Following my in-country orientation in Gaborone, Botswana, I developed a fascination with African legends and tribal history. I made it my goal to find and purchase a book on that exact subject the next time I visited the bookstore. Upon my next visit to Exclusive Books in Riverwalk Mall, I purchased “Indaba, My Children: African Tribal History, Legends, Customs and Religious Beliefs” written by Credo Mutwa, a Zulu Witchdoctor and Custodian of Sacred Tribal Relics.
Throughout the 694 pages, Mutwa explains that many of the stories he tells within the pages of the book are forbidden to be told to the public, forbidden in the sense that Mutwa could lose his life for revealing much of what he has written within the pages of “Indaba, My Children”. At the same time, the author stresses his reasoning for taking this great risk; he feels the knowledge must be shared so that the white man may understand the ways of the black man.
This book was first published in South Africa in 1964, during what was arguably, the height of the apartheid. This fact, without a doubt, heavily influences the tone of the writing. While the cultural story-telling seems to simply provide a direct recantation of ancient tales, the voiceover-style narration provided by Mutwa himself carries a very irritated tone. There is much anger and frustration in Mutwa’s words directed at the white mans’ persistence in changing the traditional tribal ways. He speaks of the white mans’ ignorance and unwillingness to learn anything about the ancient history that drives these ways and asks how one peoples’ lifestyle can be superior to anothers’. While at times I found the tone to be too aggressive, I can also understand it by taking into consideration the time and place in which he was writing.
“Indaba, My Children” acts very much like a combination between a biblical text and history book. Stories of worldly and human creation are combined with tales recounting great wars and the succession of tribal leaders. One of the aspects I found most interesting was the introduction of and interaction with members of other races such as the ‘Strange Ones’ (Europeans) and the ‘Feared Ones’ (Arabic). Although it was well known to me that these cultures brought great upheaval to the tribes of Africa, I did not truly realise to what detail it occurred.
This book served both Mutwa’s purpose to educate and my curiosity to learn. After reading this book, I find myself understanding much more about African traditions and the reasoning behind many of the customs I have come across that I have found strange. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in African culture and/or folklore.