I used to belong to a writing group (now defunct) called Paint A World With Words. Members would take turns to issue a monthly theme and we’d then contribute something; a photograph, a poem or a piece of prose. It was entertaining to see the various interpretations that emerged every month. This was my contribution to a challenge that had to end with the words “And that is why there are so many turquoise houses in the Eastern Cape.”
Nombanda was afraid; she wanted to tell Uncle Mhlakaza that she had not seen the spirits. She felt Nongqawuse was lying about the prophecy, or that the high sun had burned her eyes and made tricks with her eyes, so that the eland in the wheat looked like ghost-men. The girls had not eaten, their empty bellies made them hear the screams of the Fish Eagle over the Gxarha river sound like words of warning from the ancestors.
For a year the blood of the slaughtered cattle flowed as Nongqawuse said it must, a river of blood that stained the earth. The people waited, starving and sick, for the Day of the Red Sun, when all the houses would be bathed in promised scarlet wealth.
Nombanda knew that only she could put an end to the madness, for twelve moons she cried and collected the tears in a stone jug.
When the time came, Nombanda crept from the kraal in the moonlight and went to the top of the koppie. She made a clearing and lit three fires in a triangle and placed Gogo’s ancient cauldron in the centre. She filled the pot with the jug of tears and sent her mind to fetch the whitest dove and threw the colour of its feathers into the water, as it began to heat, she concentrated on the exact blue of dawn and added that also; and then the lightest green of budding corn. The sun came and she stared it down. She lay down and opened her body to absorb the red before it could move up to its dawning position.
As the water reached its boiling point, Nombanda’s body was defeated by the last ruby ray. Plumes of blue smoke swirled up around the pale sun, bathing the waking villages below in turquoise, the colour of hope.
The people have never forgotten Nombanda’s sacrifice. And that is why there are so many turquoise houses in the Eastern Cape.
©Cindy Taylor 2009
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Nongqawuse (c. 1840s – 1898) was the Xhosa prophetess whose prophecies led to a millennialist movement that culminated in the Xhosa cattle-killing crisis of 1856–1857.
In April or May 1856, the teenaged Nongqawuse and her friend Nombanda went to fetch water from a pool near the mouth of the Gxarha River. When she returned, Nongqawuse told her uncle and guardian Mhlakaza, a Xhosa spiritualist, that she had met the spirits of three of her ancestors.
She claimed that the spirits had told her that the Xhosa people should destroy their crops and kill their cattle, the source of their wealth as well as food. In return, the spirits would sweep the British settlers into the sea; they would also replenish the granaries and fill the kraals with more beautiful and healthier cattle. At the time, many Xhosa herds were plagued with “lung sickness”, possibly introduced by European cattle, and many cattle were dying already.
Mhlakaza repeated the prophecy to Paramount Chief Sarhili. Sarhili ordered his followers to obey the prophecy, causing the cattle-killing movement to spread to an unstoppable point. The cattle-killing frenzy affected not only the Gcaleka, Sarhili’s clan, but the whole of the Xhosa nation, and it is estimated that the Gcaleka killed between 300,000 and 400,000 head of cattle.
Nongqawuse predicted that the ancestors’ promise would be fulfilled on February 18, 1857, when the sun would turn red. On the day, however, the sun rose the same colour as every other day and the prophecy was not realised. Initially, Nongqawuse’s followers blamed those who had not obeyed her instructions, but they later turned against her.
In the aftermath of the crisis, the population of British Kaffraria dropped from 105,000 to less than 27,000 due to the resulting famine; in at least one case, people were reportedly forced to resort to cannibalism. Nongqawuse was arrested by the British authorities and sent to Robben Island. After her release she lived on a farm in the Alexandria district of the eastern Cape, and died in 1898.