What do you mean in English when you talk about ‘a month’? If you speak a Teutonic language, it’s an easy association to make – ‘month’ comes from the root-word ‘moon’.

In isiZulu, there is no disguising the word – izinyanga means 3 different things: Moons, Months & Herbalists (who are Moon-people possibly because of their picking of herbs etc. according to lunar cycles). In traditional Zulu culture, time is reckoned by the moons, and there used to be 13 of them in a single ‘movement’ of the sun (unyaka means ‘year’ and comes from the root ideophone nyáka denoting ‘moving’ or ‘shaking’). Since the abelungu arrived, the 13 became 12. If you know the name of the lost month, I’m impressed – you’ll see it at the end of the list.

I’m going to list these according to the progression of the Zulu year, rather than the western JFMAMJJASOND method (NB there used to be various descriptive names for these months, and I’ve only listed the accepted official ones here):

1. uNcwaba – the 1st moon of the year, when the green and glossy shoots first poke up through the burnt veld. Equivalent to August now.

2. uMandulo – the 2nd moon of the year, the forerunner of summer, when the first gardens begin to appear. September.

3. uMfumfu – the 3rd moon, when the new shoots and buds that have been hidden begin to come out and open. October.

4. uLwezi – the month when the ulwezi insects (the grubs of the cicada “which hide themselves in froth”) begin to appear, steaming slowly down the branches of trees. November

5. uZibandlela – the path-crowding month, when the rains cause the rivers to burst their banks and the grass to cover (ziba) the paths (izindlela). December.

6. uMasingana – the 6th moon, when you peep out suspiciously at the world. January.

7. uNhlolanja – the dog-ruling moon, which is quite apt for Valentine’s day. February.

8. uNdasa – the month of the abundance of new mealies, when people toddle about with their fat tummies. March.

9. uMbasa – when you begin to kindle (basa) fires in the early morning to stave off the cold. April.

10. uNhlaba – the piercing of the Aloe-flowers into the sky names this moon. May.

11. uNhlangulana – the little-sweeper-out-of-dusty-corners. June.

12. uNtulikazi – the great dusty one. July.

13. uLuthuli – the dust. the forgotten thirteenth month, with many other names besides this one.

So that’s the complete list – one thing you might notice is that they are all given human names. For this reason, I made up stories for our kids where the izinyanga are sitting around a fire telling stories.