Speaking the Unspeakable! Zulu Penthonyms as Oral Strategies to Diffuse Conflict within a Traditional Polygynous Community in kwaMambulu, Kranskop

Keywords: penthonyms; witchcraft; death; oral strategies; polygyny


The polygynous nature of most marriages in isiZulu-speaking societies, the fact that co-wives do not get along, and the presence of jealousy, envy and fighting in households such as these are underlying major causes of friction within Zulu family units. These feuds become undercurrents of tensions and fracture within the family unit and lead to family members suspecting and accusing each other of practising witchcraft when a family member dies. In such instances, the use of penthonyms is an extremely useful channel of expressing discontent or passing criticism. This article will use data collected from kwaMambulu to assess the extent to which this age-old practice around name bestowal in isiZulu-speaking family structures such as these is still enforced. It argues that despite changes brought by Christianity, Western modernity and recently the post-apartheid period, modalities around name bestowal in a number of isiZulu-speaking communities still persist. The kwaMambulu community continues to reflect the undented epistemologies around name-giving in much of the tradition-based African households. Allegations of the practice of witchcraft and sorcery are always alluded to in this society when death strikes. When the parents suffer the misfortune of losing children, they resort to giving penthonyms. Penthonyms are given to male children because they are believed to be the future of the family. The male children protect the family and when the man of the house dies the male children take over family matters.