Research Article

Sense in the nonsense: Deciphering the meaning of u kumela in Tshivenḓa culture

Published in: South African Journal of African Languages
Volume 41, issue 1, 2021 , pages: 97–104
DOI: 10.1080/02572117.2021.1902148
Author(s): Moffat Sebola, South Africa


U kumela (paying homage to the royal leader) is a widely accepted practice in Tshivenḓa culture. U kumela not only serves as an aspect of praise to royal leadership but also functions as an addressive device. Zwikumelo (‘referential praises’) often have no definite or rigid pattern and are uncensored. As such, the praise singer may start the way he or she wishes and utter whatever he or she likes. Hence, praise singers often utter somewhat humorous, sarcastic, hyperbolic and senseless phrases and sentences when bestowing honour upon royalty. Undergirded by the theory of ethnopragmatics, this study employs the qualitative method (descriptive and explanatory in nature) with the aim of generating the communicative translations and meanings of zwikumelo in Tshivenḓa culture. Abetted by the author’s intuitive knowledge, this study interpreted zwikumelo in MER Mathivha’s Tshivenḓa play, Mabalanganye. It was found that most zwikumelo in the play ascribe qualities such as immortality, sovereignty, unapproachability, bravery and generosity to the chief or king.

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