Tuesday, 27 July 2021 07:26

THE BIRTH OF SHAKA BY OSWALD MBUYISENI MTSHALI GRADE 12 NOTES - LITERATURE; POETRY STUDY GUIDE

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The birth of Shaka by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali

The birth of Shaka was written by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali. Mtshali was born in KwaZulu-Natal in 1940. He travelled to Johannesburg as a young man of 18 and many of his poems are based on life in Soweto. He has won many awards for his poetry and was one of the first black poets to be published in both Zulu and English.
Some of his poetry criticises the way black people were forced to live during apartheid, but other poems, such as The birth of Shaka, are intended to remind black people of their proud culture and history. 

Fun fact:

  • The Zulu king Shaka was born in 1787 and was assasinated by his half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana, in 1828. He was the son of a chief and his mother was called Namdi. His parents were not married. As a boy, he was often mocked because he had no father. Shaka was a great warrior. He developed the Zulu tribe into a mighty nation. During his reign some of the first white settlers arrived from England and landed in what is now KwaZulu-Natal. His half-brother Dingane became king after murdering Shaka, but he reigned fro only 10 years until he was defeated by white Afrikaners at  the Battle of Blood River in 1838.

1. Themes

The theme is the power of African culture. It is something Africans must feel proud of. The poet praises Shaka’s power and strength as well as his wisdom. The poet’s intention was to remind the Zulu people of their proud heritage at a time when they were being oppressed and made to feel worthless during apartheid.

The birth of Shaka by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali

Stanza 1

His baby cry

 
 

was of a cub

 

tearing the neck

 

of the lioness

 

because he was fatherless.

line 5

Stanza 2

The gods

 
 

boiled his blood

 
 

in a clay pot of passion

 
 

to course in his veins.

 

Stanza 3

His heart was shaped into an ox shield

line 10

 

to foil every foe.

 

Stanza 4

Ancestors forged

 
 

his muscles into

 
 

thongs as tough

 
 

as wattle bark

line 15

 

and nerves

 
 

as sharp as

 
 

syringa thorns.

 

Stanza 5

His eyes were lanterns

 
 

that shone from the dark valleys of Zululand

to see white swallows

line 20

 

coming across the sea.

 
 

His cry to two assassin brothers:

 

Stanza 6

‘Lo! you can kill me

line 25

 

but you’ll never rule this land!’

 

Words to know: 

Definitions of words from the poem:

Line 2:

cub

baby lion

Line 3:

tearing

biting, wounding

Line 4:

lioness

female lion, Shaka’s mother Nandi

Line 5:

fatherless

he did not live with his father

Line 8:

passion

very strong feeling

Line 9:

course in his veins

run or flow in his veins

Line 11:

foil

stop

foe

enemy

Line 12:       forged

made

Line 14:       thongs

leather strips

Line 15:       wattle bark

outside covering of a wattle tree

Line 18:       syringa

tree with big, sharp thorns

Line 19:       lanterns

lamps you can carry

Line 21:       swallows

birds that fly to Europe every year

Line 23:       assassin

person who kills to take over political power

Line 24:        lo!

look!, see!

2. Type and form

This poem is a modern praise poem or izibongo.
It has six stanzas. They all have different line lengths and have no rhyming words.

3. Analysis

Stanza 1 (lines 1 – 5)

His baby cry
was of a cub
tearing the neck
of the lioness
because he was fatherless.

The lion is known as the “King of the Beasts” because of its strength, fierceness and power. It is also a dangerous animal.
The metaphor comparing the cry of baby Shaka to that of a baby lion tells us that he was born to be a powerful, fierce and dangerous leader. The metaphor also tells us that his cry was so fierce that it tore the neck of its mother, the lioness (line 3).
This fierceness is a contrast to how a baby would normally behave towards its mother and may foreshadow how fierce Shaka would become later. It may suggest that Shaka was aggressive towards his mother, Nandi, because his parents were not married and he grew up without a father. For example, Shaka’s behaviour as a baby gives us a clue to how he will behave when he is a grown man.

