An explosive bellow from the spiritual heart of the black experience, saxophonist and composer Winston Mankunku’s Ngozi’s Yakhal’Inkomo is at once a call to action, an open letter and a prayer. Recorded in 1968, as a cry mourning the Sharpeville massacre, and reinvoked in Mongane Wally Serote’s 1972 collection of poems, it tasks us with imagining dispossessed feelings in common as the basis of a new community. Visual Artist Breeze Yoko responded to these prompts, creating a Bovine love story.
We spoke to him about struggle, love and cattle.
I started thinking through a love story about two Nguni cows that meet and fall in love during the time of Nonqawuse. Nonqawuse’s story, while well-known, is still contested. The only thing that remains is the effect that it had on the Xhosa nation. Effects that remain until today. How do you tell that story without falling into the obvious traps and tropes? I wanted to speak from the perspective of the cattle that feature as a key part in the story of the Xhosa Frontier Wars.
I took a few cues from Yakhal’Inkomo, both the song and the poem to guide how to speak about the cows, not just as animals, but as signifiers of wealth and blackness.
Cows are important in South African cultures, particularly Xhosa culture. Cattle as history, legacy, wealth and permanence. For a 100 years [after colonial contact], the Xhosa’s remained unbroken by British Colonial powers. They maintained their own way of life. This was destroyed when their own belief systems were discredited, and their currency destroyed. Cows and livestock meant independence and autonomy. You could never not have any, and if you didn’t, you could loan some from the chief.
My rendition of Yakhal’inkomo is a story of struggle, of man and the obsession with the suppression of freedom.
There’s a poem by the Xhosa writer, JR Jolobe called “Ukwenza Umkhozi” which means “To make a slave”. It speaks of a young bull, that’s free and proud until someone captures it and puts a yoke on it, choking it until it’s tame. Until it’s submissive and can be put to work for others.
I also found out that in Xhosa linguistics, Nguni cattle are named after constellations. I reflected this, this union with the universe. This understanding of us as the gallaxy in how I drew the cows.
The future and the universe needn’t be far removed from every day. It is everything, all the time. Yakhal’ Inkomo is a love story, and like most love stories it’s about power, stuggle, chains and liberation. The story is ongoing, this is just one part of it.
Breeze Yoko is a Cape Town-based multimedia artist specialising in video/film and graffiti. The Graphic Story, “Yakhal’ Inkomo” features in the August 2016 edition of the Chronic, an edition in which we explore ideas around mythscience and graphic storytelling. The Chronic is available in print or digital from our online shop, or from your nearest dealer.