The Sculptors of Mapungubwe is a story of forbidden love, a political drama, a family soap opera and a bit of a history lesson, all wrapped into one Zakes Mda masterpiece. Though this story is set 1000 years ago in a pre-colonial Africa, with different cultural value systems, social orders and regulations, the characters and their struggles in this novel are immediately recognizable and assume a position of commentary on Africa’s contemporary sociopolitical landscape.
Gold is the driving force, the main signifier of wealth and the measure of all success…the more gold you had, the more women, the better the property and the more freedom you were entitled to. I suppose this is in fact a recurring theme throughout history. People get greedy, they want more of everything and once flourishing societies, simply fall apart. This is also the story of Mapungubwe. As power slips through their fingers, leaders and institutions invent new ways to control the people.
In The Sculptors of Mabungubwe, the idea of ‘Mbisili’ becomes the whip that holds the people prisoner. ‘Mbisili’ refers to anything or everything the leaders don’t agree with, cant explain or just don’t like. It enforces socially created boundaries, rules and regulations, with no explanation or logic and will eventually be the reason for the downfall of this once flourishing city – a beacon of African wealth and prosperity.
‘What was the good of gold if it was not used to enrich one’s life with power and wives, and the luxury items that the Swahili brought from across the sea?’
Mda cleverly places Chata as the unlikely centre of the social conscience, the voice of balance and reason. In the end he escapes the oppression to be with Marubini – the mystic rain dancer and the woman he loves. They live a life free of the socially constructed rules and regulations of the power-hungry rulers of Mapungubwe, where they can live a life ruled by the mystical and fantastical, which is the inspiration behind their art.
I absolutely loved this book! I finished the whole thing in one sitting and in a house with three very small children, that is an epic feat and should persuade just about anyone to rush straight to the nearest bookshop to buy it!