Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa is a charismatic and controversial figure, and is regarded by many as Africa’s William Blake; rejected by some as a madmen or fake, and worshiped by others. No one could however, dispute Credo’s prodigious creative output as a writer, playwright, story teller, and artist, no matter how controversial his views may be. Two years older than Jackson Hlungwani, he will be 92 years old on 21 July 2013, and at this age he still creates artworks and continues to inspire controversy.
Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa was born as an illegitimate child in the Natal on July 21, 1921. Credo Mutwa grew up religiously divided between his father’s Roman Catholism and his mother’s adherence to traditional religion. His very name is a composite of his cultures of origin. “Vusamazulu“ is a Zulu honorific, meaning “Awakener of the Zulus“ and came through his initiation as a Sangoma (Traditional Healer, Shaman). But the name “Credo“ was given to him by his father, a Christian. It is from the Latin “I believe“. “Mutwa“ is Zulu for “little Bushman“ – “Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa“ then may mean “Great Awakener, I Believe (in) Little Bushman“.
Credo was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. His father held the position of “catechism instructor“. His mother Numabunu, however, was the daughter of the shaman-warrior Ziko Shezi, who had survived the battle of Ulundi, which ended the Zulu-Wars. Shezi was a Samgoma, and custodian of Zulu relics. Memorably the child would carry his grandfather’s medicine bags, full of sacred objects, to various ceremonies.
The split in religion was to prove decisive for his parents’ relationship, and they never formally married, separating soon after Mutwa was born. Credo was educated in mission schools, taught in English about Western history and civilisation, and confirmed as a Christian in the process. His goal in those years was to become a schoolteacher.
In 1935 his father converted to Christian Science, the American church founded in the 19th centuary by Mary Baker Eddy, who understood God as a Divine Mind responsible for healing the Body, mind and spirit.
In 1943 there began a time of sickness and disorientation for the young man. He was afflicted with dreams and visions, and a strange malaise would often come over him. Mutwa was forbidden conventional medicine in keeping with the avoidance of modern medicine practiced by the Christian Scientologists. Instead his father read to him from the book, “Science and Health”, by the “American Holy Woman.” Rejecting his father’s holy woman, Mutwa turned to his mother’s family during his crisis.
Under their tutelage , he learned that his illness was not an illusion, as the teachings of the Christian Scientists said, but an entry into a new and special role within African traditional teachings. He was experiencing the sickness that often comes to future Sangomas, initiating their call to become a Sangoma. There are several kinds of traditional healers among the Zulu. An “Inyanga“ may inherit the profession from relatives, but a “Sangoma“ must receive a “call“ from the spirits, which seemed to be happening to the young Mutwa.
In Credo’s own words;
It was while growing up that it was discovered that I was something of a visionary and a prophet. A talent, which together with an artistic inclination, to draw and to sculpt, the woman who now brought me up, my fathers new wife, did her uttermost to suppress.
I did not attend school until I was well within my 14th year of life. And because my family now kept on travelling, as a result of my fathers building profession, which took him from town to town, we became a family of travelers who never stayed long in one place.
It was here that I began to question many things that I never questioned before. Were our ancestors really the savages that quiet missionaries would have us believe they were? Were we Africans really a race of primitives who possessed no knowledge at all before the white man came to Africa? These and many, many other questions began to haunt my mind. And then one day when he was sure that I was fully returned to health, my grandfather told me that the illness that had been troubling me for so long, had actually been a sacred illness which required that I had to become a shaman, a healer. And when the old man said this to me, I readily agreed to undergo initiation at the hands of one of my grandfather’s daughters, a young sangoma named Myrna.
