Imvubu Newsletter


© Mpondo, M. 2011. Imvubu 22: 2, 5.

Until about the end of the nineteenth century the impundulu, lightning bird, was associated with lightning. Some Xhosas believed that when lightning struck it was caused by impundulu setting its own fat on fire, others believed it was caused by its discharging a stream of faeces. Others again believed it was caused by its rushing through the air to deposit an egg in the ground. The egg then moved underground until it reached water in a river where it hatched. To prevent this from happening herbalists dug round the place where lightning had struck in order to remove the egg. Informants are agreed that this bird has red shanks. Some say its feathers are black, others say it is a white bird with red wings. When it flaps these wings it causes thunder.

Nowadays the general idea is that impundulu is kept and owned by a woman ,but it is not known where she keeps it. Impundulu is also said to be kept as a friend with which the owner has sexual intercourse, as men do with umamlambo. Badly deformed infants were traditionally regarded not as human beings, but as offspring of impundulu, and were done away with. Some people believe that every woman owns an impundulu, having inherited it from her mother, though not every woman uses hers for witchcraft. Others say that only some women possess an impundulu and they invariably use it for antisocial purposes.

Traditionally, when a man suffers from a chest complaint such as tuberculosis, the diviner declares that he is being killed by his wife’s impundulu or by that of another woman. The bird is said to kick a person between the shoulder blades, and vomiting or coughing blood is a sure sign of its attack.

When the owner of an impundulu dies it turns into an ishologu which, now that it is no longer under control, brings death and destruction upon the home. If, however, the ishologu of a female diviner is used for the initiation of her descendants, both male and female, into divination, it becomes a benevolent (ingqalakazi). The benevolent does not kill but, instead, helps the initiated with their tasks when they are fully fledged diviners.