Friday, March 25, 2016

What Words Do Zulus Use For "Lion" (Animal)? Hint: It's Not "Ingonyama"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides general information about the Zulu language and etymological information about the Zulu (South African) words for "lion". Three videos that include the word "ingonyama" in their titles are also featured in this post.

The content of this post is presented for etymological and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to South African composer Lebo M., Lion King producer Hans Zimmer, and all others that have popularized the Zulu word "ingonyama". In addition, thanks to all those who are featured in the videos that are featured in this post and thanks to the publishers of those videos on YouTube.

"Zulu is the language of the Zulu people with about 10 million speakers, the vast majority (over 95%) of whom live in South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa (24% of the population) as well as being understood by over 50% of the population (Ethnologue 2005). It became one of South Africa's eleven official languages in 1994.

According to Ethnologue,[5] it is the second most widely spoken Bantu language after Shona. Like many other Bantu languages, it is written using the Latin alphabet.

Geographical distribution

Geographical distribution of Zulu in South Africa: density of Zulu home-language speakers.
Zulu migrant populations have taken it [the Zulu language] to adjacent regions, especially to Zimbabwe, where Zulu is called (Northern) Ndebele.

Xhosa, the predominant language in the Eastern Cape, is often considered mutually intelligible with Zulu.[6]
Maho (2009) lists four dialects, central KwaZulu-Natal Zulu, northern Transvaal Zulu, eastern coastal Qwabe, and western coastal Cele.[4]

The Zulu, like Xhosa and other Nguni people, have lived in South Africa for a long time. The Zulu language possesses several click sounds typical of Southern African languages. These click sounds are not found in the rest of Africa. The Nguni people have lived together with other Southern tribes like the San and Khoi.

...The Zulu language is "Native to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland".

Word Route: -Lo Posted by WHITE ZULU on NOVEMBER 29, 2012
"Looking at the two letters above, it’s hard to imagine how significant they are in the language of the amaZulu. You may even be thinking I’m crazy, or lost, or both.
Let me show you.

-lo is the meaning portion (the root) of the noun isilo, which has izilo as its plural. It has numerous derivations, and one very particular cultural frame of reference – it is the title of the Zulu King.
Basically, though, it means
a) a wild beast, a wild carnivorous animal
b) a leopard, a lion (the term is particularly applied to these two beasts)
c) a red intestinal worm
d) prey, victim, target

...There are a number of terms of address for the Zulu King:
“IsiLo samaBandla! Wena weNdlovu! Ndabezitha! Bayethe! Inkosi yoHlanga! Ngonyama! etc.”
In this short burst, you have a number of different metaphors or links being created:
“Wild-Carnivore of-the-Assemblies-of-Men! Oh you of-the-Elephant! One-Spoken-of-by-Enemies! Bring-em-on! Lord of-the-Reeds! Lion! etc.”

It is because of these titles that the amaZulu do not use the word ‘ingonyama’ to mean ‘lion’ in common speech, nor do they use ‘isilo’ to mean ‘leopard’ – because of inhlonipho, the system of respect offered between people who are kin or bound by social agreement.

This is a system in which those portions of other words which contain the syllables of names of people of importance are rendered unusable because of that fact – so you cannot use the two syllables ‘-nyama-‘ to refer to ‘meat’ if you’re from the Zulu clan, as those syllables are part of the titles of the amaZulu – ngoNYAMA. You have to find a different word (a synonym) – and isiZulu uses iNgcosa to refer ngenhlonipho (politely) to meat.

Instead of Ngonyama meaning Lion, isiZulu uses the word i(li)Bhubhesi. Instead of isiLo, they use iNgwe.

The same inhlonipho requirements do not apply to the diminutives derived from isiLo – isilwana/e and isilonyakazane.

isilwana means ‘a small wild beast, a contemptible wild beast’ or ‘a small leopard’
isilwane has different meanings entirely: a) animal (domestic or wild); animal life; b) wild beast, ferocious animal (= isilo); c) animal or person of outstanding qualities.”...
Italics were added by me to highlight these sentences.

Lion King Song Meaning? What does that African Tribal song when Simba is Lifted up on the mountain Mean?...

Mahlomola, 2013
"Nants ingonyama bagithi means, in ZULU, "here comes a BEAST, our people!"...

the word "ingonyama" usually refers to the greatest predator in a given place... and in the context of the "lion king" it refers to the lion.

