Ukuthethela: An Important Ndebele Cultural Practice!

Ukuthethela is an all-night ritual, performed by Ndebele people from Zimbabwe in which members of a family ask ancestral spirits for intercession and guidance. This ritual is also commonly applied in other Nguni cultures (Ndebele-South Africa, Xhosa, Zulu, and Swati), Shona, Venda, Sotho-Tswana, and Kalanga, to name a few. This ceremony may also be performed at certain life-cycle ceremonies and request rain. As is the case with our guest Gogo MaKhumalo, Ukuthethela can also be held merely to keep in touch with the ancestors. Izangoma (spirit mediums) are invited to Ukuthethela and are most likely to succumb to possession, and when in that state, they become the mouthpiece for the spirit whose advice is being sought. Ingungu (Drum) serves as the catalyst for this communication, and the music of the drum and singing is thought to establish a link between the spirit and physical worlds.

The attendees at this ceremony participate in singing various songs such as (Njelele, Juba, Hosanna), dancing to various moves (Isitshikitsha and iZangoma), and hand clapping. These participants of the ceremony are encouraged to contribute to the driving and unrelenting energy of the moment through participatory dancing, clapping, and singing. Within the kitchen, a goat or cow is slaughtered and the meat is cooked as a relish. Isitshwala is served as the main starch component with a choice of leafy vegetable.

Additionally, Amasese/Umqombothi (Sorghum Beer) is brewed in this ceremony by an elderly woman chosen in the community for a period of up to 7 days. Before the ritual begins, the beer is poured on the ground as a message to the ancestors about the work being done. This beer is also offered to the attendants of the wedding both during and after the ceremony. The attendees at the ceremony are also given this beer during and after the ceremony. 

Nyumbane, Matobos
Umthethelo Homestead


Goat meat being prepared

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