This is the second part of S.E.K. Mqhayi’s poem “The Grave of the King” (see The Grave of the King Part One), which was originally published in the Xhosa newspaper, Izwi Labantu (‘The Voice of the People’) on December 8th 1908.
In the introduction that Mqhayi wrote for Izwi Labantu, he preceded his own poem with two short traditional Xhosa praise-poems. These were, a poem for King Rharhabe, the founder of the amaRarhabe, (included in the introduction to Part One) and a poem about the Keiskamma River (iXesi in Xhosa) that explains the connection that this river has with Rharhabe’s grandson, Ngqika ka Mlawu.
That is where great events took place,
That is where the national trails are,
That is where things happened,
Here, their blood lives to this very day.
It is a river of sweet waters,
It is a river of mighty waters,
Its banks are full of smiles,
On its banks, Ngqika in death, lies. (1)
It is this river, that flows from the Amathole mountains into the Indian Ocean, that has become known as “The Grave of the King” by the Xhosa. This was the site of many battles during the Frontier Wars that raged from 1779 to 1879. During Ngqika’s reign between 1796 — 1829, the Keiskamma River became the boundary between the Xhosa and the British colony established in the 19th century.
Along the flowing waters of this river, Mqhayi pours out the names of heroic Xhosa warriors, such as Maqoma (referred to here as “Njalatya of the amaJingqi”) and Ngonyama, and the historical battles that were fought here. He praises the Xhosa prophet Ntsikana alongside the Christian missionaries such as John Ross, James Laing and Johannes Theodorus van der Kemp, whose sincere interest in Xhosa culture and empathy for the society earned them the affection of many Xhosa people.
Throughout his adult life, Mqhayi wove together what he found valuable in both Xhosa and British Christian tradition, at a time when these cultures were often deeply hostile towards each other. Within “The Grave of the King”, we find Mqhayi connecting the language of Christian eschatology (referring to “The World to Come” with its associations with the resurrection of the dead) with the traditional Xhosa worldview of the eternal presence of the ancestors and their continual interaction with the world of the living (“This is the time for the ancestors, To summon the family home”).
What begins as a recounting of the historical events that took place along the length of this river as it flows into the Indian Ocean, builds into a call to action for future generations to embrace this history and be renewed by its waters.
The Grave of the King Part Two
We have a river,
A river of great strength
A river that served the Xhosa nation
Without fail, year after year.
Its mouth is in the amaThole Mountains (2)
Where young calves are bred and raised; (3)
The white people know it
Its name is iXesi. (4)
Here we fought the white man
He routed our forces at Mgwangqa; (5)
Then we pursued him to Burnshill (6)
And in panic his forces ran away.
They used to say it was unfordable,
But cross it we did.
To us that was no miracle
We, the children of the land.
Of its waters Lange has tasted (7)
These waters from the amaThole range
By them Mulderman has been refreshed
His thirst and hunger satisfied.
When, at one time, Kama left (8)
Many said that he had moved
Driven out by the imiDushane (9)
Over a dispute about which god to embrace (10)
Njalatya of the amaJingqi (11)
Did not intercede
Till Kama reached the Great Place,
A place of exile. (12)
With its waters Ross was nurtured (13)
These waters of the home of Dondashe. (14)
Even in the War of Mlanjeni (15)
They saved them from the ravages of war.
On it, van der Kemp walked
On his way to Mbizana; (16)
In it, Ntsikana swam; (17)
So did Ngonyama and others. (18)
Bless these waters,
A gift from the “Broad Chested One” (19)
You, of the amaNywabe, (20)
This Grave, you must preserve.
These days are not far
When we will learn,
Understand the signs of the times,
When ignorance will be gone.
On that day we will love our colour
On that day we will be proud of our culture
On that day we will respect our kings
On that day we will love our people.
On that day we will be proud of our young women
On that day we will admire the trees of our land
On that day we will delight at the sight of our mountains
On that day we will be proud of our religion
Long life to you, source of these waters!
The amaMbombo offer their thanks to you; (21)
Shoreless Sea, lift to your mist, pregnant with water
So that the clouds may, with rain, drench our land.
Speak to us, Dead Bones
Of Lwanganda, the king, Speak! (22)
This is the time for the ancestors
To summon the family home.
Meander along, river of my homeland,
Zig-zag through the villages of our land,
Nurture and replenish our youth
And take their offerings to the sea
As you journey through these tiny villages
Record their names;
We hear, there is a land we know not of
“The World to Come”, they tell us, is its name
Where we will all meet
Where we will all be one
Where our forebears are, already
Where our kings await our arrival.
