I Am a Griot

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I enjoyed the ear-tickling ancient poetry. They say I slept to the rhythm of that beautiful lullaby. My grandmother was Gogo in African – she would fall asleep too. Mother returned from the red-clay fields to find us under the watch of spirits and snores.

After some weeks my umbilical cord wilted and fell. They buried it under the hearth near the main fireplace. Thus how we are bonded by our departed clan spirits. 

And so I grew up in a highly strict African traditional clan. My father and fellow clansmen brewed ceremonial beer for traditional rites. They supplicated to ancestral gods to end life-tormenting ailments, ravaging hunger, abject poverty and bad omen. Their usual incarnations, totemic praise’s performances cultivated the griot in me. Praise and protest poetry became my official language. After my umbilical cord rites, my father gave me a name. He named me after the most powerful battalion of Tshaka Zulu, a battalion that never lost even a single battle – Imbizo. Yes, the names define us and names resonate with our identity. They are strings of belonging.

Time roasted seasons into years. I began drawing meaning from events at home, from school and the village.  The throbbing of drums persisted. Traditional ceremonies energized the villages. August was a hive of rituals, in our village Ancestral spirits were raised and cleansing ceremonies were performed. The beat of drums conquered the winds, and their echo was engraved in the chambers of my heart. I rode along with these waves of praise poetry. My father – always dedicated – introduced me to African history, the African kings, the kingdoms, tribes and dialects in Southern Africa. He was passionate about Nguni, about Zulu and Ndebele histories.  I was a quick learner and most fascinated by Zulu and Ndebele war cries –

Bathe wena we Zulu,

Senzangakhona KaJama

Tshaka Zulu

Dingane Zulu

Dinizulu

Bayethe ngwalo ngwalo,

Langa

 Lemulandulo,

Sombangela,

Mangele Kumalo,

 Ngugulu Kumalo 

Bayethe ,Bayethe , Bayethe !!!

That mix of African history, the traditional songs, drumbeats and totemic praises continued to weave a griot in me. 

Zimbabwe attained political freedom in the 1980s. Myself and other children of war were introduced to the classroom, the flag and national Anthem. Before Zimbabwe’s late poet laureate Solomon Mutsvairo wrote our own national anthem, we sang the African Anthem. It was pregnant with meaning and its rhythm was beautiful.

“Ishe Komberera Africa 

 Ngaisimudzire zita rayo

Inzwai miteruro yedu

Nkosi yesikelele Africa…”

5 thoughts on “I Am a Griot

  1. Thank you Sophie and the MONK team for publishing this Essay and my poetry . Iam heartily touched . This is a great literary experience for me ,
    Regards,
    Mbizo Chirasha

  2. Truly, you are a griot!!! A most gripping tale of life’s journey. A depth only a participant would know with such fine detail.
    An incredible read, touching and teaching and taunting. Beauty in words with a divine undertone.

  3. Nancy Ndeke thank you greatly for the encouraging words. Iam quite grateful . I want to also thank Sophie Levy Burton and her team at MONK for publishing my essay in this illustrious publication. Together we rise . Aluta Continua!!!

      1. Dear Editor . Iam so glad to . Call me I will reply . Send me I will go . Teach me I will learn . Tell me I will do . Meaning that Iam well ready to work with you . This publication has lifted my soul and greased my brains for better writing . It was a great and positive challenge . Thank you greatly Madam Sophie Levy Burton and your esteemed Team . Together We Rise ,

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