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The Long Tears - An Ndebele Story

Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 E. 40th St., New York, NY 10016; 212-808-4980
Produced by Shadow Films-SABC 3 Productions
Directed by David Forbes
VHS, color, 52 min.
Multicultural Studies, African Studies, Anthropology, Sociology

Reviewed by Thomas J. Beck, Auraria Library and Media Center, University of Colorado at Denver

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   

The Nbebele are a people who live in Southern Africa, near the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa. This film describes both their daily lives and the history of their nation.

It opens with Ndebele women preparing for an important event known as "the crossing." This is a coming-of-age ceremony for the adolescent boys in the community. They will leave their mothers for a two-month trek through the mountains, led by their older brothers. There they will learn the ways of Ndebele manhood. When they return home, they will no longer be seen as children, but as adults. Their mothers will greet them at that time wearing strips of beaded cloth known as "the long tears". They represent a mother's tears of sadness at the loss of a child and at the same time, her tears of joy seeing her son become a man. During the preparation for this ceremony, we learn much about the day to day life of the Ndebele. Men, for instance, build the family homes. Women are then called upon to paint them. The style in which they do so is unique to their people, and is much admired by the outside world. Girls also have their own coming-of-age ceremony, through which they are guided by their grandmothers. There they learn both the rights and responsibilities of women in their society.

As we learn more about the Ndebele, we find that they face many problems. Their customs are slowly dying out. Young women are far less likely to paint their houses in the traditional manner, if at all. The old mode of behavior and dress are gradually being discarded. Western vices, such as drinking and smoking, are an ever-growing problem. Many of these difficulties can be traced to the exploitation the Ndebele have suffered at the hands of Whites. In the 19th century they were conquered by White settlers, and reduced to a position of near slavery. Their culture was ridiculed and undermined, and they were actively discriminated against. This discrimination continued well into the 20th century and in one way or another continues today. Unemployment and poverty are rampant in Ndebele society.

This film is an excellent introduction to Ndebele life and history. It can be readily understood and appreciated by high school, undergraduate or graduate students. Those studying African affairs, and African or South African history will find it the most useful, as will the libraries that support such studies. It may also be of interest to those studying Anthropology and Sociology. Picture and sound quality are good, though the South African accents of the narrators may be hard for some to understand. Interviews and conversations are often subtitled, and occasionally the text appears on the screen too briefly to be read in its entirety.

Highly Recommended.