Ukubuya KukaNxele: Waiting for Nxele


In isiXhosa, “Embo” means going back to our roots, where we love and embrace our culture without any interference or disputes. It was also the most yelled phrase at the Ukubuya KukaNxele event that Rhodes University School of Languages and Literature hosted on 6 July in partnership with the Inqaba yeenzwakazi company. It was based on celebrating Chief Makhanda Nxele by showcasing local talents such as Umxhentso, iimbongi, art and crafts, and storytelling, signifying the overlooked role played by women in restoring isiXhosa culture.

Chief Nxele was a Xhosa warrior and a prophet who, during the Xhosa Wars, led an attack against the British garrison at Grahamstown on 22 April in 1819. Eventually, the British took him to Robben Island where he and other freedom fighters were imprisoned. They managed to escape in three boats, but the boats capsized and Nxele drowned. Since he had promised the Xhosa people that he would never abandon them, they continued to hope for his return for another 50 years before funeral rites were observed. That is where the isiXhosa proverb “Ukubuya kukaNxele” – referring to something that will never happen –came from.

Photo: National Arts Festival/Supplied
Photo: National Arts Festival/Supplied

The richness and quality of language that was used throughout the event made me question my roots, taking me to the other side of Xhosa world that I’ve never seen in my life. Yes, I’ve been to rural areas events and imicimbi; however, they never go to the extent of showing what it means to belong to KwaXhosa like this event did.

Ukubuya KukaNxele was more about restoring and remembering the isiXhosa culture, hence the use of the Xhosa langauge because we cannot celebrate this culture while leaving its language behind. Msindisi Sam, an isiXhosa lecturer at Rhodes University and the organiser of Ukubuya kukaNxele, said this event made him see how young people were able to gain understanding and confidence in the isiXhosa culture. Although he noticed the large turnout of youths, Sam acknowledged the diversity of age groups that were present, who joined in celebrating such a rich culture and contributed to the event’s success.

Indeed, Ukubuya KukaNxele showed that Nxele’s spirit was within us, and that we weres till waiting for him. Phumeza Mntonintshi, the Anthropology curator at the Albany Museum, said that Nxele was “a brave man, he was fearless”, and that she wished that a brave youth like Nxele will one day be able to narrate their history just as they celebrated his.

By Hombakazi Denge