There used to be these tall men gifted with the ceremonial gait of the gods of rhythm. None could tread the earth with greater grace than these men hewn from southern forests that have become extinct. They wore colourful bandanas slanting carelessly off their shiny shaven heads scarred from stick-fighting battles to determine their manhood. The bravest among them, with their rippling muscles glistening in the heat of the unrelenting sun, would remove their bandanas to wipe their sweaty faces; but the act was more to reveal that their scars occupied the front part of their heads, and not the back, proving that they incurred the wounds while facing their opponents at close range to the bitter end, and not in flight from them.
Kwakekwabakhona amadoda amade ayephiwe isimo esithi kasifane nesamaThongo emikhosi esigqi. Abekho ababekwazi ukucothoza emhlabeni ngobunono nesizotha salamadoda. Phela indabuko yalamadoda yayisemahlathini aseningizimu, wona asacoboshiswa yisikhathi nezenzo zabantu. Babenqwaze ngamaduku amibalabala atshekele emaceleni ezinhloko zabo, kwazise phela babelusile futhi sebake baqhathwa bavivinywa ukuze badodiswe ngokweSintu. Owayeyingqwele kunabo bonke, wayenokususa amaduku abo abasule umjuluko owawubangelwa ngukushisa kwelanga. Kepha naso lesosenzo sasingenye yezindlela zokukhombisa izibukeli amanxeba-nxeba nezibazi zasezimpini. Kwakubalulekile ukuba kwazeke ukuthi lezizibazi azikho esiphundu kepha zisesiphongweni nasemakhanda ngaphambili. Phela kwaNtu iqhawe akumelwe libenesibazi esitshengisa ukuthi ligqenywe ingozi lithi galo-yephuka.
These men, who came from the majestic clan that mastered the dance of the curved horns of the untamed mountain bull, took pride in everything they did. Their movement was like that of the animal in whose image they painted their bodies with rare pigments excavated from venerated grottos. They could lacerate you with their penetrating stares and leave an imprint of their adulations on your soul. Even lions were known to look away in shyness on encountering them during a hunt.
Lezi’nsizwa eziluzalo lwesizwe esikhulukazi ekuyiso esahlabahlosa ngokuba yizingcweti emgidini wezimpondo zigwegwile zenkunzi engathenwanga yasezintabeni, zazizigqaja kakhulu ngakho konke ezazikwenza. Ukunyakaza kwazo kwakungumfanekiso waleyonkunzi ababezigcabe ngayo emizimbeni, umcaku owawusetshenziswa kuleyomidwebo yomzimba wawutholokala ezindaweni ezazingafinyeleleki kalula. Babengakubhaxabula ngoswazi lweso beshiye imivimbo ebubulayo emphefumulweni wakho. Ngisho nezingonyama imbala zazingakwazi ukubabheka ngaphandle kokukhophozela, zishalaze zibheke eceleni ngenkathi kuzingelwa.
These were the men who collected our human waste when I was a boy growing up in the valley of thunderous hills. Their timing was impeccable. They would arrive without warning at a moment of their own choosing towards the end of the week. So that you had to be careful to have done your job before they came, otherwise they would tunefully pull the bucket from under you, mid-performance, and leave you embarrassed, on your bare haunches.
Lamadoda kwakuyiwo ayenza umsebenzi wokubutha indle ngakithi ngenkathi ngisakhula esigodini sasemagqumeni adumadumayo. Babenesigqi esimangalisayo ngisho nakuwo lowomsebenzi. Babezifikela nje nanganoma yisiphi isikhathi ngasekupheleni kwesonto. Uma kwenzekile bafika ungalindele kwakubanzima impela ngoba, babengakugqizi-qakala ukulihlwitha ibhakede lendle noma isikigi ngisho noma usamatasatasa ngasese bakushiye uguqile.
