Camp-Fire Tale of the Old Zulu Chief’s Wife

The story goes that the old Zulu chief, Senzan, was generally loved and revered by his clansmen. Even the neighbouring tribes respected him, besides fearing his warriors’ power. He wasn’t one to start a fight, demand too much or behave badly. So each year, the fathers of the most beautiful young girls of Zulu and allied clans, would gladly nominate their budding beauties to marry the chief.

It was all fine and well when Senzan was young and energetic. Each year’s dry season would start with tribe gathering, dancing and new weddings. He would have a whole year to enjoy his new wives and make them pregnant, before the next batch was to arrive. But for the aged Senzan, it all became too much of a chore.

Refusing the young brides meant the greatest disrespect to the fathers, and worse, to their tribes – not to mention the hugely negative impact on the chief’s own profile. Each year, he could spend less and less loving time with the spring brides, and each year fewer of them turned fertile.

When the young bride from the Langeni clan arrived, there was no fire left in Senzan … not even any wood! He liked the 12 year old girl like a 75 year old grandpa would … but nothing like a chief planting the seeds of a new Zulu warrior. They would lie together at night and Senzan would tell her stories of war and peace, of love and remorse – till Nandi would fall sleep. This went on serenely until the first wet season of their marriage.

After six months of scorching heat and blowing dust, the first rain storms broke like the gods’ laughter. The rolling white clouds of west came blowing into giant foamy mountains. Their soft tips then hit the stratosphere and were shed into a thousand thin milky streaks. They came in numbers to cover the sun, and soon all was dark and black – the way Africa should be! Rain came down, not in inches but in feet, not in drops but in oceans. That’s when Nandi discovered the erotic effect of cool rain showers and pond plays. That’s when “happiness” finally seemed to smile at her maturing body, with its namesake – Thoko.

Their kind of love was nothing new, nothing that the tribes hadn’t seen and pretended not to have. But sadly, theirs was too intense to hide. Nandi’s glowing face was brighter than the burning charcoal and her round and rising belly left no room for lies. Worst of all, Thoko wasn’t running away or hiding.

Senzan was baffled of what to do? Save his chieftain face by sacrificing both lovers to the demons of pride? Or close his eyes and ears to the clan rumour and chatter that the next chief’s son will be “happy”. Thoko solved the dilemma by being a foolish proud peacock, and by claiming Nandi and the forming child. The answer was simple when his feeble attempt couldn’t unseat the chief – death for adultery.

In Africa, killing is simple and common – so the chiefs needed a more ominous threat to keep the young and large boys away from their lovely and pliable brides. Surely, Thoko had taken Nandi’s honour by force of trickery and had to suffer like an adulterer and a traitor. Only if Nandi would stay quiet of her love and consent, could she and the unborn remain to live.

So day after day, Nandi had to look at her lover’s sculpted body, as it shivered and shrieked with the pain of hanging. An adulterer-to-chief was not to be hanged the normal way. He would be hanged on a dozen ropes, each attached to his aching muscles with small metal hooks. Thoko was barely lifted above the ground, for the weight of his own bound body to be a gentle yet persistent torturer, during his last days on earth.

The story goes that Nandi would come, sit and watch him everyday. Some even say that those images traveled into the sickly soul and mind of her forming son – in order to give the Zulu their Shaka. The monster, who grew to terrorize the African soul forever!

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