Liturgical Means of Learning: uKhuluma Nazo

The language of the people in the village was different, they viewed the world of gifts from a specific set of hermeneutic lens. I recall them saying: ‘Lensizwa yasixexebula isiginci engathi yasilalela emathuneni.’ They were obviously referring to another register of understanding knowledge dissemination that involves metaphysical passages.

From a young age, we got acquainted with very particular and (in retrospect) alternative and unique processes of ‘learning’ a musical instrument. We were told that all great musicians, magicians and artists were special beings, whom were chosen by the ancestors that had possessed similar talents and gifts before them. We were also informed that, though these beings (as ancestors), no longer lived in physical bodies, they were still able to communicate with living beings and through those means, were able to pass on their gifts to the living.

Moreover, in cases where one was the chosen one, he/she used be directed through a series dreams and visions to visit a particular ancestor’s tomb for an overnight ritual (sometimes up to three days). The ritual would be accompanied by sacrifices, chanting and singing after which one would get tired and at a particular point fall asleep with their instruments in their hands. We were also told that, in their sleep (ubu’thongo) their physical bodies would play all the repertoires channeled from the ancestry realms on a chosen instrument. It is believed that, it is also in this way that technical abilities and prowess[ness] in playing an instrument would be ‘coded’ from ancestral memory to their muscles and other dimensions of their memory.

Sometimes, for instance if the candidate had to become a maskanda guitarist, they’ll wake up day after the ritual with a particular tuning on their guitar that they would use their entire lives. In some rare cases, with a missing string and they would be given their gift in these kinds of ways which they would embrace and not alter moving forward. This also became a way of immortalizing an ancestor and their specific cultural practices.

The next day, through another ritual, they would be reincorporated back into the dimensions of the living. Following that would then be their inaugural performance where it would be actually their first time playing that particular instrument in their conscious modes. Part of the ceremony would be dedicate to storytelling, this part included the candidate sharing on his experiences in the ancestry realm. Those who spent a bit more time would even talk about details of certain ancestors passing regards and messages to some members of the family that were still living.

This outlook suggests that, there is a kind transcendence that overlap between our dream-state (trance-state) and our awake[ness]. Therefore, I further propose that these communication corridors with our ancestors be viewed as; some sort of technological means for interpreting texts from outer space[s] and embodiments of potential overlaps between these two realms of consciousness. This is especially urgent in an African context, where our cosmological window already views these dimensions as being intertwined.


Nduduzo Makhathini

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