Umgidi at the Mabambas': Gender, practice and performance among farm workers in the Sundays River Valley
Journal of Southern African Studies
Department of Development Studies, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Campus, Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
This article describes and analyses an umgidi, a celebratory feast that usually accompanies the final 'coming out' phase of circumcision, among farm workers in the Sundays River Valley, Eastern Cape. Anthropological monographs describing circumcision rituals among Xhosa-speakers appear not to discuss such a feast at all, despite this event being familiar to most rural and urban Xhosa-speakers, particularly in the western half of the Eastern Cape. In the absence of comparative information, this article introduces an umgidi feast as a multivocal event that comments on the spatial, performative and practice-oriented elements of life among workers in the Sundays River Valley. I show that farm workers have a definite sense of identity and place connected to the occupation of land as labour tenants and later as labourers. Their conservative rural values are closely associated with the memories of previous land occupation, but are also combined with experiences of displacement, so that memories of lost land directly inform the creation of current identities. An umgidi feast allows the unification of fragmented groups of kin and clan, and provides an opportunity for workers to articulate the pressures of modern farm employment. The prominence of female workers at umgidi feasts also heightens the use of domestic space as an idiom for commentary on experiences of disruption and labour domination. Broadly, the article contributes to an understanding of ritual among displaced communities in southern Africa, particularly labour tenants and farm workers on white farms. © 2010 The Editorial Board of the Journal of Southern African Studies.
agricultural worker; cultural identity; cultural tradition; gender; kinship; memory; Eastern Cape; South Africa; Sundays Valley