my seven teen years, I grew up on the family farm, a few miles inland
from the Ifafa Beach train station on the east coast of the Province
of Natal in South Africa.
Umtwalume River ran through our farm on its way to the town of
Umtwalume on the east coast. For a few years, I attended school in
the Town of Umtwalume. I remember two teachers. Daniel Lubbe and
Gilbert Goldstone. Gilbert Goldstone's farm was next to ours.
a year, during the annual vacation month of July, a troupe of
story-telling African women minstrels would visit the farms,
entertaining farm families. They spent only two nights on a farm.
They were welcomed everywhere. Nobody seemed to know when and where
this annual event was started. Everybody agreed the beginning
happened before the present generation.
leader of the troupe was a tall woman named Lwerng. Sometimes she
hinted that they were around during Zulu King Shaka's time. King
Shaka was assassinated in his home by followers of his half-brother,
Dingane, in 1828.
the years I knew the troupe, Lwerng was the only member that returned
players accepted food and clothing in payment. The story-telling
included chanting, drum-playing, and dancing. Members of the troupe
used many languages. The audience was free to join in, with its own
was so much fun in those events, I wasn't the only teen that had
serious thoughts about joining the troupe.
discovered quite by accident, how to be invisible; not really; just a
trick of magic; must have been.
worked with four persons. A particular grouping instantly made the
four invisible. This ability was especially valuable when the troupe
encountered people who did not like them. It was spectacularly
entertaining to see instruments being played by players who were
invisible, they were not intangible. And, so, although animals could
not see them, animals could smell their presence. Hence, even while
invisible, they were still vulnerable to poisonous snakes, and
predators like lions and mosquitoes.
year there were some new stories. They repeated stories if the
audience requested. Since they did not have their stories written,
their repetitions were never the same; not in words, not in
instrument accompaniment, not in accompanying actions and gestures
favourite request was about their origin in the time of Zulu King
Shaka. They welcomed this request especially because it gave them
opportunity to tell of their belief in how they came by the invention
to render themselves invisible.
the time of Shaka, there was no Zulu nation; there were many
independent Negroid African tribes, all of the Nguni race, living in
what later became known as Zululand, in South Africa.
was a Chief of one of the smaller tribes. By Nguni custom, he had
many wives. All men were allowed many wives. Senzangakhona was
reluctantly obliged to accept Shaka's mother, Nandi, as his last wife
because he had made her pregnant before she was formally accepted as
one of his wives.
treated her disrespectfully in that, first, when her father had
approached Senzangakhona about accepting his daughter as a wife, the
Chief ridiculed her father by saying his daughter was in a false
pregnancy. It was believed that false pregnancies were caused by an
insect, iShaka, that entered the body.
when the baby was born, Senzangakhona was obliged to take Nandi as a
he disparagingly named the boy, Shaka.
he relegated mother and son to living quarters among his other wives,
as far away from his home as possible.
the worst of all disgraces among the Nguni, the Chief had no other
children by Shaka's mother.
childhood was miserable. He was an outcast taunted, shunned, bullied
by all the other many 'legitimate' sons of Senzangakhona by his other
anger in Shaka served him well in that it made him a fearless hunter.
He won the respect of Dingiswayo, a Chief of a major Nguni tribe,
when he killed a lion and presented the trophy to Dingiswayo.
in the history of the Nguni people had any Chief been so honoured.
Dingiswayo rewarded Shaka by making him the leader of a regiment of
Shaka's leadership, his regiment won every encounter in the many
minor wars among the Nguni. When Senzangakhona died of natural
causes, Dingiswayo overrode all Nguni custom by bypassing all
Senzangakhona's other sons, and giving the Chieftainship to Shaka.
