Example poetry

African-style poetry loses popularity as poets switch to classical poetry

The Chronicle

Angela Sibanda, showbiz journalist
Dating back to the history of ancient African states, poetry has always been a part of African culture.

Although it doesn’t have a huge following, the poetry has managed to survive and remains one of the many components that support Ubuntu and embrace African history.

At the time, poets played important roles such as introducing a king through ukuhaya (an act of shouting praises like someone’s family name and totem in a way that makes them look good in front of his subordinates).

An African poet used to dress in animal skin and carried a spear and a shield during their performance.

Such performances were also used to boost morale or prepare warriors for war.

It is through poetry that people have been able to trace their origins and identity with examples being totems like uZwide kaLanga and uMzilikazi kaMatshobana.

Long ago, people also embraced poetry as a social practice to express gratitude and make people feel appreciated.

In Zimbabwe, a few poets have become great imbongi, including the famous Albert Nyathi, who in his day used to recite a poem before the late former President Robert Mugabe stood up to address the crowd. during public celebrations such as Independence Day.

Late former President Robert Mugabe

Another poet who seems to be following in the footsteps of great African poets is Obert Dube, a poet born in Lupane who earned the title of “African poet” thanks to his popularity in southern African countries.

Recently, at a gospel show held in Bulawayo to celebrate Everton Mlalazi’s birthday, Dube was tasked to introduce the gospel artist through a poem and left the audience begging for more.

Women like Sithandazile Dube and Mqemani Sibanda, among others, have also maintained their African pride through poetry.

Praise poetry has unfortunately lost followers over the years as poets have started to commercialize their work and embrace classical poetry, which is modern poetry.

It is therefore now rare to find a poetry show where only indigenous poets perform without acts by musicians or comedians.

Commenting on the relevance of poetry in modern society, Obert Dube said that the old style of African poetry was slowly losing popularity because artists commercialized poetry for a living.

“Poets in Africa were the only people who had voices to praise a king, blame him and even tell him how people felt about him.

The history of poetry emerged from ukuhaya inkosi’.

Not everyone could speak to the king or talk about him, but a poet even had the ability to condemn a king’s actions through a poem,” he said.

Dube said poets play a central role in preserving culture and language.

He said, however, that interaction with international audiences has seen the poetry become more classical.

“Poetry has changed because poets are now commercial, they now do poetry for a living.

Long ago, in the days of kings and during the liberation struggle, all poetry performances were free.

Now poetry has become a way of life where the market determines and detects content,” Dube said.

He said the so-called native languages ​​no longer have vibrant poets because poets now recite English poems for a living.

“You will hardly hear a Tonga or Nambya poet.

When a poet grows in the industry, he engages with an international audience and English automatically becomes the adopted language to welcome everyone, hence the death of the native language,” Dube said.

Mqemani Sibanda said the shift to classical poetry put a number of poets on the map, but killed the aspect of embracing Ubuntu along the way.


“Now you find a poet sitting in a chair in a bar and reading a poem.

It is a definition of classical poetry that is normally enjoyed and understood by white and educated people.

Our poetry is praised by Africans and that is why when you praise someone who uses their totem today, it always relaxes their mood and makes them feel appreciated and acknowledged,” Sibanda said.

She however said that with technology, Ubuntu and Africanism are slowly fading because a few people still relate to those old types of poems.

“Because of the economic difficulties we are facing, poets are now focusing on genres that bring food to the table.

We are moving with the times and it is a shame that along the way we lose our pride as a people,” she said.

Over the years poetry has also lost its audience to hip-hop as many poets have found comfort and fame in rapping.

Most rappers today obviously started out as poets, and the lyrics to most hip-hop songs are poetic in some way.

However, despite the various changes that have affected traditional poetry, it still remains an independent art.

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