Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*South Africa. The interior of what is now the Republic of South Africa provides a realistic backdrop for the quasi-historical story of the rise and fall of the Zulu founder-king, Chaka (also known as Shaka) in the early nineteenth century. Thomas Mofolo depicts South Africa as a relatively wild country, in which the influence of the European settlers is not yet pervasive. The narrative focuses on the northeastern corner of the country occupied by the Zulu, the richest and most agriculturally advanced area of African settlement. Most of the novel takes place here, but comparisons to the poorer regions serve as an internal frame of reference to show how fertile land gives rise to a more warlike people than the regions where finding food is a more pressing concern.
*Kafirland. Mofolo’s term for the northern part of Natal Province more generally known as Zululand Africa. (“Kafir” derives from an Arabic word for “infidel” that white South Africans transformed into a pejorative term for Africans.) Kafirland lies between the Indian Ocean to the east and a mountain range traversed by rivers to the west. The region is depicted as lusciously green and fertile, without the life-threatening droughts found elsewhere. This part of the country is relatively densely populated and has given rise to large, numerous, and prosperous villages. In the novel, Kafirland is also a place of pervasive witchcraft. Masters in the art possess special knowledge of medicines for enchantment, bewitchment, murder, and killing enemies, as well as love potions. During his rise to power, Chaka relies heavily on witchcraft.
Many natural geographical features in Kafirland are imbued with supernatural powers and linked to magic phenomena. An example of a special feature of the landscape being singled out to explain a magical occurrence occurs at an unnamed spring by a tall tree, where Chaka meets a mysterious man who...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Dathorne, O. R. The Black Mind: A History of African Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1974. Discusses Chaka as a product of tradition and African oral history. Argues that the work is more than the mere debunking of myth about the Zulu leader.
Gerard, Albert S. Four African Literatures: Xhosa, Sotho, Zulu, Amharic. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971. Gerard discusses Chaka within the context of the religious beliefs (that is, Christianity) of the author. Biographical information about Mofolo is provided.
Ikonne, Chidi. “Thomas Mofolo’s Narrator.” In Aspects of South African Literature, edited by Christopher Heywood. London: Heinemann, 1976. Ikonne’s criticism deals primarily with narrative techniques in the novel; he finds a “double narrative” running throughout.
Kunene, Mazisi. Emperor Shaka the Great: A Zulu Epic. London: Heinemann, 1979. Written as a narrative in poetry, this poem details biographical elements and stands in contrast to the novel.
Wauthier, Claude. The Literature and Thought of Modern Africa: A Survey. Translated by Shirley Kay. New York: Praeger, 1964. Discusses the historical figure, Shaka, in the light of Mofolo’s literary creation. Gives particular attention to paganism in the novel and to the character of Isanusi.