Child development through Ndebele taboos: Motivation to blend the indigenous and the exotic

  • Sambulo Ndlovu
Keywords: Taboos, child development, Ndebele people (Zimbabwe), modernity, indigenous knowledge, Ndebele culture


In the context of this paper, child development is upbringing, incorporating the care, education and protection of children. The traditional Ndebele  way of child upbringing ensures that the child develops responsibly and especially out of danger. This paper thus seeks to identify the gap between  modernity and Ndebele taboos and suggests possible solutions to address the gap and apply taboos in modern societies such as urban settlements. The social, physical and environmental regulatory institutions of the Ndebele people have always relied on the supernatural for enforcement. This study seeks to demonstrate, using interviews and focus group discussions, how traditional Ndebele taboos need to be blended into the modern culture if they are to be relevant. The research is an interpretivist descriptive survey of Nkayi rural and Nkayi urban centre (in Zimbabwe) with the aim of getting parents and secondary school children’s views on Ndebele taboos and child development. The study established  that there are some traditional concepts used in some Ndebele taboos which are no longer popular and children do not know them. It also established that there are some Ndebele taboos that have been overtaken by human rights discourses, while some are no longer compatible with modern institutions such as formal schooling and science. There are new taboos built to counter ills of modern society. The modern environment  has modern dangers and problems that require a re-visiting of Ndebele taboos so that more modern taboos can be developed. The study demonstrates that blending the indigenous and the exotic (cultures) in taboo formulation and application ensures that today’s children benefit  from taboos. The blending of indigenous and exotic cultures has already occurred in society and there is a need to align the modern culture to  taboo tenets so that the taboos can be fully utilised for child development. The blending involves changing some metaphoric vehicles in some  traditional Ndebele taboos to include concepts from modern culture, and in some cases there is a need to ‘de-taboo’ for child development. Conclusions of the study are important for policy makers in domains  of child development and care such as pedagogy, social work, children’s rights  and the family. The findings also imply connections between taboos and legal theories on rights and these can be explored further.

Key words: Taboos, child development, Ndebele people (Zimbabwe), modernity, indigenous knowledge, Ndebele culture


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eISSN: 2077-2815