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Lives of Mothers: Author | Albertina | Rosalina | Valentina

Lives of Mothers (Valentina Chauke)
N'waMbokhoda Chauke


19 December 1995, Facazisse

V: [When my father went back to Hlengwini], we stayed, we two, the other one is this [sister] who is born after me. She lets her go burn in the fire. She says, "She is preventing us from going home to Hlengwini."
A: Mm?!?
V: Heh! Don't you understand? This sister of Xihlehlwana. She comes to Xihlehlwana's place, she takes this [sister] who is born after me, he gives her to her. Well me, I was older. Well, she lets her go burn in the fire! She says, "She doesn't want to go home to Hlengwini."
A: Who is it, the one who let her burn in the fire?
V: This one who lets her burn in the fire, it's the sister of Xihlehlwana, N'waMbokhoda Chauke. Mmm. She lets her go burn in the fire. [A has trouble translating] You don't understand, you. My father, Xihlehlwana. When he goes home to Hlengwini, . . . we two stayed behind. He says, "You, you stay." We stay. Well this one, he says [to N'waMbokhoda], "Bring up this child." She lets her go burn in the fire. Well, she died, my sister, the one who is born after me.
H: But vovo, how did she get into the fire?
V: [N'waMbokhoda] says, "She's preventing us from going home," because she wants to go home to Hlengwini. She wants to go home. And they can't go home, she prevents them from going home. She is unable to walk, well they wanted to go to Hlengwini. Well, [Xihlehlwana] takes the child, he gives her to his sister, he says, "Stay here with this child." Well, she lets her go, in the night, when she goes to sleep. She crawls by their heads, she goes and burns in the fire, my sister. This one who is born after me. She is born after me. . . .
H: Why did your father return to Hlengwini?
V: They were calling him. Mmm. They say, "Let's return and govern our land."
H: So he was the chief?
V: Mmm, he was the chief. Well, they call him, they say, "Let's go home." . . . [Xihlehlwana] says [to his sister], "Because she is small, she can't walk. She will stay with you. Later we will see, if we will come and take her." Well, she lets her go [be burned] because she is preventing [N'waMbokhoda] from going, when they go to Hlengwini. She prevents her from going home! Mmm. [N'waMbokhoda], she hears the words of Xihlehlwana, he says, "They will stay, those two. This one [Valentina] I am giving to N'waXavela. This one stays with N'waMbokhoda." . . .
H: Mmm. So I still don't understand, did your father's sister leave your sister alone, and she crawled into the fire?
V: It happened on purpose! 1 She goes and neglects her on purpose! She leaves her alone, she burns. On purpose! Because she wants to go home to Hlengwini. [The baby] goes 'eee' [i.e., crawls out the door]. She goes on her knees. She didn't know, she was sleeping. A child, when she is asleep, you go 'eee.' [V peers as though checking on child] You check on her. But when something hurts her, you won't be able to sleep, the fire makes her cry, when she's burning in the fire. But you can't look after her? Hah!
H: So your aunt did nothing to save her?
V: Hah! Save her, when she is such a devil?! She is a devil, that's all! She let her go burn in the fire, on purpose! She's a devil! I remember. She even goes and deceives them, she says, "Maybe she burned herself on the burning coals." But she's crying—you don't say, "Where is she?" You don't look for her? "Where is she, where is she?" Hah. When you're a devil, do you know a child?

Well, kokwana N'waXavela, she says, "Why did this happen? Why didn't you give the child to me, so I could raise her for you?" Well, she was buried. She was buried, my sister. Well, Xihlehlwana says [to N'waMbokhoda], "Go back to where you were married, never enter my home again!" He suffered, father, he really suffered. He suffered so much! So he banishes her, "My sister, my sister, go! To a place known only by you! [i.e., he doesn't care where]" . . .

H: So it couldn't have been an accident, your sister's death?
V: Didn't you hear me? I said, she's a devil, through and through.
A: What was her problem?
V: Because it's in her moya [soul], 2 the soul of the one who gave birth to her.
A: She got it from her mother?
V: So you don't know that it's the mother who gives it to her daughter?
H: Gives what, vovo?
V: Could I know those things of the night? Those things, when it's not my mahanyelo [way of life]?
A: Do you mean vuloyi [witchcraft]?
V: Eee!! Could you let a child burn, if you're not a witch? . . . Those great ones, our grandparents, they talked. They say, she bewitches. She kills people, by witchcraft. People she despises. N'waMbokhoda and her mother, they bewitched together.
H: So did her mother teach her, or what?
V: Of course she teaches her. Isn't it a school? Can't you teach your child at home? Mmm, it's a school, truly, a school of witchcraft. . . . 3 They killed people so that—they really got rich from people. Say you're married with lovolo. Your father, he eats it. Then another one [of his daughters] is married with lovolo, your father eats it. They say, "Well, he's getting rich. And he's not giving anything to us! He has many daughters, he's getting rich. Well we, can't he send us anything?" Because he doesn't send them anything, that's like [saying] they can kill him. Mmm. They were jealous of girls, of women—those who gave birth to many girls. Those were the ones they bewitched.

Lives of Mothers: Author | Albertina | Rosalina | Valentina


Note 1: Hi ma xi vomu: with malice aforethought, intent to do harm.  Back.

Note 2: Moya can mean air, wind, spirit, soul; it is also the Shangaan word used for the Christian concept of soul.  Back.

Note 3: According to Henri A. Junod, witchcraft (or "black magic") among the Tsonga is a hereditary power passed down from mother to child ("sucked in at their mother's breast"). Henri A. Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (London: Macmillan, 1927), 2:506.  Back.


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