Of Histories That Can Never Be Stolen
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
Of all my parents' children, I was the only one my paternal grandmother named. Lilian- meaning flower- was the name she gave me- her name. She named me after herself. I never tell people that this is my one of my names. As far as I was concerned, unless I wassitting with my granny that name didn’t to me. I never owned it. But that changed on the 12th of May when I was involved in a car accident while studying outside of my home country.
About a month after my accident and several health specialists later , I was discharged and allowed to return home to Swaziland (now called Eswatini) on the 12th of June.
While I was at home my parents told me that my grandmother had been asking to see me, and I wanted nothing more than to see my namesake too. My brush with death had put a lot of things in perspective for me. So on Saturday 14th of July, my immediate family and I finally made the trip to her home and I finally got to be in the presence of my mabizo- siSwati for someone who shares the same name as you- once again, and more joyfully. I got to be with her on her birthday month.
In her mid eighties, Gogo Malinga is such a wonderful woman- lucid and a calm spirit. She has a small business and keeps records of her affairs, aware of her surroundings. Just to sit by her side and hold her hand calmed my soul and I knew I was experiencing something special. The love of my last remaining grandparent.
She shared with me, my sister and parents a lovely gift- a photo album she had kept all these years with pictures of herself, my father, her other children and my great grandmother in the "old good days." Some of the images were worn out with age, but there was a greater power in their essence. The captured memories that could now be passed on to a new generation accompanied by the stories that made those moments so dear. It was my first time seeing my grandmother that young, and in her I saw a female version of my father, and I also saw parts of myself. I am her namesake after all. But for the first time, I felt the full weight of being my grandmother’s namesake: a grandchild named after her. It was not a heavy weight, but the sort that leaves one grounded. Like a planted tree by a river.
More than old worn out photos shared between generations, in those images, I found life. Bits of my history that remind me of where I am from and the woman who embodies so much power and depth, who named me. Who raised a parent I loved dearly. Whose life, shaped parts of my present in ways I may never know but I was lucky to get a glimpse of.
In my search for the history of our great continent, nothing can describe seeing this part of my own history, my own story and the story of those directly before me that forms a great part of the story I am able to tell today. We all have our own oral histories, relics and places of significance to where we are from. Some draw back hundreds of years, and some maybe just a generation before. But it is in these pieces of our histories, that we can build a fuller image of ourselves and the world around us. Moreso, for minority groups whose histories have been distorted and in part erased.
But there are some histories that cannot be stolen, killed or completely removed thanks to the memory and relics of our elders. It could be the story of how our parents met. Maybe it was love at first sight, like my mother’s telling of her first encounter with Duma Zwane. The story of the shy, abashed boy she speaks of who would, years later, turn out to be my father. Or maybe, it could be the trials that led our great grandfathers to leave one place for another, setting in motion a multitude of coincidences. Coincidences that build our characters so your favourite uncle will tell you that you have the stubbornness of his aunt, or the same gait, a similar essence- whatever- of someone who came before you. And maybe you will meet this person whose history is so elegantly entwined with yours, and get to share with them time and space. Or not. And then another person may take it upon themselves to share with you those tiny bits of history that never made it to a museum or academic article. Or maybe it did, but in a vague, unfamiliar form. The book would say, the Zwanes or the Swazis did this. And never mention that your particular family member was one who stood among the many who partook in such a wonderful history.
These are the histories, that are passed down from parent to child to grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Their stories and knowledge may not make it into great history books, but how they live on in other ways!
And always remember: it is because of others, that I am, that we are. May we never let our histories die.
Read more of Langa’s work on her website http://langashouse.wixsite.com/blog