It was the new dawn as the day opened in its truest form in KwaBulawayo, King Shaka’s Great Umuzi. The roosters uttered their last raucous crow, jumping from the trees to get on with the business of the day, whatever that might be. Attempting to set the sky on fire, the sun was scorching hot that morning, seeming to say, “I told you I would rise again.” Birds were chirping, but the Zulu maidens were not to be outdone. They sang beautifully that very morning, on their way to fetch water from the river. Mbuzikazi led the singing, as expected, for her voice was silky and clear, as though she had umtshingo (flute) between her teeth.
Standing adjacent to the cattle kraal with Mbopha, Shaka remarked, “Lihle izwe lobabamkhulu, Mbopha kaSithayi!” (Oh! how stunning is the land of our ancestors, Mbopha ̶ son of Sithayi.)
(Mbompha was Shaka’s Chief Advisor.)
“Bayede! Are you talking about the cattle, valleys, the mountains, and the rivers?” Mbopha enquired, rather curiously.
“Cha Mbopha, ngisho lendoni yamanzi kaCele, mfoka KaSithayi” (No, I’m only talking about Cele’s entrancing daughter … she is as beautifully dark-skinned as the water berries.)
Mbuzikazi was stunningly beautiful; the kind of beauty that would have easily launched her modelling career had times been different. Her skin was flawless. Her matchless smile was as wide as dreams. Her lustrous lips were beautifully shaped, as though about to break into a song. Her teeth were milk white as the snow on the Drakensberg and equally alluring. Mbuzikazi had a stomach as flat as a soccer field, a ‘killer’ body that young men could only look at and admire, for marriage and sexual engagement were privileges reserved for much older men. On the whole, Mbuzikazi was captivating beyond any style or combination of beadwork.
The day went by, and, as the Zulu saying goes, “Ayilali ikhonjiwe” (No beast shall see the sun rise, once destined for slaughter.”) Little did Mbopha know that the King was to pursue Mbuzikazi that very evening.
“Abayilethe impi abafokazane sibahlasele,” (Let the commoners bring war to us so we can finish them off) said Shaka.
“Bayede, besaba wena Lembe eleqa amanye amalembe ngokukhalipha,” (They are afraid of you, Great One) Mbopha replied.
Shaka continued, “Uma kunjalo ke MfokaSithayi kuzomele sichithe isizungu ngokweq’iziko.” (In that case, we shall find something to pass the time…like indulging in sexual pleasures.)
He had barely uttered those words when Mbopha smiled, as if to say, ‘I didn’t know you were into such delicacies, Your Highness!’
“What could possibly stop Your Highness when you have such beautiful ‘flowers’ waiting to pleasure your desires?” enquired Mbopha.
This time Shaka had his eyes fixed upon Mbuzikazi, who was playing umagenda – a stone-throwing game ̶ with other Buthelezi maidens outside his Great Hut.
“Buka isinqe sakhe ngathi amabedlane izintaba zasoNdini, mfokaSithayi” (Take a look at her buttocks, son of Sithayi; they are as beautifully shaped as the Mabedlane twin-mountains of Ulundi.”)
Lost for words, Mbopha did not bother to nod, for it had never occurred to him that there were similarities between buttocks and mountains.
“If she ends up being married, it would be a great pity to cover such beauty,” joked Shaka. They giggled as they indulged in a pot of umqombothi (sorghum beer) and barbequed liver.
Mbopha saw where this was going and decided to take a ‘pee-break’ in order to tip off Mbuzikazi that the King wished to discuss something with her by sunset.
“Be sure to look like the shiny water-berries that you are,” said Mbopha to Mbuzikazi.
“Who am I for him to know my name, let alone call for me? I’m petrified ̶ absolutely petrified to be summoned by Ndabezitha, the Great One,” Mbuzikazi cried, in a state of panic which Mbopha would not indulge.
