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Chanti Niven

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Nkosi Bayeti (a Zulu short story)
By Chanti Niven
Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rated "G" by the Author.

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A short story based on the birth of an extraordinary Zulu leader, Shaka

Her screams seemed to reverberate through the amorphous membrane of darkness to grate annoyingly upon the nerves of the hard knot of gathered women. The girl, however, was to be given no assistance through the birthing process. The women were there to act only as observers of the birth of iShaka, the 'beetle'. Grunting and panting violently, she crawled at their feet, a hand clutched to her engorged belly, copious tears mingling with the streams of red dust-stained perspiration that streaked her young body with vivid colour. The pains were close now, almost one on top of the other. Her time had come. A sudden violent contraction caused her eyes to roll back and her throat to convulse and a scream became as guttural as that of a wild animal in its final death throws.

The beautiful young maiden of the clan of Zulu bathed in a river and sang with childish abandon, completely oblivious to the intense eyes that watched from the riverbank. Her creamy coffee-coloured skin gleamed as droplets of water separated in rivulets as they ran off her taut young body. A lighter coloured skin was admired among an ebony dark people. Nandi was a rare beauty and 18-year-old Senzangakona swallowed as he stared lasciviously at her nubile 14-year-old form.

The women watched, stoically immobile and on the surface unmoved by the girl's agony and obvious panic and fear. Only the faint twitching of Sibongile's hands and the strong pulse in her neck betrayed her conflicting emotions. She and Nandi were the same age and had been childhood playmates. It was hard to relate the pretty giggling girl of then to the screaming pain-crazed creature before her. Sibongile clasped her hands tightly together and allowed her eyes to glaze over to block out the disturbing images. The abomination would soon be born and they would kill it. The customary way to do this was to take the infant by the feet and smash its head against a rock. This baby had been conceived out of wedlock - the illegitimate child of Senzangakona, a Zulu prince. He would not recognise this child because it had been conceived with a girl from what was considered to be a lesser tribe.

She gathered her isidwaba to her bruised body and rose stiffly to her feet – blood stained her tender thighs. He had been brutal but nobody had paid any attention to her screams for help. Her head held high, she walked the remaining distance from the river back to the kraal. Others averted their heads. Her virginity taken, she would not be permitted to participate in the upcoming Umkhosi woMhlanga.

Nandi clutched and clawed at Sibongile's legs, her huge dark eyes imploring and desperate but her friend remained rigid and unmoving. The 'beetle' seemed to literally be tearing her young body apart.
"Ngiyafa!" …I am dying! "Ncedani bo!" …Help me!

An elder placed her hands roughly under Nandi's armpits and dragged her away from Sibongile. She could see the girl was weakening but there would be no help. If she died in childbirth it would not be a bad thing. She was a shame to the clan of Zulu.

In a vision she saw her son high upon a hilltop; his arms thrust high in victory. A shield clasped in one hand and an assegai in the other. She heard voices raised in unison, crying, "Nkosi Bayete! Bayete Nkosi!" We salute our king.

There was a hush of silence at the moment of birth. Even the young mother in the grip of bearing down had become silent. The 'beetle', looking suspiciously like any other baby, slid from his mother's body in a sluice of blood and water. The Sangoma lifted the child by its feet while an elder cut the cord and finally ministered to the exhausted mother. The child remained silent and as frozen as an effigy.

"The beetle is dead! The ancestors have spoken. So be it"


"Nkosi Bayete! Bayete Nkosi!"

The Zulu king, leader of the great Zulu nation, turned to look at her, his proud, fierce eyes softened and he extended a gentle hand and called for her, "Mama!"


ishaka - beetle (how Shaka derived his name)
isidwaba - soft hide skirt

Umkhosi woMhlanga - Reed Dance Festival
Shaka - the beetle

Nkosi bayete - royal salute (highest form of respect)

* The reed dance is an activity that promotes purity among virgin girls and respect for young women.

Footnote: Clearly Shaka did not die that night. He grew up to become a mighty warrior and the leader of the great Zulu nation. His birth is clouded in mystery and nobody knows why he was allowed to live.











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Reviewed by Gene Williamson 4/7/2009
I love this, Chanti, and admire your compelling narrative skill.
You are indeed a most talented writer. -gene.

I am now trying to complete my collection of stories (the Captain
Jack series) which my son pressured me to develop as a novel. I am
now up to chapter 25 and near (I hope) to the end. Since it is largely driven by dialogue you can see why I admire your narrative skill. -gene
Reviewed by Zaid Marriner 1/26/2009
Beautifully written! Your words counjour up movie-like imagees!! Superb!!
Reviewed by Marcus_ Aurelius 11/4/2008
Superbly written; visceral and uncompromising, beautiful in its way too.A marvellous evocation of a distictly African way of life.
Reviewed by Jeff Mason 7/28/2008
Wonderfully-told, Chanti. I always love the rich tapestry with which you weave your tales.

And, coincident or not, I am just now finishing the first of the two-book Michener novel "The Covenant." The crux of the story involves the very beginnings of South Africa - the people, the social structure, the tribes, the assgais, the kraals, the tribes and tribal customs. [the book was given to me by my sister, Peggy, not long before her tragic and unexpected death in 1984 at age 23 - finishing the novel is a part of my catharsis and a way of continuing to honor my sister.]

I am, clearly, fascinated by history and, even though Michener's is a fictional account, it was researched and based largely on factual aspects of the land and the people of the time covered. The span of the book ranges from 30,000 B.C. up to the 1800's. -- Jeff
Reviewed by Charlie 7/22/2008
Riveting! --Charlie
Reviewed by Tactfully Naive 7/21/2008
Tension sustaining and vivid account of a ritualised, and, in this instance, brutal birth process. This pattern resonated with that carried out by the ancient and equally savage Celts. When I finished reading the story and let my tense shoulders droop to their relaxed state once more, I was struck by the thought that we in the West would not think of describing our past (even present) particularly 20th century triumphant war leaders in such a romanticised way as 'mighty warrior.' Call me cynical, but collective Western self - loathing and self - guilt aside (at least among life's obssessive cultural deconstructionists and revisionists), maybe it's also something to do with dress and geographical location. A cigar smoking, portly, balding, three - piece suited 'mighty warrior' named Winston hardly conjures up the same kind of lean, muscular, golden brown image attired in a grass skirt named Shaka, does it? Nor does Great Britain fire the imagination in the same way that 'great Zulu nation' does.
Now I'm wondering how the birth of Sir Winston Churchill (When 'Sirs' were so titled according to valiant deeds) was greeted by Lord and Lady Randolph. Better leave it there.
Me and my runaway thoughts.

Note: My brother and his wife visited Isandhlwana and Rorks Drift last year. Evocative and moving.
Reviewed by richmond engelke 7/20/2008
all the warriors of souls gather to become a nation. the stories are told forever. leave it to a teller of stories to open the vast hope of a warrior, good read rich
Reviewed by Regis Auffray 7/20/2008
She gathered her isidwaba to her bruised body and rose stiffly to her feet blood stained her tender thighs. He had been brutal but nobody had paid any attention to her screams for help. Her head held high, she walked the remaining distance from the river back to the kraal. Others averted their heads. Her virginity taken, she would not be permitted to participate in the upcoming Umkhosi woMhlanga.

To me,this is a painful account, Chanti. Very much appreciated though.

Love and best wishes to you,

Reviewed by Felix Perry 7/20/2008
It is so good to see you back and with such a powerful story as this. You and your lovely way with words has been missed here on the den Chanti but not forgotten...welcome home.
Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 7/20/2008
Outstanding imagery, compelling writing: makes for a very well written story. BRAVA, Chanti~!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. :D
Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner 7/20/2008

An excellent story that takes the reader there in vivid imagery - well done.

(((HUGS))) and love, Karla.

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