Stanza 2 (lines 6 – 9)

The gods
boiled his blood
in a clay pot of passion
to course in his veins. 

Note:

  •  The expression 'my blood boils' means to be very angry

This metaphor tells us that Shaka was not just an ordinary person but someone special, whose nature was made by the gods, which means they gave him some supernatural powers, beyond ordinary human life. In the metaphor, Shaka’s blood is being compared to something specially cooked by the gods.
“Passion” (line 8) refers to very strong feelings such as love or hatred. If you are passionate about something you are very enthusiastic about it and put great energy into it. This metaphor tells us of Shaka’s energy, enthusiasm and devotion to his work as a warrior (great soldier) and leader, as well as his anger. The poet tells us a “clay pot” (line 8) was used when making Shaka’s “blood boil”, to emphasise his African cultural roots.

Stanza 3 (lines 10 – 11)

His heart was shaped into an ox shield
to foil every foe.

A shield is used to protect yourself from injury, which tells us that in war Shaka would not be hurt but, in fact, would defeat his enemies. This metaphor also tells us he was protective of his people and was strong- hearted, meaning he was brave and determined.
We are reminded of how Shaka represents Zulu culture, as Zulu shields were made from the skin of an ox. Notice the alliteration of “foil ... foe” (line 11) which emphasises that he defeated his enemies.

Stanza 4 (lines 12 – 18)

Ancestors forged
his muscles into
thongs as tough
as wattle bark
and nerves
as sharp as
syringa thorns.

Shaka’s strength did not come only from the gods but also from the ancestors. This is another reminder of African culture, in which the ancestors are believed to guide and help their descendants (family members who come after them). In this metaphor we are told the ancestors “forged” (line 13) Shaka’s muscles. Metals such as iron and steel are shaped by being “forged” – heated until they are very hot and can be beaten or forced into different shapes. This suggests that Shaka was extremely strong, both physically and mentally.
The simile “thongs as tough/ as wattle bark” (lines 14 and 15) also shows how tough and strong Shaka was, as his muscles were like leather and mentally he was strong and determined. The poet then uses another simile, comparing his nerves to the sharp thorns of a syringa tree. In English, if you say someone is “sharp” you mean they are clever and do not miss anything. In addition, sharp thorns can hurt you, so as well as being clever, Shaka was also cruel.

Note: 

  • There are many images related to African culture in the poem - the clay pot, the ox shield and the ancestors
 Stanza 5 (lines 19 – 23)

His eyes were lanterns
that shone from the dark valleys of Zululand
to see white swallows
coming across the sea.
His cry to two assassin brothers:

This is a very interesting stanza that shows Shaka’s wisdom, understanding and ability to see into the future.
Shaka’s eyes are compared to “lanterns” (line 19) that light up the darkness. Here darkness suggests that the Zulu people did not know what their future would be. But Shaka was able to see what the arrival of the “white swallows” (line 21) would mean for his people. Swallows are birds that migrate, moving from Europe to Africa to escape the cold winters.
In this metaphor, the “white swallows” refer to the white settlers (both the British and, originally, the Afrikaners), who came from Europe and who sailed by ship to Africa; they would settle and take over what was then called Natal. As well as referring to the settlers, “white swallows” could also remind us of the white sails of a sailing ship, in which the settlers travelled in those days.
Note that up to this point the tone of the poem has been one of admiration and praise. Now the tone is more quiet and prophetic, as if Shaka can see far into the future.

Note: 

  • Prophetic - having knowledge of the future

Stanza 6 (lines 25 – 26)

‘Lo! you can kill me
but you’ll never rule this land!’

This stanza is Shaka’s “cry” to the two half-brothers who murdered him.
These lines are also Shaka prophesying what will happen to his country in the future. The land will be taken over by the white settlers and the Zulu people will be ruled by them. These lines are the climax of the poem.
The diction (poet’s choice of word) is unusual here when Shaka exclaims, “Lo!” This is an old-fashioned word meaning “Look! See!”. It is used in the old English translation of the Bible, which makes Shaka sound like a prophet.
The tone changes again now. He speaks to his brothers in a tone of strong defiance as he warns them that they will not achieve much by killing him as the land will be taken over by the settlers.