Nonetheless, the hapless maiden bathed rather hurriedly, rubbing animal fat on her body. Gleaming brightly as the water berries, and glowing like a flower in spring, Mbuzikazi walked to the Great Hut, swaying from side to side, seemingly putting on a show for the King, however, this was no show. Mbuzikazi knelt down and crawled, chanting Ndabezitha! Ndabezitha! (Your Highness! Your Highness!) as she approached the Great Hut.
Shaka’s face lit up when he saw the radiant Mbuzikazi. His right hand stretched out in welcome as he extolled her virtues that evening. Compliments flowed from him like mountain streams… after all, he was credited with composing over 19000 Zulu words, augmenting the Zulu vocabulary without a single borrowing. The King was charming; he was different; and this terrified the trembling maiden.
Why was he being so nice? Thoughts lingered in her mind. Finding no trace of anger in his face when their eyes accidentally met, she smiled, perhaps out politeness, or perhaps worse, out of fear.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” came the peremptory enquiry.
“No, Your Highness!”
Needless to say, this was the answer the King was expecting, for Mbuzikazi, along with the other Buthelezi maidens, were under the careful eye of Nandi, and all maidens would go through regular virginity testing.
King Shaka told Mbuzikazi that she was the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, besides his mother, Nandi, of course. This time he was holding the young girl close, caressing and kissing her. Out of fear she totally surrendered herself. One thing led to another ̶ Mbuzikazi found herself falling for her King, as he for her. A very awkward moment for both of them, I might add. Days went by, with Mbuzikazi finding herself sneaking in to the Great Hut time and time again. There was no doubt that she was in love, however, there remained guilt and the fear of not knowing what might come next!
It took only three months for Mbuzikazi to feel something moving inside her belly. Terrified by this development she confided in one of the maidens.
“Ngizwa sengathi ngizithwele.” (I think I’m pregnant.)
‘’Hayibo, by whom? Beyede the warrior King himself? I knew you were sneaking in and out to him but I did not suspect that it had gone this far,” said Nomagugu.
Awe mah! Are you carrying the restless one’s child? If he fights like that, imagine how he does ‘other things’?” joked Nomalizwe. Louder and louder they laughed, except for Mbuzikazi. This was terrifying, more than anything. Little did they know that Mbopha’s wife was eavesdropping, and had overheard the entire conversation.
Afraid of being direct, Mbopha’s wife went to the hut, pulled out her Umakhweyana bow, and started playing and singing the same song repeatedly.
“Ingane inyakaza esinyeni, ingane.” (The child moves in its mother’s belly.)
“Ingane inyakaza esinyeni, ingane.” (The child moves in its mother’s belly.)
Mbopha, anxious and puzzled by her persistence in singing this song, was becoming curious, for he knew her child-bearing age had long passed.
“It’s rather who made whom pregnant that I find fascinating, my husband,”
Mbopha’s eyes grew ever wider.
“Mbuzikazi, the daughter of Cele, is carrying the child of whom-I’m-afraid-to-even-say-his-name. I heard the girls talking.”
Knowing what the King might do to him had he found out that he also knew, Mbopha kaSithayi wasted no time. He went straight to Shaka to give him the news, in an effort to prove his loyalty.
Racing up and down the Great Hut, Shaka’s face became as dark as the rafters of the beer-brewing hut. He was sweating. His heart hardened, and certainly he was overcome with anger.
“Mbopha, you know what I do to liars? Is this rumour true, son of Sithayi?”
“Have I ever been false to you, Great One? I bring you news. Yingakho bengibiza umazulazayithole.” (That is why they call me the wanderer who only rests upon getting to the bottom of things.) The King’s childhood, as an heir of Senzangakhona had been bitter ̶ there was no way that the King wanted an heir. The King was angry. He wanted no similar life for his heir-in-waiting.
“Mbopha, son of Sithayi, I don’t give life – I take lives: that is my duty, which is my mission on this earth. The girl must die. Bring her here tomorrow morning. Mbopha kaSithayi.’’
Mkabayi KaJama (Shaka’s aunt) heard about this development in the Kingdom and tipped off Nandi to help the pregnant Mbuzikazi escape.
