AmaXhosa King Mpendulo Sigcawu and Nelson Mandela University Professor Ncedile Saule have expressed concern over how Xhosa history is being portrayed by white historians, saying black people should be allowed to write their own story.
The royal and the academic were speaking at an event where the Xhosa kingdom, in partnership with Intsika Yethu local municipality, were commemorating one of the Xhosa martyrs, King Sarhili, Ah! Ntaba! the son of King Hintsa ka Khawuta and MaTshezi, Nomsa kaGambushe of amaBomvana.
King Sarhili, also known as Kreli, was a King of all amaXhosa and was born in about 1810/ 1815 Komkhulu (at the Great Place of amaXhosa), eGcuwa, where the current town of Gcuwa (Butterworth) is now situated. He took over the throne of the Xhosa Kingdom after his father was brutally killed the British colonialists under the leadership of Harry Smith and George Southey. King Sarhili was only about 20 years old or in his early 20s when he took over the throne and went on to be the longest ruling king of amaXhosa as his kingship lasted for about 57 years under constant attacks by European colonialists who were bloodthirsty and wanted the land of amaXhosa. Isikhahlelo sakhe, his salutation was Ntaba! (mountain) Ah! Ntaba because of his great height. King Sarhili was loved by his people. He is known to have been an accessible leader that was unfailingly pleasant and courteous. “His judicial decisions were renowned for their fairness and tact, and he made a point of softening a harsh judgement with words of humour and symphathy.” He took over kingship while the 6th War of Resistance (Frontier War 1834-1836) was being fought by amaXhosa. Under his leadership, three more Wars of Resistance against colonialists were fought, the 7th (idabi leZembe/ “War of the Axe” or the “Amathola War”), 8th (idabi lika Mlanjeni) and 9th (idabi lika Ngcayechibi) War of Resistance. There were other battles that were fought during his reign as King of amaXhosa.
The colourful three-day event was held at Hohita village in Cofimvaba at the weekend.
Saule said history on the AmaXhosa was written to confuse the nation.
“It is written in the interest of colonialists. It has a lot of deliberate distortion and planned omissions of important events.”
An example was how King Sarhili was portrayed. According to Saule, he was seen as a weak and useless king.
“King Sarhili was one of the bravest kings, a diplomat and a strategist.”
Sarhili ka Hintsa was born in 1810 and was the fifth king of the Gcaleka sub-group of the Xhosa nation. He was paramount chief of all the AmaXhosa, from 1835 until his death in 1893 at Sholora, Bomvanaland.
Sarhili played an important part in the Great Cattle Killing, a millennial movement which began among the AmaXhosa in 1856 and led to them destroying their own means of survival in the belief that it would bring about salvation from supernatural powers, who would be moved by the sacrifice to drive the white people into the sea.
King Sarhili stayed in the Hohita area near Cofimvaba but died in Elliotdale in 1893.
Sigcawu, Intsika Yethu mayor Jongumzi Cengani and Chris Hani heritage sites researcher Sicebi Noah said it was in the interest of both parties to develop the Hohita heritage site for the restoration and preservation of the Xhosa heritage.
“The commemoration is used as part of creating awareness and celebrating the role played by traditional leaders in the struggle against land dispossession,” said Noah.
The celebrations started with a family function that included special rituals and visits to the heritage sites linked to King Sarhili and the Xhosa history in the area.
The theme was “preserving our heritage and commemorating our leaders while promoting our identity as the Xhosa nation, as well as entrenching our values, ethics and strengthening existing relationships through partnerships”.
The mayor said Intsika Yethu and Chris Hani, concerned at the large number of unsung heroes and heroines among traditional leaders and in political spheres, had decided to celebrate them.
“This also helps to promote relationships between traditional leaders and politicians and recognises the role played by traditional leaders in fighting land dispossession, hundreds of years before the ANC was born. “We are partnering with the National Heritage Council and this will be included in our integrated development plan,” said Cengani.
A museum honouring the heroes and heroines of Chris Hani district is to be built in Qamata while tourism facilities will be built in the old Great Place of Sarhili in Hohita.
The Dead Will Arise: Nongqawuse and the Great Xhosa Cattle-killing Movement … By Jeffrey B. Peires