This is the familiar cry of kiba lead dancers when in the middle of a spirited performance, they pause to taunt, cry, sing and break into long monologues of praise singing delivered with beautiful artistry and passion.
It is a performing art as old as the language of the people who still practice it today, where dancers stomp the earth and leap into the air to the accompaniment of cow hide drums and wailing mouth-blown pipes.
The magic lies in the poetic prose of the lead dancers and the lyrics of the songs. While kiba is still practiced and enjoyed in many parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and some parts of Gauteng and North West, author, poet and academic David wa Maahlamela fears it could end up on the endangered list of cultural practices.
Maahlamela recently graduated with a doctorate degree in African Languages from Rhodes University for his research thesis titled Sepedi Oral Poetry with reference to Kiba Traditional Dance of South Africa.
The study investigates a selection of kiba oral poetry by men and women in Sepedi/ Sesotho sa Leboa. Maahlamela, of Turfloop near Polokwane also probes the development of the Sepedi/Sesotho sa Leboa written poetry between 1906 and 2006.
It is a gripping work of academic research that also looks at the incorporation of kiba oral poetry into the worshipping methods of the Zion Christian Church which has its roots and headquarters in Limpopo.
“This study further reveals that kiba poetry is the heart of Bapedi/ Basotho ba Leboa spirituality, a heart without which some faith institutions will remain incomplete. Furthermore, kiba poetry embodies, among others, poetic genres rarely explored in the South African poetry milieu such as “sound poetry” and poetry of special metrical schemes, of dramatic and devotional essence.
“Musicological studies show that contemporary jazz artists have adopted and adapted kiba poetry into jazz music, which resulted into classics of all times. Intensive studies were conducted on such poetic kiba-influenced jazz, but the primary source remains a grey area,” writes Maahlamela in his abstract.
Below is an interview Maahlamela had with Lucas Ledwaba…
Lucas Ledwaba (LL): What is the significance of studying indigenous languages and related studies in this age?
David wa Maahlamela (DM): Protest marches we witnessed in certain schools earlier this year in relation to offered languages, and the recent outcry of the Balobedu of Ga Modjadji that caught President Ramaphosa’s attention, clearly attest that language question will never be outdated on the national socio-politic agenda. Especially when a majority of the citizens regard these previously and currently marginalised indigenous languages as their mother tongue. No true decolonisation of Education can be achieved without intellectualisation of indigenous language. In addition to cultural identity, indigenous languages embody richest wealth of the country’s literary heritage. Failure to notice this, will lead to our nation begging and importing from other nations the very same artistic wealth we possess in our backyard. Literary excellence of the treated poems in my study attests to the fact that the artistic wealth of kiba poetry is worthy of attention, and it has potential to transform not only the face of poetry in Sepedi/Sesotho sa Leboa, but of the entire South African poetry landscape. If poetic works of, say, Johannes Mohlala, Petrus Molelemane, Philip Tabane or Vusi Mahlasela is not studied, we will continue believing that Bob Dylan is the best thing that ever happen to musical poetry. I strongly believe such studies can demonstrate why wordsmiths such as Johannes Mohlala deserve to be considered for Nobel Prize for Literature.
LL: Have we done enough to reverse the marginalization of indigenous languages in the past 24 years both in academia and commerce, science and other sectors of the society?
DM: At most, no. Hegemony of English is at large an imposed choice, with state of languages completely neglected. For instance, since the 2011 public hearings were conducted on the ‘Sepedi’ vs ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’ dispute, the matter is still unresolved. The PanSALB has become the black-sheep of the Department of Arts and Culture entities, with a worrisome record of dissolve boards. Just like other parliamentary initiatives such as the CRL Right Commission, the PanSALB is a toothless body that has no legal grip to enforce and prosecute culprits of their language frameworks. The longstanding contradiction between the Constitution and the education ministry on the language question is neglected. I can go on and on.
LL: Is Kiba endangered and what needs to be done to save it?
DM: Absolutely, kiba artform is endangered. Cultural mapping is significant to know what needs to be preserved in the cultural wealth of each society. Bapedi/Basotho ba Leboa need to invest in cultural renaissance. In contrast to its VhaVenda and vaTsonga counterparts, one notes that Bapedi/Basotho ba Leboa do not have cultural awards, or cultural artform that connects Thabazimbi to Bushbuckridge, Musina to Tshwane. In the past, private sector was fundamental in sustaining cultural revival even within migrant workers in the urban areas. Now that we have DAC’s developmental agencies such as the National Arts Council and National Heritage Council, in addition to provincial Departments Sport, Arts and Culture, sustaining kiba should be more feasible. What matters is for the custodians to realize the wealth they are about to lose. My study exposes such wealth, focusing mainly of kiba poetry. If such a deliberate cultural consciousness could feature on the socio-political agenda, it will revive the spirit of cultural exchange, which is the opposite of the mechanical efforts of the DAC’s Social Cohesion initiatives.
LL: Who do you wish this study to reach, how and why?
DM: As a leading practitioner in realm of Sepedi/Sesotho sa Leboa performance poetry, my next focus is to revive the spirit of Kiba poetry, especially the works of Johannes Mohlala and Petrus Molelemane. I am in talks with Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani on publishing an international, bilingual anthology of kiba poetry. Various other publishers, including the Johannesburg Institute for Advance Study already showed interest in particular parts of this interdisciplinary study that underpins the intersection of oral tradition, literature, language and spirituality among the Bapedi/ Basotho ba Leboa of South Africa.
LL: Why Rhodes not University of Limpopo?
DM: I did not choose Rhodes University; instead, Rhodes University approached me with an Ad Eundum Gradum offered. This was in 2012, a year after I scooped the national PanSALB Multilingualism Award. It is, of course, ironic that Rhodes acknowledged my contribution towards Sepedi/Sesotho sa Leboa literature, and admitted me for admission to pursue master’s degree although I did not have an honours or bachelor’s degree, let alone a diploma. There was just no way I could have conducted my PhD study with any of the relevant ‘black’ universities who failed to recognize my contribution in the very same language they claim to advocate for. Apart from politicians, do the ‘black’ academic institutions celebrate literary excellence? Which institution has celebrated unmatched contribution of, say, OK Matsepe?
LL: What stood out, motivated me to tackle this subject
DM: This analysis of selected kiba poems shows that kiba poetry is the richest poetic form in the Sepedi/Sesotho sa Leboa with its creative and artistic merit exceeding all other genres. This study further reveals that kiba poetry is the heart of Bapedi/ Basotho ba Leboa spirituality, a heart without which some faith institutions will remain incomplete. Furthermore, kiba poetry embodies, among others, poetic genres rarely explored in the South African poetry milieu such as “sound poetry” and poetry of special metrical schemes, of dramatic and devotional essence. In short, I discovered that Sepedi/ Sesotho sa Leboa is nothing that English or any language is not.
– Mukurukuru Media