I haven’t had much time to add tot he growing collection these last few weeks, so I thought it would be good to show you the set so far in one blog post. ‘m going to be making some 3-d versions of these for a school event on June 19th. It should be fun! Details of that event will follow in the coming days.
The Jengu, from Cameroon, differs in appearance from person to person, but it is said to be a beautiful, mermaid-like figures with long, hair and gap-toothed smiles. A Jengu (plural Miengu) is a water spirit in the traditional beliefs of the Sawa ethnic groups of Cameroon. They live in rivers and the sea and bring good fortune to worshipers. They are also healers and intermediaries between people and the spirits. A Jengu cult has long enjoyed popularity in Cameroon. For the inland Bakweri, Jengu worship is a rite of passage for eight to ten-year old girls. During this time, the girl must wear a dress made of fern fronds and follow a series of taboos. After this period, she is a full member of the cult. There are many mermaid creatures in mythology across the African continent.
In the first sketch of a new series, I am going to try to illustrate African mythological creatures and characters. First up is the Lightning bird, or Impundulu. There are likely to be several versions of each of these characters, so your input is welcome. I am hoping to create a set of six to 12 finished images by the summer of 2013.
The Impundulu or Thekwane (Lightning bird) is a mythological creature in South African traditional tribal folklore. The Zulu and the Xhosa and Pondo tribes have stories about the lightning bird, described as black and white, the size of a human and which is said to cause thunder and lightning with its wings and talons. It is said to have an appetite for blood.
The lightning bird is believed to manifest itself only through lightning, except to women, to whom it reveals itself as a bird. The bird may take several forms. In one instance, a girl described a black rooster-like bird that ran up her hoe and left claw marks on her body before it flew back to the clouds. It is also described as having iridescent feathers like a peacock’s or a fiery red tail, bill and legs.
The Impundulu is believed to lay a large egg underground at the point of a lightning strike and this may be a good or bad omen. Traditionally, the tribe’s witch doctor plays the essential role in dealing with the lightning bird. The bird’s flesh can be made into a remedy for tracing thieves, as an example.
In real life, the Hammerkop, or Stork, whose territory ranges from Africa, Madagascar to Arabia, is believed to be the lightning bird.
In 2005, a South african Newspaper reported that a man was convicted of culpable homicide after killing a two-year-old child he believed to be an Impundulu.
I spent time in book shops over the festive season. I realised it is still a better experience than being online.
I also noticed the lack of contemporary stories for children about other cultures. Most, if not all publishers have an anthology of folk tales from ‘the world’. Then, most publishers have the obligatory ‘multicultural’ collections, or a series about a character from somewhere else. But there aren’t many of these and they are so similar that they can be mistaken for being the same.
Children that don’t have access to cultural stories will grow up to be adults that don’t have access to cultural stories. What will they pass on to their children? Flights of fantasy for young children don’t have to all be dragons and giants and talking animals that are candy coloured, or warm and fuzzy. In this age where more respect is being given to a person’s background celebrating cultures could go a long way.
Youth culture is current and ever-changing and really quite exciting. We cannot look at it like a sub culture. It has its own language and code of behaviour which comes out of the your person’s experience as a child.
African culture is all but forgotten by publishers. Traditional culture is crammed in to the one volume I mentioned earlier and modern African culture is simply not present. 54 countries and the cradle of human life is not seen as interesting enough…
If you ever have the opportunity to sit with a book seller our buyer you will hear that these stories simply don’t sell, it’s a sales and marketing issue. I believe it is one of misunderstanding and slight fear. As the world looks to Africa and the East it is only a matter of time before that will change.
So, this year, I will be focusing on cultures of all kinds: How to make them fun, how to turn them into stories. What’s more, I’ll let you know how the year progresses.
Zimbabwean born GRaphic designer Chaz Maviyane-Davies lives and teaches in the US. He challenges his students to avoid being proponents of “homogenized blandness” – the practice of embracing technology to the detriment of our idiosyncratic visual languages. The result being uniform mediocrity. He extends this challenge in particular, to his fellow Africans:
“It’s about breaking down and finding the inherited, mythically infused iconography and then rebuilding it in order to fit the feeling and nature of where we are now. The tone, rhythm and depth of our identity is special and can be used to talk to each other today. And we have to use that visual language to slowly try to bring some of our personality and presence into the design arena.”