Herding stock/cattle

Herding refers to looking after cattle as they graze in the pastures. Boys will watch out for cattle not to graze in people’s fields and enter homesteads and strip thatched huts. Stock refers to domesticated animals for breeding such as cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and horses. This is the way Mr. N. Mhlongo explained this practice. Msimang (1975:36) claims that stock was a valuable asset among Zulu people. A man with large herds usually had a large kraal/homestead and married more than one wife. The man will command authority over his household. Stock was to a traditional Zulu man what money is to a modern man.

Here games played during herding will be highlighted. These games depicted the actual responsibilities boys had. Frost and Klein concur by maintaining that through these games boys learnt the duties expected from them as they grow older.


1 The person consulted
2 Who plays this game?
3 Who played this game?
4 When is the game played?
5 Where is the game played?
6 How is the game played?
7 Custom associated with this game
8 Source
9 Baba Tu Gwala’s herding story
10 Herding cows
11 Food

The person consulted
The researcher was informed by Mr. S. Nzuza of KwaMaphumulo, Mr. N. Mhlongo of Ndundulu, KwaZulu and Mr. B. Tshabalala of Swaziland about this topic. They reported on how this game is played. Other words related to herding were explained. Expression such as herding stock referred to looking after cattle, calves, goats, sheep, donkeys and horses. Frost and Klein (1979) say this game prepares the young for the future.

Who plays this game?
This game-cum-duty was played by boys of different ages. Younger boys herded calves, goats or sheep depending on what the stock the family had. Stock was the wealth of the nation, therefore it had to be well kept and looked after. Older boys herded cattle. The young boys herded the calves nearby the homestead because calves were kept away from their mothers before cows were milked otherwise the family will not get the daily milk supply from the cows.

Who played this game?
This game-cum-duty involved the stock kept in that particular family. In other families they kept cattle, sheep, goats, horses and donkeys. All these animals are referred to as stock because they were the man’s valuable assets. The one looking after this stock was called the herd boy/herd man. Stock was herded out in the pastures.
Mr. S. Nzuza states that after cattle were brought back for milking they would be milked then driven out of the kraal to the hillside. Cattle would lie down here as a group/cluster. Here the cattle will chew the cud of the grass eaten in the morning.

When is the game played?
This game-cum-duty was played everyday during the day, throughout the year.

Where is the game played?
Boys played this game in the pastures where they were herding stock.

How is the game played?
Each kind of stock had a different time to be driven out and led to grazing in the pastures. The cattle were always driven out first by the older boys. They would drive them slowly as they were grazing on the way to the pasture. Pastures were rotated so that grass can grow again before the cattle can return to that pasture. Cattle spent most time out in the pastures.While the cattle grazed, boys had to ensure that it did not destroy the fields. This was an opportune moment for boys to engage in other games such as stick-fighting. As they play sometimes they would forget about cattle which will cross over to the fields. Other herd boys will caution these boys by singing out the song to them:

Mbelebele zayigomfela
Zayidla zayiqeda
Uyeph’ umninizo
Uyoz’ azibonele

The adults did not like this song because it meant that the cattle are destroying the field and some boys are aware but not doing anything about it. There are various other games boys played during herding. At a particular time in the midmorning, cattle were returned home for milking. This was done at about 11 am. After milking the boys will drive them out again to the hillside where the cattle will lie down and chew the cud. In the afternoon, before sunset, cattle would graze again as the boys would be driving back to the kraals to retire for the day.

Custom associated with this game
It is customary to keep cattle and other stock. Since ages ago, a man earned recognition through his stock (quantity). Boys took part proudly in the keeping of stock which they enjoyed like a game though it was not necessarily a game. Stock, especially cattle, was a valuable asset for the men and the nation. Cattle are used to pay bride price and to perform traditional ceremonies. Cattle were highly regarded also because it was used when performing ancestral rituals. It was for this reason that a new bride was not allowed into the kraal. Also a widow was not allowed to cut through herds of cattle. The cattle kraal is a sacred place for the Zulu people. Men held their meetings here. So, young boys were exposed to cattle early in their lives because they were expected to perform ceremonies and rituals with cattle as they grow up.

From a Masters dissertation by Victoria Mkhize for the School of IsiZulu, University of KwaZulu-Natal. Supervised by Professors P.J. Zungu and V. Prabhakaran.

Baba Tu Gwala’s herding story
“My name is Tu Gwala, I was born in 1935 at Emalangeni, Hammarsdale. My mother was of Zungu clan. I grew and studied in the same area until standard six. I left school to work in a factory here in Hammarsdale.’

Herding cows
‘My father was working for the railway. My mother was at home taking care of us. At home there were cows, goats, chickens, ducks and sheep. Before we went to school at a very late stage because we had to herd the cows. Herding cows was a very good experience because we learned a lot of things. Herding is to take cows to graze and take them to a river to drink for the whole day. if there is one that needs to be milked you bring it back at a particular time.

Whilst herding the cows as boys we had our own things to do. Boys that were older than us made us fight, they taught us how to use sticks when we fight and how to defend yourself.

There was no time to go home when we were hungry. We ate wild fruits, we use to steal my mother’s chickens and we would eat the chickens while we herding the cows. To catch the chicken without adults noticing we used one corn of mielies and use a string around to then we would pull the string, the chicken will follow trying to catch it and when it swallows it we pulled the chicken to the forest. We would make fire, clean the chicken and roast it then we will have our lunch. Next day someone else will steal from his home. There were too many chickens no one noticed. We also stole eggs, we hid eggs in a compost drum then the next day eggs will be ready and we can take them with us as our lunch for the day. Wild fruits also helped us when we were hungry like avocado pear, guavas. That is why they only saw us in the afternoons at home.’

Case study by: Nelisiwe Hlongwane

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