Original Research

Things of the sky: Cultural astronomy and onomastic creativity in selected Tshivenḓa poetry

Moffat Sebola, Kgabo L. Mphela
Inkanyiso | Vol 15, No 1 | a48 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ink.v15i1.48 | © 2023 Moffat Sebola, Kgabo Mphela | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 January 2023 | Published: 28 November 2023

About the author(s)

Moffat Sebola, Department of Languages, Faculty of Humanities, University of Limpopo, Polokwane, South Africa
Kgabo L. Mphela, Department of Linguistics, Translation and Interpreting, Faculty of Humanities, University of Limpopo, Polokwane, South Africa


Cultural astronomy remains a vital component of indigenous communities across the world because it represents the preservations of their scientific knowledge. This knowledge consolidates various dimensions of indigenous knowledge systems on navigation, cosmology, religion, time, seasons, ritual, myth, ceremony, law, agriculture, food, economics and social structure. In the consolidation, one notes their concept and perception of objects such as the sun, the moon, the stars, months and seasons expressed in various modes, including poetry. Hence, in this article, eight Tshivenḓa poems were purposely selected for their thematisation of the foregoing objects and provision of the Vhavenḓa’s knowledge production around them. Four poems came from Daniel Malivhadza Ngwana’s Vhakale vha hone, two poems were from Ralson Ramudzuli Matshili’s Zwiala zwa Venḓa, one poem was from Mashuwa Tshindane’s Mutambo wa muhumbulo and one poem was from Ntshavheni Alfred Milubi’s Ipfi ḽa lurere. Relying on the thematic analysis technique, the article shows that, in naming astronomical objects, not only is the Vhavenḓa’s onomastic ingenuity revealed but also their astronomical knowledge. The Vhavenḓa’s notions of onomastics, cosmology, selenology and astronomy can in this regard be viewed as meta-narratives translatable into myth, religion, ritual and philosophy.

Contribution: Given the current discourse on the decolonisation and Africanisation of knowledge in South African education, this article might assist the design of pedagogy on Africans’ view of the harmony between the chthonic world and terrestrial life.


astronomy; calendar; culture; folklore; indigenous knowledge; onomastics; poetry; Tshivenḓa

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