African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Zimbabwe (Page 1 of 2)

The Shumba Murambwi Praise Poem

One variety of praise poetry common across Africa are praises for one’s own clan. The Shumba Murambwi praise poem celebrates the ancestors and lineage of a Shona clan from Zimbabwe. Whilst recorded by Hodza in 1985, many of the allusions to events, personages and places within this poem are provided by Alec Pongweni from his fascinating book The Oral Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe.

To understand the poem some of the history of the clan must be described. At some point estimated to be in the late 18th century, an early ancestor of the clan named Chikanga is murdered on his way home after trying to settle a dispute with the Warozi, a neighbouring ruling family. One of Chikanga’s sons, Muchinadzo, flees and adopts an alias to disguise himself, Chivunguvungu of the Ngonya – later shortened to Chibi, and is eventually invited to settle on the territory of Mhungudza under the protection of the local Paramount Chief. Chivunguvungu overthrows his host, taking over the kingdom until his grandson, Tavengegwei, succeeds him.

Until this point the family had maintained the alias used by Muchinadzo to hide himself from the murderers of his father, Chikanga. The descendants of Muchinadzo seem to acknowledge that Chikanga may have provoked those who murdered him due to his anti-social behaviour (Chikanga appears to have been a talented cattle thief), but regard themselves as unfairly associated with his crimes. This seems to be the reason why Tavengegwei chooses the name Murambwi, “the rejected one”.

Disputes over land for cultivation creates divisions of the tribe, leading to separate dynasties emerging from Tavengerwei’s cousin, Ndema, and later a large family calling themselves the Mhari splits from the descendants of Ndema.

Whilst these various dynasties are all referenced in the Shumba Murambwi Praises, the heart of the poem glorifies the Lion (Shumba), the totem animal that the Mhari adopt to represent their clan. The lion seems to be universally recognised as a emblem of courage, nobility, ferocity and supremacy in the popular imagination, but what makes the poem particularly vivid is that the Mhari were directly familiar with the lion in its natural habitat. The clan has tracked, hunted and fought with lions and thus glorify the animal with an intimate familiarity of its behaviours and habits whilst also invoking these qualities to define their tribe. The poem expresses gratitude to the ancestors of the clan and to the lion who triggers awe and shock when met face-to-face in the wild.

Thank you, The Rejected One
Thank you, the Lion…

Prayers Uttered by the Zezuru at Mabwe aDziva

A prayer to Mwari (God) and the ancestors at a time of drought among the Zezuru, one of the groups making up the Shona people of southern and south-eastern Zimbabwe. Mabwe aDziva, refers to the Stones of Dziva, or the Matopos Shrines. Dziva, meaning pool, is one of Mwari’s praise names…

Shava Museyamwa

Another version of the praises of the Shava clan of the Shona people of Zimbabwe (see also Thank You, Shava). Clan Praises are addressed not to specific kings as in the Zulu tradition, but to the whole lineage. At the heart of the praise is the totem associated with the clan, in this case the Eland. Museyamwa is one of the dynasties within the clan.

Thank you, my Support!
Thank you eland, my dear tawny one…

Thank You, Shava

Praises of the Shava clan of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. Clan Praises are addressed not to specific kings, as in the Zulu tradition, but to the whole lineage. Every member of the clan deserves praise after rendering some important service. At the heart of the praise, and providing many of its metaphors, is the totem associated with the clan, in this case the Eland antelope, so the poem becomes, in part, the praises of the animal…

The Eggs

A Shona children’s song from Zimbabwe. “Zinjanja”, mentioned in the chorus, is a hill to the east of Harare.

There were once some girls,
There were once some girls,
Let’s go to Zinjanja…

Hunting Song (Shona)

A Shona poem from Zimbabwe, sung by men hunting game in the bush. The names mentioned are all places, where different types of game are found.

Come on, men, let’s go hunting with the dogs,
Our dogs of Murewa, it’s their lucky day!..

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…

Shava, my Child

A Shona song from Zimbabwe, sung by a mother at a dance in praise of her daughter’s singing. What is especially admired is a voice higher and purer than all the others, like the new moons flute.

E! There’s my one, drowning all the others.
Listen, girls, and hear what she’s to sing!

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African Poems