Top 10 Lessons from Tata Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa

Updated: Jul 5

A people without their history, beliefs and customs are lost to the world. The scholar, historian and philosopher Credo Mutwa was one of the earliest to observe the impact on a people of being disconnected from the heritage, not progress. Here are the ten lessons we learned from his various works covering history, mythology, poetry, musings and observations over a lifetime of scholarly achievement few can match. Credo Mutwa followed his research enquiries and curiosities, observations with discussions and debates, learnings from others and owned his information and being informed through own reasoning.

1. There a lot of stories in the world to hear.

Do not forget the wisdom in the stories of the elders...

"There I shall sit before Ubabamkulu

Who shall relate to me the tales of Yore.

There I shall kneel before the old Gegulu

And hear the legends of Those-that-lived-Before."

2. Every society has stories about its origins and the people who came before them. A society cannot afford to outsource its stories.

In "Behold the first is born", Mutwa recounts "The Song of Life had begun on earth The song which is still being sung..."

3. More history can be found in a poem or song than in historical accounts. Frequently the poem or saying stands timeless, yet the story account changes from each mouth to the next ear. Ntate Mutwa tells us of the origins of the instrument kwown as Marimba (Xylophone).

4. Trade and exchange of goods across the seas did not arrive in the 15th century. Mkukutu's 3rd century roman beads, Chibuene's 7th century glass beads, Ibn Battuta's 1325 trip, Zheng He's 1404 voyage where he observes, "..the next few days saw a brisk trade between Lembedu and the Strange Ones."

5. The story and legend of Lumukanda should be as well known as any "tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical" had it been retold often enough.

From the arrival of visitors, to the adventures of Obu and Luba, Lumukanda saw it all.

6. Ideas presented as new to a people are sometimes not new at all. They are the same ideas the society held before being repackaged.

"Now promise me Tembani, that you will take my little girl and bring her up as your own child. But remember...tell her who her father was.."

7. On new ideas and observation of the stars. Nsongolo says, "Great Chief, wake up, there is a Star of War in the sky."

"So that is what excited the people so much. A very rare thing...a great comet."

8. Words and language are created from the actions they are meant to convey. And meanings never stop changing. IsiZulu speakers know that 'isibhamu' comes from the the very sound it makes, "bhaa." Mutwa observes, "Baba and Mama are Iba and Ima in Yiddish, Baba is Turkish."

9. Writing language. Credo Mutwa's book is resplendent with decorations, motifs and sketches of figurines and glyphs whose meaning he has translated. That title requires updating Penguin !

10. Did I say I had ten ideas to share? Let us end with some humour. My favourite number, do not ask why, is the number 7. In IsiZulu, Credo calls it 'Isikombisa', the pointed or pointing finger. Credo writes, "This is the idiot number, or the number of failure." Find another.

Source: Indaba, My Children. African Tribal History, Legends, Customs and Religious Beliefs. by Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa, First Published 1964 Photographs Credit: Credo Mutwa Foundation

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