South Africa celebrates heritage month in September. Even in these trying times we currently find ourselves in, the theme displayed by the month takes us back to our roots and gives us the assurance that this too shall pass. We are within the month and it is everything heritage.
Of the things celebrated and remembered at this time of the year, is praise poetry or praise-singing. Yes, you might not be familiar with the expression, but I am certain that you are aware of that one uncle who always recites family clan names in traditional events. That woman who paves the way for the president in parliament through praising songs or poetry.
In huge family gatherings, it is unlikely for clan names not to be uttered
Known as Imbongi in isiXhosa, when defined in traditional African society, a praise singer is a person who writes and performs music and poetry in order to praise a leader or other important people. Traditionally, a praise singer would accompany a chief on important occasions.
In huge family gatherings, it is unlikely for clan names not to be uttered, especially by that one aunt or uncle. It is then, when everyone is enjoying their tripe and sorghum maize meal, when emotive poetry is recited, family relations explained; as among us would always be those relatives whom our eyes have never before seen. Historical events and valuable lessons to take with would be a thing in such events, told by praise poets and singers.
South Africa has well-known praise poets – the likes of Jessica Mbangeni and Zolani Mkiva. You would remember Kgato Masemola, who at age 74, became the first female praise singer to be given the honour of heralding the arrival of a president to Parliament in 2015. Yes, women are taking up space and filling their position, and age has just opted out, as it saw its ineffectiveness.
For as long as we still harvest and devour our indigenous crops from the roots, we will never forget our own roots.
Jessica Mbangeni is a singer, actor and businesswoman. She was born in the Eastern Cape into a family that was rich in heritage and tradition. She has performed at prestigious events, such as the 46664 concert in Cape Town and the South African President, Thabo Mbeki’s second inauguration.
Zolani Mkiva was still at school and just become a fully-fledged Imbongi Yesizwe (Poet of the Nation), when he was summoned to greet the newly released Nelson Mandela at his welcome home rally in the Eastern Cape. Singer and poet, Zolani has released a number of albums of his work.
For as long as we still harvest and devour our indigenous crops from the roots, we will never forget our own roots. South Africa has a lot to celebrate in the month of September, our heritage month. Our praise singers have a lot to sing about. Praise poets have a lot to recite about. It is in this time of the month when we pause from our busy schedules and look back to where we come from, when our praise poets take us back and remind us of the wise words our heroes used to utter when they were still toiling this soil we live in.
Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. They are our touchstones, our points of reference, and our identity.
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GOOD THOUGHTS • GOOD WORDS • GOOD DEEDS
Going by the pen name Mbekezeli Patience, I grew up in Pretoria and am a passionate writer and student in the life and environmental sciences field. Growing up, my favourite pastime was putting ink onto paper, and it became more than a hobby when I entered high school. I love reading. Reading grants me the opportunity to travel to different places around the world and learn about other cultures, all at the comfort of my home.