The Moon, like the stars, was an indicator of various events or practices amongst Africans in olden times. A custom once observed by Africans throughout South Africa was that of showing a new-born baby to the Moon.

Some tribes in Maputaland (northeastern KwaZulu-Natal) apparently still adhere to the custom, after which the baby is taken down to the beach where a wave is allowed to wash over it. Swazi, Zulu, other Tsonga, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Tswana and Venda babies, likewise, were ceremonially shown to the Moon.

This action was believed to be essential for the mental growth, development and health of the child, and heralded a new phase of life. Some Tsonga thought that every new Moon was a rebirth, with the old Moon having died. The Sun and the Moon have a race every month. The New Moon ‘is not yet firm’ like a new-born baby and has a feeble light. The Moon is dominated by the Sun but grows and fights. The Sun realizes that the Moon, when full, is something to be reckoned with (it is now the Moon). The Moon then diminishes; it delays in the sky with the Sun soon overtaking the Moon, forcing it to pass behind. The Moon is thereafter completely vanquished. The New Moon was of special significance for the Tsonga. The day of the New Moon was a day of rest. It was taboo to till the fields and to cut the roots of trees with a hoe. Destroying winds and hail could occur if this taboo was transgressed.

The Tsonga also believed that this was the time when certain individuals had an attack of lunar madness. The first person to see the new crescent Moon exclaimed out aloud, with the exclamation being repeated from one village to the next. Dancers rejoiced since they would have moonlight for their feasts. There was nothing to fear if the horns of the Moon facing towards the Earth. All the dangers associated with this month had been poured out ‘the assegais were dispersed’. The Moon was full of weapons and misfortunes, however, if the horns faced the heavens Tsonga children, like others in South Africa, played games during the day and in the evening when there was sufficient moonlight. Storytelling by adults took place in the evening since it was taboo to tell stories in the middle of the day. Anyone who did so would become bald. Those already suffering from baldness were jocularly accused of having told tales at midday. One form of entertainment in the evening (apart from ritual beer-drinking and other social activities) involved the women forming a team and playing a game against a team of men. The game consisted of guessing which of four closed hands held a hidden piece of charcoal. Competitive riddling took place later. The side losing the riddling contest was required to tell stories.

The children were particularly delighted with the stories, especially if a renowned storyteller was present. The Tsonga believed that certain craters on the Moon resembled a woman carrying a basket or a bundle of sticks, although no significance was attached thereto.

South African culture is rich and students at Bushwise can include these stories to their guests to enhance their experience and understanding of African cultures and beliefs.

Blog by Trevor Myburgh