Xhosa prophet brought to life in musical
Ntsikana introduced Christianity to Africans, writes Zipo-zenkosi Ncokazi
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.
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