#18 Godusa: The Old Woman and the Ant-Bear’s Hole
     (R. C. A. Samuelson, 1929)

Here is an instance of a custom of the Zulus, which civilisation would naturally characterise as cruel, but which, with the Zulus was considered merciful. There was a kraal named KwaMbaza, about three miles fromSt. Paul’s Mission Station, and the chief man in charge was a headman called Mazwi. In this kraal there lived an old woman who was well over a hundred years, whose name was Mfotho. Mother, who was a great walker, used to visit this, among other kraals in connection with mission work, accompanied by one of the mission station Christian girls, taking medicines if required.

This old woman came out to see mother, and the two became great friends. Mother gave her a blanket to keep her old body warm, for she had been provided with very scanty covering. The old lady totteringly danced before Mother and thanked her for the gift, and whenever Mother came thereafter Mfotho used to dance, and, to encourage her, the people of the kraal used to applaud her by shouting “Mfotho.” On the last occasion mother went to this kraal Mfotho failed to appear, so Mother enquired what was the matter with her, and in what hut she was. The cool answer was, “She has gone home, she was placed in that ant-bear’s hole yonder.” This failed to satisfy Mother’s enquiry, so she pressed her question, and this is the account she received. “Mfotho was so old that we decided to help her to ‘go home,’ so one day we told her to come out of her hut and walk to an ant-bear’s hole yonder to be buried; she did not object, but came along with snuff box which had been used by her to hold her snuff many years. When she arrived near the hole, she asked to be allowed to sit down and have a snuff, and she was allowed to do so. When she had finished snuffing she put her snuff box into a small bag which hung from her loins, stood up and said, ‘I am now ready; I am going.’ She moved to the edge of the hole, and was pushed into it and buried alive.” Mother was so shocked that she never visited that kraal again.

It was a general custom of the Zulus to “godukisa” or “godusa” old people in this manner. They never said a very old person had died; but they us to say “Usegodukile,” “he has now gone home.” Anyway, it was not an ideal way of dying or going home. It is, moreover, strange that the Zulu, who had no idea of future home according to our way of thinking, and had no knowledge of the immortality of the soul, except that it lived in Idhlozi, “Snake” should have coined and used that expression. Maybe it was coined at a time that their creed was different to that which they later adopted. It may be, of course, that they referred to the rendezvous of the spirits of their ancestors, the Amadhlozi.

[#18] Zulu: “Godusa: The Old Woman and the Antbear’s Hole,” from R. C. A. Samuelson, Long, Long Ago, Durban: Knox Printing and Publishing Co., 1929, pp. 37-38.


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