It isn’t often one reads a book the writing of which put the author’s life in jeopardy, but Credo Mutwa’s book Indaba, My Children is such a book. Written in 1964, during the heyday of apartheid, Mutwa is noticeably silent on that topic. His purpose was completely other and he succeeded admirably.
The subtitle of Indaba, My Children is “African Tribal History, Legends, Customs and Religious Beliefs.” Don’t be put off by the nearly 700 pages, just take your time. It is well worth the read. Mutwa’s first name is Vusamazulu, “Awakener of the Zulus” and he has wakened considerably more than Zulus. If his book had been more widely read and valued, one wonders how different South Africa’s history might have been.
Mutwa (his name means “bushman” in Zulu) wrote to clarify the African mind for the western world. His lineage as a Zulu witchdoctor/shaman gives him the authority, learning and insight to set before us the true and ancient accounts which were handed down orally for generations. He did this at the risk of being called a traitor to his people.
Terrible as the stigma of traitor is, I shall risk bearing it in the belief that what I am doing here will help my people in the end. Only time will tell whether I am right or wrong. There has been much suffering and bloodshed in Africa in recent years--bloodshed that has led to hatred and still more suffering. And the most pathetic thing about it is that much of this could have been prevented had the White rulers of Africa had a better knowledge and a better understanding of the way a Black man’s mind works than they do, even now.
So the self-proclaimed Outcast describes his mission. Having memorized word for word all the ancient myths and legends, he is a consummate story-teller. His writing down has enabled historians to reconstruct the Bantu history: the alliances and enmities of tribes. His role as Guardian of Tribal History is one of protection and many felt that his revelation was betrayal.
For these reasons and many more, Indaba, My Children is a rich resource everyone living in Africa, whatever color or cultural affiliation, should read. The title is parallel to the western “once upon a time” and brings a richness of cultural description.
Many elements in subsaharan African history have been recorded in texts written by whites and their history suffers from the imbalance of their perspective. Mutwa has brilliantly explained many errors of white history which are still being taught because his book is no longer being read widely. He clarifies the truth of the story of the “slaughter” Piet Retief and explains the colossal cultural faux pas in the creation of the Kariba Dam.
For a time Credo practiced Christianity (where he picked up the name Credo) and later Islam. But it was his own African Traditional Religion which called him back and regained a native son more determined than ever to hold fast to his culture and lore. His desire to protect Africa from foreign depredations was his motivation to write. His breadth of understanding and ability to communicate across cultural boundaries is truly remarkable.
He concludes: Oh my Africa, do you see the reason why I broke my oath? I am not selling you out to strangers; I am pleading your innocence in an African Place of Justice.”