Book Review of Tears of Joy: African Story about Heroes and Monsters
Reviewer: John P. Mbonde
One of the pioneers to open the way to a positive understanding of the Sukuma culture in Tanzania in the 1950s was Father Jan Hendricks, M.Afr. who was nicknamed “Chenya” by the local people. He was encouraged in this work by Bishop Joseph Blomjous, M, Afr. of the then Mwanza Diocese. Hendricks soon associated himself in his cultural studies with the famous Father David Clement, M.Afr, founder of the Sukuma Cultural Museum at Bujora. Hendricks collected a number of Sukuma stories especially “Myths of Origin and Destiny.” Among these stories there were seven different versions of the myth of the monster Shing’weng’we and his protagonist the clever young man Masala Kulangwa.
Among all the beasts that are known to have existed and that still stir the imagination of modern men and women, dinosaurs have a very special place in the life of the people. They appeared on earth about a hundred million years ago, and though their existence is known only by their fossil remains, they still fascinate us tremendously in Africa and around the globe. Indeed, any picture of a dinosaur on television or a video screen can only be a product of the human imagination. Humans appeared on the earth approximately 3,000,000 years ago, and the last dinosaur died at least 60,000,000 million years ago. And yet, dinosaurs still stir our imaginations.
A story, a tale, a myth such as the Sukuma myth of Shing’weng’we and Masala Kulangwa, meticulously narrated in Tears Of Joy, can still be used more effectively than a scientific explanation to teach certain metaphysical truths and to give very powerful moral lessons to young people. In Jewish traditions myths are commonly used to explain the creation of the world and the first man and woman. When one once hears of the description of the monster, he or she draws an imaginative picture of a formidable monster from a fairyland.
It is incredible that after 51 years of extensive research on the rich Sukuma cultural traditions and oral literature (stories, songs, proverbs, riddles, myths, folklore, etc), the author Father Donald Sybertz, M.M., a Maryknoll Missioner living in Shinyanga, Tanzania, has every reason to rejoice and be congratulated for having such a good command of the Sukuma language and finally helping the full, definitive version of this myth to see the light of the day in this 27 page booklet.
In this book, Tears of Joy, the monster appears in the village in the form of a large pumpkin which kept on growing and growing all the time until it became so enormous that all were truly amazed. People ran to get their weapons. The pumpkin suddenly burst open and a monster with long claws and sharp teeth came roaring out. All the people, elders, men and women, boys and girls, children and babies, even cattle and goats were swallowed.
It was the son of the lone woman who escaped from being swallowed by the monster who later killed the monster with a stone. The name of this courageous boy is Masala Kulangwa. It was a great achievement for him and for all the men and women of his Sukuma Ethnic Group who came out of the stomach dancing and singing: “Masala Kulangwa killed him. We are all free and alive again. What a man this Masala Kulangwa is.” They made Masala Kulangwa their Chief and King of the Whole World.
This myth touches the metaphysical problems of death and the afterlife. Shing’weng’we is diabolically a terrible monster, apparently unconquerable and without mercy. Every human being must fall victim to him. This is the law from which no one can escape. The monster’s stomach is the symbol of earth (from which comes all fertility). It also symbolizes the tomb where everybody will sooner or later be swallowed (common death).
Masala Kulangwa has won the victory. But that victory, the discovery, is the result of a terrible battle and can only be attained through the child maturing and learning something about nature. She or she must discover that he or she is both a physical and a spiritual being. Hence the story gives powerful insights culturally, spiritually, politically and socially. It emphasizes the spectacular truth that a person cannot renounce the relationship one has with the source of one’s life, parents, ancestors and extended family ties. It carefully underscores some philosophical and theological truths as food for thought.
This is why every Sukuma person believes and is firmly convinced in his or her deep self that after death one will live on as a “living dead,” and that he or she will still be related to all of his or her lineage. After death one will not need food. No one will be able to touch or see the person. But the person will still be able to love and be loved.
This booklet is the definitive Sukuma version of this myth. There may be hundreds of versions and variations of this Sukuma myth in other African ethnic groups and languages. The monster is always represented as having enormous size, but sometimes is said to have seven or even a hundred heads. Since time immemorial humans have always been scared of such monsters. In African folklore there is an abundance of monsters, giants, ogres and dragons of which Shing’weng’we is just one.
Today, there are political monsters, economic monsters and many such evil monsters in all walks of life who terrorise the weak community all over the globe. People are being devoured by such monsters mercilessly, but it is not an easy job to find another brave Masala Kulangwa to rescue us in this turmoil in which we are engulfed (HIV/AIDS, corruption, abject poverty, negative globalization, drug-trafficking, weapons of mass destruction, etc).
This booklet Tears of Joy is also available in two other languages:
Swahili: Machozi ya Furaha.
Sukuma: Shisoji ja Buyegi.
It has been colourfully illustrated by Khalid Yusuf Both children and adults will find this book to be a very useful companion in schools, at home and in our pastoral ministry. It can be purchased from Mathews Bookstore & Stationers at the address above. NOTE: Different short versions of this myth can be found in the online “African Stories Database” at:
Please click on the links below to view one of the three stories found in our African Stories Database that particularly relate to the New Booklet on Sukuma Myth are: