The sociology of Tshikanda
The Drama of Thovhela and Tshishonge
Dramatis personae
The Play
Interpretation of the Story of Thovhela and Tshishonge
Summary and Conclusions
Appendix I. The Songs and Dances of Tshikanda
Appendix II. The Final Rites of Tshikanda
The following text, John Blacking's only extended study of tshikanda, the second phase of Venda girls' initiation, is extracted from his contribution to Ethnological and Linguistic Studies in Honour of N. J. van Warmelo (pp. 21-38), published in 1969 in Pretoria by the Department of Bantu Administration and Development. In this paper, he demonstrates how tshikanda articulates with the power relations between nobles and commoners within Venda society. Since much of his 'Introduction' replicates information presented elsewhere on this CD-Rom, it has been omitted, and relevant information from the original introduction has been integrated into the text where necessary.
Here we begin with 'The Sociology of Tshikanda', in which Blacking asks why tshikanda should even exist, given that its content is fundamentally the same as that of the commoners' vhusha, the first phase in the Venda girls' initiation cycle. His response is that tshikanda is primarily for the benefit of noble girls, since their vhusha is distinct from that of commoners. During tshikanda girls of noble birth participate on an equal footing with commoners, providing them with access to the cultural heritage of their subjects. Thus, he argues, tshikanda ensures that the rites and cultural interests of commoner women are respected, while remaining under the control of ruling families. The next section, 'The Drama of Thovhela and Tshishonge', provides the script of a play enacted on the final day of tshikanda; this is the only major cultural expression of tshikanda that is not a part of vhusha or domba. In 'Interpretation of the Story of Thovhela and Tshishonge', Blacking argues that the plot of the play coheres with the way in which a balance of power is maintained between nobles and commoners in Venda political relations, even though the play itself seems to be misunderstood by most initiates. In 'Summary and Conclusions' Blacking claims that tshikanda is more public than vhusha, emphasising unity and alliances among the initiates, cross-cutting their family backgrounds, and in this way the school reinforces the Venda political system. He concludes by claiming that the political efficacy of initiation has more to do with the social organisation of the teaching situation within the school than with what the girls are taught, pre-empting the emphasis he would later give to the role of social experience in the embodiment of cultural knowledge.
The paper is followed by an 'Appendix', which Blacking divided into two sections. Here they are presented as 'Appendix I: The Songs and Dances of Tshikanda', which contains six songs and ndayo dances of special relevance to tshikanda, and 'Appendix II: The Final Rites of Tshikanda', a detailed performance ethnography of the final activities of tshikanda which Blacking observed at a specific school in the Lukau district of Vendaland.