We never seem to be able to escape from history. The threads of history seem to hang on us wherever we may go, constantly nagging us for attention. Why is this? Could it be that history is never really in the past but as close as the oxygen we breathe? Take a trip back to 1890s when the white settlers began colonising the land which is now called Zimbabwe in the epic movie “The Story of Nehanda”.
When the movie first starts we meet a journalist named Jane Shonhai (played by Tariro Washe) who is constantly haunted by the story of Nehanda Nyakasikana (affectionately known to Zimbabweans as Mbuya Nehanda). Mbuya Nehanda (played by Ratidzo Eunice Javo in the film) was a spirit medium of the Zezuru Shona people who was in the frontline in providing inspiration of a revolt against the British South African Company’s colonisation of Mashonaland and Matebeleland. She was later executed by the British. The journalist then goes on a journey to uncover a history that is often ignored.
“The Story of Nehanda” is reportedly the first Zimbabwean feature film set in the 1890s. Under the direction of renowned filmmaker Sydney Taivavashe (director of Gonarezhou: The Movie) Mbuya Nehanda was humanised in a way she never has been before. When we think of historical figures we often forget their humanity and only think of their larger than life personalities. In the movie we are presented a poignant human being; flawed and with misgivings like anyone else. The audience is put in a position to empathise with the plight of the characters as they navigate very terrifying circumstances particularly the occupation of the black natives’ land by white settlers.
The script was also penned by Taivavashe and Special Matarirano and included dialogue in both English and Shona (both official languages in Zimbabwe). One sparkling gem in the film was how the script honoured the characters in the 1890s and made their dialogue in Shona. The dialogue in the whole film felt very natural. Though some of the actor’s accents (the British accent for instance) were not very well done.
This movie is a timely history lesson (a history often shadowed and lesson that is brutal) for people whose story is often swept under the carpet. Even though Zimbabwe has since gained its independence and is largely under black majority rule, the country still struggles to reconcile how traditional beliefs can fit into our colonial legacy. Past traditions and advancement are at constant odds with each other which are issues that the movie explores. The movie raises questions concerning religion, colonisation and social conditioning.
The film is mostly focused on Nehanda’s trial, which tends to make the movie drag. Though the movie centres on her, she has few lines in the film as compared to other characters. However, can be an effective approach seeing that her story throughout generations has often been told by other entities in an unflattering light. Perhaps the most moving scene is when Nehanda gives her defence during her trial. The words seer through the screen and disturb our thinking; the true purpose of art.
The film had its premier in Zimbabwe on the 17th of April then proceeded to be screened on the national television network Zimbabwe Television (ZTV) on the 18th of April (which happens to be Zimbabwe’s Independence Day). No news has been given on future screenings of the film. “The Story of Nehanda” is a brilliant achievement in its ability to both educate and entertain the masses on an important historical figure that is often elusive and misunderstood. The movie is a little over an hour in length and appropriate for family viewing.
One of the lines in the movie “Mapfupa angu achamuka” (My bones will rise again) were reportedly uttered by Nehanda before her execution. Her proclamation came true. Hats off to the teams that helped to exhume and exalt the story of Mbuya Nehanda. A statue is also being erected in her honour in Harare’s Central Business District. Truly her spirit has risen.