Bhotomane, Ndumiso; Biyela, Umhle; Koko, Magagamela; Ngcama, Ashton; Ngcobo, Sondoda; Tyabashe, Mdukiswa; Zenani, Nongenile Masithathu / South African Voices: The Way We Travelled: Oral History and Poetry (2006)
CONVERSATION WITH A POET
Mdukiswa Tyabashe and Harold Scheub, August 9, 1967
Mdukiswa Tyabashe said, "If my sons wish, they may become poets, but only if they are interested." A person "becomes a poet because he is interested in becoming one. You hear others creating the poems, and you begin to wish to do as they do." There is no formal training or apprenticeship, however. "There is no place to learn izibongo [heroic poetry], except when you witness others creating them." As for the actual composition of the poems, "You take a phrase from one izibongo, and when you hear someone else construct one at a certain place, then you take a phrase from that one." izibongo, he argued, "are in the mind. Like poetry. You learn the techniques, you learn and learn, and then you finally manage to put the poetry together." So one begins to think about izibongo. "I mean, when you're interested in something, you begin to consider it; you think and think about it, and then the first time you attempt to do it, you say so much. The next day, when you try again, you'll say more. And on the next day, you'll say more, and so on and on. My first izibongo were quite brief; they kept getting longer and longer as I became more experienced."
Poets vary in their approaches to the poetry, Tyabashe asserted. There is considerable room for creative uniqueness. "The way a poem is expressed depends on the poet himself. Some people are slow and gentle, others are more forceful. That's because their spirits push them. Yes, every poet expresses the poem much as he wishes. For example, it really makes no difference if everyone else at the royal residence is happy and dancing. The izibongo and its tone depend on my feelings, not theirs. If my feelings are indifferent to what's going on, then my poem will reflect this. The izibongo must come spontaneously. If I'm not in a good mood, then I won't be so eager in my poetry, and this will be obvious." How does the poet make decisions regarding the content of the poetry? "I know the history of the royalty of the Mpondomise people, and in my izibongo I include events that are praiseworthy. If there are events that occurred during the time that the chief being praised was reigning, or after his reign, or long before it, one thinks about such events, and includes them in the poem if they are relevant."
Are his poems always the same? Are they memorized? "If I praise a chief today," Tyabashe answers, "then create an izibongo for him again tomorrow, I will probably just repeat what I said today because I'm familiar with that material---unless I become aware of some new event, and then I think, Oh! I must add this!" As for the length of the poem, it "depends on the occasion." Important events "may well have an effect on the izibongo. And there are times when you just repeat the praises, merely to salute the chief...."
Because of their historical nature, I have included in this volume two brief sections from the second volume, South African Voices: Created in Olden Times, both by Nongenile Masithathu Zenani.
 The conversation from which these comments were taken occurred on August 10, 1967, in St. Cuthbert's Location, the Transkei.
Text copyright © 2006 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.
Photographs copyright © 2006 by Harold Scheub. Used with permission.
Those interested in using these materials for any purpose not covered under Fair Use must seek the permission of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries and/or Harold Scheub.