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WATCH: Part 2 - IsiXhosa Poem (@Fort Hare Event)

Insights | Aug. 30, 2019, 8:03 a.m. |

I received this video via WhatsApp from a friend. A quick internet search revealed that it's an excerpt from a PanSALB/University of Fort Hare event that took place probably late last year.

In Part 1, I shared the poem (video) with a transcribed version. I also translated it to English so that its beauty can enrich a wider audience. A special thanks to Thobeka Msi and Mam' uSilvi (Silvia Zikalala) for their help with the translation. I wouldn't have gotten very far with them. Firstly, there is a certain beauty in poem. I could not, in translating it, lose the very same beauty that moved me to translate it in the first instance. So I had to thread with care so as to preserve that beauty but there is more than beauty to preserve. There is the expression of culture, there is the use of linguistic devices particular to the language, and there is more. Take words. Words encode culture but translate them directly and they lose meaning. To accomodate meaning replace them but be prepared to lose the image they evoke. So balance it had to be but balance is only that; there is no perfection there, we can only hope for advance.

Read on. I hope it does for you, what it did for me.



Imbongi (the Griot or Bard) is licensed by culture to interrupt proceedings as he feels fit. He is the walking, talking archive of a nation's traditions and history. Since time immemorial, he has enjoyed an elevated status in Xhosa life and enjoys an unfettered privilege for social commentary. Here the Poet invokes that right. Fearful that the proceedings seem to be coming to a close, he, in characteristic dramatic fashion interposes, "Hay' yima!!" [No! Wait!!]. As a Poet, he felt duty bound to add a word or two. After all the proceedings were about the preservation of indegenous languages. How then could he remain silent? Mindful of this context, the speaker takes no offence but instead makes way, and does so with a smile on his face.

English version:

Keeping in mind that in nature, we are not equally endowed,
Our entrance was not through the same admittance
Some came in here, and left through there!

True that!
A sniffer dog on a trail ought to be cheered,
In the same breath, a dairy-cow whose udder is touched flows forth abundantly!

Consent to our concurrence, good friend
In any event, mealies are best enjoyed when one shares with the other
Concede then that we too bear witness.

Where have those Xhosas gone; the ones who at the utter of words well-arranged, feel urged on to express thoughts compellingly?
Yes! Today we bequeath to you,
We’re handing the baton over to you, our children
Pay attention to the art with which our tongue is spoken

Let your ears hear it, so it gushes through your blood and even leaving you with an urge for relief
Since it is the case, that in nature one was gifted,
So that she may gift others

As things stand at this moment, I’m stricken by jealousy
On account that, isiXhosa our nation’s tongue, we suckled it from birth, we ingested it from our infancy!
We were bestowed it in our transition to adulthood and still crutch with it as village elders!
So that the path we chart would leave a trail deep enough for the depressions to sculpt walls
So that those that trail our lead, can see the marks of our footsteps
Carry on trudging, so that your trace may not be lost.

I’ve let it out! Rhal’rhali!


Read the isiXhosa version in Part 1.

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