PAPER PLANES EXHIBITION
I was invited to be a part of the Paper Planes exhibition at the Design Indaba 2015.
Design Indaba and Alexander’s Band, a creative agency that represents established and budding South African illustrators, collaborated to produce an exciting new feature for Design Indaba Expo 2015. Paper Planes – a talent-packed group exhibition of illustration – focussed on the theme of Southern African mythology and folklore from all of our diverse cultures.
The exhibit featured an all-South African talent pool of 44 artists, who have each produced once-off illustrations that represent their favourite local story.
Paper Planes is the first show of its kind to be hosted at Design Indaba and will appeal to lovers of visual communication and South African folklore.
One May day in 1856 a young Xhosa girl by the name of Nonqawuse was sitting on the banks of a deep pool of the river known as the Gxara (the precipice, after the deep gorge through which it flows). Everyday she went there to look into its waters, but on this day she saw strange faces looking up at her and heard voices whispering to her. She knew they were the spirits of her ancestors and what they told her was disturbing. Their voices floated up to her promising that they would help the Xhosa drive the Europeans away, providing that, as a sign of faith, the tribespeople would destroy all their cattle and crops.
Nonqawuse returned to the village in a state of great excitement. It was obvious to her family and friends that she had had an extraordinary experience. Her uncle, Mhlakaza, a wellknown witchdoctor, was present when she told them what she had heard, and he was greatly impressed with the story of her vision. Mhlakaza at once hurried to the Galeka (great place) where he was received by Kreli, the paramount chief, and his indunas (headmen.Oh Kreli cried the witchdoctor dramatically, I bring you a message from the dead. The spirits of our ancestors cry for revenge. On the appointed day they will rise and help us to destroy the white man. But as a sign of our faith in them we must first destroy all our cattle and grain.”
Kreli was excited with the news. Believing this to be the way to exterminate his inveterate European foes, and to unite all his subjects under him, he took immediate action. Throughout the land messengers were sent to the tribal leaders with the chiefs command that all the cattle must be killed.
A great commotion spread amongst the Xhosa at this revelation. Men travelled far to speak with the young medium and her witchdoctor uncle. Crowds gathered to gaze into the pool, and many claimed to have seen the faces of their own ancestors and to have heard them demanding total faith as the price for support from the supernatural world.
Some watchers told with bated breath how they had seen whole armies of ghostly warriors waiting to emerge, eager for war and jeering at the timidity of the Xhosa. The horns of oxen were said to have been seen peeping from among the river reeds, while from watery submerged caves came a distinct bellowing and clicking of horns, as of cattle milling around, waiting to emerge. These tidings of mystic sights swept through the country. There were those who even claimed to have seen returning heroes passing before them in wild parade in the waves of the Indian Ocean, their plumes tossing in the spray of the rushing rollers until they sank back again into the depths. Some saw armies up in the clouds in a glorious array of shields and spears, eager to fall upon the hated white man, their half-forgotten battle cries floating thinly down the wind as they whirled along.
A terrible, fatal fever of cattle killing and crop destruction began. The great majority of the Gcaleka section of the
Xhosa implicitly obeyed the dream voices heard by Nonqawuse. The Ngqika were one of the few sections of the tribe that kept their reason and remained aloof from the mass slaughter. The advocates of destruction said of the Ngqika that they would die with the whites when the chosen hour of doom came; the sky would fall on them or a galeforce wind would rise and blow them into the sea.
It is estimated that 2oo ooo head of cattle were slaughtered by the fanatics, and by the end of 1856 tribesmen
were already dying of starvation. Those who had any stock remaining, however, continued to kill them, undeterred in their hope of the promised rewards. New crops, they said, would blanket the earth, and innumerable herds would rise, lowing, to greet their earthly masters. Large cattle kraals were built by the optimistic people to house these animals, and huts were rebuilt and strongly thatched against the heavenly hurricanes that were to blow the disbelievers and the white men far out to sea.
For the believers the climax was to come on I8 February 1857. On that morning the sun would rise bloodred, move around the sky and set in the east, and hurricanes would sweep across the country.It was a truly terrible dawn for many thousands of deluded people when they saw the sun climb from the Indian Ocean in the usual way. There were no armies, no heavenly winds, no lowing of magic herds. Broken and ruined, families were dispersed and looting and fighting broke out over the smallest morsel of food. The old and the very young were abandoned to die, and even skins and milk sacks were boiled and eaten. Entire families waited for death, and others, even more desperate, turned to cannibalism.
Approximately 25 ooopeople died of starvation. The rest only survived through the compassion of more sensible
neighbouring tribes and the very Europeans who were supposed to have been swept away. The main instigator of this horror, Mhlakaza, died of hunger, but Nonqawuse, a discredited charlatan, was arrested by European police and ended her days in obscurity on a farm near Kingwilliamstown. Her name will be linked forever with one of the worst disasters suffered by any tribal people in South Africa. The pool of Gxara, with its smooth surface and wild surroundings, remains as a monument to the folly of a nation. Nothing more is reflected in it now than the nodding aloes that bloom about it in winter.