Indigenous societies that are steeped in patriarchy have various channels through which they deal with abusive characteristics of relations in some of these communities. One such route is through songs, which sanction women to voice that which, bound by societal expectations, they would not normally be able to say. This book focuses on the nature of women’s contemporary songs in the rural community of Zwelibomvu, near Pinetown in KwaZulu-Natal. It aims to answer the question ‘Bahlabelelelani – Why do they sing?’, drawing on a variety of discourses of gender and power to examine the content and purposes of the songs.
Restricted by the custom of hlonipha, women resort to allusive language, such as is found in ukushoza, a song genre that includes poetic elements and solo dance songs. Other contexts include women’s social events, such as ilima, which refers to the collective activity that takes place when a group of women come together to assist another woman to complete a task that is typically carried out by women. During umgcagco (traditional weddings) and umemulo (girls’ coming-of-age ceremonies), songs befitting the occasion are performed. And neighbouring communities come together at amacece to perform according to izigodi (districts), where local maskandi women groups may be found performing for a goat or cow stake.
The songs, when read in conjunction with the interviews and focus group discussions, present a complex picture of women’s lives in contemporary rural KwaZulu-Natal, and they offer their own commentary on what it means to be a woman in this society.
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