The praises of Ndlela kaSompisi, a key general in the Zulu army, who rose to power after defeating the Ndwandwe on Shaka’s behalf (see also Shaka’s Praises). Despite his non-Zulu origins, he was rapidly promoted. Shaka is said to have commented, “Any man who joins the army becomes a Zulu. He would promote a man, regardless of the road (ndlela) he came by”. A fierce traditionalist and opponent of the missionaries, he was executed by Dingane, Shaka’s successor, after failing to win the Battle of Blood River against the Boers in 1840. A monument to him was unveiled in KwaZulu by President Jacob Zuma in 2004.

As with all Zulu izibongo, each line is a separate praise, often referring to specific incidents, not always understood today.

Rattler of spears!
He who is unable to lie down, one side being red with wounds,
He whose wounds are as numerous as the huts of a large kraal.
Hornbill that is reluctant to set out. (1)
Long-tailed leaper like a leopard.
Reedbuck that escapes again and again.
Daily they stab the rattler but he retaliates.
How many of them come back again?
Who come back again when a person acts so deliberately?
He who crosses over to the other side,
Who crosses over and the whole Ntolela regiment crosses, (2)
Stout stick that points to the Ngwane people. (3)
He who attacks people with fury, he of the Rattlers.
In the daybreak Ndlela was left. (4)
When the army returned
At dawn, Ndlela remained.
Feeble I remain behind,
Paltry strength equal to a child’s.
Body of which the Nkayiya regiment sits,
The Nkayiyas of Zwide. (5)
He who is always wounded in the face like a prince.
Great branch, turn back the Ntolela regiment.
News that came first to Shaka at the Mbelelele krall.
Have you a piece of gut long enough
To sew up Ndlela’s wounds?
He who crosses over to the other side,
He who is embroiled against the Thukela. (6)

from Izibongo: Zulu Praise Poems (1968),
Trevor Cope (ed.).


Footnotes

  1. It was believed that when the Ground Hornbill croaks, thunder and heavy rain will follow, making it a bad time to set out. This praise, and the lines that follow, are taken to refer to the army’s reluctance to accept a general not of Zulu origin.
  2. Reference obscure. Ntolela is not included in the list of Shaka’s or Dingane’s regiments.
  3. The Ngwane people: The followers of Ngwane IV, King of Swaziland 1780-1836, more commonly known as Sobhuza 1.
  4. Possibly referring to Ndlela’s defeat at the hands of the Boers.
  5. The Nkayiyas of Zwide: Zwide was king of the Ndwandwe, the first to be defeated by Ndlela. The reference to the Nkayiya regiment is obscure.
  6. The Thukela: The clans living in the Thukela river valley.