What we have learnt about the Zulu culture and the Zulu History has more often than not been described through the eyes of our former colonial masters, it is time for us to reclaim our heritage and rewrite our histories, the purposes of this blog is to examine the Zulu culture and open up debate and dialogue on its importance and impacts today.
For whom the bell tolls
The story of the bell from Entumeni
An interesting artefact is on display at the Zululand Historical museum, and it so happened that on a normal work day a brainwave hit me all at once. This bell with its macabre appearance is a catalyst for my presentation.
A brief background of the story is this. It was the year 1844 when a Norwegian missionary, Hans Schreuder left his native country and set sail for Southern Africa to begin his work of introducing the Christian faith to the Zulu people. His attempts at negotiating with the Zulu king Mpande were unsuccessful at first, something that can be attributed to the obvious culture clashes and misunderstandings between the European Christian culture and the Zulu ancestral one.
It must be remembered also that it was not the first time that the Zulu king had been in contact with missionaries, though they were not in direct contact with him but with his elder brother the late King Dingane KaSenzangakhona. The relationship between the American missionaries like George Champion and the Zulu King Dingane had not yielded any fruit and as a result Christianity did not have any meaningful impact on the Zulu people and their way life remained unchanged.
However by 1851 the Zulu king Mpande KaSenzangakhona was indisposed and knew well the advantages of western medicine. Due to a diet of beef, beer, maize based foods like uphuthu and rich dairy foods like amasi, the king had become obese and had various problems as a direct result of his diet. He then sought the help of (Mankankanana) Hans Scheuder to help with his predicament and Hans Schreuder was happy to oblige.
A wheel chair was then made for the king to help him move about easier as well as a host of other medicines that were to make the life of the ailing monarch much easier. It was then that the Zulu king out of gratitude remembered the request of Hans Schreuder and allowed him to begin teaching his religion to his people. Land was then given for that purpose in Empangeni and then Entumeni and Hans Schreuder’s work had now begun in earnest.
Hans Schreuder was a tough man who could adapt to the rough lifestyle lived in Zululand at the time. He had accustomed himself with the Zulu language during his time on Adams mission in the colony of Natal and he was a more than capable carpenter and builder. By 1858 he had completed building the Entumeni chapel and the object of my paper might have also been completed at the same time which is the Entumeni bell.
The Entumeni bell was cast in Norway in a town called Trondheim and has a number of interesting features! Considering the fact that it was cast in Norway it is interesting to note that it has Zulu writing on it. “Lizwe ake ulizwe izwi likankulunkulu” roughly translated meaning “hear ye the word of God”. It also has the crest of the Norwegian Mission Society in Zululand which interestingly has a Zulu hut as one of its symbols.
The year 1879 (Anglo-Zulu war) then came and went and even during the war, the Entumeni chapel remained unscathed because of the respect that the Zulu people had for Hans Schreuder. Hans Paludan Schreuder himself then breathed his last in the year 1882. However his legacy lives on. It is said that Hans Schreuder became one of the first people to convert the spoken Zulu language into a written language and he was a vigilant observer of the Zulu culture and had learnt how to use traditional herbs.
It then happened that in 1906 the Bhambhatha rebellion, which was a struggle over a poll tax that was introduced, caused trouble between Zulu men, who were disgruntled by the new law, and the Natal government who imposed the new law in order to gain much needed cheap labour on the white owned farms and in the gold and diamond fields. However brief this encounter may have been, it had lasting implications on South African society. However let me not digress. An impi of “rebels” happened to pass by the Entumeni mission station and although they did not destroy the chapel the bell tower, which was separate from the main church building, was somehow affected and in that process the bell was then destroyed and rendered useless, but is that the whole truth?
Years later in the 1960’s, on the Henstock farm, the bell was rediscovered in its “shattered” state. However, not all of the bell was brought to the Zululand historical museum until a couple of years later when Elda van Schalkwyk found the remaining top part of the bell in the town of Eshowe on Melmoth road now known as Mangosuthu Buthelezi drive and the last piece of the “puzzle” was then found.
Fast forward to 2005 and the new addition to the Zululand historical museum is built. The Entumeni Bell, residing in the Museum Chapel, is arguably the main attraction of this new museum, with a totally new function for a totally new purpose and in the process a simple thing such as a bell has connected so many different people in so many different ways considering of course for whom the bell tolls!!