Dingiswayo died in battle, Shaka took over Dingiswayo's tribe, and
went to war against all tribes that disputed his leadership. Shaka
never lost a war. By military force, he unified all the Nguni into
one nation he called AmaZulu. The word Zulu means Heaven.
than all his unique achievements, the most everlastingly puzzling
fact about Shaka Zulu as a Nguni Chief, was that although it is
reported he built homes for nearly two-thousand women acknowledged to
be his wives, he never had children. There is nobody living in whom
Shaka Zulu's DNA lives.
claims he was assassinated by his half-brother's accomplices. This
claim can never be accepted as fact because, first, there were no
impartial witnesses. The claim is that the murder took place at a
fireside where Shaka and about three others got drunk.
his body was never found. Down through generations, many guesses have
been offered about what transpired at that fireside drunken party.
is the guess the Lwerng troupe repeated at their annual performance
to us at Ifafa.
claimed that after his drunken fireside buddies had inadvertently
killed their Chief in a drunken brawl, they fled in fear, perhaps
even not knowing he had been fatally wounded. Shaka's lifeless body
was discovered by his servant women; they immediately spirited it
this very day in the twenty-first century, traditional Zulu tribal
medicine promotes belief in the healing benefits and other miraculous
effects gained from eating human living organs, especially when the
organs are still living-warm.
believed that one of the miraculous benefits gained by the servants
of those Shaka women who carried their King's body into oblivion, was
how to be invisible. Those women knew that when Shaka's mother,
Nandi, died a year earlier, all her living women servants, by Nguni
custom, were buried alive with her corpse. Shaka's women servants
could expect no different fate if Shaka's corpse were found, to be
given official burial. And, so, either, the women servants ate the
body, or disposed of it in another way that has never been
Lwerng troupe always opened with the story about the beginning of
life on this world.
world was like all others in the infinite universe in that it was
just a thing of rocks and soil and air and water. There was no life
Creatures arrived from the stars, and thoroughly loved living here.
In time, they created vegetation, which was their kind of life,
except that the vegetation here did not move about freely. The Living
Creatures seemed not to be able to imbue vegetation with locomotive
abilities. They were working on it.
then, at a time when some of them were playing about with mud at a
riverside, a mud-shape became animal life. Which particular animal it
was, has been lost.
Living Creatures were excited, and very much moreso as they became
aware the mud-animal living things were developing the ability to
make changes in themselves, without the help of the Living Creatures.
And they had acquired locomotive abilities. The Living Creatures were
in awe. And so the world of countless animal life forms came about.
the beginning, humans were just another mud-shape that came alive
with many, many others.
thousands and thousands of years, all animals thrived in peace, their
numbers increasing. And then, just as inexplicably as mud became
living, some mud-animals began eating other mud-animals!
original Living Creatures were utterly disgusted, and frightened!
Eating was unknown in their way of existence.
discussed the matter among themselves. They had to admit, sadly, that
they were at a loss to understand the distasteful eating-evolution of
considered their option to destroy all life that had come from mud.
They rejected that option because destruction of any kind was not in
decided to abandon Earth. They did. They have never returned.
last year the Lwerng troupe visited our farm was our last year on the
farm. It was sold to the Sugar Cane Company, Reynold Brothers. We did
not know it would be the last visit. Had we known, we would not have
been so happy when Obed Oliver, my cousin, two years older than me,
asked permission to join the troupe.
our family, Obed's request was a most natural part of his life.
he was the only Leap Year person in the family, from forever. Lwerng
herself was momentarily speechless in awe when she was told this by
Obed's mother, Ruth. Lwerng could barely whisper her observation that
King Shaka, too, was a Leap Year person.
frequently, in the process of a conversation, Obed would speak in
language that was unknown to him and to everybody else. It was not
always in the same unknown language.
and insects stayed away from Obed. This was surprising if only
because Obed never ate meat.
unexpectedly, Obed would slowly rise above the ground. He said it
felt as if he was being sucked upwards. The hair on his head would be
drawn to stand straight upward. He wore his head hair long, down to
cover his ears. It would happen sometimes when he was walking along
in the company of others. During farm chores, we were always careful
to have Obed do chores that did not require sharp tools. If there
were animals around, they would run away from Obed at those times.
never saw Obed again after that last year. Some family members kept
track of the Lwerng troupe, and would travel to celebrate with them,
annually. They reported Obed was an especially valuable troupe member
because his presence guaranteed their safety from wild animals such
as poisonous snakes, and predators like lions and mosquitoes.
too, Obed Oliver was being most successful as a drummer, dancer,
singer. Visibly and invisibly.
author's name in
of the message we
won't know where to send it.)