I was fascinated by the way they leapt off the high-backed trucks that carried them and the myriad rubber buckets of shit piled high like sun-baked pies of poverty. They would whistle a piercing chorus through their tobacco-stained teeth to alert the driver to stop. Then, cutting a swift arc in the air with their synchronised movement, they would land on the unpaved dust without a sound, straightening their knees in perfect timing before starting to sing as they dance-walked.
Indlela ababevesane bagxumele phansi besuka kulama loli abo amakhulu ayenezinqola ezithwalela phezulu kwakungimangalisa kakhulu ngisemncane. Phela lezizinqola zazithwele amabhakede amakhulu lapho kwakulayishwe khona indle kungathi ngamaqebelengwane okanye ophaya benhlupheko. Babenokushaya ikhwelo elihlabayo ngamazinyo abo ayemdaka ngenxa yokudla imboza, ukuze bamise umshayeli. Babese belula izingalo okonyezi emoyeni ngokukhulu ubonono nokucophelela anduba bagxumele phansi ngaphandle kokubanga umsindo. Ngenkathi izinyawo zabo zishaya phansi othulini babebesukuma ngengoma nomnyakazo osakugiya bebe bephokophele phambili.
From the grace of their unified movement you would not have said they were wearing heavy gumboots over their unhitched dungarees. They would separate and go into the back yards of neighbouring homes, but maintain perfect harmonies from behind the thorny bushes and unkempt bougainvillea hedges. And since their melodies were similar to those my mother sang to us at bedtime, it was not difficult for me to join their refrain of musical repartee from the shade of the bushes.
Wawungeke usho ukuthi babefake ama-gumboots ngaphansi kodangara babo, ngendlela ababenyakaza ngokucophelela nangobunono ngayo. Babese behlukana bengena emva kwamagceke emizi ngemizi ngaphandle kokulahla ushuni wengoma ababeyihlabelela. Wawuzwa ngokuvungama nje emva kwemisilinga nasothangweni lwameva. Izingoma ababezicula zazingahlukile kangakanani nemilolozelo kaMama, ngakho ke nami ngangizithola sengivuma kanye nabo ingoma leyo, ngisho ngicashe emva kwehlashana lothango.
Most families had unchained dogs in their yards to ward off burglars. The dogs would bark and attack anyone entering your yard – which often caused problems when you received a surprise visit from someone you really wanted to see. But the men of the buckets did not fear the dogs. The snarling animals would come towards them ready to sink their teeth into their legs. The men would stop and gingerly remove the buckets from their shoulders and place them on the ground. Then they would play a rhythmic percussion riff on their gumboots while dancing and singing their peculiar pentatonic melodies to the completely enchanted dogs. The obsequious dogs would adopt the posture immortalised by His Master’s Voice and drool pathetically while wagging their tails.
Imindeni eminingi yayinezinja ezingathukuselwe ukuze bavimbele izelelesi ekungeneni noma kanjani emagcekeni – lokhu kwakubuye kubangele izivakashi ozithandayo inkinga. Kepha lamadoda amabhakede ayengazesabi izinja, ngisho noma izinja lezi zazike zisho ukubaqeda ngokubaluma emilenzeni. Lamadoda ayevele azimele bese ebeka phansi amabhakede kuvele kuqhume umgido wegum-boot owawubohlisa ulaka kulezozinja. Wawuvele ubone izinja sezihlezi ngalesisimo esaduma ngenja yakwi His Master’s Voice, besezihefuzela zinyakazise imisila.
Many a township dog can still be found wagging its tail running after a truck full of buckets. As for me, I have recourse to a repertoire of pentatonic songs that I call upon from time to time when I find myself having to placate predators of a plutocratic variety.
Ngisho namanje usazibona izinja zasemalokishini zigijima zijahana nemoto yomgqomo. Ngokwami ke, ngisanomgodla wezingoma zesigqi sesiNtu engihosha kuwo noma nini lapho kufanele ngiteketise noma ngibhuqe izimpisi zalombuso wengcindezi oluhlupho.
isiZulu translation by Menzi Maseko