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Inyathi ibuzwa kwaba phambili (‘Seek the wisdom of the old and wise’)

By July 29, 2022August 2nd, 2022Events, Inspiration
Two younger men helping an old man walk on the beach while two others record them.

Inyathi ibuzwa kwaba phambili (‘Seek the wisdom of the old and wise’)

How can a boy who can barely swim, one not that close to his roots, be tasked to carry the message of the ocean? This crown weighs heavy on my head.

As I grapple with overcoming these thoughts flooding my mind, I always seek my grandfather’s side, and ask: “Tat’omkhulu, can you please tell me a story about you and the ocean?”

A younger man and an old man sitting side by side talking.

Loyiso and his grandfather (photo credit: Arthur Neumeier)

When I started to show my interest in studying the ocean, my mother threatened to strangle the life out of me, before letting me set a foot into the ocean. “You meddlesome boy,” she remarked, “Moses was required to take off his sandals when he stood on sacred ground for a reason. Have you forgotten what the ocean is?”

The only person who could put her mind at ease about me has always been my grandfather who is a Inyanga (traditional healer). “Leave him be, there is little you can do to stop him,” he said, “when the ocean calls, those with ears must oblige.”

My brothers and I, from a very young age, have been told tales about the essence of the ocean. Strangely these were never more than just stories until very late in my life. It is for this reason that I do not just fear the ocean, but deeply revere it.

Underwater image of someone scuba diving through coral reef.

Loyiso Dunga in Castle Rock AKA Roman Rock (photo credit: Arthur Neumeier)

The IUCN defines Marine Protected Areas (MPA) as clearly defined marine and coastal areas that are recognized and administered through legal or other effective measures, for the purpose of long-term conservation of marine biodiversity, it’s associated ecosystem services as well as cultural values.1 As tools of conservation, MPAs are becoming increasingly favoured, and as social constructs have the potential to address broader societal concerns, address local community needs, and create opportunity for future generations.2,3

Nonetheless, to many, the term MPA still evokes unpleasant memories of the brutality and lasting effects of apartheid in South Africa, which destroyed social and cultural norms. Along with dispossessing inhabitants off their land, colonization instigated the demise of the indigenous wisdom crucial for maintaining the sacred balance between man and the ocean.

Niyabona bazukulwana (‘Grandchildren can you see’), the ocean has entrusted us with many of its secrets. However, once we stray too far from these teachings, the price to pay is very high. The knowledge of the oceans has for many generations been conveyed in allegory and credo.

Silhouette of of someone with hands together in prayer position while a bird flies behind.

Loyiso Dunga in Castle Rock AKA Roman Rock (photo credit: Arthur Neumeier)

The ocean is where the heart of Umdalidiphu/Qamata (‘the creator of all including the abyss’) lies. Ulwandle (the Ocean) is the very essence of life, everything begins and ends with the ocean. Kwa tanci (‘since the beginning of time’), it has borne silent witness to bloodstains washed downstream off the great Fish River and Ushaka’s rock. It has heeded prayers of great diviners pleading for rain. It has revealed its secrets for concoctions to inyanga’s praying to rid their people of sicknesses.

The ocean has sent its sentient beings such as amahlengesi (‘dolphins’) to drive shoals of fish to beach themselves to fend off famine. And protected people who emerge as amphibious souls from drowning. It summons the great whale (umnenge) to escort the spirits of the ancestors to the abyss, their final resting place.

Whatever the ocean provides today, give thanks wholeheartedly, when the ocean does not provide tomorrow, take care not to curse it and throw your waste in it. Tomorrow you will still need it. It has the power to devour magnificent cities to take back what it has provided and hide away its crown jewels.

To me and all those who came before, safe guarding the ocean has and continues to reach depths of the intangible. Protecting the ocean, is to protect the very fabric of life. In absentia of indigenous knowledge, we can never truly safeguard the ocean. Unlike what we see today, my grandchildren, the ocean is not divided. Masses of the sea have always been locked in an ancient dance, rushing off to replenish where abundance declines. Sadly, now humanity is tinkering with forces beyond our control.

Two younger men helping an old man walk on the beach while someone video records them.

There is not a single nation that you may ask, that will not attest to the magnificence of the ocean. That is why humanity is drawn to it and connected by it in the most inextricable of ways. Go on and imagine all life as you know it on land, everything! In the ocean you will find their original form and many more.

Look into the past; there, painstakingly arranged, are the solutions to a future where nature and mankind thrive. In the UN decade for ecosystem restoration, more than anything else, we must strive for the regeneration of the ancient oceans, ancient forests and ancient wisdom – this is the only stronghold for biodiversity.

Camagu!! Kuni nina bomthonyama. Koo Kumkani kunye nee Kumkanikazi. (Gives praise to the custodians of this knowledge)


  2. JB Mann-Lang, GM Branch, BQ Mann, KJ Sink, SP Kirkman & R Adams (2021) Social and economic effects of marine protected areas in South Africa, with recommendations for future assessments,
  3. SP Kirkman, BQ Mann, KJ Sink, R Adams, T-C Livingstone, JB Mann-Lang, MC Pfaff, T Samaai, MG van der Bank, L Williams & GM Branch (2021) Evaluating the evidence for ecological effectiveness of South Africa’s marine protected areas, African Journal of Marine Science, 43:3, 389-412, DOI: 10.2989/1814232X.2021.1962975
Scuba diver in full gear in shallow ocean water.

Loyiso Dunga Table Mountain MPA (photo credit: Arthur Neumeier)

About the author:
Loyiso is a conservationist and a marine biologist by training. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Cape Town. He has devoted his life to advocating for marine ecosystems and is a global ambassador for kelp forest ecosystems. He is passionate about environmental education and outreach and enjoy the science of storytelling.

For more on this work see:
The Kelp Keeper on YouTube,
TheKelPanda on Instagram and
Loyiso (Victor) Dunga on LinkedIn

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