Ifalakhe: Heroes & Villains In Pre-Colonial Africa
Ifalakhe Review: Beyond Shaka Zulu
Shaka Zulu was probably the last African Epic TV Show and its impact is unquestionable.
However, despite the brilliance of its Shakespearean dialogue, Costumes and Cinematography, Shaka Zulu is in some sense a victim of its time as a big budget Hollywood portrayal of African History.
It exhibits certain typical Hollywood tropes and cultural biases as it struggles to portray the complexity of Pre-Colonial African Society throughout.
To overcome the problem, Shaka Zulu leans heavily on one dimensional portrayals which simplify the underlying conflict between Shaka (and by extension Zulus), and the foreign visitors to his Court who represent the arrival of Colonialism.
By telling the Shaka Zulu story through the lens of the Diary of Irish Dr Francis Fynn, the portrayal of Africans in Shaka Zulu is essentially through a foreign alien Lens that regards the Africans as the other in their own land.
The result is a well produced, entertaining and frequently insightful show that still suffers from Cultural bias.
Nevertheless, it was the best we’ve had until now…Enter Ifalakhe.
Ifalakhe: The Background Story
Ifalakhe is set in Pre-Colonial Southern Africa, and events are set in motion when an Ancestral Oracle of the Kingdom of Okuhle decrees that two of the King’s wives would each bear him a Son, but that one of them would bring destruction to the Kingdom if allowed to live.
The King is instructed to kill the last born of his Sons, but through the deception and trickery of his Principal Wife, the King is told that both were born at the same time.
As a result, the King cannot tell which of them was born first, and so the decision to allow both Sons to live which propels the drama in Ifalakhe is made.
The explosive drama is set against the background of the struggle for Power between Ifalakhe who is the Legitimate King of Okuhle, and his Half-Brother Busani, the Usurper.
The Portrayal Of African Pre-Colonial Life In Ifalakhe
Ifalakhe revels in the personal and political intrigues of Pre-Colonial Africa with the same level of complexity as classic Period Shows like Vikings and Rome.
Whilst comparisons have been made to Game Of Thrones, in my view, Ifalakhe is different because its more Society and History than fantasy.
Much like Vikings and Rome, Ifalakhe explores whats at stake for individuals and nations in a capitivating way without departing the realm of a core Historical reality as the contest for the Kingship unfolds, warring nations with vendettas clash and unexpected romances blossom.
The African Psyche in its Historical context is explored more intricately as the characters are portrayed in a 3 dimensional manner with the result that the characters are completely believable as actual Africans that could have existed in an Africa now lost to the mists of time.
Furthermore, the attention to detail given to various social settings like funerals, conversations between Maidens and Suitors and Old Men of the Village sharing a Calabash of Brew at Sunset as they discuss the latest controversies in the Kingdom of Okuhle are all a sign of Ifalakhe’s committment to going beyond the typical ‘Native’ tropes that were all too common in Shaka Zulu.
The Heroes and Villains of Pre-Colonial Africa are vividly displayed in Ifalakhe.
This is a masterstroke that resists romanticising Pre-Colonial Africa whilst at the same time reflecting its majesty.
Whilst Show’s like Shaka Zulu have visited the same place before on a big Hollywood budget, Ifalakhe tackles the same subject matter more adeptly with what is a comparatively shoestring budget but it excels in creating a world you will find irresistable.
In the final analysis, Ifalakhe is also a retelling of the Hero’s Journey Myth highlighted in Joseph Campbell’s classic work The Hero With A Thousand Faces.
This Mythical Archetype can be found in almost every culture since Ancient Times in epic tales like the Sumerian Epic Of Gilgamesh and Medieval England’s King Arthur, with the most modern rendition being Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.
Ifalakhe is thus truly the retelling of an epic African Hero’s journey like we have not seen on screen before, and my hope is that we can see more of these types of Productions.
I’m sure Mali’s Ancient Epic Of Sundiata would be equally thrilling.
Be sure to check out Ifalakhe on Showmax or on DSTV if you’re in Africa.
It would be great if Netflix would also pick it up for circulation to a broader global audience.
Links to the official Ifalakhe Website, Trailer and our previous entries on the Shaka Zulu TV Series Review, The Hero Journey myth and the Epics Of Gilgamesh and Sundiata are below.