The actual word for lion in ZULU is IMBHUBEZI.

the word "bagithi" literally means "our people" or "my people". the distinction usually depends on context."
As indicated on and elsewhere online, (Black) South African Lebo M. composed the "Nants ingonyama" chant that is part of Disney's Lion King's Circle Of Life" song. My guess is that Lebo M. used the Zulu word "ingonyama" instead of the Zulu word "imbhubezi" for the animal "lion" because the word "ingonyama" was more familiar to Westerners*, and/or because the word "ingonyama" is more aesthetically appealing to English speaking people, in part because it doesn't include the unfamiliar consonant cluster "bh" that is found in the word "imbhubezi".
Addition #1: March 25, 2016 after this post was published:
The "Een-Gonyama Song" (also known as "The Scouts' War Dance") was introduced to Boy Scouts by Sir Robert Baden Powell around 1910. That song is said to be an adaptation of a Zulu chant. The word "Een-Gonyama" is a folk processed form of the Zulu word "Ingonyama" and that Boy Scout song is usually thought to refer to a lion hunt.
Source: "African Scouting (20th c.)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #95, (accessed March 24, 2016).
Addition #2: March 25, 2016 after this post was published - Explanations of the symbolism of the lion and the king, and explanations of Swazi (Swati, SiSwati) words for lion that are similar to the Zulu words that were given above. (Swazi is another South African Bantu language.)
"Item number 1082, dated 96/01/24 08:50:50 -- ALL
Date: Wed, 24 Jan 1996 08:50:50 -0500
Reply-To: H-NET List for African History
Sender: H-NET List for African History
From: Harold Marcus
Subject: Reply: "Ngwenyama" etymology

Date: Tue, 23 Jan 1996
From: Steven Feierman

There is a set of ideas, related to meat eating, which connect to Shambaa kingship and might be relevant in other kingdoms. Animals are taken as tribute, and people say clearly that the king is the "owner" of all the animals in the land, and so is only taking what is his when he takes tribute. People understand, of course, that if he takes too much, his subjects will resist, so the "ownership" is conditional context-specific. The lion is related to this because the king descends upon cattle in much the way that a lion descends upon a cow, and "owns" it in much the same way. The set of associations makes clear, also, the relationship between force (lion-like) and the capacity to take tribute."

"Item number 1085, dated 96/01/24 09:49:13 -- ALL
Date: Wed, 24 Jan 1996 09:49:13 -0500
Reply-To: H-NET List for African History
Sender: H-NET List for African History
From: Harold Marcus
Subject: Reply: "Ngwenyama"

Date: Wed, 24 Jan 1996
From: Colin Darch

I showed the recent postings on Siswati terminology to a Swazi colleague here at UWC, Mrs Mathokoza Nhlapo (, and she commented as follows:
SiSwati culture uses a lot of animal symbolism. Whilst a lion is known as "libhubesi" like the Zulu "ibhubesi",and a leopard "ingwe" in SiSwati, ingwenyama (ingwe=leopard and -nyama=meat) specifically refers to lion in SiSwati but only in reference to the Swazi king. Lion and leopard have similar qualities and habits in many respects.
[end of quote]

I find J.S.Malan's contribution quite useful in his book *Swazi
Culture* (1985:11-12) when he says "the lion (Ingwenyama) and
the elephant (indlovu) appear together in Swazi cosmology as
most powerful and dominant animals...the king is titled and
addressed as "Ngwenyama" and his mother as "Ndlovukazi" (the
she-elephant). The lion is "characterised by bravery, strength
and cleverness but is also generous and aware of other's needs. t is a great meat-eater but only kills for food...The
Ngwenyama as king has qualities of the lion, king of animals, and the Ndovukazi as his mother, has the qualities of
the great she-elephant. The elephant is the largest of all the
animals, it is also the strongest, but no one has ever seen a
lion and an elephant fight. They are both strong and fearless, but do not attack without reason"

Colin Darch , Librarian, University of the Western Cape
[phone numbers deleted]

These videos are presented in chronological order based on their publishing date on YouTube with the oldest dated video given first.

Example #1: Ingonyama Drama and Dance Group

GreatGuidesOrg, Uploaded on Jun 16, 2010

The brilliant Ingonyama Dance and Drama troupe, based in Dete near Hwange Park in Zimbabwe, bring home their message about conservation through their amazing performances as they 'become' animals. Watch another video about Ingonyama on youtube and visit GreatGuides.Org for audio downloads, photos and writing and the project.

