Mzilikazi was one of the chiefs who came to prominence in Natal in the 1820s, in reaction to the area’s growing trade in slaves. Shaka (see Shaka’s Praises) was the most important of these, and when Mzilikazi clashed with him in 1822, he led a small group of warriors on an 800km trek, finally settling at Bulawayo in what is now western Zimbabwe. See also The Song of the Assegai and Praises of Lobengula.

The Nbebele version of the Praises of Mzilikazi is inscribed on the plaque marking his grave. The name of the Imbongi or praise-poet is not known. The English translation is by C.K. Cooke.

The varicoloured one with a black mouth, praised in tears of men. (1)
Our short one whose bunches of cats’ skins may not be trampled,
and yet those of tall ones are trampled those of tall ones are Shaka’s of Senzangakona.
Those of tall ones are Zwide’s of Langa. (2)
The tall conspicuous early morning star in the south-east,
preceding the constellation Pleiades.
The sun that rises from the ear of an elephant,
it rose and starlings cried to one another.
The black fighting stick that beats cattle, it beats men.
The tall grass in the Kalahari desert.
The year it burns, it’ll burn with men’s leather loin cloths.
The up and coming leader of cattle:
leaders of cattle eat them by driving them with a whip.
The bush-buck that steps carefully on the rocks.
It’s afraid of its claws being spoilt. (3)
He dug with a spear. He dug with a knobkerrie. (4)
One who strains leopards and lions. (5)
One with spotted eyelashes, (6)
King of the Abantungwa and the Abatwakazi.
The crab that moves on its side round my father’s huts. (7)
He plundered the cattle of the Amalala,
he plundered those of Sidhalamlomo,
those of Reverend Dausim.
He plundered those of Malibaliba,
plundering them through his young
brother Beje of the household,
in charge of the Impi. (8)
The one who unlocks the way against elephants.
He calls them, and they refuse and keep a safe distance.
The sender who sits with a young sable antelope in the wide plains of Lohasa and Lobulane. (9)

The Ndebele version (included below) is remarkable for its rhetorical effects, repetitions, and word play (e.g., ezabade in praise 2, or wadhla in 14, or the superb Wembangomkonto. Wembangenduku in 9, among many others.

Ibidi elimnyama ngomlomo elitetwa ngezinyembezi zamadoda.
Umfitshane wakiti onjobo azinyatelwa kanti ezabade ziyanyatelwa,
ezabade nguTshaka kaSenzangakona,
ezabade nguZwide kalanga.
Inkwenkwezi ende ilesilimela,
Ilanga elipuma endhlebeni yendhlovu,
lapuma amakwezi abikelana.
Umzaca omnyama otshaya izinkomo.
Watshaya amadoda.
Utshani bude busemahalihali.
Boti nyakana butshayo buyo
kutsha lemitsha yamadoda.
Umholi wenkomo opakamayo:
abaholi benkomo bazidhla ngokuzitshayela.
Imbabala egxakaza ematsheni.
Yesaba inzipo zayo ukonakala.
Wembangomkonto. Wembangenduku.
Umhluzi wezingwe lezi ngwenyama.
Umabala nkope.
Inkosi yaBentungwa laBetwakazi.
Inkala umahamba cugege ezindhlini zikababa.
Wadhla izinkomo zaMalala,
wadhla ezika Sidhlamlolo,
ezika mnali Dausim,
wadhla ezika Malibaliba,
ezidhla ngomnawake
umninimpi uBeje weguma.
Ulomavimbela wendhlovu.
Uzimema zenqaba kalutshiliba.
Umtumela luhlezi lempalane emagcekeni kaLohasa Lobulane.

Praises Given to the Kings of the Amandebele,
T.J. Hemans,
Nada X, 3 (n.p., 1971).


Footnotes

  1. The praises do not begin with a list of Mzilikazi’s ancestors. He was a self-made warrior king, who became great through the tears of men.
  2. In his quarrel with Shaka over cattle, Mzilikazi sent Shaka’s impi (army) home with their head-plumes cropped. It may also be relevant that while Zwide was killed in battle by Shaka, and Shaka was assassinated in 1828. Mzilikazi, died of old age in 1868.
  3. Until this praise, all the images have been of violence (stick that beats, fire than burns, whip that drives), but now Mzilikazi is credited with tact and diplomacy, picking his way carefully over the rocks.
  4. Mzilikazi was no mere farmer. He cultivated with the spear and knobkerrie, the standard weapons of the Zulus.
  5. The image umhluzi is of a soup-strainer, suggesting he overpowers leopards and lions absolutely.
  6. The meaning is obscure.
  7. Again, a praise implying some tactical subtlety.
  8. As with the Abantungwa and the Abatwakazi earlier, it’s not known who precisely is being referred to in this praise, but the general meaning is obvious.
  9. The meaning of this praise is again obscure. It may perhaps refer to Mzilikazi’s constant vigilance and his known attempts at diplomacy.