A Zulu Praise-Poem, in praise of Ndaba, Shaka’s great-grandfather and the first Zulu king. Ndaba lived in the mid-eighteenth century, but the poem probably dates from Shaka’s own time (1818-28). It looks back to the days before Shaka’s rule, when people lived peaceably in their clans, tending their herds of cattle and killing only animals in the hunt. Ndaba’s epitaph is What wrong did he do?. The picture of life before Shaka is so attractive that one suspects the Praise-Singer may be subtly criticising Shaka for bringing in such a different way of life for the Zulus (See Shaka).

Ndaba, son of Sonani, they say ‘What wrong did he do?’
Since the people are living with their herds
Belonging to Mababela’s people of the Gabela clan.
He who hunted the forests until they murmured,
Until eventually they cried out ‘Enough! Isn’t it?’
Today there is so much game
That they snip off a titbit of a duiker for him.
He, who when he lay down was the size of rivers!
He, who when he got up was the size of mountains!
Precious little amulet of our people, of Gcabashe’s people,
That continually lives in a towering rage
With his shields on his knees,
Watching over the herds of those who meditate evil
Against Mababela’s people of the Gabela clan.

from Oral Poetry from Africa (1984),
Compiled by Jack Mapanje and Landeg White
Longman