The spear is born for the Zulu

Kamal Baruah
It was a chilly December evening and the auditorium was sparingly occupied. I was engrossed in thought, taking a short nap, listening to the anchor to introduce the program. The Commissioner of the Directorate of Cultural Affairs, Govt of Assam declared the event open. I was still hearing as auditorium is for pertaining to hearing only. It was about an international musical evening. Music is loved by every human being even animals would react to music and giant elephants by far have the best response to flute. The soothing flute music had further mediated me to go relaxing.
But there was magic from the hands of African drums that I finally opened my eyes. I saw tall warrior doing handstands, cartwheels and jumping over the dais with the beating of drums, the occasion went with a bang. I felt like watching gymnastics at Olympics. They were from the rainbow nation. They are rich in cultures and traditions that we are known since Gandhian era. The bilateral relations between the countries have grown strong since the end of apartheid and developed close strategic, cultural and economic ties. Indian Council of Cultural Relation had recently presented “Bayede Shaka” a musical evening by KCAP Ekhaya group from South Africa at Guwahati on 6 December.
It was short run folk music of 45 minutes duration but heart stopping spectacular dance. Every move tells a story from tales of war to hunting to celebrations in the traditional Zulu dance. The vibrant signing from the performers on the stage has further added its beauty. The eight members group beautifully illustrated the history of Zulu King Shaka. They performed the warrior dance with drums and full traditional attire at precise timing and uncompromised posture. The muscular strength of dancers did calculate weapon controls to eye contacts with the audience.
They sang, danced and conquered the whole auditorium. The musically driven sequences covered the entire show. At the onset, it narrated the story of King Shaka KaSenzangakhona and his endeavours. The King narrated his early beginnings and how his mother, Nandi, gave birth to him out of wedlock. The family had to leave their tribe as Nandi and Shaka’s father Senzangakhona, were from the same tribe. Marrying someone of the same tribe is considered bad luck in Zulu tradition. Nonetheless, Shaka eventually claimed his position as King of the Zulus and led his warriors to victory in wars with his “Magic Spear”. Thus it called “Bayede Shaka” – “the Spear is born” for the Zulu. Finally the king was murdered by his two half-brothers for protecting Zulu tribe. Viewers may feel that the set was minimal, for the traditional costume. The performance received a thundering ovation at the end.
Looking back at their history it found the rise of the Zulu empire under Shaka has great significance. The first modern human are believed to have inhabited South Africa more than hundred thousand years ago. Zulu people are referred to themselves as the people of the heavens. There are powerful feudal chieftains from Zulu community since seventeen century. They conquered and controlled other tribes by military might. The warrior King of the Zulus is called the African Napoleon. The reign of Shaka Zulu (1816-1828) was one of the most influential monarchs of Zulu Kingdom.
European began exploring African Coast from 13th century for trade. The Portuguese travelled through Cape of Good Hope by opening a sea route to India followed by the Dutch. The discoveries of diamonds and gold in 19th century had a profound effect on the fortunes of the region propelling agrarian-based economy towards industrialisation. The powerful military Zulu empire defeated in a series of engagements with Afrikaner and British settlers. British Empire invaded them in the battle of Ulundi in 1879. They got independence in 1961 and now Zulus are the largest ethnic group with 10 million (22%) people living mainly in KwaZulu-Nadal province of Republic of South Africa. Zulu (IsiZulu) is one of the official languages of RSA.
Tradition continues to play a significant role in the lives of many South Africans. It has King and Queen in their nine provinces. They have traditional leaders, chiefs and headmen in rural areas that play important roles in mediating local disputes. Anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela was also born into the AbaThembu royal family in Eastern Cape Province. Former President Jacob Zuma, a Zulu traditionalist has sought to strengthen the role of traditional leaders. Goodwill Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu is the incumbent King from the Zulu royal family since 1968.
I had the honour of witnessing such musical extravagance of dance event from the invitation of the renowned stage artist Dulal Roy who opined that the music required no barrier for understanding any language. They acted perfectly with control for the entire show. Well it’s worth seeing the beating of drums if you are visually stimulated. Zulu is something quite spectacular especially when the men and women are equally danced harder with traditional outfit. The objective of ICCR is to promote cultural exchanges with other countries and people for developing relations. Thereby helping us to see and appreciate cultures across the globe.
A freelance writer based in Guwahati. Kamal Baruah is a former Air-warrior with IAF