeni, Pondoland, so his subjects who came to see the coronation, were very happy, and stepped through and over puddles with smiles.
Pondoland, a region of the former Republic of Transkei, now part of the Eastern Cape, South Africa, stretches along the Wild Coast, from Hluleka south of Port St Johns to the Mtamvuna River in the north, on the border of the Kwa Zulu Natal south coast, and extends 100 – 150km inland. It is divided into Western Pondoland, and Eastern Pondoland. Amapondo ase Nyandeni is part of Western Pondoland, and the king’s seat is at Nyandeni Great Place near Libode, about 75km from Port St Johns.
Great tents were erected to accommodate the thousands of guests who were in attendance. The guest list included South African Government Ministers, South African Kings and Queens from other regions, Bishops and priests, foreign dignitaries from as far away as China, and Kenya, local government officials, and of course, the ordinary, but most important people, the Pondo People.
We, as media, chose seats in the fourth row, in front of the raised dais. It turned out that those seats were reserved for the Royal family, so we moved further along. The seats that were chosen for us, were also in the fourth row; we sat down as instructed. The rows behind this row was full of people from Port St Johns, who were very happy to have us in their group. They were delightful. They sang and chanted their opinions, and had to be the noisiest, happiest group in the audience of several thousand people. A bit later we were also asked to move from those seats to make room for more royal family members. We were very happy to oblige, but our new found friends, told us not to move. They had no intention of moving either, and it turned out that our seats weren’t needed after all.
The Royal Family members were splendidly dressed; the princesses were quite gorgeous. The Pondo people in attendance were dressed in traditional Pondo attire, with magnificent bead work enhancing the clothing.
Of course, the main reason for the day’s celebrations was the ‘crowning’ of King Ndamase ||, who, due to various reasons, had not been able to ascend to the throne on the death of is father, who had died many years before. King Ndamase || was invested as king, when he donned the lion skin of the Amapondo ase Nyandeni Kingdom. ‘Crowning’: the Amapondo kings do not wear crowns as western kings do, they wear a lion skin.
I recognized and greeted many people. Ayanda, who had probably hired out the massive tents for the ceremony, OR Tambo Regional Municipal staff who I meet at tourism get togethers, Roger, representing the South African Defence Force and local regiment; resplendent in his dress uniform, and untitled ordinary men and women who had also travelled up from Port St Johns to be part of this historic occasion.
Speeches were many.
Ululations and singing was plentiful. Traditional dancers performed, including one very unusual dancer, a man, who impersonated a female dancer. He had everybody agog – cross dressing is not common in Pondoland, and especially not at royal functions. Speeches ranged from political wish lists to the reciting of the entire Royal Pondoland family’s genealogy, with great emphasis being made on the great King Faku, the Ndamase family, and the Bokleni family.
The mention of the Bokleni family brought to mind how many royal family members and chiefs’ family members from this area, had died when the SS Mendi was sunk in 1917. The SS Mendi was a troop carrier that sank when another British ship collided with it in the icy English Channel. 646 men perished in this disaster, many were from Pondoland, including those from the Bokleni and Ndamase families.
Speeches included how to get farming up and running in the area again, and how royal families and traditional leaders were going to be asked to give a lot of their unused lands to their subjects and communities, so that they could become self sufficient again. Pondoland was traditionally extensively farmed, but with the South African government creating a welfare state, people no longer had the need to grow their own foods, and the skills and will to farm was lost. Nyandeni Great Place is surrounded by rolling hills, which still have unused terracing clearly visible on old farmland. Getting crops growing on the fertile land will be easy.
The motto of the Nyandeni Kingship says it all: “The Soil is our greatest asset”.
The horrendous unemployment was also mentioned, with figures from Port St Johns being cited: out of a population of 55 000, 53 000 people are unemployed and are surviving on government grants.
The actual investiture of King Ndamase was about to happen. The lion skin which is the king’s symbol of office was duly blessed by the Bishop, and then it was placed over the head and shoulders of King Ndamase ll. His people expressed their pleasure and happiness in song and chants, and the new king signed the necessary documents. More dance and song took place.
He then took his place on the golden throne, and faced his happy subjects.
During the entire ceremony, the king’s wife, now queen, did not take part in any of the ceremony. She sat on her own throne, amongst her family, in the front row of the audience. Only at the end of the ceremony, did she join the king on the raised dais.
Praise singers are normally male, but King Ndamase also had a female praise singer; she was full of whim and vigor about how King Ndamase would make development and job creation happen in the area.
Many a closing thank-you was done, it was now time for a rather late lunch, which we declined, as we had to drive back to Port St Johns in the auspicious, but heavy rain.
Sandy and I got separated in the throngs of people, and I wandered around, for a while trying to find her. It was indeed a privilege to be there, stopping to chat to people, photographing people in their wonderful traditional costumes, just being part of Pondoland. I did laugh at myself though, taking a youngster to task in the melee of people: one young and tall whippersnapper (maybe, being tall, he wasn’t a Pondo), thought himself quite clever by walking past me and saying: ‘Hi Mlungu’. Whatever you may have been told about the use of that word, Mlungu in Pondoland, is generally an insult. Sometimes it isn’t, you have to be au fair with how and when it is used. This young man, wasn’t exactly being insulting, he was being disrespectful, naughty, maybe trying his luck at impressing his friends. Luck wasn’t on his side. I stopped, turned and called him back politely with a smile. He and his four friends came up to me, and I greeted them all, and then asked him if he would talk to his mother like that? His face fell, his friends sniggered at him, and I got many an instant ‘cele xolo’ (I’m sorry) from the young men. The apology was accepted, and we parted. Later when I saw him in the car park, he again greeted me, this time politely, with a sheepish smile. Yes, Umfana – manners maketh a man, I hope you don’t repeat your rudeness to someone else.
On the way home, I took the road to the Mendi memorial – it was newly erected and I hadn’t seen it yet.
The Mendi Memorial, commemorates those brave fighting men who died so far away from home; one of whose family member was made King of Amapondo ase Nyandeni today. May his reign be long and good, and may he remember the words that that were spoken as the ship sank: ‘We are the sons of Africa’, and instill that same sense of pride in his subjects, and build the Kingdom up to be prosperous for all.
Books on the Amapondo People and the Mendi tragedy:
- Mpondoland, The Navigation Of History by Malibongwe L Ngcai
- Faku: Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom by Timothy J Stapleton
- Men of the Mendi by Brenda Shepherd
- Dancing the Death Drill by Fred Khumalo (Historical fiction)
Guests in traditional dress at the Coronation of King Ndamase Ndamase