Monthly Archives: September 2011

Word of the Week: Hlonipa

This is the first of a new series of blog posts from me, which I am rather ambitiously calling “Word of the Week”. I intend for it to be something interesting, a word or a phrase, representing some cultural information, or colloquial speech. I don’t intend to present myself as an expert in anyway. These will just be snippets that I pick up on my language learning journey.

Hlonipa is a Xhosa word, a verb. The ‘hl’ is pronounced as the welsh ‘ll’ (according to Teach Yourself Xhosa, I know nothing about Welsh myself). The only way I can describe it is like a combination of the ‘ch’ from loch, and ‘l’.

I had never heard of hlonipa before I read about it recently, and I don’t know how widely it is practised. It refers to a Nguni practice of avoidance of saying certain words because of taboo. For example, when a woman marries, she has to avoid saying the names of her husband’s male family members. As Xhosa names have meaning, this means avoiding saying those words. I belive there is a set of replacement words for this.

The power of words seems to be quite a big aspect of Nguni culture. See this link for some interesting info on the issue of taboo as it relates to HIV/AIDS –