Last week I began with -bomvu, only to be interrupted by the horrors of living in a world where a little girl can almost be raped by a man who’s only defence is that he’s drunk.

I’m going to move on now, in the hopes that this will be somewhat therapeutic.

Red is -bomvu, as described before. There are in actual fact many different kinds of red, usually combining the -bomvu with one of the 10 or more ideophones for redness, like klebhu. Some are their own relatives, like –mtshezi or -mkhandlu.

White is -mhlophe. This relative is derived from the word umhlophe, meaning:

1. the whites of the eyes (waveza umhlophe wamehlo = he showed the whites of his eyes = he was furious)

2. a white beast or cow

The meaning of -mhlophe is interesting in its extensions:

1. white, pale-coloured, faded

2. pure, faultless, innocent

3. destitute, empty

As an expression, mhlophe means ‘evidently’ or ‘clearly’. And this colour stands (as is usual in the world’s languages) in complete contrast to the colour -mnyama, black.

Umnyama denotes 7 different things:

1. darkness, gloom

2. a bad omen

3. redness of the eyes indicating fury

4. reddening or darkening of the skin appearing in stripes or patches on limbs or breasts at the time of attainment of puberty.

5. a fabulous animal, said to resemble a sheep, believed to inhabit ponds where the rainbow terminates, and whose fat is said to have the various colours of the rainbow.

6. an otter

7. the grain in wood, or colouring above the calf, behind the knee.

Wow. That’s quite a range of interpretation – rainbows and fury and otters and melanin concentration. But it’s not finished yet – there is a cognate noun, isinyama:

1. a state of drifting towards disaster; the quiet before a storm; a foreboding, an omen of evil

2. failure to clear oneself from accusation

With all of this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that -mnyama denotes:

1. black, dark in colour (duh)

2. deep, profound, unfathomable

3. confused, hazy, dizzy

4. gloomy, angry

5. lacking in appetite (see -nhlizyomnyama for further application)

6. ill-omened, dread

So is it any wonder that dark-skinned Africans reject the appellation ‘Black’ in favour of ‘Brown’? The only problem with this choice is that isiZulu has many many many different words for brown, ranging from purplish brown (-mdaka) to dun brown (-mpofu), reddish brown (-mdokwe) and dark brown (-mfusi). The one most common, and the one used to denote the brown people of the earth, is –nsundu:

dark-brown; chocolate-coloured

It’s a relative derived from the noun insundu, which is a dark brown ox or cow. The original word is the Ur-Bantu -kundu, meaning ‘red’. If that confuses you, just think about a colour spectrum – red tends towards brown, and brown towards black.

Of crucial importance spiritually are the first three colours I dealt with here – the red, the white and the black. They represent the tripartite division of the universe – white is above, black is below, and red in the middle. We are creatures of redness, with red blood. The amadlozi are beneath the black earth, and uNkulunkulu or uMvelinqangi is in the sky with the white clouds. This is one way of looking at colour symbolism ngesiZulu.

This is enough for one day – blue, green, purple and yellow coming up in another post.