An extract from a Xhosa Praise-Poem addressed to Kaiser Mantanzima by the Praise-Singer Phakamile Yali-Manisi. It explains the present disastrous position of the Xhosa people as a consequence of the alliance between the missionaries and Sir George Grey, Governor of Cape Province 1854-61, in seizing Xhosa land and destroying the Xhosa economy.

Two wars of resistance, in 1850-51 and 1877-78, ended in defeat, as the Praise-Singer graphically describes. The poem was unpremeditated and was composed by Manisi after only 22 seconds’ deliberation on a topic nominated to him. The style and oral technique are traditional, but the explicitly narrative content is not typical, since Xhosa Praise-Singers generally produce eulogies in honour of prom­inent individuals.

It all started with the conversion,
We accepted the conversion in the belief that we were accepting God,
Yet this God we said we would accept,
This Bible is pregnant with abomination.
It is held by a man whose collar faces westward. (1)
In the front is the part that is folded over,
At the back is an opening where butterflies stay,
And that is where a cannon is lodged
Which appears below the ear and comes out at the chin,
And it shatters the sinews of those in front.
And when the country was in a plight,
The cannon penetrated deeply,
It penetrated and calmed things down.
The great dog, the child of Grey,
Who is called big George,
The son of Grey,
Said he was rearranging the land,
Yet in this time of abhorrence and shame He stood apart and shaded his eyes,
Watching the result of the piling of corpses.
People lay stark without any shots fired
Because they knew how to crawl on their bellies,
Avoiding the cannon as they made towards the killer.

by D.L.P. Yali­Manisi
lmbongi Nesibongo: the Xhosa Tribal Poet and the Contemporary Poetic Tradition
from PMLA 90 (1975),
translated by Professor J. Opland


Footnotes

  1. The Collar refers to the clerical collar worn by missionaries.