African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Ndebele

Praises of Mzilikazi

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.
Our short one whose bunches of cats’ skins may not be trampled…

The Song of the Assegai

An English version, recorded c.1880, of Nansi Indaba (The Song of the Assegai), the most famous of Ndebele songs, performed by mass warriors at the climax of the Nxwala or annual First Fruits ceremony…

Praises of Lobengula

Recited in Ndebele by imbongi Mtshede Ndhovu to T.J. Hemens c.1970. Mtshede Ndhlovu was born when Mzilikazi was still on the throne, that is, before 1868, making him some 105 years old. His son, Bova Ndhlovu, acted as interpreter, assisting Hemans with the translation.

Lobengula succeeded his father Mzilikazi in 1868. By then, the Ndebele had been settled at Bulawayo for 28 years. They were no longer a wandering tribe, and the responsibilities of kingship had changed, from making war to ensuring the fertility of the land. In 1893, however, the Ndebele suffered catastrophic defeat at the hands of the British South Africa Company, invading Matabeleland. The praise-poem comments on all this.

It roared like a calf.
He who has books is at the river crossing…

African Poems