I Am

I Am

This week’s blog post is a bit on the philosophical side. I’ll be discussing identity formation in adolescence, living with idlozi and coming out of adolescence with a firm identity, a sense of direction and a feeling of overall wellness. Bare with me while I crawl through it.

Adolescence is a time characterized by an onslaught of sudden and overwhelming changes. Menstruation, wet dreams, rock solid breasts, mood swings, “Yheyi you’re not a child anymore!”; “Helang, whose house is this? Go buy your own house and make your own rules.” For the average adolescent, this is a time of coming to be. There are a number of factors that influence the building of a healthy identity that I won’t discuss at length, but among them is personality, family (composition, structure, position of the adolescent) and community.

We all have amadlozi. We come from people who come from people who come from people, jwalo jwalo. For some of us, the presence of our ancestors in our lives goes beyond personal/immediate family guidance. Some are born with the gift of prophecy, others with ubungoma/bongaka, others with ubugedla/bongaka tjhitja,others with ubunusi/bunuwe etc. What these gifts have in common is healing. Anyone born with a healing gift is responsible for the healing of multitudes, thereby healing themselves. When the time to honour one’s gift comes, there is always that push and pull within oneself to manage and balance their own personality, desires, quirks, strife etc. and that of idlozi. Enter identity formation in adolescence.

There’s an isiZulu term that refers to a healer as uhlanya, lehlanya in Sesotho, because you’re afflicted with an illness that transcends the physical, you perceive things others cannot easily perceive and you can (unwittingly) peep into people’s lives. Lets not even touch on the advanced dreaming you do: bo astral projection, lucid dreaming, setting intentions, ke ‘ntho tsa hao tseo, net so! Sometimes the discoveries are scary, sometimes amusing, sometimes very, “Wtf madlozi, niyahleba kengoku.” Oh yes, it happens. Combine this state of being uhlanya with adolescence and you have fireworks. The majority of us (Black people) have grown up in homes where amadlozi/badimo are a suggestion, existing in a mythical and distant world. We’re not taught that our surnames and clan names (izibongo/diboko) are an invocation and a way through which we remember the almost forgotten. Of course, when you’re born with ubizo/pitso, badimo/amadlozi/izinyanya will not let you forget them. When you have this calling and your family isn’t supportive because they cannot be or they don’t want to be, navigating life and forming an identity can be a horrendous experience.

No life stage is avoidable. The only way to get through it, is to experience it fully. I grew up with a sense of wonder about the world, God, badimo, jwalo jwalo. This sense of wonder is, of course, not exclusive to gifted persons only. I think it’s normal for every human being to wonder about the vastness of the universe. I wondered about my dreams and encounters. I remember telling my paternal grandmother, uGogo Nomvo, about a dream. She wore such a solemn expression on her face, I couldn’t figure out what was happening. Had I said something offensive or inappropriate? Yho. The last dream I told my grandma about, was when I was in grade 10 (standard 8, form 3/C). I must have been 15 years old, deep in the nyiwing of adolescence.  In the dream, a departed grandmother came wearing a red doek (headscarf) and sepheka/isiphika/a cape with a white cross running down the middle. I remembered her as Nkgono Moleboheng who had been moporofeta/umthandazi when she was alive on this earth. She knocked on a door and I opened for her. She proceeded to sigh, instructed me to cup my hands together, then handed me an invisible object. As soon as the object ‘touched’ my hands, an energy moved through me. She departed with the words “O e hlokomele. Take care of it.” Still, Gogo Nomvo did not respond with words to this dream, but with a deep sigh and a solemn look. It would take me years before I truly understood what was happening to me. In the mean time, I had to navigate adolescence while living with a powerful, but misunderstood condition.

Ask anyone what adolescence did to them and they’ll tell you varying stories, depending on the factors I mentioned earlier. Ask anyone living with the gift of healing what adolescence was like and they’ll give you a version embroiled in dreams, encounters and struggles against the self. I think I’m only coming to be now, as an adult with responsibilities. I wouldn’t be who I am without idlozi. I wouldn’t be where I am. I would not have the peace of mind, sense of purpose and overall wellness (despite the mental health issues that are inherited) that I have today. While idlozi can put you through the most (because you’re struggling against your purpose), it can also heal you, protect you, give you niceness and help you be.

Lesedi bana ba thari e ntsho!

Gogo Malepena

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