Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa
As a young man, Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa, a Zulu from the South African province of Natal, was determined to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and become a tribal historian in order to keep the rich oral tradition of his culture alive. In this book, begun in response to the injustices against South Africans and their culture during a heavier apartheid period than now, he set these legends down in writing. The previous edition of this book was entitled Indaba My Children: The Oral History of the Zulu.Why the subtitle was changed to Indaba, My Children: African Folk Tales, I do not know, but I do know that this is one of the greatest things I’ve ever read.
Dr. Raye Richardson, co-founder of Marcus Bookstores, was using this book as a text for her Humaniites class at San Francisco State University, Department of Black Studies. She told me how beautiful it is. It seems like thousands of years of history compressed into a diamond, condensed into metaphors thick and deep. The super powerful beings are plentiful and believable; the stories, spellbinding.
Mr. Mutwa spent ten years memorizing the history to pass it on. There are many, many chapters, told in cliffhangers. One of my many favorites is the story of Marimba. She is half-goddess, half mortal and Queen of the Wakambi. In her captivating chapters she invents song, dance, the drum, and xylophone, among other things. She’s incredibly beautiful, loving and carries a curse from her mother’s rival: whomever she marries will die within three moons. It’s difficult because she is also part mortal with mortal needs and urges. Well, two or three late husbands into her story, in a cave, Marimba explains to her son, Kahawa, why she’s considering surrendering herself to Nangai, the leader of the forces that are attacking her peoples: “It seems that when he was driven out of the land of the gods he was grievously wounded by an arrow of Mulungu, the Father of Light, and he has been almost completely eaten away by the poison from Mulungu’s arrow and he is dying the slow death of an immortal god. In order to survive he needs the living flesh of another immortal, a human immortal, to consume raw. He must drink a little of that immortal’s blood every day. And I happen to be the only immortal within reach.”
Kahawa loved no one on earth more than he loved his mother and it did not matter if the whole Wakambi nation were wiped out, as long as his mother was safe. As she almost exists the cave, he knocks her unconscious, gently lays her out and holes her up in the cave, rolling a huge boulder to seal the opening. Nangai shows up, his flesh constantly sloughing off him. He is in command of huge fire-breathing flying dragons that gather handfuls of scattering townspeople and devour them between fire-breathing assaults.
Kahawa bravely “confronts” Nangai who has one of his creatures ready to poke an enormous talon into the kid’s defiant stomach, when Marimba appears and surrenders to the evil leader to save her son and her people. Once Nangai kisses her, he is instantly healed but she turns into a kind of cabbage-head, her wits dimmed. Only then does he realize the value of the beauty he has damaged and takes Marimbe to live in a beautiful underground chamber made of crystal with its’ own pure river, where he will spend a thousand years, if necessary, soothing her, trying to make up for what he’s done to her.
Raye explained to me that this is the story of marriage.