CONVERSATION WITH A POET
Ashton Ngcama and Harold Scheub, August 24, 1972
Ngcama: It [the poem] simply came by itself.
Scheub: You don't go to school---
N. No, not for it.
S. No other imbongi [poet] sits down and tells you how to do it---
N. No. No, I have not been taught by any person to do it.
S. Your son will not necessarily be an imbongi.
S. Even if he wants to be?
N. Even if my son wants to be an imbongi, he can't learn to be an imbongi. It's just--- It's a feeling! It's a feeling. You see, if a preacher preaches, now you have a feeling --- it's the same thing, it comes to the same thing. You see, when we say our prayers, we don't know what we have said. And we can't repeat it. It comes like that. That's how it comes to me. You see, I have been asked by many chiefs to create izibongo, but I can't, because I don't remember---even what I've been saying now, I can't say it. It's not mine. It belongs to ithongo. That's what I think.
S. Would you explain that?
N. This thing, we thinK that it comes from a dream. There is nothing that we speak to ourselves. When a person arrives who is sick, it happens that I know how to tell him he is sick, a certain thing, yet I don't know him....
S. The art of the imbongi: will this go on, or will it die now, do you think?
N. I don't know whether it will die, because if ithongo has picked someone among the family to have the same umoya as we have, I think it will be something that will still [attract] a particular person. Because you know, a witch-doctor---we have got witch-doctors and they are called "witch-doctors" because they have not learned to be doctors, because they can't say what they have discovered in a person.
S. When did you learn that you have the umoya?
N. This--- I was in school.
S. How old were you?
N. I was about sixteen years old.
S. And how did you know this? What were the circumstances of this?
S. Of knowing that you had the umoya of the ithongo.
N. I did not know, I have been told by people. I did not know that I had umoya that came from ithongo.
S. Is that the first time---when you were sixteen, is that the first time you created an izibongo?
N. Oh yes!
S. What was the occasion? Was there a chief at the school? or what?
N. It was---you see, people were playing. Yes. You see, there were uniforms of the children, and when I looked at these people, and---there was something in my mind about them....
S. When you create izibongo..., do you find that some of the same poetry that you used at one time will find its way into another izibongo?
N. It happens that when---you see, if one is praising the same chief, another time when I come, I will say other things in connection with what I have said today, because all these things that I am saying are connected with the chief. I always praise a chief with some things connected to him.
S. Do you memorize anything?
N. Not as such. Yes, I can't memorize.
S. Do you remember things when you're actually in the process of creating izibongo?
N. Yes. Yes, I remember some things. Very few. Not in the same order that I have given. Yes. Yes, because it comes of itself....
S. And how would you compare izibongo and iintsomi ? Are these similar?
N. No, they are not similar. Intsomi is a tale, an intsomi is a narrative, something narrated. This could be narrated, you see; it's followed by one, step by step by step. Even if the children were here, could listen to intsomi, could say it, as the other person has said it.
S. But not an izibongo.
N. Not izibongo. Unless I give the same poetry---
S. ---again and again---
N. ---again and again and again. Some iimbongi are of that nature. That is why you say that mine are excellent, because I can't say the same thing. Tomorrow, if I'm giving izibongo, I'll give another thing. Because it's not mine. I don't think. If I sit down to think, I fail to write izibongo, I fail to write izibongo, I fail to write izibongo.