Nandi had always wanted a grandchild, and she was excited upon hearing the news. Before Shaka could carry out his plan, Nandi was one step ahead. She single-handedly masterminded Mbuzikazi’s escape to live with Nomcoba ̶ Shaka’s sister, who was now presiding over Nandi’s old Emkhindini Homestead. A wet-nurse, Nomagwebu, was chosen to look after the child.
When Shaka found out about the escape he was livid; he could not even look his mother in the face. He felt betrayed by his own blood. Eventually, he let his mother decide what to do with the child once born, but there was one condition…he never wanted to see either the child or its mother ever again. A baby boy was born at Emkhindini Kraal who brought much joy to Nandi. The news was spreading like wildfire, so much so that Nandi decided to move both Mbuzikazi, Nomagwebu, and little Shaka to safety; this time to Thembuland, or what is today known as Swaziland. She feared that Shaka’s brother, Dingane, would kill the child, or worse, Shaka himself.
To this day it remains a mystery as to what happened to Mbuzikazi and little Shaka.
By: Soka Mthembu
Photo Credit: Shaka Zulu, the movie
NB: Fiction blended with non-fiction, and a bit of fun:-)
Sanibonani, Molweni, Hello, Xin Chao!
Greeetings from Vietnam, this time:-)
Over the past few months I have been traveling in and outside Zululand doing storytelling and just admiring the beauty that is the Zulu Kingdom and its people. But what really got in the way of my blogging is my recent trips, with Zulu dancers, to Morocco in October, Vietnam in December 2015 and again Vietnam in February 2016. It has been a roller-coaster of excitement and I can’t wait to share the stories that I’m currently work on.
On before I forget, we are releasing a full-length music album (Beyond Zulu: Mkabayi kaJama) honoring the heroes and heroines such as Mkabayi kaJama. There are of course many other great songs such as Baba Nomama — a traditional Zulu wedding song (inkondlo) sung by a Zulu bride just before she says “I do” in a true Zulu tradition!
In the meantime enjoy the images from my recent trips in Zululand and outside of South Africa! For more images and videos; visit my company website Beyond Zulu Experience Check out Beyond Zulu YouTube channel
To many, Zululand is a place whose story does not mirror their own
To us it is a place we are proud and blessed to call home,
Despite all its challenges; poverty, disease and illiteracy.
We take comfort and pride in knowing that wisdom gleaned pre-colonial times has stood the test of time,
Our fields forever fertile
Our people just as beautiful and interesting beyond the colorful masaai beadwork
We need no photography, for our images are beyond beautiful
Nor theatres for our daily lives are theatrical;
Full of Tragedies—Personal and Collective
It’s a place where a child is raised by a village,
For we are one people
Here we roam at will, and marvel at the history of our Kings,
Heroes and Heroines;
Mkhosana ka Mvundlana Biyela,
Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza,
The mighty Zulu regiments; Ingobamakhosi, Uve, Ukhandampevu,
and many others….
I’m yet to find a place that blesses and touches my soul like Zululand
A place whose drumbeat draws one into the pulse of Africa
Even if we have nothing
This place gives us everything!
With this, Happy 2015 and I hope you join us as we dance away https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQmRG0cUaJc
The Zulu Kingdom has never had a void in selfless leadership. This was a time when traditional leaders also took to the battle to defend their land and their people. Their leadership style was beyond delegating – they led from the front! Shaka had instilled those values, because he too led his own army in tribal battles. This was a time when Amakhosi and warriors served their King, their country, and communities, with distinction. One unsung hero who comes to mind is Mkhosana Biyela of the Biyela clan, the son of Mvundlana Biyela. He lived at a crucial time in the history of the Zulu people during the Anglo-Zulu War. He died at Isandlwana, but he did not die in vain: I am here to tell his story.
When it became clear to King Cetshwayo and the Zulus that Lt General Lord Chelmsford’s ultimatum was untenable (which amongst other things demanded that the Zulus disarm, and Cetshwayo forsake his sovereignty), the king had no choice but to prepare his +/-20,000 warriors for what was to become the greatest defeat the British ever suffered at the hands of men armed with only shields and spears.
