Author: Walton Golightly
Genre: Historical Fiction
Year of First Publication: 2008
Country: South Africa
'In times of war Legends are born in blood'. This is the statement on the cover page of Walton Golightly's epic novel AmaZulu, which tells of the deeds of Shaka KaSenzangakhona, the founder and father of the Zulu people.
Writing was unknown to the Zulus of Shaka's day, and although many books have been written about this phase of our history, all draw from the same primary core texts. For historians this constitutes a major stumbling block. For writers, however, it's an invitation to play ... (page 635)
And with this invitation to play, Golightly mixed facts with fiction and created a story that would hold the reader's attention till the last word is read.
Written in a mix of tenses and persons, the story tells of the birth of Shaka and how his father Nkosi Senzangakhona KaJama, refused to accept Nandi's pregnancy, attributing it to a stomach illness caused by the intestinal beetle, Shaka. To mock him and the people who stood behind the Shaka's father, including his uncle, Mduli, Nandi named his son Shaka, after the intestinal beetle. Though she was quietly installed as one of Shaka's father's wives, they were later to leave The People of the Sky, Zulu, to Dingiswayo of the Mthetwas. This was where Shaka learnt all he needed to become a great warrior, taking the Ruler, Dingiswayo, as a mentor and a godfather. And when Shaka was ready to take over the rulership of Zulu it was Dingiswayo who brought father and son together and who made him promise that Shaka is his legitimate son, and therefore by age he becomes the ruler of Zulu after his death. All this was to avoid usurpation of powers as Shaka had not lived in Zululand and any attempt to take over the headship by thrust would be considered as such.
Later, with Mgobozi as his war General and Strategist, Shaka was to expand the Zulu nation by defeating several tribes including the Langenis, and their arch-enemy, the Ndwandwes, whose chief Zwide - the Devourer of Kings, had killed Dingiswayo and Zwide's mother, Ntombazi of the Skulls, whose collection of skulls kept growing by was devoid of one particular skull, Shaka's. Shaka's reign was marked with fear, bravery, war, and expansion. He knew what he wanted - to be a bigger Nation, known to all and he knew exactly how to get this. Shaka's inspiration was provided by his mother, Nandi, and sometimes Pampata, Shaka's favourite. Through the cleverness of the latter and the inspiration of the former Shaka became a feared figure in all of the lands. His bravery and achievement preceding him, everywhere he went.
Shaka's reign was similarly marked by the might and intelligence of one Induna and his udibi - a young servant. The Induna served as Shaka's shadow and so wherever he went he represented Shaka. It was the Induna who released the Sotho people from the Baboon gods, who killed the great snake of the fish-eating people, where Shaka had also stayed during their flight from Zulu, who killed the man-eating people and who was later to fetch Shaka's Ubulawu.
The Ubulawu, was supposed to be the King's talisman bringing him power and good fortune and it was a requirement that every King gets his and it is him alone who would be able to see it as it could be anything. And though Shaka has being prodded by his mother and Dingiswayo, when alive, to seek it, Shaka had refused, believing that his disciplined and trained army, his lovely mother, were his ubulawu. And when Nandi died and he descended into rage, killing anybody whom he sets eyes upon and instituting harsh laws, Shaka was to finally seek his ubulwau, if his hard-earned Kingdom was not to be lost. Sitting all along on the sidelines was Dingane, The Needy One - Shaka's half brother - scheming to gain control of the kingdom.
Reading this story is like watching a movie. It has a precise use of language and the mixing of the Zulu language with English was done to perfection. Every foreign word used has been explained in a way that does not distract from the reading but in a significant way strengthens it. Walton has done an excellent job in providing us with a vivid account of a great personality whose deeds has stretched beyond the peripherals of his kingdom and beyond what he could have imagined possible, albeit mixing it with fiction. Every chapter is capable of holding the readers' attention in a way that most acclaimed stories don't and given the size of the novel, this is no mean feat.
My only problem is that events seem to peter out in the tail end of the story and that could possibly be because during that period, Shaka was himself lethargic and mildly psychotic. Again, I would have been happier to have read the writer's view Shaka's death.
This is a book that every bibliophile should have on his or her shelf. It is a great addition to ones collection. Even if fictitious in its creation, Walton Golightly took time to educate us on the Zulu tradition and culture, and to create a believable figure in Shaka KaSenzangakhona and his people, something which deserves great commendation.
ImageNations Rating: 5.5 out of 6.0