Miriam’s Song

Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba

I saw in the news digest that greets me when I sign on to the computer that Miriam Makeba died yesterday at the age of 76.

Her detailed obituaries have already been written by The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the BBC, among others. (The BBC also published the text of Nelson Mandela’s tribute to Makeba’s life and work.)

This was sad news. I’m personally old enough to have seen Miriam Makeba on the Ed Sullivan Show — and she impressed that little girl way back then as a riveting performer. Her political witness was lost on me then. Later, I came to understand that she was a lifelong warrior for justice, exiled from her native South Africa for many years for her anti-apartheid stance and statements.

Even later, when I taught Introduction to World Religions, I used to play a prayerful song from her album Sangoma, Kulo Nyaka, when we talked about some of the characteristics of indigenous religions, and another, Mabhongo, right before the first test of the semester.

Here is what Makeba herself said about “Mabhongo”:

“Mabhongo” is a war chant. The word combines “courage” and “confidence” and in its sound you can hear these powerful emotions. In olden days, the prople sang this to the warriors who were on their way to battle. The chant calls for a complete victory.

I hope this is a fitting way to remember Miriam Makeba: as one whose voice sang out, and led others, in the evocative call for complete victory in the fight for freedom and justice. May her song live on in our memory.

This entry was posted in Theology & Other Thoughts, Various Other Things and tagged , , , by Ha_Qohelet. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ha_Qohelet

Ha_Qohelet is a transliteration of Hebrew definite article plus a feminine participle, all together meaning "the (feminine) one who assembles" or who calls together. Qohelet is the title of one of the books of the Hebrew Scripture, known in English as Ecclesiastes. The Women's Center at LPTS feels the epithet of Qohelet is a fitting one for what we do and are. The Women's Center is, indeed, a caller-together, a caller-to-wisdom, and an assembler -- of people, of ideas, of actions, and ultimately, we hope, of transformations in the world. In this context, Ha_Qohelet is the Director of the Women's Center, and Editor-in-Chief of Wimminwise.

3 thoughts on “Miriam’s Song

  1. BTW, A further comment on Sangoma, and it’s odd relevance to the work of the Women’s Center. The title of Makeba’s album comes from the South African indigenous social role of the sangoma. As Makeba said in the notes to the album, “. . . my mother was a Sangoma, which is the name given to a person possessed by the spirits of our ancestors. These spirits give the Sangoma the powers that make them respected diviners and healers in the community. They cure the sick, and they can predict the future. But more important, our people depend upon our Sangomas to act as mediums between us and the ancestors who guide our lives.”

    Her mother, note; because the Sangoma may be a woman or a man.

    Wanted to find a reputable source. I’ve heard folks sneer at Wikipedia before, though Wikipedia has a nice entry on the Sangoma, with pictures of women as well as men, clearly communicating that it’s a role open to both those genders. So, looked for a more reputable, scholarly source — like the Metropolitan Museum — which, if you follow the link, you’ll notice has a big picture of a man, and doesn’t mention the dual gender character of the role until halfway down the page, by which time the reader has thoroughly formed the impression that this official leadership role, like so many others, is a male one.

    Presentation is everything.

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