Traditional African ways of life, spiritual practices and worldviews are based in reverence of the feminine.
FEMININE AFRICA is the next film about Credo Mutwa in the African Wisdomkeepers series. The film reveals the African traditional perception of women, their important role and status in ancient times, now and in future.
Credo Mutwa explains traditional marriage, children, family and social customs. These traditions are so insightful that I have decided to publish some of the content here while the film is being completed.
In the face of the many social problems and human suffering today, we can benefit from the insights into humanity and life-enhancing ways from the vast African experience. People of Africa developed social and family traditions that show great wisdom, compassion and circumspection.
Concepts like ‘Mother Earth’ and of ‘Africa the Mother Continent’ are not just ideas. The great laws of love and respect for women, children and elders are lived as a natural consequence of the expansive consciousness generated by the splendid nature of this continent, our Mother Earth and the cosmos.
While filming Feminine Africa we went to a legendary Place of Emergence, a fresh water source that is immeasurably deep, a womb of the Earth from which it is believed, animals and humans once emerged into this world.
In this ancient setting Credo related a genesis story and in this powerfully feminine environment he spoke for a long time about the reverence for women, children and elders that is inherent in traditional African spirituality and the understanding and respect that traditionally existed in African family life.
I share here what Credo Mutwa elaborates on in my film Feminine Africa:
Nowadays, while human beings are progressing in the field of technology, nowadays, when incredible new machines such as computers have entered our lives and will stay there forever, many of us human beings are retrogressing spiritually.
We have lost the ability to love. We have become the batterers of children and the torturers of women.
We are becoming a nation of mindless savages. Savages armed with nuclear bombs flying through the heavens on titanium wings. This must stop.
As a Sanusi I belong to the oldest class of healers. We existed at a time when we worshipped God as a woman, not as a man, when women discovered astronomy and astrology and the world’s original religion, which I in defiance claim to be the Mother of all religions today.
Even at this late hour when we rush headlong towards a dark and terrible destiny, we can deviate from the road of destruction by re-instilling into our harsh, faceless culture, the gentle and strong female civilization. If we do that all wars will stop. If we do that, all abuse of women, children and old people will stop Even the abuse of men will stop.
You must respect the woman because she is your past. You must respect the man because he is your present and your must respect the child, anybody’s child, because the child is your future and will see years which you will not live to see. This is the triple law of respect, the greatest law of all.
According to the culture of all people of Southern Africa, the woman is regarded as spiritually greater than the man. The man is the temporal head of the family; the woman is the heart. The man is the destroyer the woman the preserver. It has been so since the very dawn of time, amongst all people, throughout the world.
To this day, when we pray to our ancestors, we always solicit most of all, the blessing of our female ancestors and not so much our male ancestors.
The woman was considered great in all Africa, If you come to South Africa and you travel through our land, you shall find that there are more female healers than male healers.
Sangomas (traditional healers) are caregivers, teachers and spokespeople for the well being of people and natural environments. They support and strengthen their communities, provide spiritual guidance and are important keepers of ancient African knowledge.
Since time immemorial, healing of illness in animals and people has been the right and the duty of the women.
Our people say that women are better healers than men, because women are directly guided by the mystic forces of the moon and they go to great lengths to explain this to someone like myself.
There was also a great prophetess called Malitsupa.
It is also an interesting fact that many organizations in South Africa and many Christian religious sects have more women members. Religion is regarded as a sacred women’s thing among our people even now.
The Bushmen, Pygmies and many African tribes used to hold a very firm belief some women have been gifted with several magical powers because they are women. Some believed women could change into any animal they chose. Some of our people also believed that women have the power to put a blessing or a curse on anyone who treated them badly, or treated them well.
One of the Great Earth Mother Sculptures created by Credo Mutwa in traditional villages he built in several places in South Africa. This Great Earth Mother graces the Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa.
The woman was considered great in all Africa, in all fields. There are liars today, who say that black men despise their women and never consult them in any way.
If you know the history of our people, you will know that even the most autocratic of African kings used to consult their people on a major subject. When a king wanted to make war against another tribe, he didn’t just assemble the warriors and lead them off into battle. No! Not at all!
He first had to obtain the approval of members of his family. He then had to obtain the approval of members of his great council of elders, his isinduna. Then he had to obtain the approval of his warriors, and finally, the king had to obtain the approval of the women-folk of the tribe, the mothers of the warriors.
