I am grateful to Professor Zodwa Motsa for providing us with the following poem, the praises performed after the inauguration of King Mswati III of Eswatini (also known as Swaziland) in 1986. King Sobhuza II (see Praises of Sobhuza II) died in 1982, and about two years later the then 14-year-old Prince Makhosetive was selected as successor to the crown. The Crown Prince, who had to go and study in England prior to assuming kingship, returned home for his coronation, taking the title His Majesty King Mswati the III. Professor Motsa provides us with some of the background to the coronation and its historical significance within the broader context of the events taking place across Southern Africa at this time.
To the best of my knowledge, this praise poem has not been published. The history behind the obtaining of this piece is quite interesting. It was early one morning, soon after the coronation of King Mswati III, (1) when I heard a moving rendition of the praise poem on Radio Swaziland after the siSwati news. The person reciting was one, Mduduzi Comfort Dlamini, popularly known as “Mdu Comfy”. I took a bus from Kwaluseni, where I was a lecturer, went to the Swaziland Broadcasting Service (as it was called at the time) and requested a copy. It is here that I was informed that the author of the poem was Edmund Tembe, a rising poet at the time. I was given a photocopy of the tibongo. (2) Over the years I have tried all possible ways to preserve the poem, including inscribing it into learning materials just to secure it. It is a source of delight to see this praise poem preserved in a formal publication such as this one.
The death of the world’s longest reigning monarch, (3) His Majesty King Sobhuza II of Swaziland at age 83 (4) brought definite change in the history of the country and the affairs of the southern African region. King Sobhuza II’s passing was a definite catalyst of change in political history. It brought about a great sense of anxiety, uncertainty and to some degree, disquiet as the kingdom transited to a phase without a king figure. Many citizens had never had a time without a monarch on the throne. Southern Africa at the time was in the middle of a regional war against apartheid. Swaziland, one of the frontline states, was pivotal in this war as it was one of the gateways to and from South Africa. The anxiety of local emaSwati, (5) the South African government and other key figures in the SADC region was undeniable. Hence, the crowning of a new king, His Majesty King Mswati III, the son of the late King Sobhuza II, naturally brought much relief, joy and great expectations to many like, the royal family, the educated and many political players of the time such as Roelof Frederik “Pik” Botha (South African Minister of Foreign Affairs), President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu in South Africa, King Moshoeshoe of the Kingdom of Lesotho and the president of the USA, Ronald Regan, who was represented by his daughter, Maureen Elizabeth Reagan. In the true nature of oral praises, the hero is lauded with much admiration and his own social history and genealogy are used to inform the main theme of the tibongo. One does not want to preempt the analysis of this poem and spoil the fun for oral poetry scholars, but it is as rich in history dating centuries as it is laden with current affairs of the mid-1980s.
Here follows a translation of The Praises of King Mswati III (the King’s birth name HRH Prince Makhosetive changed to His Majesty King Mswati the III upon ascending the throne) with a transcription of the original Swazi below.
The Praises of King Mswati III
Mswati the black one amongst the ashen
Warrior stick of horns who settles not in gourd-drums
But enters in the seed-bushels of the buffalos.
Calf of the Lion the King of the Jungle
Who upon birth grew a full set of teeth
He roared at Ludzidzini flames of fire leapt
Aflame-aflame the flames!
Flames of the Sun of emaSwati.
Come come you break of dawn!
Rays that shone in the morning
Were seen by Dzeliwe at Lobamba
Were seen by the Queen Mother in the palace
Upon which soldiers saluted
And you inspected and praised them.
They were overjoyed like the Mdzimba mountains
Because of your royal greetings to them
And yet, you were sharpening them, Prince,
You were training them.
Here is Mswati, have you really seen him?
He descended like lightning striking the firmament
He scorched the rock rabbits in the granary (6)
Those who chewed up the dry corn and it floated off in the Luntsantsama river
Scalded and scorched their ears crinkled
Some sought refuge among the rocks in the mountains.
Prince you stand here, just how far is England?
I saw you descending from the plane at Matsapha
Dressed to kill like the winter snow itself
What snow is this?
Multi-coloured snow of the rainbow
Surging from the waterfalls of many rivers
Dancing on the mountain tops.
Mswati they monopolise you at Ntfonjeni
I heard them praising you in the enclaves
Enclaves of Jah’el’dala and Mancibane
Saying yes we have taken the Lion
Today he has returned to the Chief-house at Hhohho.
Look at Mswati, my goodness he is an enigma (7)
Because as he entered it thundered and roared
Thence there was a song of gun-thunder
Right at Somhlolo Stadium
Gun-thunder, here is gun-thunder
What kind of Lion is this?
That roared and Reagan of America responded
Europe opened eyes in anticipation
The Maswati sang: “Congratulations Nqaba kaNqofula!” (8)
Mswati what talks abound, I don’t quite hear them?
They say the river is ebbing yet it is swelling in volume
It overflooded near the homsteads and people ran amok
They said the king is at Lusaseni and yet he is at Ludzidzini
And the low murmurs faded
Kaunda of the Zambian came out to the open
Mushweshwe of the BaSutfu came out to the open
Zwelithini of the amaZulu came out to the open
The leopard and lion met.
