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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 609

The novel Chaka was written by Thomas Mofolo, an author from Lesotho. The novel tells the fictionalized and mythical story of the rise and fall of Zulu emperor Chaka. Throughout the novel, Chaka is portrayed as a man of both courage and power, as well as a man of cruelty...

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The novel Chaka was written by Thomas Mofolo, an author from Lesotho. The novel tells the fictionalized and mythical story of the rise and fall of Zulu emperor Chaka. Throughout the novel, Chaka is portrayed as a man of both courage and power, as well as a man of cruelty and violence. He is a deeply flawed character, and the reader learns more and more about these flaws as the story progresses.

The novel begins by recounting Chaka's youth, introducing the historical and personal context during which he was raised. After being impregnated out of wedlock by Senzangakhona, a tribal king, Chaka's mother faces jealousy and hatred from others in her community. After Chaka is born, the two of them are banished to another village, where Chaka grows up as an outsider.

As Chaka grows up, he becomes stronger and braver; he eventually attains a heroic status in his village after killing a lion and a hyena that had been threatening the people. This status is short-lived, however, as Chaka soon finds himself in the midst of a battle for succession to the tribal kingship. Chaka learns that his father has called for his death to mitigate the disagreement, and Chaka is then sent on the run from assassins.

It is while running from the men who seek to kill him that Chaka meets Isanusi, a witch doctor who assumes the roles of magician, con man, sorcerer, doctor, and killer all in one. Isanusi inoculates Chaka with "the medicine of blood," explaining,

If you do not spill blood, it will turn against you and kill you instead.

He convinces Chaka that he needs to be able to kill without thought in order to clear a path for himself to become powerful. This situation marks a clear change in Chaka, who shifts from a justice-loving, but persecuted, character to a ruthless killer seeking vengeance and power.

As Chaka gains more and more political power, he begins to build his empire. He first gains status among the Dingiswayo village, where he becomes a hero after assisting them in war. It is there that he meets a beautiful woman named Noliwa and, with the help of two of Isanusi's friends, marries her.

Shortly after his marriage to Noliwa, Chaka learns that his father has passed away, and the chosen heir, Mfokanzana, has claimed the throne. Chaka returns to his home village to fight Mfokanzana and is successful in killing him. At this point, Chaka is granted kingship over his father's village; from there, he begins to conquer other territories, including the villages of Dingiswayo and Zwide. He combines the three villages into one kingdom.

Even with all of this new power, Chaka is not satisfied; he wants more. Isanusi promises Chaka that if he continues to follow his orders, he can rule even more land. This power-hungry side of Chaka is what turns him into a tyrannical leader. He becomes so lustful for power that he kills his own people without hesitation. Eventually, Isanusi's orders lead to the destruction of all that Chaka has gained, a point that is emphasized by the fact that he kills not only his mother but also his beloved wife Noliwa on the Isanusi's instruction.

The novel draws to a close as Chaka becomes ill and starts having dreams during which he is visited by the ghosts of those he has killed. He begins exhibiting symptoms of what medical professionals today would likely diagnose as schizophrenia. The story finishes with men from Chaka's own kingdom coming to kill him. Chaka accepts this fate and does not try to fight them. Fittingly, Chaka's story thus ends with violence.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 853

Senzangakhona, the tribal king, is without male children. He decides to marry again so that he can have a male offspring for the kingship. He is attracted to Nandi and, overcome by her beauty, takes her when they are not yet married, in violation of tribal law. She becomes pregnant, whereupon the two are married secretly. Chaka is born. The other wives are jealous of Nandi and her son Chaka, and they threaten to expose Senzangakhona for impregnating Nandi before marriage. In the meantime, other male heirs to the throne are born.

Senzangakhona banishes Nandi and Chaka to another village. At first, he sends them cattle and sheep to help, but when this is discovered by his wives he is forced to discontinue the presents. Chaka grows up lonely—an outcast from his father and from the other young boys, who torment him as an outsider. He learns early to fight and to seek and take vengeance.

Chaka’s courage and boldness grow, as does his strength. He performs deeds of heroism that make him a favorite in the village rather than an outcast. He kills a lion that was terrorizing the people. Later, he kills a hyena as it dragged a girl away.

While bathing in the river, Chaka is visited by an ominous snake. The event foretells that Chaka is destined to greatness. His mother, having witnessed the event, tries to visit a sorcerer, but it is learned that the woman died after arranging for Chaka and Nandi to consult her own master in sorcery, Isanusi.

Chaka becomes the most likely successor to the tribal kingship, and a dispute arises with Mfokanzana, the chosen heir. Chaka is forced to flee the village after his father, Senzangakhona, arrives and orders Chaka killed.

Upon fleeing the village, Chaka meets the sorcerer Isanusi, who likes the young man and promises him that if he will obey in all things that he will one day inherit his father’s kingship, which is rightfully his by birth. Chaka agrees. Isanusi makes several different kinds of medicine with which he strengthens Chaka and his resolve.

Chaka, who previously told his mother all things, does not report to her about his meeting with Isanusi. Chaka then, following Isanusi’s instructions in all things, goes to the kingship of Dingiswayo, where he quickly becomes a hero and king’s favorite by killing a madman. He helps Dingiswayo in battle, immediately becoming by far the best warrior in the tribe. Chaka likes warfare and determines that he wants to fight a war that has no end. Ndlebe and Malunga, sinister agents of Isanusi, appear mysteriously to assist Chaka in all things. Chaka lies to Dingiswayo about their origins, claiming that they are childhood friends. The two possess supernatural gifts that help Chaka in all things, particularly war, marriage, and tribal politics. Chaka falls in love with Noliwa, Dingiswayo’s daughter, but he is afraid to take up the matter with the king. With the help of the two agents of evil, Ndlebe and Malunga, the marriage is eventually made. Noliwa is to be Chaka’s favorite wife.

Senzangakhona dies, whereupon his son Mfokanzana claims the throne. Following the instructions of Ndlebe and Malunga, Chaka fights Mfokanzana and kills him, whereupon Chaka is installed as his father’s successor. An old enemy of Dingiswayo, Zwide (king of a neighboring tribe), makes war against Dingiswayo and kills him. Chaka, after conquering Zwide, then becomes the new king of Dingiswayo’s and Zwide’s territories as well as that of his father.

Chaka, now with three kingships to his name, makes numerous reforms in his new, combined kingdom. His innovations assure that his warriors are the most fierce and feared in all of Africa. Chaka is visited by Isanusi, who promises him that he can become even more powerful and that he can control more land than he could ever see or people than he could ever visit—all if Chaka continues to follow Isanusi’s orders. Chaka, lustful for power, agrees.

Chaka turns into a tyrant. He kills his own men without discretion, often killing even the most faithful of his own warriors for inconsequential reasons. The people come to fear him totally and want a new leader. Chaka responds by becoming more and more fierce, tyrannical, and arbitrary in controlling his growing kingdoms.

Chaka continues to follow Isanusi’s instructions exactly. When he is told to make medicine for his warriors with blood from his son, he does so. When he is told to make more medicine with blood from his wife Noliwa, he kills her. Finally, Isanusi gives him the order to kill his mother Nandi, and Chaka carries out that command as well. Each time he acquires more land and people, becoming the greatest leader in all of African history.

Finally, Chaka becomes sick. In his illness he has numerous dreams in which he is visited by the ghosts of those he killed, particularly family members. When his own men come into his quarters with spears to stab him, he does not resist. He accepts his death with stoicism.

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