And I shall tell you why…
After every major war, until as recently as the nineteenth century, it was the duty of the mothers of the warriors, to look after crippled sons when those sons came back from the battlefield as casualties.
In old Zululand, we had no veterans’ hospitals where wounded soldiers would spend their remaining years in obscurity, as they do in Western culture. A warrior wounded in honourable battle, was nursed in his mother’s home, by his mother, sisters or by his aunts.
That is why the king had to ask, also, for the approval of the warriors’ mothers, before he went out to war.
When a man died in battle, it was the duty of the woman to carry on the family. That is why the king had to ask, also, for the approval of the warriors’ mothers, before he went out to war.
And these women had the power to veto the king’s decision, if they did not understand why the king had to lead their sons to battle. They had the right to say ‘No!’.
When Shaka came to power, the Zulu’s had been a peaceful nation of tobacco sellers and ivory traders. The Zulus were very, very displeased with Shaka when they saw him plunging them again and again into the fires of war. They did not dare raise their hand against their king, but they did something else, on the advice of their wives.
All his best generals and their wives and families decamped, taking with them thousands of seasoned warriors, who had fought under Shaka, to join the peace-loving king Mpande, a half-brother of Shaka. This desertion by many of the best generals in the Zulu army and their warriors seriously weakened the Zulu army, with the result that, when Dingane had to fight the Voortrekkers at Blood River, he found that he had no army with which to confront these invaders.
It was the women who advised the generals to do this.
The English had introduced a new and devastating type of gun, a Maxim machine gun, a murderous weapon which could mow down fifty men with two bursts of fire. This gun had been used in an earlier version at Ullundi. And then… during the Zulu rebellion in South Africa, this gun had become the main weapon of the English soldiers.
It was then that the Zulu women came to a decision, all on their own. They forcibly prevented their sons from going out to die in front of the English machine guns. They forced their sons to dress like women. They forced their sons to go out to the river to fetch water. Many Zulu warriors, including my father-in-law, were saved from death, by this action of the Zulu women, when they defied chief Bambata and withdrew their sons from a hopeless situation.
These facts are never revealed in history books and it is not known to our black university students, that on many occasions the women said; ‘No’.
Our people believed: Before you leave your village with a spear in hand, o man, you must first consult your wife.
It was the duty of the woman to ensure the survival of the tribe. It was the duty of the woman to preserve the laws and the culture of the tribe, until better days dawned. African women for thousands of years have done just that.
When an invader invades an African country and kills all the men and enslaves the survivors, the women often seek shelter under the invader, while preserving the laws and the identities of their people.
After the Zulus had been defeated in the great wars against the English, the Zulu fighting spirit was crushed. The male Zulus starting deserting their culture, en masse and they started adopting western dress, en masse, but the women still persisted in wearing traditional attire. Zulu women, as well as Batswana and other women, were the last people really to adopt modern dress.
Look at old historical pictures – you will see Zulu men already wearing trousers, waistcoats, shirts and hats and women in traditional attire. The women were still wearing skins skirts, still sporting the towering isicholo hairstyle of the time.
Who kept the ancient stories alive in the villages and the kraals? It was our Grandmothers who regaled us with their stories of king Shaka and other great heroes of the time. It was our grandmothers and mothers, not so much our grandfathers and fathers, who kept the laws of the nation alive.
They enforced household taboos and laws in the round beehive-shaped grass huts in which I spent most of my childhood. They taught us the laws of respect, of honesty and love.
Also it was the women who discovered, sometimes at great cost in lives, which plants in the bush are edible and which not. It must have been a tragic thing that often used to happen, when a mother, out gathering wild tubers and wild vegetables for her children and herself, accidentally gathered a poisonous root which wiped out her children and herself in one fell swoop.
Through these tragedies, extending over many centuries, our women learnt -which plants were dangerous to human life, which were beneficial, which could be used as medicines and which could be used as food.
Do these men of today who are busy dondering (violently assaulting) women, do they realize that it was the women of Africa who discovered knowledge?
Do they realize as they put food into their mouths, that it was black women who discovered many foodstuffs that human beings eat throughout the world today? That it was women who discovered the miracle of cultivating crops?
Thirteen of the greatest military, as well as spiritual leaders, that we in Southern Africa have known, were women and not men.
Let me also tell you, that many metals such as copper, tin and even the brutal iron itself were discovered by women. The axe, imbazo, whether it is a battle axe or a civilian axe, is regarded as a feminine weapon, because it was a woman we are told, who first invented the axe, in order to bring down trees, on whose fruits her children fed.
