Your guide to the tribes and houses of Blood Psalms
The epic Showmax Original fantasy series Blood Psalms takes you to Ancient Africa, a world where your tribal allegiance means everything. In Blood Psalms, the Akachi king makes a deal with the god of magic, Heka – but soon realises he has made a terrible mistake. To save himself, and perhaps the world, he’ll have to sacrifice his daughter, Princess Zazi, on her 18th birthday.
Meanwhile, the other tribes of the kingdom gather for King Letsha’s wedding to an Uchawi princess – a marriage dreamt up by the scheming Queen Assili to cement her power over the kingdom.
Here is your guide to the people, tribes and royal houses of Blood Psalms.
The House of Akachi
The opulent Akachi empire is ruled by the eccentric King Letsha III (Mothusi Magano). The tribe is proud of their lineage, and wear the armour and uniforms of their ancestors, the ancient people of Kemet.
Much of Blood Psalms is set at the Akachi citadel, where the five tribes have gathered for Letsha’s upcoming wedding.
Letsha is haunted by the ghost of his father (Sello Motloung) and fears his daughter, Zazi (Bokang Phelane). He has two untrustworthy advisors: the Uchawi queen, Assili (Faith Baloyi), and his uncle, Nkamanzu (Sello Maake kaNcube), while his army is under the command of General Toka (Zolisa Xaluva), supported by Commander Lekoya (S’dumo Mtshali).
Other key Akachi characters include Madlamini (Albert Ibokwe Khoza), a mother figure to both Letsha and Zazi, and Warren Masemola as Mfengetho, an Akachi priest.
Partly inspired by the Benin bronzes of the 15th and 16th centuries, the Akachi are easy to identify in Blood Psalms. “They’re the clean-cut kingdom,” says Theola Booysens. “Because of a history of plagues and lice, they’re mostly shaven.”
Take a moment to appreciate their gorgeous costumes. “These are all handcrafted pieces, made from completely natural fabrics,” says Pierre Vienings. “The nature of these costumes were not just, ‘Let’s quickly throw it under a sewing machine,’ so our biggest challenge was to source the correct craftsmen. For context, it took one beader about 12 weeks to bead just one of King Letsha’s shirts.”
The House of Uchawi
This cult is led by an order of women with magical powers. At the centre is a council of 12, reigned over by Queen Assili. The Uchawi are rainmakers and their powers make them valuable to kings like Letsha.
Queen Assili (Faith Baloyi) is ruler of the mystical Uchawi kingdom and current Magi of the order. After manipulating King Letsha into killing his wife, Ndiya Zazi, she took her position at the head of the order.
Queen Assili has always been in control of the elements and is concerned that she cannot bring the rains during a severe drought. Fearful of losing her hold on the king, Assili does everything in her power to ensure her survival, including promising her only daughter to be the new bride of the king.
The son of Queen Assili and Ntuka, Teborah (Niza Jay), has a key role to play in the story, too. In their role as the link between this world and the next, the Uchawi talk to the gods through the Emissary (Thando Thabethe), a frightening figure who is summoned by the Serpentine Elementals. The voice of the Serpentine Elementals is Nymph (Khanya Mkangisa).
Costumer designer Pierre Veniengs says, “Our Uchawi kingdom is probably what I call our ethereal Kingdom. It is a kingdom of queens, wizards and witches.”
The Clan of the Ku’ua
The Ku’ua are nomads, sometimes looked down on by other tribes for their simple existence. But in reality, the Ku’ua are mighty warriors. Their chief, Xemantso, made peace with the Akachi, but his sons, Hlengu and Qotha, have different ideas about the tribe’s future.
The sons of jolly, fun-loving Chief Xemantso are Qotha (Hamilton Dlamini), the rightful heir who wants peace with the Akachi, and his brother, Hlengu (Bongile Mantsai), who wants the tribe to become feared warriors again. First, though, he’ll have to find a way to take the throne from his brother. Qotha’s wife, Lala (Soso Rungqu), is determined to be queen – whatever it takes.
The tribe’s fiercest warrior is a woman, Kuthala (Thishiwe Ziqubu).
Ku’ua are closely linked to the Nguni tribes, and are their forefathers, says Layla Swart, the producer of Blood Psalms. Costumer designer Pierre Vienings says, “The Ku’ua Kingdom is pretty much a leather and skin kingdom. Our great warriors are bare-chested. We want to show scarification, we wanted to show their physique and understand that these are the great warriors that travel the plains of Africa.”
The House of Chini
The Chini are the misfits of the empire. Driven to live underground, they are hunted and imprisoned. But they are also the guardians of dangerous secrets, and have magical powers that mean they can shapeshift when the moon is full.
Burutti (Mandisa Nduna) is an orphan who lives with the tribe. She has strange dreams about a young woman and senses they are somehow connected. She was found by the Chini matriarch, Mother Superior, keeper of the ancient secrets. Cursed along with the others, Mother Superior tries to decode the messages from the gods she has been sworn to protect.
The Chini tribe is led by Overseer Mzinzi (Thembekile Komani), the son of Mother Superior who wants to protect his people no matter what. iLitye (Awethu Hleli) is Burutti’s best friend, and constantly torn between her loyalties to Mzinzi and Burutti.
Ndiya Zazi (Hlubi Mboya) was a Chini servant girl who was chosen by the god Heka to become the Magi of the Uchawi order. She married King Letsha, who was tricked into killing her just after she gave birth to her daughter, Princess Zazi.
Creator Jahmil X.T Qubeka says: “The Chini are kind of the flotsam and jetsam of these tribes. They’re the poor and impoverished, but they’ve all been kind of pushed underground. And in being underground dwellers, they seem to have acquired certain powers that help them shapeshift into things like werehyenas. So there’s a lot of intrigue that happens around them.”
The Kingdom of Nziwemabwe
Proud, independent Great Nziwemabwe has a powerful army, led by Senator Abun Ra Jabari. The tribe has a history of war with the Akachi, and although they are now at peace, they will stop at nothing to take advantage of cracks in the Akachi kingdom.
Senator Jabari (Richard Lukunku) is sent to attend the King’s wedding, but also to insist that the King give back the Northern Territories. He has the full support of his tribe’s all-powerful leaders and the powerful Golden Army.
His consort is Sithenjwa (Zikhona Sodlaka), who fled the Akachi citadel 18 years ago, leaving everything behind. Now she’s back for revenge.
Richard Lukunku describes Great Nziwemabwe as this world’s version of Ancient Rome. “Rome is the capital, and the rest of the world is provinces of Rome. The southern provinces are at war and Senator Jabari is sent to come and ensure that everything runs well.”