The Queen of Uhadi

The girls in this village grew up knowing that it was taboo for them to play uhadi. First they would be barren and not find a husband. It was well known in that area. Only boys could play it. There was a little girl called Luthando. She loved this instrument so much that she would listen to the boys playing the whole day.

Older women told her uhadi evoked the spirits of ancestors and that ancestors would only talk to men. Luthando listened sadly as the men and boys were playing. She wished she could get a chance to make that lovely music that was always in her heart.

Luthando lived with her mother and father in a village surrounded by mountains. She worked hard for her family, waking up very early to fetch water from the river, going to the forest to collect inyanda wood. Ploughing in the fields and making fire for her mother to cook. Sometimes she would swim in the river.

She loved afternoon swimming in order to watch the sun setting. She would listen to the sounds of cattle as they were returning from grazing. The people called it "ibantu bahle" meaning the time of the beautiful people. She liked that time because she believed she was beautiful.

As she was swimming she would sings the songs she heard from uhadi. She was free and made other girls to sing the same songs. She heard that the ancestors live in water and she hoped they would help her to persuade the men to allow her to play uhadi. One day when she was deep in her dreams imagining herself playing uhadi she saw a strong hand rising from the water. The hand was giving her uhadi. There was a bright light around uhadi.

She gasped, breathed deeper and sighed. "The music has come to me. My ancestors have finally heard me. Thank you for this gift." She reached the brink of the river with her instruments and sang as if a spirit had possessed her. Those were songs of joy. She even forgot she was naked but when she saw the people coming towards her she quickly dressed herself. This was a different type of uhadi. It was made of the finest strings. The part that was supposed to be of wood was actually ivory and it was shining. The strings were made of pure gold and silver. As the people got closer to her they marveled at the quality of uhadi she had. Not one man had an instrument like hers, not even the king. And it was a gift from the ancestors. As she was playing the instrument for the villagers she remembered "no girl shall play uhadi." She looked around and saw that the people were all smiling. Then they asked her, "Luthando how come the music from your instrument is finer than all the other sounds we have ever heard?" She could not answer that. But the men seemed offended.

That evening she never tasted sleep. She was wide awake her hands clutching her new uhadi all the time. She continued to do her daily chores but the men were planning to create trouble for her. They came to her home to lay charges against her saying she had broken an old cultural rule. Her warrior father defended her and they left her alone.

A strange thing happened when she touched her instrument. She would hear songs in her ears and she started playing songs that nobody knew in the village. Those songs were from the river. When she needed a place to play her instrument, she went to the falls and composed so many songs and tunes.

Then she discovered a secret cave where she could sit and play. A place she visited everyday. "Hum hum, qim qim, hmmmmm," she went on and on. But sometimes she played bad tunes especially when the ancestors had left her to learn on her own. She would start believing that only men could play uhadi. But because she loved it she continued playing it until she was perfect and there was no competition for her.

She used to entertain kings and queens especially at the time of celebrating harvest. She was invited all over the world. Her music was unusual. Then the king decided to encourage girls to play uhadi. They had concerts where they danced umxhentso, umtshutsho, umngqungqo, indlamu, you name it. There were people from all over South Africa to celebrate unity in diversity.

Luthando continued to inspire young women who thought they could not achieve anything in life. You should have seen the king's smile as he watched her play and dance to the tunes of her own uhadi.

Luthando's dance was about body movement, spinning slower and then faster and faster. Listening to the instrument in her hand would make you love your culture. Some villagers were filled with jealousy. They wished their daughters could be the ones doing what Luthando was doing. But she paid no attention to them.

One day the villagers heard the bad news that their king was very sick. They went to see him and tried everything in their power to save his life, in vain. Luthando remembered the ancestors who gave her uhadi. She ran to the river with her instrument and told the ancestors if they could heal her king she would be very grateful. She jumped into the water and again the hand that gave her the instrument appeared and a voice told her to play the instrument for the king and he would be well. She ran to the king's house, played the sweet tune from uhadi and the king woke up. The people were all amazed and called her a miracle girl.

To show his gratitude the king bought a lot of instruments for girls and called an imbizo where Luthando invented the slogan, "ntombazana qhubeka udlale uculo" which means "girly continue to play music." That village became the most musical village. They named it,EMCULWENI! Meaning a "place of music."

by Smangele, Vulamazibuko Primary School, South Africa


Glossary

Uhadi:a stringed instrument which is oval shaped.