They all said hold us Mswati so we each hold the other’s hand
Because here are the cubs of the Lion starving
They need the orphan caregiver.
You who swayed the University students
Till they went down crouching
Till they sang: You are the rain!
You are the falling rain!
All Hail! (9)
This is a transcription of the original tibongo in Swazi.
Tibongo Tamswati Wesitsatfu
Mswati lomnyama kulabalutfuli
Mgobo kampondo longangen’ etigujini
Longen’ emagabelwen’ etinyatsi.
Nkhonyane yeMbube yeNgwenyama
Leyats’ ivela yab’ imil’ ematinyo
Yabhodli’ eLudzidzini kwalavuk’ imililo
Emalangab’ eliLanga lemaSwati.
Wota wota yentsatsakusa!
Msebe lowakhany’ ekuseni
Wabonwa nguDzeliwe kaLobamba
Wabonwa yiNdlovukaz’ esigodlweni
Esuk’ emasotj’ ashay’ indesheni
Wawahlola Mswati wawahalalisela
Etsaba njengetintsaba teMdzimba
Ingan’ ats’ uyawabingelela
Kantsi uyawalola Mntfwana uyawalolonga
Nangu Mswati ingabe nimbonile
Wehlise lunyazi lwanyazima
Lwatihashula timbiba engungwini
Letabhasha imbasha yemuka neLuntsantsama
Tasha tabhonca emadlebe
Letinye takhosela emaweni.
Mntfwana ulapha nje kukuphi eNgilandi?
Ngikubone wehla ngebhanoyi kuMatsapha
Ngcocwane muni yena loyi
Lomibalabala yemushi wenkosazana
Lophuma etimphophomeni temifula
Lodlalisela esicongweni setintsaba?
Mswati bagovuka nawe eNtfonjeni
Ngibevile bakots’ etihoncweni
Etihoncweni taboJah’el’dala naboMancibane
Batsi yebo siyitsets’ iNgwenyama
Lamuhla ibuyel’ eNdlunkhulu kaHhohho.
Mboneni Mswati yehheni bo uyiNqaba
Ngobe ungene ladvuma landindizela
Kwesuka kwahlabela umbayimbayi
Enkhundleni kaSomhlolo umbayimbayi
Mbayimbayi nang’ umbayimbayi
Ngwenyama lenjani yona leyi?
Leyabhodla kwasabela Regeni eMelika
INyuropa yona yahlahl’ emehlwana
EmaSwat’ atsi: “Halala Nqaba kaNqofula!”
Mswati bakhuluma batsini ingani mine angibeva?
Batsi umfula uyabotja ingani uyangenisa
Ungenise ngasemitini bayaluka
Batsi inkhosi iseLusaseni ingani iseLudzidzini
Kwatsi kunhhinhha kwafitsibala
Waphumel’ ebaleni Kaunda wemaZambiya
Waphumel’ ebaleni Mushweshwe webeSutfu
Waphumel’ ebaleni Zwelithini wemaZulu
Kwahlangana ingwe nengwenyama
Batsi sibambe Mswati sibambane
Ngobe nankh’ emazinyani’ eSilo alambile
Afun’ umondli wezintandane.
Wena lowancamisa titjudeni taseMvasi
Taze tashona phasi takhokhotela
Translated by Professor Zodwa Motsa
- King Mswati III was crowned on 25 April 1986.
- tibongo: Praise poem in siSwati.
- When he died, King Sobhuza had ruled Swaziland for 82 years and 254 days.
- King Sobhuza II, the father of King Mswati III died on 23 August 1982.
- People of eSwatini (Swaziland).
- the rock rabbits in the granary: During the period that the throne was unoccupied (from August 1982 when King Sobhuza died, to the ascension of King Mswati in April 1986) some factions in the kingdom took advantage of the leadership vacuum to engage in unseemly activities. Funds raised after the severe tropical storm Domonia in 1984 were embezzled, with the guilty parties claiming that the money (referred to as dry corn here) had been swept into the Luntsantsama river.
The installation of the king saw many people going to jail or leaving Swaziland to go into exile. The king’s coronation is likened to the descending of thunder and the sound of gunpowder, restoring justice to the realm.
- The poet uses the word uyinqaba which has the double meaning of enigma and fortress and, by extension, alludes to the fitting ruler who can lead the Incwala ceremony (see below).
- Nqaba kaNqofula: The words literally mean “fortress of Sekhukhune”. It is a title of a sacred Incwala song that commemorates the war that emaSwati warriors fought against one of the BaPedi kings in the 19th Century. In this instance, the invocation of the Incwala song indicates that the king is on the throne because there can be no Incwala without the king.
- The poem is constructed tautly on historical and political events of the time which are embedded in imagery and allusions in the lines of each stanza. Perhaps any further analysis of the poem and the unpacking of the embedded codes would deprive the readers the joy of exploring the poem themselves.
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