The Bayanda Route

The Transkei continued…>

OK, so you won’t find this person in the history books, but she is still important and played a large role in our pilgrimage.  An old friend of mine (and Intramural sports teammate) has spent quite a lot of time in the Eastern Cape.  When he heard that I would be taking a journey into the Transkei, he connected me to a friend of his.  Bayanda hitchiked to meet us in Fort Beaufort and served as our companion and guide during the sojourn.  In addition to obtaining marriage proposals at many of our stops, she was a wonderful source of information about life and culture in the area.

On our last full day in the Ciskei, Bayanda showed us the areas surrounding her home near the city of Queenstown.  She works as an interpreter in the courts at the Department of Justice, where we observed a case sentenching and she introduced us to the magistrate.  We visited the township where Bayanda grew up and her brother danced “krump” for us.

Then, we visited the villages where her father and mother grew up, respectively.  The houses of the township were much the same as brick township houses in Port Elizabeth, which were in turn, much the same as the houses in the villages.  The primary differences between township and village are 1) villages have more land for cultivation and livestock, while townships are more densely populated, 2) townships enjoy some degree of service delivery, while villages are on their own.

In Ntabelanga, we me Bayanda’s grandmother, a lovely woman with a beautiful smile.  She began speaking to Bayanda in Xhosa and I asked her what she was saying.  She interpreted, “It makes us black people feel good when white people visit.”  I was a bit horrified, I must admit.  I quickly responded, “it makes us white people feel good to visit black people.”  I believe that I understand what she means, but oh my, what would Steve Biko think?

Seeing smoke rising from a nearby house, Bayanda deduced that there was probably a ceremony happening as part of the Xhosa initiation process, the ritual where a boy becomes a man.  They take place each year in June and December, a modern assimilation to school holidays.

We decided to walk by and were invited in.  The celebration was an “umguyo,” where all the local boys get together to send off the initiate, who will leave to “go to the mountain” the next day.  The men sat in the dirt yard on stumps, paint cans, etc. and drank beer.  The woman prepared “umqombothi” (traditional Xhosa maize beer) which they had just given to the boys.  We heard a great cry of excitement as we approached—exulatation over newly received libations.

The boys responded by rushing out to the yard and dancing in a circle, kicking on eknee in the air and hopping, arms up and down like a drum major.  Occasionally, two would enter the center of the cirlce and mock fight using sticks as weapons.

One of the boys stood up and said (first in Xhosa, then in halting English) that he wanted to know why they were called from their umqombothi to come and dance.  What were we going to give them as a gift?  As the only one who spoke English as a first language, I was the default spokesman.  I was dumbfounded.  What was I to give?

An older boy then stood and explained in perfect English that he was going to the mountain and told of the significance of the ceremony.  By his physical stature and the maturity of this speech, he certainly looked ready to become a man.  Then, he explained to me that (as the only male) I must come and dance with them.  I happily joined.  Step by step they showed me the parts of the dance and handed me a “weapon” to thrust.  Then, the leader in the center announced, “jigaleza” and we went round the circle.

Later, the women danced and my Dutch companions joined in.  Tessa was a favorite of the boys for photos, so I left her as our gift.

The pilgrimage continued on the route back home to Port Elizabeth, as we drove through Cradock, where we stopped to see the Cradock Four Garden of Remembrance, as well as the home of Fort Calata.  The Cradock Four were abducted and murdered as they traveled from P.E. to Cradock in 1985.  The four were leaders in the freedom struggle.  The murders of the Cradock Four became international news during the amnesty trials of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when it was revealed that the South African Defense Force executed the killings.


Death by Kudu

Driving in the Ciskei is a test of nerves having little to do with road conditions or people, but livestock.  Apparently, kudu are attracted to headlights and like to lie in the road at night because it’s warmer than the earth.  We were told at least five times to avoid driving at night.

Tempting fate and trusting, perhaps too much, my driving instincts, we travelled from Grahamstown (home of Rhodes University) to Fort Beaufort in darkness, before settling for the night.  Our inkeeper was incredulous. “It’s the most dangerous road in South Africa from sundown to sunrise,” he warned.

The next morning, the sun rose on lush, rolling hills of green, filled with cattle and rondavels.  The highway swung up

and down and through a landscape that in my memory was a child’s painting.  Everything was represented in symbols.  The sun was a yellow ball emanating lines toward the earth.   Sheep were white balls with black sticks for legs.  Houses featured two windows and a door.  Yet, ultimately, it was the green of the land that dominated the image.  Stratified shades of the color darted toward every corner of the frame.  The title of Alan Paton’s book

crept into my mind, “Ah, but your land is beautiful.”

In Hogsback, we took a short hike to Madonna and Child Falls, absorbing the fairy tale beauty that led Tolkien to imagine such characters as the Hobbit.

The area known as the Ciskei and the Transkei are the ancestral homelands of the Xhosa people.  More recently, they were bantustans established by the apartheid government to enforce separate development of the races.  The bantustans have been abolished and the areas currently make up most of the Eastern Cape province.  Most significantly for my visit,

they are the home of many of the most prominent freedom fighters during apartheid.  My companions obliged my obsession with historical figures and so we daily chased the legend of the Transkei.  We were pilgrims of freedom.

Stay tuned this week for threads of the journey…