BACKGROUND: ANGLO-ZULU WAR
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, umtwana wakwaPhindangene, during the unveiling of Inkosi Mthiyaqhwa kaDidi of the Biyela Clan, described the battle of Isandlwana very succinctly when he said: “The resistance to colonial rule in Southern Africa reached a climax when the British colonial powers deployed a force larger than the force that they used to conquer the continent of India, in order to destroy the Zulu Kingdom. A full-scale war took place in order to destroy the old Zulu order, and to subjugate the Zulu nation. It was our ancestor, King Cetshwayo ka Mpande, whose regiments took on the British forces. The British at that time had the mightiest army in the world. King Cetshwayo’s regiments were only armed with their spears and their shields”.
It was on 22 January 1879 that the Zulu army, led by Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza, (a Senior General Commander and hereditary Chief of the Khoza in north-western Zululand, an old man in his 70s) were prepared to lay down their lives to defend their land, to fight the battle which they had never wanted in the first place. Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza, along with his men, had run all the way from Ulundi (about 92 km) to Isandlwana over 4 days, to lead his warriors against the invading the British. His high rank in the kingdom and his recognised abilities as a warrior made him a natural choice as a senior commander. Amongst the regiments which fought there were the mighty Ingoba Makhosi, Uthulwana, Udududu, Udloko, Indlondlo, Umcijo, Imbonambi, and Uve regiments, to name just a few.
Mkhosana kaMvundlana Biyela led the Ukhandampevu regiment (identifiable by their black-and-white shields). He did this against the request of the king, who had asked him to stay behind. His excuse was that “Ngeke ngilibheme igudu noKhandampevu uma ngingayanga eSandlwana, ngiyofela eSandlwana”: “I may never smoke the pipe again with my regiment, Ukhandampevu, if I don’t go with them to Isandlwana. I’d rather die at Isandlwana than stay behind.” The King gave him his blessing and he left for Isandlwana. What a remarkable and dedicated leader he was, determined to fight alongside his comrades!
When the British were firing their Martini-Henry rifles, the Zulu army became shaky, with most warriors already pinned down on their bellies to escape the bullets, almost as though they were ready to surrender. Something remarkable happed at that very moment! uMkhosana kaMvundlana stood up like a Colossus in front of his men. Turning his back on the British, he shouted “Yeyinina Laphaya Ningabaleki”, followed by the reciting of the king’s praises: “Isilo Uhlamvana Bhulumlilo Kashonga Njalo”—”Don’t Run, Don’t Run, The Little Branches of trees that extinguish the Great Fires gave us no such order”, He had barely uttered those words then the British shot him right through the head. He died instantly. As the brave warrior fell on the ground, after this selfless act, not a single warrior moved back an inch: they all rallied forward, more determined than ever to annihilate the British army. By sheer numbers and force of attack, the Zulu regiments won the Battle of Isandlwana. King Cetshwayo celebrated this victory. Had Mkhosana not intervened at the time he did, something could have gone seriously amiss, and today we would be living a different story!
Mkhosana was buried by his brother; weeks later his family went to Isandlwana to fetch his body so they could afford him a proper burial. However, the vultures had eaten his body, leaving only his traditional regalia —so the family buried his traditional regalia. He made the nation, the king, his commander, and his warriors proud. Ukhandampevu, (his regiment) was then known as “Ukhandampevu olwenqaka amatshe ezulu”, meaning the Ukhandampevu regiment which caught the hailstones…hailstones being the bullets!
How many of us today would be prepared to serve our country the way Mkhosana did? Would we expose ourselves to bullets like he did? Do we take the responsibility when our colleagues stumble, and try to inspire them? What kind of a man would abandon his own special occasion such as his wedding, choosing rather to go to battle? Mkhosana kaMvundlana Biyela was that man! I am eternally grateful to him and to many of his people for the respect which the Zulu people embrace today. It is the spirit of these warriors that kept the flames of our Zulu Culture burning. Ndabezitha! wena owadela uzimba emaNgisini Esandlwana!
By Soka Mthembu