Be pure and clean, waters of our river
Pure as the Cherubims of whom you are now part
Messengers from God on High
Working with those in Heaven.
Even though the world was cursed
It was also redeemed;
For that, the stones will rejoice
The trees and grasses will sing praises.
Speak, you Dead Bones
Of Lwaganda, the king, Speak!
I, the Gompo Bard can only say:-
Gompo- ‑o- ‑o!
The poem in Xhosa:
Owondl’umzi wama Xosa,
Umtombo ukwa Matole,
Uyaziwa ngama Ngesi,
Igama lawo li Xesi.
Mhlamnye silwe nama gwangqa,
Asicita ngase Mgwangqa,
Sawangenel’ e Mkubiso,
Mhlamnye kut’we aliwelwa,
Sati tina saliwela,
Nanamhl’ akuko simanga,
Simabandla ka Luhlanga.
Abo Lanke sibondlile,
Bate no Madelimeni,
Mhlamny’u Kam’ ufunqukile,
Ucitwe yimi Dushane
Ngalo Tix’ uligqushane.
U Njalantya wama Jingqi,
Ad’ u Kam’atik’e Tala,
Kwi zwe lokupambukela,
Sibondlile o Gqadushe.
‘De kwati nango Mlanjeni,
Banyatele o Nyengana,
Kwelipantsi kwe Mbizana,
Baqubhile o Ntsikana,
Batengile o Ngonyama.
Ngwelisani lawo manzi,
Akwa Sifuba Sibanzi,
Bafo basema Nywabeni,
Esiya kuti sifunde,
Sitande ibala letu
Sitand’ amasiko etu,
Sitande inkosi zetu,
Sitande uhlauga lwetu,
Sizingce ngentombi zetu,
Nangemiti yezwe letu,
Sizidle ngentaba zetu,
Sizidle ngo Tixo wetu.
Pila Mtombo walomlambo,
Ayanqula ama Mbombo,
Lwandle wunyuse umpunga,
Mafu yitobeni ‘mvula.
Tetani matambo ndini,
Ka Lwaganda u Kumkani,
Namhla nje kokweminyanya,
Ibizel’ usap’ e Kaya,
Hamba ke mlamb’akowetu,
Cand’ ilali zakowetu,
Ulutsha lwetu ulondile,
Us’ umnikelo elwandle,
Hamb’ ubhala amagama
X’ ucanda kulomizana,
Kuk’ lzw’ esingalaziyo,
Apo sodibana kona,
Apo soba bunye kona,
Ne Nkosi zetu zikona.
Yiba ngewele mlambo ndini,
Kunye kad’ uyikernbi,
Usitunywa so Pezulu,
Umti nencha kudumise,
Tetani matambo ndini,
Ka Lwanganda u Kumkani,
Mna ke Mbongi yakwa Gompo,
Ngoku nje nditi gompo—o—o!
from The Collected Poems of S.E.K. Mqhayi,
Edited by Ntongela Masilela,
Translation by Phyllis Ntantala,
- This is the poem in Xhosa:
Kulapo zikona izigqubo,
Kulapo ikon’ imikondo,
Kulapo zikon’ iziganeko,
Igazi lisahleii nanamhla.
Ngumlambo omanzi amnandi,
Ngumlambo omanz’ anamandla,
Indonga zizele kucuma;
“No Ngqik’ usalele kona.”
- The Amatola, Amatole or Amathole are a range of densely forested mountains, situated in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.
- The word Amathole means ‘calves’ in Xhosa.
- iXesi: The Xhosa name for the Keiskamma River that flows from the Amathole mountains into the Indian Ocean.
- Mgwangqa is a small stream running through the Eastern Cape South Africa. In the surrounding area the Xhosa fought several major battles over the 19th century against colonial powers, first against the Boers and then against the British. Mqhayi might specifically be referencing the first major incursion onto Xhosa territory by the British army in September 1811. Sir John Cradock, newly arrived governor of the Cape, instructed Colonel John Graham of the Cape Regiment to drive the Xhosa east of the Fish River that was to become the eastern border of the British colony. By December of that year, Colonel Graham had assembled a force of around 900 regular troops and advanced east, pushing the Xhosa over the River Fish.
Sourced from Timothy J. Stapleton’s A Military History of South Africa, Praeger Security International (2010).
