Chaka, by Lesotho-born author Thomas Mofolo, belongs to the genre of historical fiction. It recounts the story of a Zulu emperor Shaka, a successful and influential warrior of the early nineteenth century in South Africa. The historical Shaka shares several affinities with his fictional namesake: they were both conceived illegitimately to an unmarried couple, both were successful militarily, and both lived their lives with perennial strife among their half-brothers.
Chaka is exiled with his mother, Nandi, by his father, Senzangakhona, who is put under pressure from others in the tribe to disown them for the illegitimate birth. Chaka is mocked by his peers, and he finds his way to a sorcerer, Isanusi. Isanusi provides Chaka with two malevolent but powerful auxiliaries, Ndlebe and Malunga. With their help, Chaka manages to kill a rival claimant to the kingdom, Mfokanzana, and shortly thereafter, the king of a neighboring tribe, Dingiswayo. Chaka continues to meet with ample military success, but degenerates with respect to his moral character.
Chaka's unbridled success, aided by mysterious sorcerers, takes its toll on his humanity. When Chaka is told to kill his wife and his mother, he does so. Near the end of Chaka's life, he is resigned to his fate and is visited by ghosts of those whom he killed (much like Banquo to Shakespeare's Macbeth, in his play of the same name).
Examination of the novel Chaka reveals that there is a high cost to power, and that power, while useful, is harmful for its own sake.
*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 calls himself the diviner. This man seems able to read Chaka’s mind; together, he and Chaka come to wield great power. The novel’s straightforward narration of these events bestows on its landscape a supernatural element of mystic proportions.
Qube. Kafirland village of Nandi, Chaka’s mother. It consists of many individual kraals—as the walled enclosures built around individual houses are known in South Africa. The huts provide shelter to people and domestic livestock, and their walls are intended to keep out human and...
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