So the women earned the men’s respect, for these and many other reasons.
In Africa the woman was honoured and respected. In Africa the woman was actually worshiped by people of all tribes and nations.’
What happened then to change this whole thing? Why today are African women downtrodden? The answer is very simple.
There came great wars into South Africa and many parts of Africa. And these wars, so glibly recounted in history books, had very far-reaching effects in the lives of our people. For example, the English people found the Zulu empire, one powerful, almost monolithic, entity.
It was the English, not the Zulus, who divided the Zulu Nation into districts and sub-chiefs. Many of the petty chieftains that rule Zululand and other parts of South Africa in the rural areas today, were instituted by the white colonists and were not, I repeat not, founded by the Africans themselves.
English military authorities used to reward men who had helped them to fight against their own people, by making them chiefs and this splintered our nation into many clans and many tribes, which is why, today, we have got inter-tribal fighting.
And the trauma went even deeper. During the Zulu wars of the 1870’s, refugees scattered all over South Africa. Whole families were broken up.
Tribes disintegrated and when the shooting was over, the two terrible spectres that follow all wars, roamed the valleys and the plains of Natal and other parts of Southern Africa. Our people starved. Our people hungered. There were great famines. There were plagues and epidemics. A terrible disease our people had never seen before entered our lives. The disease was typhoid.
Another terrible disease which our people had never seen before, a disease
which they afterwards called ‘the disease of the soldiers’, namely gonorrhea, entered our lives. Tribes dispersed, communities collapsed and there was total chaos everywhere.
And then slowly but surely the English authorities restored order to Natal. And as they did so, assisted by missionaries, they laid down new laws which had not been there before and one of the laws was this…
That according to the great book of the white man’s god, the Bible, the woman was the ward of the man. The words of St. Paul were used to enslave black women. They were used to take black men away from their villages and kraals to the urban areas, leaving the women to carry on as best as they could.
No woman was allowed to come to cities, without the sanction of the tribal chief. No woman was allowed to find a job, without permission from her husband. These new laws were shoved down our people’s throats at bayonet point and I’m not exaggerating.
One of the most shattering of the things that were done to our people is never recorded in the books because it is so bizarre… A new form of sexual intercourse was introduced to our people by the missionaries, the form in which the man lies on top of woman. This form of intercourse was non-existent amongst our people because we saw it as degrading the woman. Africans did not make love that way and people who call it the missionary position, don’t realize how traumatic its introduction was to our people. All black people who had become Christians were forced to use this form of mating and it traumatized hundreds of our people. It created a total disaster in our lives, which is still being felt to this day.
Gone was the equal partnership, when partners slept side by side in equality
upon Mother Earth. Gone was the equal partnership, where the man depended upon the woman and the woman depended upon the man. Gone was the sacred division of labour. Gone, gone, gone, with the winds of history, forever.
Today the African extended family has also been destroyed, because if it had remained in place, it would not have been possible to suck the Africans into the white economical systems.
Today our children look upon themselves as adults at eighteen, capable of leading their own lives and going where they wish. They are even given the power to vote and many people do not realize the damage that is done in our private lives, by things such as this.
According to African tradition you were under your parent’s authority, so long as your parents are still alive.
Our people knew that a child in his or her teens is more in need of guidance and discipline than a baby who is beginning to crawl.
We are ignoring this gentle feminine side of the human soul and of the universe since the inception of western civilization.
I’m sorry to sound offensive to some but Western civilization is anti-feminine by its very nature. It was a usurping civilization which destroyed the earlier female civilization. It was an artificial civilization. It was a violent, aggressive and viciously judgmental male civilization.
As a Sanusi I belong to the oldest class of healers. We were there before sangomas appeared on the scene.
We existed at a time when we worshipped God as a woman, not as a man, a time when women discovered astronomy and astrology and the world’s original religion which I in defiance claim to be the Mother of all religions today.
We must have a renaissance in South Africa, because during a renaissance a people discovers its true greatness, its true potential, its true power.
I feel that if our people are to survive, if they are to see the 20th century as a viable people and coherent nation, we must have a spiritual rebirth in South Africa, a rebirth that will spread like wildfire from the Cape right up Africa. It is also an interesting fact that many organizations in South Africa and many Christian religious sects have more women members. Religion is regarded as a sacred women’s thing among our people even now.