Lately, I have taken a huge interest in the true history and facts of Africa and its people – the Bantu speaking people.
What is Bantu? According to the Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners, “Bantu languages are a group of related languages spoken in Central and Southern Africa.”
There are several Africans of the past who I find very fascinating such as Sigidi son of Senzangakhona and uNandi, a Princess from Elangeni, better known as Shaka Zulu, the gallant warrior who rose from a bitter childhood of being a mocked outcast son of a King to become the most talked about Zulu warrior to date after he invented tactful and effective fighting methods that saw him gain popularity and territory across Southern Africa. But, how much do we really know about him and his era?
It is a pity that our African ancestors did not have ways and means of recording their experiences. Imagine if they had diaries and could write. eat stories they would have left for us! In the past, the passing on of information from generation to generation was, solely and unfortunately, reliant on oral methods.
Many questions come to mind: Was that even effective or some facts got lost in the transmission? Again, the dissemination of information depended on messengers. Did they pass on the correct message word for word? What happened if a messenger got attacked and eaten by wild animals before getting to his destination? The sender of the message would wait and assume the message had been relayed whereas it had not while the intended receiver would be oblivious to anything.
How effective was information sharing and collection of news of events that occurred from generation to generation? Had there been ways of scribing the goings on, we would have most certainly been able to get the true facts of what really transpired in all the “historical” events we read about in books written by Europeans. Was what we read about the truth and nothing but the truth or just the opinions and biased views of those who saw themselves as superior and wiser than the Africans ‘running around in their birthday suits’ as one put it in one of the episodes in the series Shaka Zulu. Did we really get the truth as it happened, or it was the view of the writer and how he perceived the reality?
The history was first written by Europeans who “spoke” to the Africans of that time. The so-called speaking was done through a European interpreter who had learnt the local language. How effective was the communication that occurred through an interpreter who had learned to speak the local language? How had the person learned to speak Zulu well enough to play the middlemen in discussions? Were the utterances of the two parties conveyed correctly? Were the words spoken really translated the way they should have been? Who knows?????
When you think of it, there are so many inconsistencies. The records of the history of Africans only starts when the Europeans arrive on the African scene; they also include events that took place a few years before then. How did they get those details and statistics? Because, for one, they did not speak the local languages. To achieve this, of course, they communicated through the Europeans translators. My question remains the same: who had taught them IsiZulu? And how long did it take them to become fluent enough to converse with the Zulus who did not speak a word of English? Now, can I trust the translation that, supposedly, happened between the two sides through a European who had invested interests? Had this interpreter learned all the local language’s idioms, proverbs, etc, to translate effectively?
When I watched the movie Shaka Zulu and saw how Henry Cele (May his soul rest in peace) and his son Khumbulani Cele (who played the young 8 – 11-year-old Shaka) portrayed Shaka, I marvel at their excellence. You would swear they were the real Shaka! Why do I say that? It is because of what I read in some history textbook about the kind of person Shaka was. But, was that the real truth? Did he really do all those terrible things? In whose opinion was the story of Shaka told? Who told the story? Was it done through an interpreter as well? These are some of the questions I have concerning how this whole Shaka Zulu story is told. I guess we will never know the truth then!
I really do not believe Shaka was as barbaric as he is painted out to be. I believe that he was negatively portrayed to justify why the European settlers wanted to topple him from power. They found him to be a hindrance to their ‘Cape to Cairo’ dream and so, to make their job of usurping the African plains a done deal, they worked on his downfall and afterwards continued to smear his image in history books in order to make it seem like they saved people from him. With Shaka in power, their objective of controlling the African people and their resources would not have been as easy to achieve as they wanted it to be. Shaka would not allow them to have their way.
I find Shaka to be the greatest African warrior of the past known to us. He fought and won his wars using the original African tactics and weapons, untainted by western influences. If he had lived in a different era, he would surely have fought for the freedom of the African continent. Yes, he had his faults and weaknesses like all humans do, but I believe that he also had his incomparable strength which would have benefited the Africans. I guess we will never know the real facts about Shaka and his reign as well as his era.
I refuse to believe that the shared literature about my history and my people is the gospel truth. To start with, it is a product of a group of people who came to Africa with the sole aim of colonizing and taking over. They had ulterior motives and anything they said, and their actions were for their own benefit. It had nothing to do with benefiting the locals.
I am saddened by the fact that those beautiful African souls will never have their true stories told as anyone who had first-hand information is no longer there to verify anything written down as “facts”. Sadly, just because it is written does not necessarily make it the truth. The available literature could just be biased.
Although we will never know the true facts of his life, we know for sure that someone like Shaka Zulu graced the plains of Southern Africa in the early 1800s. He fought hard to become a force to be reckoned, ruled with an iron feast and brought dignity to the Zulu people – his influence was felt like a ripple across the better part of the sub-Saharan Africa.
If Shaka Zulu had lived in a different era, how would Southern Africa be like? What would the story of the African people be like today amid the #BlackLivesMatter campaign?
More influential African people in history’s stories to follow!
Who was your favourite African person in history?