I spent the last couple of days watching the mini-series Shaka Zulu for the second time. I just completed the last episode of the epic this morning. The film depicts the life of the Zulu tribe leader during key parts of his life as he grew up and as he reigned over his kingdom. The portrayal of Shaka Zulu by Henry Cele was a bit over dramatic for my taste. He talked slowly and precisely enunciating each syllable of his speech as if it was his last. The first time I saw the film I was with the woman who helped initiate me to Yemonja. The two of us sat and watched her personal copy of the film from her library. The woman was one of the most prideful children of Sango, the Orisa most associated with lightning and thunder.
According to this woman and the long lineage of priest that continues through her particular ile, traditional Yoruba and Ifa scripture credit Sango as being the Orisa of war and attitude. The children of Sango are believed to suffer hardship more than children of other Orisas and have understandable circumstances for their lack of integrity, compassion, and/or faithfulness. They are often judged as hard and difficult. And the men who are considered children of Sango are often expected to be very charismatic, charming, and womanizers; the cock of the walk. I was taught that the children of Baba Sango are very strategic and intellectual. Highly intelligent, these people are responsible for many of the advances in the technology of war. Therefore, Sango must have been the ori, or head, of Shaka Zulu.
Shaka Zulu is the warrior king credited with uniting many tribes of southern Africa into an empire based on military might and diplomacy with various friendly chieftains. The film shows the Zulu war lord as a heartless warrior, ruthless leader, and bloodthirsty. He threatened to kill his father, the king, for publicly disrespecting his mother. As king he had a woman killed not because she was unfaithful or expressed any dissention to his leadership. But she successfully recovered after receiving medical treatment from an English doctor for a malady that the tribal medicine could not cure. He killed his own infant son to keep him from ever becoming capable of a threat. He developed war strategies that left men dead on the battlefield, where few men had lost their life before. Why? Because there was always the possibility that someone else would develop the strategy to kill first. So logic would serve that to kill on the battlefield was little more than a preemptive strike.
If the reviews of this movie are any indication many people marveled at the strength and dignity illustrated by the actor Cele in his portrayal. But I could not help but see a grown man with considerable power throw tantrum after tantrum as the insecurities rooted in his development as an injured and helpless child continued to haunt him. No one can turn their back on the king lest his ego is injured and calls for compensation by murdering the offender. No one can stand above the king lest his insecure ego gives him the perception that someone is in a better position if an altercation erupts. No one can show the king any dissention or disloyalty as he constantly betrays one of his subjects after the other. Like the girl whose only crime was receiving proper medical care, it’s only a matter of time before the king perceives an innocent, loyal subject as a threat and calls for their death or exile.
My hostess enjoyed and enjoys the movie tremendously. But personally, as a descendent of Africans, I found this interpretation of Africa yet another insulting depiction based on stereotypes. The time frame is depicted as the early part of the 19th century. Yet the movie is done to illustrate the Africans as unaware of the “magic” of dyed hair. Until the white man came with his mirrors no African had ever seen their reflection yet they spend plenty of time at the water’s edge. Africans have no clue about medicine and have no concept of what it’s like to revive a person who is comatose. No one in the Zulu tribe is aware that they cannot outrun a horse, yet all manner of skins from zebras, lions, leopards, and others adorn the walls and their teeth line their necks.
But what is most insulting is that people who claim to be knowledgeable children of Orisa yet they give credence to these very stereotypical myths and behaviors. Children of Sango or any other Orisa do not have a license to exercise poor judgment or antisocial behaviors. I know many people who run their ile as if they learned from reading Shaka Zulu’s Ile Management for Dummies. Instead of making decisions that are beneficial to the community at large, decisions are made to assuage some personal insecurity developed years before. Just because someone inaccurately learns to address themselves in the plural doesn’t mean they’re fit to function as a leader.