Thursday, June 16, 2011


Zulu Folk And Praise Poetry

  • Thursday, June 16, 2011
  • Samuel Albert
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  • Below are Zulu folk or tribal poems. The first time I read Zulu traditional poems they reminded me of the Ngoni people's poems. The Ngoni original language called ngoni is actually in most respects closer to Zulu than other Nguni languages. See Songs of the Ngoni people for ngoni poems and see the striking similarities in structure and words. The ngoni left Zululand and Swaziland during Shaka Zulu's mfecane and now reside in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania.
    Author(s): H. I. E. Dhlomo
    Source: English in Africa, Vol. 4, No. 2, Literary Theory and Criticism of H. I. E. Dhlomo(Sep., 1977), pp. 43-59
    Published by: Institute for the Study of English in Africa, Rhodes University


    Life is rhythm. Our birth and death, the very throb of our hearts, the arts of sightand hearing, observe this law of rhythm. In Nature, the coming and the going of theseasons, of migratory birds, of hibernating creatues, of ocean tides and of plants and the heavenly bodies, tell the same story.

    In this paper we shall consider Zulu folk or tribal poetry; the poetry of our forefathers,of the soil and the soul of the country ; poetry composed by humble men who,according to western standards and ways, were ignorant, uncultured, wild men. I shall claim and do claim that their compositions were real and essential poetry for they observe with sure and artistic instinct this universal law of rhythm. But poetry, one ofthe highest achievements of the human soul and heart, is more than that. It must employ a measured rhythmic language, poetic diction, show contemplative and creative imagination, and use images, sounds and thoughts that arouse and sublimate the emotions.

    We have a rich and varied store of this folk material. It adorns the folk tales, accompanies the dances, and is connected with many war and peacetime observances. Unfortunately it has not been systematically collected and preserved, and is dying out with the disintegration of tribal society. I would suggest that these tribal compositions be collected into one volume prefaced with a critical essay on their nature, classification and quality. My own findings lead me to classify Zulu folk poetry as follows.

    1 - Semi-narrative, biographic praise poems.

    These include :

    (a) Poems of persons.

    Owavela ngesiluba,
    Phakathi kwamaNgisi nama-Qadasi.
    Inkonjan' edukel' ezulwini;
    UNowelamuva wa-OShaka.

    (b) Poems on Animals and Birds.

    Phondo luyingewishi,
    Mathifiza njengesidunu
    Ndlela zimnyama kobahlabayo,
    Bolokodlela, nkunzi emdwayidwa;
    Makhonya kusobele amavaka.

    (On a bull).

    Ungqwashi lobomvu!
    Isithuthukazi esinamakhizana ekhanda!

    (On a bird).

    (c) Poems on Things.

    Lind' amazibuko,
    Thabisa amashinga.

    (On a stick).

    (Guardsman of the river fords,
    Joy of adventurers reckless!)

    2 - Nature Poems.

    These are included in, and form part and parcel of, the laudatory poems to persons. (Where the writer finds an existing translation, he uses that, and where he doesn't he gives the original Zulu and his own translation below.)

    The greenness which kisses that of a gall bladder!
    Butterfly ofPhunga, tinted with circling spots,
    As if made by the twilight from the shadow of mountains,
    In the dusk of the evening, when the wizards are abroad.

    3 - War Songs.


    Oye oyeye!                                                                      
    Khethani amagwala,                                                         
    UNomahlul'ingonyama wadla.                                           


    Asihambe sihlaslele,                                                       
    Inkani iphelile;                                                                
    Wavizwa ngobani                                                           
    Ukuthi inkani iphelile?                                                      
    Wavizwa ngobani                                                           
    Ukuth ' inkan'iphelile ?                                                   


    Siyayishisa indlu kaQolwane,                                       
    Kasenzi manga, kasenzi manga.                                   
    Wazonda, wazonda!                                                    
    Oyeyiva wo!
    Siyayishisa indlu kaQolwane.                                       


    Waqeda izizwe.                                                        
    Uyakuhlaselaphi na?                                                 
    Hho! Hho! Eya ehhe!                                               
    Wahlula abafo,                                                        
    Wahlula izizwe.                                                       


    Waqedaqed' izizwe!
    Uyakuhlaselaphi na?
    E! Uyakuhlaselaphi na?
    Wahlul' amakhosi,
    Waqedaqed' iziwe!
    Uhlaselaphi na?
    Uhlaselaphi na?
    E! E! E!

    (Oye oyeye! seek out the cowards, the lion conqueror strikes. Come, let's march into battle; no more the time for boastful arguments. What, sayest thou the time for boastful arguments is over? Begone! Who told the news that wranglings have ceased? The house of Qolwana set we on fire. We make no jokes, no lies tell we. He is full of hate, full of hate. Oyeyiya wo! Come, see us set aflame the house of Qolwana; On whom will you make war, if you wipe out all the nations thus? . . . you who defeat the foes and conquer the nations. If you wipe out the nations thus, on whom will you make war. Yea, what will you do? You have subdued the kings; you have iped out the nations. Where and what next, Conqueror?)


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