African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: South Africa (Page 1 of 2)

Zulu War Song

A song composed to celebrate the defeat of the British army under Lord Chelmsford at the battle of Isandlwana in January 1879. The defeat brought a decisive end to the first British invasion of Zululand. The Zulu king was Cetshwayo, son of Mphande and grandson of Senzangakhona, and his chief Nduna, or commander of the Zulu army, was Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khjoza.

Thou the great and mighty chief!
Thou hast an army!..

Two War Songs of King Mphande

Two war songs relating to King Mphande, Zulu king (1840-72), (see Praises of King Mphande). Half-brother to both Shaka (1816-28) and Dingane (1828-40), Mphande was regarded as too weak to be a threat when Dingane assassinated Shaka in 1828 and seized the throne. Mphande eventually takes revenge on Dambuza by refusing to join him in arms against the Boers at the battle of Maqongqo in 1840, which eventually leads to Mphande becoming installed as king.

He was rejected by Ndhlela
He was rejected…

Praises of King Mphande Zulu (second version)

Another set of izibongo praises for King Mphande (see Praises of King Mphande Zulu), recorded by E.W. Grant in the mid-1920s.

Here are the praises of Mpande of Noziqubo,
Umamiude who appeared by the head-crest…

Praises of King Mphande Zulu

Mphande kaSenzangakhona, Zulu king (1840-72), was half-brother to both Shaka (1816-28) and Dingane (1828-40). When Dingane assassinated Shaka in 1828, and seized the throne, Mphande survived the general massacre of Senzangakona’s descendants, a sign of Dingane’s contempt. But after Dingane’s catastrophic defeat by the Boers in 1838 at the Battle of Blood River, Mphande refused to join his half-brother in an attack on the Swazi, instead leading thousands of Zulus into the neighbouring Boer republic of Natalia. The Boers then moved again against Dingane, defeating him at the battle of Maqongqo in 1840, and effectively installing Mphande as king. Dingane was murdered shortly afterwards. It would be wrong to read too much into this. This was long before the days of apartheid, and the Boers then were little different from the other marauding groups – Zulu, Ndebele, Swazi, Gaza – raiding each other for cattle, land and people. Historians, including Zulu historians, are divided as to whether Mphande was a reluctant king, hating the responsibilities of power, or whether he was a smart operator, successfully manipulating the forces against him in a dangerous world. This izibongo credits him with destroying many Sotho and Swazi enemies, but capable of being smart, as in the incident with the Boers’ cattle. The following poem was recorded & translated by James Stewart, a magistrate in colonial Zululand from 1888. He spoke fluent Zulu and assembled a vast archive of oral recordings, indispensable to modern researchers. The imbongi’s name is unknown.

Mdayi make reply to the land across:
Who is he that can dare to summon Mdayi?…

Ndlela, Son of Sompisi

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…

The Cattle Killing

The subject of The Cattle Killing is one of the most baffling and controversial events in African history. In the spring of 1856, a teenaged Xhosa girl called Nongqawuse went to fetch water from a pool near the mouth of the Gxarha river. On her return, she told Mhlakaza, her uncle who was a diviner, that she had spoken with a group of the ancestors. They had promised that if the Xhosa killed their cattle and burned their crops, British settlers at Cape would be swept into the sea, and the ancestors would return to life, bringing fresh, healthy cattle and abundant stocks of grain. Mhlakaza told this to Sarhili, the senior Chief of the Gcaleka, who believed the prophecy and ordered compliance. No one knows for sure how many cattle were slaughtered – perhaps 60,000, perhaps 400,000…

The New Law

A popular Zulu song from Johannesburg. The singer refers mockingly to the repressive apparatus of the apartheid state.

Come here my beloved,
Come, give me a kiss…

A mighty bell is six o’clock

A Xhosa song about working in the gold mines of Johannesburg. These short work songs are sung rhythmically by a group of miners to make the work easier. Rhini, Qonce and Tinarha are the Xhosa names for three of the local gold mines.

A mighty bell is six o’clock:
I went to Rhini and found the men…

The Migrant Workers

A popular Zulu song about a young migrant worker who has left home to seek jobs in Johannesburg, based on a true incident.

We were sent by our parents
To search for our father’s child…

Zebra II

Another hunters’ description of the Zebra (see also the Shona praise-poem Zebra). This one is a Khoi-Khoi poem from South Africa.

Target of the hunting shepherd boys
Whose head is too swift for the throwing stick…

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African Poems