The Great Elephant is Shaka (elsewhere Chaka), king of the Zulus and terror of South Africa, who is seen here as willful,...



The Great Elephant is Shaka (elsewhere Chaka), king of the Zulus and terror of South Africa, who is seen here as willful, obstinate, cruel--and the victim of his vices; which is only part of the truth since it omits the mad melancholy he succumbed to on the death of his mother (much the same way the author, in the introduction, gives a sketchy, unprecise picture of his early life). And yet he is not to be dismissed, nor is the book: in the reactions of Vika, son of Mbaya, headman of Qungebali, to the Mighty One is the eternal story of the worshipful boy disillusioned by his hero as well as a throbbing sense of African honor and loyalty and courage. Characteristically, it is Vika's cowardly behavior which determines Shaka to raise him in his household where, after being ignored, he becomes Shaka's pet, and the instrument of a loyal servant's downfall. Shaken, he is warned to beware of the leopard in Shaka, and the slaughter at Ndololware--not a battle but a fight to the finish--convinces him of the king's perfidy. Numbly Vika does what he is bid; the king grows, more unreasoning and Mbaya, trying to rouse him, is spared only out of respect for his candor, meanwhile making an enemy of Dingane, the king's scheming half-brother. But when the warriors are sent off on a futile mission and boys Vika's age are called up, his childhood friend Ngonyama appears, reminding him of what he has lost: ""As the grass grows thin against a huge mountain, or as the river dries up under the scorching of the mighty sun, he had almost ceased to live because of the shadow of the Great Elephant."" With Shaka's murder he returns home to take a stand with his father against Dingane; they cannot remain but they retain their self-respect. The historic Chaka is better met in Bern Keating's biography (1968, p. 60, J-32) but the legendary Chaka charges the story with excitement.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1969