Mutwa had to undergo purification ceremonies, renounce formal Christianity, and begin to prepare himself to receive the training of the Sangoma. Credo Mutwa was eventually was elevated to the rank of “High Sanusi“, like the Indian “Sannyasin“, a holy man who has taken vows. However, …
As the years past, I became filled with a fanatical obsession; I realized how rapidly Africa was changing. I realized to my shock and sorrow that the culture of my people, a culture that I had thought immortal, was actually dying. Very, very soon the Africa that I knew would become a forgotten thing. A thing of the past and I decided to try and preserve somehow, what I could of my people’s culture. How was I to do that? Friends advised me to write books. One friend advised me to build living museums in which I would preserve the dying culture of my people.
When I was made into a Sanusi, I took a vow never to reveal my knowledge, never to tell people about my profession or about the sacred artefacts that I am entrusted with. But I feel that this vow is a hindrance, and some years ago I decided to break it. The result of this has been that my people have ostracized me and many people have bitterly blamed me for what I had done.
Credo Mutwa believes in the value of tradition, but also affirms that we live in changing times. The traditions are to be kept, but their influence is to be made open to a larger audience than the dwindling faithful among the Zulu people.
The keepers of traditional stories are called “Guardians of the Umlando (tribal history), a different but overlapping role with that of the Sangoma. This role Credo has also embraced. To become this kind of traditional storyteller requires and aptitude for precise memorization and also the dramatic and artistic recitation of the stories.
Mutwa had no formal training in art. All of his artworks are an outflow of his personal mission and vision to bring the almost forgotten tales, myths and knowledge of traditional African Spirituality to a wider audience and to preserve it before it is completely lost, as most of African traditional knowledge was passed on orally from the mouth of the teacher to the ear of the student. According to Credo great emphasis was placed on memorising these stories in exact detail.
Both Credo Mutwa and Jackson Hlungwane are considered either as extreme eccetrics, bordering on madness or great visionaries from various sources.
Bob Cnoops also a spiritual South African Artist influenced by Credo Mutwa and who uses symbols and metaphors from African tribal customs, and their spiritual belief systems to express the meaning of his composite images, made an interesting comment on how madness and eccentricity is viewed, as relating to both Jackson Hlungwane and Credo Mutwa.
What particularly interests me is the very fine and fluctuating line drawn between madness and extreme eccentricity. Madness usually results in total rejection by the community, with extreme consequences, while the most bizarre eccentric will be treated with utmost respect and even fear. Two well known examples of this treatment are Credo Mutwa and Jackson Hlungwane. Mutwa is both revered and reviled in the same community. The two camps are generally divided by age: the young who revile him and the old who revere him. Hlungwane, on the other hand, is revered as an artist by the young (not the old), and revered as a “prophet” and seer by the older section of the community.
This also refers to Crazy wisdom, also known as holy madness, that is a manifestation of certain spiritual adepts where they behave in unconventional, outrageous, or unexpected fashion. It is considered to be a manifestation of spiritual accomplishment in some spiritual traditions such Dharmic Traditions, Zen, Sufi, Charismatic Christianity, and Shamanism. Crazy wisdom is also a modality of communication, in which the adept employs esoteric and seemingly unspiritual methods to awaken an aspirant’s consciousness. The sacred fool, divine madman & madwoman, village idiot, and divine ecstasy is also associated with it. There is a biblical reference to divine madness, when the Holy spirit descended on the disciples and they were seen as drunk. – Acts 2:15
Credo Mutwa has often been compared to the 18th centuary poet and artist William Blake, who was considered mad by his contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, but was held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. Blake adapted pagan and christian mythical motifs to create his own innovative, idiosyncratic and creative religious mythology. Credo can also been seen to have done the same with African traditional motifs and Western religious and mythical symbolism, thereby redefining indigenous African religion.
Like William Blake, Credo claimed to have seen visions from a young age and experienced visions throughout his life. Blake believed that he was personally instructed and encouraged by Archangels to create his artistic works, which he claimed were actively read and enjoyed by those same Archangels. Like Blake, Credo’s visions are the basis of his artworks, some of his paintings are even seen as prophesies by some of his followers.