- Burnshill: Refers to Burnshill Mission. On April 11, 1846, three colonial columns, commanded by Colonial Somerset and supported by a long supply train of 125 wagons, crossed the Fish and Keiskamma rivers and encountered no resistance as they converged on the capital of Sandile, the new Rharhabe leader, near Burnshill Mission in the foothills of the Amathole mountains. Leaving his wagon train under guard at Burnshill, Somerset led 500 men into the Amathole valley where they came under musket fire from Rharhabe lurking in the forest. That afternoon Somerset called for the supply train, which had been harassed by Xhosa fire from the bush, to move forward to his position, and as it passed through a mountain defile it was ambushed by a large force of Rharhabe. Abandoning 65 wagons, some of which carried muskets and ammunition, the train pulled back to Burnshill and Somerset then withdrew his entire force to Block Drift on the Tyume River. Encouraged by Sandile’s victory, most of the Xhosa leaders between the Keiskamma and Kei sent their men off to raid settler farms on the colonial frontier.
Sourced from Timothy J. Stapleton’s A Military History of South Africa, Praeger Security International (2010).
- Lange: Most likely refers to the missionary James Laing (1803–1872) who wrote extensively on Xhosa language, history and society. His mastery of the Xhosa language and his sincerity and empathy led him to become trusted by amaXhosa leaders such as Maqoma and Sandile. When he died in 1872, an obituary published in Xhosa referred to Laing as Indoda ebisithanda (the man who loved us).
- Kama was a chief of the AmaGqunukhwebe, a subdivision of the Xhosa nation that consisted mostly of Khoi chiefdoms that had become incorporated into the Xhosa nations.
- imiDushane: A Xhosa tribe founded by Prince Mdushane who was the eldest son of Prince Ndlambe of the Rharhabe kingdom. Mdushane was one of the most talented military leaders in Xhosa history.
- Kama converted to Christianity and separated himself from his brother, Phato and the other Xhosa royalty.
- Njalatya of the amaJingqi: Praise name for Maqoma, one of the greatest Xhosa military commanders of the 19th century.
- When Kama separated from his brother Phato, he joined the British Colony and settled in Middledrift town on the Keiskamma River.
- The Presbyterian missionary John Ross established the Lovedale Missionary School in 1824, near the banks of the Tyhume river in what is now Eastern Cape Province. Ross brought a printing press with him when he came to South Africa and together with John Bennie compiled an extended list of vocabulary and grammar dealing mainly with pronunciation of the Xhosa language, and later published the first printed history of the Xhosa. Mqhayi attended Lovedale College where he studied to become a teacher.
- Dondashe kaNgqika was the son of Ngqika and brother of Sandile Mgolombane kaNgqika
- War of Mlanjeni: An African rebellion that erupted in British Kaffraria in December 1850, partly inspired by a Xhosa prophet called Mlanjeni. As colonial rule intruded further into their lives, the Khoisan, the Xhosa and the mixed race people of the Kat River Settlement, groups that had previously been rivals, combined forces and began attacking colonial towns and forts in the British Kaffraria. The war lasted until February 1853 with the surrender of Sandile and other Xhosa chiefs, and it has become known as the most brutal and violent of the Xhosa Wars.
- Dr Johannes Theodorus van der Kemp (1747–1811) was a military officer, doctor and philosopher who became a missionary in South Africa. Once in South Africa, after working at Gaika’s Kraal near King William’s Town he journeyed beyond the eastern frontier of the colony to work among the Xhosa under Chief Ngqika. Armed with a background in European and classical philology, he pioneered in the study of Xhosa and Khoikhoi languages.
- Ntsikana: Ntsikana (1780–1821) was a Christian Xhosa prophet, evangelist and hymn writer who is regarded as one of the first Christians to translate Christian ideas and concepts into terms understandable to a Xhosa audience.
- Ngonyama: Ngonyama was a Xhosa warrior who is described by Jeffrey Brian Peires (see p. 17 A History of the Xhosa c1700 — 1835) as a ferocious fighter in the Eighth Frontier War, and remembered as a man of peace because he did not fight in the Ninth Frontier War.
- The Broad-Chested One: A Xhosa praise name for Jesus Christ. Akwa Sifuba Sibanzi in the Xhosa. Sifuba Sibanzi was originally a Khoi name for God and became associated with Christ through the teachings of the Xhosa Christian prophet Ntsikana, mentioned in the previous stanza. Mqhayi wrote that Mlanjeni predicted just before he died that he was going to cross the sea to meet Sifuba Sibanzi (see Jeffrey Brian Peires, The Dead Will Arise, p.137, Indiana University Press 1989)
- amaNywabe: A Xhosa clan who live at Burnshill, the area in which the grave of Ngqika is located.
- amaMbombo: A Xhosa clan.
- Lwanganda: Praise name for King Ngqika ka Mlawu (1779–1829), Rharhabe’s grandson, who led the Rharhabe people of the AmaXhosa from 1796 — 1829.