10 July 2011 by Julienne du Toit

A Xhosa Year

One of the delights of travelling slowly through landscapes and of spending time with locals is what you learn.

Recently I found out that the Xhosa people run their years from winter to winter - June to May. A new year begins when the star Canopus is glimpsed again for the first time.

Equally charming are the names the Xhosa people have given the months. Instead of the somewhat arbitrary half-mythical names the English have used, the Xhosas use plants, stars and the environment for reference.

January, for example, is EyoMqungu, which means the month of the Tambuki grass. February is the month of the swelling grains (EyoMdumba). March is the month of the first fruits (EyoKwindla), and April is the Utshazimpuzi (month of the withering pumpkins).

May, as you will have guessed, is the month of Canopus (uCanzibe), and similarly, June is the month of the Pleiades (Isilimela).

Midwinter is when the aloe inflorescences flame bright all over the Eastern Cape, home of the Xhosa. Accordingly, July is EyeNtlaba (month of the aloes).

August is when the first signs of impending spring arrive, so the Xhosas called it EyeThupha - month of the buds.

September is EyoMsintsi, which is the month of the coast coral tree. These bright crimson or orange flowers are a true sign that spring has arrived.

October (EyeDwarha) is named for the flowering lilypad. November is EyeNkanga, or the time when there are small yellow daisies in profusion across the veld.

December is EyoMnga, the time when the thorn trees flower.

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