4. Tone and mood

The poem begins with a tone of admiration and praise. In stanza 5, it changes to become more quiet and prophetic. In the final stanza, the tone becomes defiant.
The mood of a poem is how it makes the reader feel. How does this poem make you feel? For example, happy, sad, angry, or indifferent.

Summary
The birth of Shaka by Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali

  1. Theme
    The theme is the power and pride of African culture.
  2. Type and form

modern praise poem

Activity 7

Refer to the poem on page 60 and answer the questions below.

  1. Complete the following sentences by using the words provided in the list Write down only the words next to the question number (1.1 - 1.3).
    mourned; cruel; warrior; praised; father; loving 

    In this poem Shaka, the Zulu king, is (1.1) ... . He was a (1.2) ... man, but a brave (1.3) ...                                (3)
  2. Refer to lines 1 and 2 (“His baby cry/was of a cub ...”).
    2.1 Identify the figure of speech used (1)
    2.2 Explain why the poet has used this figure of (2)
  3. Refer to lines 3 and 4 (“tearing the neck/of the lioness”).
    To whom does the word “lioness” refer?                                (1)
  4. Refer to stanza
    4.1 In your own words, explain how the gods created (1)
    4.2 State ONE of Shaka’s characteristics suggested by the use of the words “clay pot”.                                                        (1)
  5. Choose the correct answer to complete the following sentence: In line 11, the words “to foil every foe” mean to ...
    1. free every prisoner.
    2. betray every enemy. 
    3. stop every enemy.
    4. kill every prisoner.                                                             (1)
  6. Refer to lines 12 and 13 (“Ancestors forged his muscles …”).
    What does the use of the word “forged” in these lines tell the reader about Shaka’s physical abilities?                                                                                (2)
  7. Refer to stanza
    Quote TWO separate words to prove that Shaka was both physically and mentally strong.                              (2)
  8. Refer to stanza
    Is the following statement TRUE or FALSE? Quote a line to support your answer.
    Shaka could see what was going to happen in the future.      (2)
  9. In the first five stanzas the tone of the speaker shows admiration. Describe the tone in the last stanza (lines 24–25)                                                                          (1)
  10. What, in your view, are the qualities of a good leader?           (2) [19]
Answers to Activity 7

1. 1.1.

Praised ✓

 

1.2.

Cruel ✓

1.3.

Warrior ✓

(3)

2.1.

Metaphor ✓

(1)

2.2.

It compares baby Shaka to a lion cub. ✓✓
OR
To show that although Shaka was still a (newborn) baby, but he was already displaying a fierce/ vicious nature. ✓✓

(2)

3.

Shaka’s mother OR Nandi ✓

(1)

4.1

They gave him an emotional/ passionate nature.
OR
They used a clay pot to boil his blood. ✓

(1)

4.2.

He was only human/ fragile/ not perfect. ✓
OR
Like a clay pot, he represented/ contained traditional values.
OR
A clay pot represents strength and could mean that the ancestors/gods made him strong. ✓

(1)

5.

C / stop every enemy ✓

(1)

6.

Steel/ metal is normally forged by heating and then shaping it. ✓✓
OR
This tells the reader that Shaka is very strong and has exceptional strength. ✓✓

(2)

7.

“Tough” ✓, “sharp” ✓

(2)

8.

True. “His eyes were lanterns” ✓✓

(2)

9.

It becomes one of sadness. ✓/ It becomes a warning/ threatening/ prophetic/ defiant. ✓

(1)

10.

A good leader must have vision/ foresight/ must have a good reputation. ✓✓
OR
A good leader must not be concerned about popularity/ must not be afraid of being firm. ✓✓

(2)

   

[19]

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 September 2021 12:26