Animated film “Indlela Yokuphila” is a mystical adventure that explores our connection to the water


Indlela Yokuphila (The Soul’s Journey), a short animated film that finds resonance between indigenous and scientific knowledge and brings spirit and spirituality to our common understanding of the water cycle, recently premiered at the Cape Town International Animation Festival. The film by Empatheatre and Shells & Spells (in collaboration with Triggerfish) speaks to the power of “call-and-response” methodologies in creating stories that are culturally and politically rigorous. 

Call-and-response is a method of interaction between a speaker and the audience where a statement is quickly followed by an answering statement. While popular in the creation of music, call-and-response is also used in African cultures in a widespread pattern of democratic participation – in public gatherings, in the discussion of civic affairs, in religious rituals, as well as in vocal and instrumental musical expression.

In Indlela Yokuphila the question asked by the speaker to their teacher is “How do the ancestors get into the sea?” The question is answered in the form of a mystical adventure that unfolds in the teacher’s loving narration against an African operatic choral score.

After death, the soul transforms into a young ancestor, who travels the underground streams, through river systems, remembering the personality of the places they had once lived. All the while, they are called to the deep sea by the great-great-grandmothers, ancient beings who dwell in the realm on the sea floor.  Called by this son, the spirit returns to her loved ones, receiving all the collective knowledge of her ancestors. She dwells down there for a very long time, until matters on land are pressing, and her next mother calls her.  Moving to the surface, the soul is carried by a cloud and rained down on a village, whereupon, collecting rainwater, their next mother drinks her, and there, inside the ocean of her belly, she grows only to be born again.

Indlela Yokuphila, along with other animated films Empatheatre have created, has been used as evidence in court cases and policy-making practices, as well as ocean governance and policy development in South Africa. 

Indlela Yokuphila was directed by Marc Moynihan and Dylan McGarry. March Moynihan also wrote the short film, along with Mpume Mthombeni who narrated the film as well. The choir music used in the film was music from the Cape Town Opera Chorus.

According to the creators at Empatheatre, “the largest oversight and gap in decision-making is how to include spiritual and cultural heritages in ocean decision-making and marine spatial planning. With early iterations of this film, we have already had the ability to present it to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at COP26 and COP27, as well as with scientists who influence Marine Spatial Planning and other policymakers in South Africa.” They believe that creative storytelling through Indlela Yokuphila can contribute to developing legal fluidity, creating opportunities for reconciliation, social learning, and catharsis that can support indigenous and other ways of knowing and managing the ocean.

Full the full film here:


Shells and Spells:


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