Mutwa’s cultural villages can also be seen as large installations, or environmental art, reflecting his spiritual vision of Africa’s indigenous religions. He regards creativity as a type of prayer in action. This is also an integral part of other African religions. Mutwa sees artistry and creativity as powerful forces to recognize and enable the divinity in mankind. Like Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, he believed that art had an “awakening and prophetic power.”
Credo’s artworks includes his paintings, monumental sculptures in cement, and smaller recycled steel sculptures. His paintings are mostly in oil and represents his mystical visions, prophecies and African myths.
Most of Credo’s sculptures were part of the two cultural villages he designed and built. These villages included architectural structures representational of the traditions and myths that Credo wanted to depict and were interspersed with his giant scultures. The sculptures that he constructed juxtaposes African folklore and art with an increasingly Westernised society. Mutwa used a combination of modern and traditional materials including stone, reed thatching, recycled metals and cement, and was helped by a team of assistants he trained.
Most of his sculptures were monumental in size. Stylistically they do not reflect the traditional African simplifications and abstraction but are naturalistic representations. His human figures nevertheless reflects African aesthetics in their proportions. His female goddess figures were especially characteristic of Credo’s particular style; typically nude with rounded bellies and large breasts with gigantic proportions. Some of his sculptures were painted, if the colour were important to his vision like his Adam and Eve and the serpent, at Lotlamoreng Cultural Village, which he painted to represent the typical African skin type. While in others he retained the natural cement texture and colour. He is especially known for his mythical and alien creatures.
Soweto – Cultural Village
Credo Mutwa lived in Diepkloof in Soweto in the 1970s when he worked on the village, or what he saw as a living museum of the traditional African cultures or his vision of African traditional history and beliefs.
During that period Mutwa was employed by the South African National Parks Board. During the 1976 riots students attacked Credo’s village, burning the huts, carvings and other artifacts, because they saw his tourist village as promoting the separate development of Apartheid. Credo abandoned the village in 1978 after his son who was to succeed him was murdered by rebels who believed that his holding on to traditional faith was tantamount to collaboration with the White Oppressors.
“Many black people misunderstood the purpose of my having built this living museum. They falsely accused me of cooperating with the apartheid regime and glamorizing the Soweto ghetto.” – Credo Mutwa
But I did not see myself as a politician, I saw myself as a healer, whose duty it was to preserve the greatness of his people, regardless of which government happened to be in power in South Africa. I saw myself as a healer whose purpose it was to create job opportunities for my starving people in Soweto, regardless of whether we were ruled by the apartheid regime or the ANC government. I believed firmly that knowledge was about politics and that a race that did not know its true greatness, will never obtain full freedom. And I was saddened by the fact that out people were making huge sacrifices, fighting for freedom when they did not know their full greatness. I said to my now late wife, Cecilia, and myself that if our people gain freedom under these circumstances, that freedom would be an illusion and a fraud.
I believed then as I believe now, that the African has never really gained freedom and independence. Which is why our people have not been able to achieve what nations such as India and the tiger Nations of South East Asia, which were once also colonized by the white people as we were, have today achieved. For example today India is a nuclear power feared and respected by all nations on earth. India is admired for its great culture and its ancient religious philosophies as well as its other philosophies. While Africa is a downtrodden casualty of history forever dependent like a whipped slave upon her former oppressors.
The entrance of the Sowetan village is guarded by two busts one of Shaka, the Zulu king, and the other of Chief Ngungunyani of the Tsonga.
The large sculptures (most over 2 meters in height) of human and animal figures were placed among a number of thatched huts, constructed in a variety of African building styles and depicting a style of life now mostly lost.
Indigenous god-figures like Nomkhubulwane, the female goddess worshipped by the Nguni people; and Mvelinqange, a male deity reputedly worshipped in the pre-colonial era, dwarf the other statues.
