“Stick fighting is our tradition and it has been there for years unshaken by death or any other crisis, that is how we differentiate men from boys, in fact bravery from cowardice,” once said Makhaleyiphethe, a 57 year old, tall, dark and a well-built man airing out his views on the stick fighting that has taken Ngqamakhwe villages by storm. Shushu means sunny, or hot. In most cases when the sun is really hitting the village, people just become weak and lazy and always go for the shade of their houses or big trees, but on this SHUSHU day I will tell you about, one guy promised a fight he will engage in and win regardless of hot weather.
What citizens could not understand was why this stick fighting is meddling with school sports, causing fear and chaos when most junior primary schools are having a sports day at Jongabantu High School. Everyone knew that come 5pm, as hundreds of children are walking from the sports fields to their homes, they will be faced with older boys who will come out of the blue to hit boys of a location that are not on speaking terms with them. Some run and cry for their lives as they are caught unawares, only to come back the next day to mobilise other village boys, singing songs like “Ngcono ndibambe two nditshone apha ethambekeni”. Translated this means: let me just take two sticks and go deep into the open field; in other words I am ready to fight with anyone.
Some believe that this type of practice was suitable for a socio-cultural sect or set called the Amajakwa. They are those older boys who quit school at a primary level, maybe because they complain about poverty or not having proper school uniforms, or just because of reasons known to them only they prefer to just quit school. They make sure their voices are heard when a viĺlage hosts traditional ceremonies, and they demand their own share of traditional beer called umqombothi which they nickname it Isqo. They usually choose to be in the forest where they smoke their marijuana without confrontation. Stick fighting is what they know best; they always carry induku (sticks for stick fighting , not just the usual stick). They have guitars made of paraffin containers and create loads of lyrics that can cover an entire musical festival if a top national music talent scout could acknowledge them. Their songs are about their wishes, fantasies and dreams, but in most instances they create lyrics about love. They just love what’s close to their hearts, like singing about their favourite car Mercedes Benz to their favourite girl in the village. No one writes their lyrics down, but the Amajakwa have a special ability to free style, practising those verses, finding a matching dance skill, and they will create their own show. They don’t mind travelling the longest of distances singing but in most instances you would hear stories of how they ended up stick fighting with so and so and how blood came out claiming its position on the surface. Most of these songs were in the deep zone when we speak foul language.
They draw their inspiration from violence, domestic violence, faction fighting and the idea of being the most feared in their own village or the villages nearby.
As a villager you must always have a Minora blade, towel with water and Sunlight soap so you can shave and wash the wound of the stick fighting victim. No ambulance or professional first aid help needed, only encouraging proverbs to go back and continue the fight. Crying is taboo no matter how painful it is, and this would mean you are the Champion of all Cowards under the Sun.
When one of the village boys goes to the initiation school, there is a pre-initiation ceremony. It’s called Umtshotsho, as they say the aim is to have great time of music and traditional dancing called umteyo, with lots of traditional beer and modern liquor if available. The family hosting the boy who is about to go to initiation will make a rondavel or any extra house available. Girls will be invited to lead the songs of cheer and just create a jolly mood for everyone. Some boys seeing that there are girls in the room will start having ideas fueled by ego and jealousy.
This is where things could easily get messy. The Stick will start finding its way, either to the enemy from another village or the same village. Another cause of fighting at Umtshotsho might be about positions that need to shift in the boyhood hierarchy. Some boys want to graduate from being the younger unappreciated boys to be amongst the respected great elder boys’ league. No matter the age, stick fighting prowess and stamina will undoubtedly carry them to this higher level. You hear sounds of sticks ravaging the ribs or legs as those parts are always targeted. I do not know whether the intention is to kill or not, because sometimes they will go for the head. Some boys cover themselves with girls as shields. The hut is dark as those few candles that illuminated the room also suffer and lie down, hurrying themselves with their only light of the dark night.
Remember Amajakwa, right? They come and steal the show here. They regard ceremonies of this nature as their Durban July. This is a place and the right time to reveal what they are made of in terms of battle skills, and fighting the other boys, beating them with sticks to the core while finding joy in that practice.
One day, a shushu day,there was a football match near the Mpukane Junior Secondary School where they had just built a clinic. The two sides were teams from our village. One team called Eleven Attackers was the mother team, while RDP was the child of the source team, but now they were rivals. There was lot of enmity among some of the players and this caused so much interest to go see this game as the Derby was only known through Chiefs and Pirates.
The beautiful game started, fans cheering from both sides of the field and players showing great dribbling skills, firing some shots to the strong and woke goalkeepers. I cannot remember the score or who scored and who did not, and why and so on, but I will never forget this day. There was a player who had the most influence in the Eleven Attackers team and he was known as Pele. He was super fit, true to the laws of the game, disciplined, passionate about football, and on the field he was a gifted middle-fielder who could easily determine the flow of the game and skillfully had his teammates give their best at all times. He was a leader on and off the field, and you could see that the future would be bright for him. He was a role model to all wannabe footballers in our village, and he was also selected to play in his high school team of soccer. That was a great achievement as high schools in the former Transkei were made of vast villages who feed them through their junior schools.
That day, as disciplined as he was, he had a dispute with an opponent, a guy called Manyathi, very strong physically and tall. A guy who is known to be one of the best stick fighters ever because he was raised in a location that is far more advanced as far as stick fighting is concerned. The match ended as these two started to set their tongues wagging, the swearing and calling for fight direction. They both sent their younger brothers home to bring them ikoko. Ikoko is a very strong stick that has a heavy, sharp object obtained from broken car parts and it is very dangerous. The little boys did as they were told.
Under the tree near the mission the fight started and it was over in five minutes. Manyathi hit his opponent on the back of his head. Down he fell and that was the day I will never forget. One day, shushu day.
My cousin lost his sight because he was beaten by a stick, later he died when he was hit by an incoming car because he could not see clearly. Most women, when they were abused and did not cooperate with abuse techniques, the stick fighter used his stick. Some women were forced to learn stick fighting so that they could protect themselves.
Stick fighting brings eternal pain to families, and villages become more alienated from each other.
*Photo Credit: Photograph-Alex-Duval-Smith Guardian.co.uk