Christmas, Day 5: Unto Us

LOOK: Nativity by Azaria Mbatha

Mbatha, Azaria_Nativity
Azaria Mbatha (South African, 1941–2018), Nativity, 1964. Linocut, 33.5 × 57.5 cm. Edition of 10.

One of South Africa’s most important printmakers, Azaria Mbatha was a student and later teacher at the Evangelical Lutheran Art and Craft Centre at Rorke’s Drift. In his Nativity linocut he shows a Nguni bull, two bushpigs, an elephant, and an antelope calf paying homage to the Christ child, whom a bald, long-bearded Joseph gestures toward. Three wise men approach on elephant-back from the left, and further to the left, King Herod lurks with lion and spear, waiting to pounce on this perceived threat to his power. The top two registers fast-forward to the beginnings of Jesus’s public ministry, with John the Baptist preaching repentance and baptizing Jesus.

I’m not sure who the figure at the bottom right is supposed to be. Any guesses? It’s possible he’s just a generic worshipper, or someone of local or national significance.

LISTEN: “Sizalelwe Indodana” (Unto Us a Child Is Born) | Traditional South African Christmas song in Zulu | Arranged and performed by Concord Nkabinde, 2019 [HT: Global Christian Worship]

Sizalelwe Indodana
Igama layo nguJesu
Iyo yodwa Umsindisi

English translation:

Unto us a child is born
His name is Jesus
Only he is the Savior

Musical artist Concord Nkabinde writes,

This time of the year always reminds me of my childhood & my years of growing up in Dube, Soweto. The one song that became a soundtrack for the Christmas season at that time was this simple Traditional song that really takes me back there. This is my interpretation of it.

He has overdubbed six vocal parts and multiple percussion parts.

5 thoughts on “Christmas, Day 5: Unto Us

    1. Yeah, I wondered that too, as that’s a key character type from Nativities that I don’t see anywhere else in the print. At first glance he seems too richly dressed to be a shepherd, and the hat (very similar to the ones worn by the wise men) throws me off–but I do think “shepherd” is a possibility!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Dear Victoria Emily (if I may!),

    I have been receiving your mailings for a number of years now, even though I confess that I am not able to keep up with them all. The amount of research you do is truly amazing.

    But I was very struck by the Azaria Mbatha Nativity you sent through yesterday, so much so that I forwarded your question on to a couple of friends who are familiar with Africa (though I also have experience of Nigeria), and one of them came back with an interesting answer re: the figure in the bottom RH corner. This is his response:

    ‘The figure in the right hand corner is a musician, playing a traditional stringed instrument (or possibly a handheld keyboard). As it’s a traditional work of art, I think the stringed instrument more likely, like a kora. So I think what you are seeing is a praise singer or griot’ (Adrian Chatfield)

    I need to look at the carving myself with a magnifying glass; I am sure there are still more motifs to be dug up!

    Thank you for the continual artistic and prayerful stimulation and fascination that you provide for us.

    Warm wishes for the Christmas-Nativity season, Philip Seddon (Porton, UK)


    1. Wow, thanks, Philip, for passing along this insight from your friend! It does appear that he is holding something in his left hand. I hadn’t considered before that it could be a musical instrument, but that’s very fitting! FYI, if you right-click on the image and select “Open image in new tab,” you will be able to view the photo at its original size, in greater detail. Merry Christmas. –Victoria


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