The site in Soweto consists of a number of different areas, the central one containing the monumental figures of Nkulu Nkulu, God the father and the chief of creation, and Nokhubuwana, God the mother, and three smaller figures. Alongside Nkulu Nkulu, who has four faces representing an African, a San, a Chinese and a European, is the figure of Umvelingangi, sun god of Africa, with a striking eagle face. These figures have now been restored and painted a uniform jade colour
Next to the Zulu village is the Basotho village, complete with huts and kraals. It tells the story of shepherds playing morabaraba – a traditional African board game dating back thousands of years – while guarding their livestock from marauding leopards.
There is also the Arab village, constructed by Mutwa, with oriental architecture and a mosque occupying pride of place. Prehistoric African mammals – presumably long extinct but reincarnated by Mutwa – include a three-horned beast called “triotribes” and a dragon-like creature called “titamogofaudon”.
The village in Soweto was partly destroyed during the riots but restoration of the village was initiated in 2006.
Mafeking – Lotlamoreng Cultural Village
The next village he built was in Mafeking at the Lotlamoreng dam which was a more ambitious tourist project for the then independent homeland of Bophuthatswana under the rulership of Lucas Manyane Mangope. Bophuthatswana was reintegrated into South Africa in 1994.
The village was truly a creative masterpiece and to enter it was to be transported to another world, populated with strange mythical creatures and dominated by the ruling earth mother goddesses. Great attention to details were given from the construction of the numerous architectural structures right down to agricultural methods and traditional games, even a stone circle. In every respect it was a living museum for Credo particular vision and dedicated to honour Africa’s rich spiritual heritage.
Beginning in 1983 he supervised the construction of the villages, each representing the traditional culture of one of South Africa’s tribal groups. Not only was dozens of buildings of different styles created – demonstrating the differences for example between Basarwa, Pedi, Tswana, Zulu, Venda but the entire complex was dotted with fantastic figures, often on a giant scale. In addition, many of the rondavels were extremely large. There was also a complete mission church with its figures of John the Baptist sculpture, and a black Adam and Eve with the serpent, and a complete mission house, representing his interpretation of Christianity in Africa.
The beginning of the following video, and in between his prophesies are great images of Lotlamoreng Cultural Village, before its destruction.
Other sculptures and masks with symbolic designs represented good and evil, fertility, rain, sun, moon and night and the spirituality of Africa, and its inner meaning. Some of the walls of the buildings were painted with drawings illustrating African proverbs. The complex was also a center that encouraged local crafts with a shop in the mission house that sold the crafts as well as some of Credo’s recycled metal sculptures. This complex especially showed Mutwa’s amazing versatility, his artistry, creativity and imagination.
The Cultural Village’s close relationship with Bophuthatswana was however, in the end, its undoing and most of it was destroyed by turmoil of of the transition years at the end of Apartheid.
Shamwari Game Reserve
In 1994 Mutwa was expelled from the village and he moved to the Eastern Cape employed by Shamwari Game Reserve. There he became more involved in nature conservation and was even rewarded in 1997 with the Audi Terra Nova Award for his contribution to wildlife conservation. The merger of culture and nature at Shamwari defined a new role for for Credo Mutwa as an indigenous environmentalist
“Apartheid is dead,” he said, “but separatism is alive and well, on an apartheid-like separatism between human and animal.”
The statue is called Mother Earth and the three breasts represent Birds, Fish and Animals on Land. The skull she is leaning on represents ancestors which play a vital role in the Xhosa culture. The Dolphin is seen by Credo as man’s connection with nature and god. According to him both the whales and dolphins were supernatural creatures and incarnations of a dead god.They were brought to earth by the sea god Mpangu, to protect the earth against negative forces. The dolphins were called ihlengethwa – the redeemer fish and are custodians of ancient knowledge that will be revealed once human beings can learn to communicate with them. According Mutwa the San were able to communicate with the dolphins by using a series of clicks and other sounds that are close to the Khoisan language.
Credo Mutwa is currently resident in Kuruman where he continues to sculpt and paint. After his first wife’s death he remarried, and with Virginia with whom he is busy on a new project.
Most of Credo Mutwa’s paintings depicts his prophecies and visions or tales from Africa. His best known paintings were created during the 1970s and 1980s. Many of his best works from this period were unfortunately lost, or are in private possession.
Credo’s visionary paintings displays a dreamlike quality with a naturalistic depiction of the subjects he represents. Just like his sculptures, they are depicted in a traditional western art style rather than using the the stylistic abstraction found in African Art, as if to convey his visions as clearly as possible, which is in keeping with his personal philosophy to bring African spiritual traditions to as wide an audience as possible. He uses both natural and symbolic colurs rather than expressionistic colours so often used by his contemporaries. This in itself illustrates Credo lonely stance during the turbulent 80s in South Africa, when most other artists focused on political issues, and were breaking away from African traditions which was perceived to be promoting the separate development of Apartheid.
His works also reflects his ability a master story teller, clearly illustrating their narrative content. His horizontally composed narratives of traditional myths reminds one of Renaissance allegories which revived myths from the classical period. Just like the Renaissance artists used ancient symbolism in their works, so Credo used ancient African motifs but depicted them in a contemporary visual language and technique rather than traditional African techniques. In so doing he brought Africa’s hidden culture into a Western light of understanding, hoping to uplift Africa’s perceived “primitive” beliefs to be seen in a new light.
Credo can be seen as an innovator in African folk religion. Like William Blake, who adapted recurring pagan and Christian mythic motifs to create his own innovative, creative and idiosyncratic religious mythology, Credo has drawn upon recurring patterns and processes of indigenous African religious life to reproduce an innovative mythology that ranges from the original earth goddess to to the encounters of human beings with aliens from outer space.
Neither the goddess nor the extraterrestrials in this mythology simple preserves African folk religion. Instead against the background of an indigenous religious landscape, these mythological inventions creates new possibilities for African religions in a contemporary world. His representations of African gods and goddesses on monumental scale reflects his vision of them as superhuman which he compares with the vision of westerners viewing themselves as superhuman in context of history and especially in relation to Africa. Just like animals are viewed as subhuman Credo alludes to westerners viewing Africans as subhuman in their exploitation of Africa and its resources. He goes further to explore the irony of extraterrestrials viewing humans as subhumans. As a religious figure representing both indigenous authenticity and innovative applications, his work challenges the superhuman status of western beings in Africa, mediating among superhuman, subhuman and human beings in the world. (Ref David Chidester,p70 – 80)
The Judgement of the Kings (1983) is a large oil painting steeped in ancient Zulu culture. It depicts militant leaders such as Shaka, Hitler, Idi Amin and Napoleon in an African setting. Playing a key role to save their souls, is uMvelinganga,, sun god of Africa, with an eagle face who in the Zulu tradition created the world. In the sky is Nomkhubulwane, the female goddess worshipped by the Nguni people. The bull framed by the the sun is of the Nguni cattle which were revered as the soul of the nation and called “the cattle of the sun.” When one of the Nguni cattle died, its skin was made into two shields for warriors whose loyalty to king was was beyond question and formed part of the king’s body guard.
How the Turtle was forced to work – African people believe the sun is male and therefore static, while the earth is female and therefore mobile and that the earth moves around the sun. They say the sun is a great ball of fire burning on the summit of a great mountain in the middle of a great sea, and that the earth is carried round and round this mountain on the back of a huge turtle known as Chikaka.
Nommo – Humans were created on a world far away from this one, a world which was destroyed by a great war between men and women. The survivors moved to another world where reptile-beings called Nommo lived. These humans started a war between the Nommo and themselves and in that war humans were decimated and only a few left. Two Nommos took pity on the surviving humans and transported them to Earth inside a hollowed out egg, which later hung in the sky as the Noom.
Paul Kruger – One African legend had it that President Paul Kruger had been brought up by a fabled bird as a baby. One day a Tswana witchdoctor prophesied to Kruger that he would be defeated in battle and overthrown by a woman. Kruger scoffed at this, but in the end he was defeated by Queen Victoria’s soldiers in the Anglo Boer War (1899 – 1902), going into exile in Holland where he died.
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