Mswati, also called Mavuso III, succeeded Sobhuza I as king, ruling from 1840 to 1868. There are seven modern versions of Mwsati’s tibongo, all sharing the same emphasis on the scale of his conquests from the Indian ocean to the Drakensberg Mountains and from Zululand into what is today southern Mozambique. The following tibongo is by Mcoshwa Dlamini, Mbanzeni’s grandson and a fellow member with Sobhuza II of the Balondolozi regiment. His poem is a celebration of military ferocity.

You of the inner circle!
Agitator of Mbelebeleni (1)
Cutter with a spear, (2)
And blood overflowed.
Constantly armed,
Never tiring of being armed.
Fleeting one
Who thrust open the huts of deserters. (3)
Mswati, among the black,
Among the dusty.
Mswati, let me know
The person who denies you,
I’ll then reap his field
With all its stalks. (4)
Spear, bend at Madlenya’s. (5)
Mswati, you I don’t call Mswati,
I call you rattler of shields,
For you’ll parry blows at the enemies and us.
Striped crested cuckoo (6)
That chirps before the ploughing season.
Oh, return Mswati ,
Desert fallow fields.
Mswati you licked,
And no grass grew.
Now the grass has grown.
Wait, Mswati!
Destroy not the people (7)
By constant siege and blockade.
Gently, you tread
Through the homes of men. (8)
Thus they rot.
Mswati, where’s he seen?
Within your mothers reed fences.
Because Mswati,
Stealthily he walks.
The alarm that devoured the unborn;
The born escaped by fleeing.
Shield stick,
No longer fits onto the shelf
Prevented by the tassel.
The tassel of the lion,
The tassel of the lion.
The attacker, child of Sobhuza.
The attacker, surpassing his armies.
Mswati, you’re conspicuous;
Conspicuous among cattle,
Conspicuous among men,
Our bewhiskered man
Of Hhohho. (9)
Constantly being discussed
By royal wives,
Scared of the sting
Of sharp whiskers.
For your whiskers, Mswati,
I’ve counted.
They’re multiples of tens and tens
And more.
You with uncountable platoons. (10)
You squirt brains,
You sat on the head of a buffalo, (11)
So that those of the buffalo
Flee from you.
He’s like a fig, almost ripe
Among black figs.
Where Mswati is,
They’re burning,
They burn inside houses.
The mountains burned,
Makhonjwa burned, (12)
Lufafa cooked. (13)
He’s constantly armed
As it were not him. (14)
You of the inner circle!

Translated by Thoko Ginindza,
from Tibongo teMakhosi netetiNdlovukazi
(London, 1975)


Footnotes

  1. A chieftaincy in the Shiselweni District of southern Swaziland, where Sobhuza II faced significant opposition.
  2. These tibongo are dominated by images of spears, blood, shields, fighting sticks, blows, sieges, etc.
  3. There were those who didn’t support Mswati. See also ‘the person who denies you’ four lines on.
  4. The Imbongi threatens destroy the farms of any who deny Mswati’s greatness.
  5. In eastern Swaziland, close to the Big Bend sugar plantations where workers had supported the general strike of 1963.
  6. A conspicuous long-tailed, pied cuckoo with a prominent crest and a strident voice, also known as Levaillant’s Cuckoo.
  7. Another implied criticism.
  8. These 8 lines describe Mswati’s skill in ambushing his victims.
  9. One of Mswati’s capitals, in the north-east of Swaziland.
  10. The implication is his “platoons” are as numerous as the hairs of his beard.
  11. Compare the Yoruba Ijala Buffalo in ‘Survival’, viz., “But who would dare pose on the head of a fallen buffalo?”
  12. The site of one of Mswati’s battles, in the extreme north of Swaziland, on the border with Mozambique.
  13. Close by Makhonjwa.
  14. As if he were more than human.