Ndinxaniwe is more than stirring contemporary adaptation of Credo Mutwa’s The Coming of the Strange Ones. It’s a masterwork in de-colonial artistic practice. Looking at African history through theatre, knowing and performing this history, the very telling of it by those to whom it belongs, is a powerful de-colonial tool.
To say that the iconic African author, philosopher and sangoma Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa’s work draws on African mythology is an inadequate description of his contribution to humanity. In many concrete ways, he immortalized ancient mythologies and documented indigenous history that is vital to our understanding of ourselves.
He instills in us the philosophy that knowledge is not finite or linear, it is transcendent as the soul. But it can also be forgotten and lost to the obscurity of time and the erasure of indigenous narratives. This erasure is what Mutwa countered, and this is what Ndinxaniwe counters. Access to heritage is not guaranteed to post-colonial nations, and this is what makes Credo Mutwa and Ndinxaniwe so indispensible, so potent.
As the teenage boys get high, drowsily slipping deep into the past, we follow their hallucinations. Hallucinations – as a word – feels incorrect here, as these events depict a real and brutal colonial history. Melting into their vivid trip, we’re taken to the very first point of contact between the white colonialists and the indigenous population.
The lyricism of the performer’s bodies on stage reflects Credo Mutwa’s own lyrical telling of a time before missionaries arrived with guns and bibles. The settler ships appeared, in Mutwa’s words, like “many-legged sea serpents” from the river waters, and pink-skinned men with cold green eyes leapt out, the ‘Strange Ones’ with their metal weapons and need for baskets of food so they could engineer their plan to divide-and-conquer, kill and enslave, multiply themselves and their stolen wealth. To grow crops that, to quote Mutwa, are “fertilized with hacked bits of dead slave bodies”.
We the audience are often looped back to the schoolboys’ days, returned by strummed chords and routines starting anew: the break-time school bell ringing, repeated physical motifs, and a sterling display of physical theatre by performers Mfundo Zono, Mphumzi Nontshinga and Sivuyile Dunjwa who shift seamlessly between characters.
We are awakened from this fevered nightmare by a gunshot. We see “June 16th turned in on itself”. Instantly, we remember the reality that this nightmare, the one of colonialism, is not over. That violence against black children has not ended, the war still rages.