Translated by Daniel P. Kunene.
This is the fictionalised life-story account of Chaka begins with the future Zulu king’s birth followed by the unwarranted taunts and abuse he receives during childhood and adolescence. Then follows the events leading to Chaka’s status of great Zulu warrior, conqueror, king, and ultimate ruin.
Chaka is one of those stories that’s a blend of fiction and history. Chaka was a real person and this is the account of his life and his rise and fall as a king, but how much of what is in this book is real can be debated.
Chaka is a classic story. It has a father disowning his son and rightful heir due to pressure from his wives, and then that son gaining power and respect elsewhere in order to eventually claim the kingdom that was rightfully theirs. It feels almost Shakespearean at times as there’s a lot of similar themes in Chaka of power, ambition, and cruelty that you see in Shakespeare’s tragedies. Because Chaka’s life is kind of tragic, some things he couldn’t avoid because of the family he was born into, but others were due to his own greed.
Chaka has an omnipresent narrator. Every now and then there’s comments on what happened, or it recounts past historical events to give more context to what’s happening now. It’s a story told in simple language and sometimes feels like it’s a folktale being told around a campfire.
Chaka’s most close friend and ally is Isanusi, a doctor that makes potions and medicines to make Chaka stronger and gives him advice when needed. As the story progresses and Chaka gets more power hungry, it’s hard not to wonder if Isanusi has ulterior motives as he knows a great deal, is a seer, and comes across as more of a witch doctor than a traditional medicine man.
Chaka is an interesting and easy to read story about a king that commanded armies of tens of thousands of men – perhaps even more. Chaka’s accomplishments can’t be denied but his greed and cruelty to the few who did love him, like his mother and the one woman he loved, makes him a flawed but interesting man.