Example #2: TACC East London Choir - Mombeleleni ingoma ingonyama

thomas mabuza, Published on Jul 16, 2015

TACC East London Choir sing a song saying sing for the Lion and dancing show casing the Traditional Choral Music which is one of the genre of Music at TACC. This is a son by the TACC East London Choristers dancing during the 2012 Apostle Day at East London Buffulo Stadium
Here's information about TACC (Twelve Apostles Church Of Christ)
"Twelve Apostles’ Church in Christ is an independent Apostolic Church with its Head Administration Office in East London, South Africa. Membership is well in excess of 4 million and it is anticipated that, when accurate figures are available later this year, membership will exceed 6 million.

Due to the political legacy of the previous (white) regime, the members are predominantly black Africans."
According to Google translate "Mombeleleni ingoma ingonyama" is Xhosa for "Sing a Song Lion". When I looked up Google translate's Zulu to English translation of that sentence, the result I received was "Mombeleleni song lion". I think that correct translation is the one that was given in the video summary "Sing For The Lion". I wonder if this is a traditional Zulu (or Xhosa?) song. Also, I wonder if "the lion" that is referenced in that song is a referent for the Zulu king or is the animal "lion" (or "leopard"). Information about this song would be greatly appreciated.
UPDATE: May 4, 2016
Here's a comment that was posted in response to those questions that I posted on this video's YouTube discussion thread:
Buntu Ngcebetsha, May 4, 2016
"+Azizi Powell This is a Xhosa song, it says "Sing a song for the Apostle Nongqunga for he is the Lion", as in Lion of Judea.."
[Apostle Nongqunga is the] "Chief Apostle and President of Twelve Apostles' Church in Christ"
As an aside, I happened to read this comment which I believe comes from South Africa one hour after it was posted on YouTube. I responded with a thank you note. That's the wonder of the worldwide Internet.

Example #3: ingonyama

Foster Mabika, Published on Sep 11, 2015

Ingonyama Dance Group of Zimbabwe Dancing a traditional Ndebele dance at the launch of the Hwange Sanyati Biological Corridor. Video shot and edited by Foster Mabikahama,
To repeat a portion of the excerpt from Wikipedia's page on the Zulu language (link given above): "Zulu migrant populations have taken it [the Zulu language] to adjacent regions, especially to Zimbabwe, where Zulu is called (Northern) Ndebele."
Update: March 28, 2016
Here's an email exchange that I had with the publisher of Video Example #3 on Video #3's YouTube discussion thread. The first comment was me thanking the video publisher and alerting him about this pancocojams post.)

Foster Mabika, March 28, 2016
"+Azizi Powell thanks a lot Azizi.. the kind of a dance is a traditional Ndebele dance found among st the Ndebele people of southern Zimbabwe. This kind of a dance you can aslo find it on the Zulu (South African) dance because the Ndebele people were the Zulus during Tshaka's time. This kind of dance is showing power. Usually perfomed by the male kind showing their virility. I will upload my other video sometime this week, that same dance group when they will be showcasing animal lifestyle (wildlife)

Azizi Powell1 [March 28, 2016, 4 hours later)
"+Foster Mabika , Hello, Foster Mabika.

Thanks for sharing that information.

Regarding your statement that "the Ndebele people were the Zulus during Tshaka's time". I found this information from :
Most Ndebele trace their ancestry to the area that is now called KwaZulu-Natal...

A third group, subjects of the Zulu leader Mzilikazi, fled north from Natal after his defeat by Shaka in 1817. Details of their incorporation into the South African Ndebele groups are confusing and under-researched, but it appears that Mzilikazi settled with a Ndebele group for a period before being defeated by the Voortrekkers in 1836. At this point he trekked over the Limpopo River to present day Zimbabwe, and settled in an area between the Limpopo and the Zambezi Rivers that later became known as Matabeleland. He is therefore credited as being the founder of the Ndebele in Zimbabwe."...
[end of quote]

Is the information on that site accurate? If not, could you suggest another (or other) websites for me and others who are trying to learn about the Ndebele people?"

Thanks again!

Update: March 29, 2016
Foster Mabika
"Thats great it seems you are doing your research well. That information is accurate.
I will try and see on my papers if i can get some dance information and send them to you as well.

Thank You"
I wrote Foster Mabika back indicating that any information about this dance would be appreciated and invited him to visit this blog.

Click for the Lion King's song "Nants Ingonyama" that is part of the "Circle Of Life" song.

Click for a pancocojams post on the Boy Scout song/chant "Eeen-Gonyama".

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment