Xhosa prophet brought to life in mu­si­cal

Nt­sikana in­tro­duced Chris­tian­ity to Africans, writes Zipo-zenkosi Ncokazi

Daily Dispatch - - Dailyw -

SO GREAT was Xhosa prophet Nt­sikana’s in­flu­ence in the in­tro­duc­tion of Chris­tian­ity to Africans that even to­day, his story con­tin­ues to be told in var­i­ous forms of art.

Univer­sity of Fort Hare mu­sic depart­ment stu­dents col­lab­o­rated with the East Cape Opera Com­pany in a mu­si­cal pro­duc­tion based on the life of the prophet, Nt­sikana Gaba.

Nt­sikana is one of those sig­nif­i­cant fig­ures in the his­tory of the Xhosa peo­ple in the Eastern Cape and he has of­ten been re­ferred to as the fa­ther of black Chris­tian­ity.

An­cient folk­lore has said Nt­sikana had pre­mo­ni­tions and vi­sions of events that even­tu­ally came true.

His prophe­cies re­sulted in his fol­low­ers let­ting go of an­ces­tral wor­ship and other tra­di­tional prac­tices.

It is said he “ex­pe­ri­enced the bap­tism of Christ be­fore any sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­ac­tion with mis­sion­ar­ies”.

Nt­sikana was said to have “seen the light” and brought his peo­ple the good news of the Bi­ble and the prom­ises and mercy of Thixo (God).

He also com­posed some hymns that are still sung to­day.

The play starts off with a nar­ra­tion which is an in­tro­duc­tion to Nt­sikana and that era by Jonathan Ncozana.

As soon as the nar­ra­tion is over, the ac­tors belt out songs and tra­di­tional praises; here we are in­tro­duced to Nx­ele Makana, who was also a Xhosa prophet and war­rior un­der the same king as Nt­sikana, King Ngqika.

Nx­ele was also a Chris­tian en­thu­si­ast, how­ever he had com­bined this with tra­di­tional be­liefs.

He had promised his peo­ple he would be able raise the dead and that those an­ces­tors would be able to drive out the white op­pres­sors.

The lead role of Nt­sikana is played by Mkhu­l­uli Sy­d­well Mil­isi, who also di­rected the mu­si­cal.

Mil­isi said: “The univer­sity’s mu­sic depart­ment and the opera com­pany re­searched the de­tails of Nt­sikana’s life and com­bined them into th­ese sig­nif­i­cant episodes of his de­vel­op­ment from a herd boy to a tribal coun­cil­lor for Chief Ngqika to a seer and prophet of his peo­ple.” The mu­si­cal tack­les a num­ber of is­sues that came about be­cause of Nt­sikana’s con­ver­sion and all that went with it but the most preva­lent was the peo­ple’s re­sis­tance to his teach­ings and this new way of life.

His fam­ily and peo­ple were dis­ap­prov­ing and re­luc­tant to fol­low his new teach­ings.

I en­joyed how the ac­tors all por­trayed this reaction.

The birth of re­li­gion was not an easy thing on the peo­ple be­cause they saw it as a loss of iden­tity.

The prob­lem was that Chris­tian­ity’s teach­ings meant the shed­ding of most tra­di­tional prac­tices such as the smear­ing on of red ochre on the face and polygamy.

This was seen as an aban­don­ment of cul­ture and tra­di­tion.

Nt­sikana him­self dis­carded his sec­ond wife be­cause his new be­liefs for­bade it.

This was an emo­tional scene, the sec­ond wife – played by Khayakazi Taliwe – is forced to leave Nt­sikana’s house with her chil­dren; all of a sud­den be­cause of re­li­gion a woman finds her­self with nowhere to go.

It was seen as shame­ful dur­ing those times for a mar­ried woman to re­turn to her maiden home.

The cast were all dressed in beau­ti­ful and bright tra­di­tional at­tire – Nt­sikana is dressed in a leopard print cloth at the be­gin­ning of the play but af­ter his con­ver­sion he is seen clad in a white cloth; this de­picts his re­birth.

Mil­isi said the mu­sic drama can be acted in to­tal or in se­lected episodes with nar­ra­tion in be­tween, as they did.

“It is de­signed to be played in schools and col­leges by the stu­dents and staff avail­able with sim­ple cos­tumes and data pro­jected scenery adapt­able to class­rooms or small halls,” said Mil­isi.

He said their depart­ment chose this way of us­ing cur­rent singers and in­stru­men­tal­ists and some of the staff, one of the lec­tur­ers Ger­maine Gamiet played one of the mis­sion­ar­ies, Rev­erend Reed.

The mu­sic from the play in­cludes Nt­sikana’s com­po­si­tions and is based on lo­cal tra­di­tional songs adapted to the telling of the story.

Pic­tures: MARK AN­DREWS

LOOK­ING INTO FU­TURE: Nt­sikana bat­tles with the vi­sions and pre­mo­ni­tions he has been get­ting with re­gard to new cus­toms and the re­moval of old cus­toms. Here he ad­dresses his peo­ple

RE­BORN: Dressed in white to sig­nify his re­birth, Nt­sikana is now a man of God, a teacher of the Bi­ble and leader of the Chris­tian rev­o­lu­tion

MAN OF THE PEO­PLE: Xhosa prophet Nt­sikana, played by Mkhu­l­uli Mil­isi clad in leopard print, with fel­low vil­lagers dur­ing a wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion

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