Resource 3: Praise poems and stories

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

A traditional Zulu praise poem – in isiZulu and in English translation, with some explanatory notes

Ujama kaNdaba!Jama son of Ndaba!
UJama kaluthwana kangakanani,Jama is not deceived to the slightest extent,
Nasenhlamvini yomkhont’angenela,Even on the point of a spear he can be at ease,
Nasemagatshen’ angaphathetela.Even on branches he can hold tight.
Obengumqingo wang’itshe laseZihlalo,He who was solid like a rock of Zihlalo,
Ebilingalayezwa ngabaphath’ izinhlendla,Which could be commanded by those who carry barbed spears,
Thina bamaklwa singathath’ichoba sophule,While we of the broad-bladed spears could save ourselves by using a sandstone,
UMabopha wakithi kwaZwangendaba,Inspirer of our place at Zwangendaba,
Ongibophe zaluk’ inhlazane nemfuduluko,Who inspired me as the cattle went out to graze at midday,
Obabis’ ihlaba elikuMahogo,Who made bitter the aloe of Mahogo,
Othabis’ idukumbane elikuNgcingciWho made glad the trifle of Ngcingci.

This is a poem in praise of Jama who was an early Zulu chief. Hlaba (aloe) and Dukumbane (trifle) were the names of regiments of young soldiers who were made ‘sharp’ (bitter) or pleased (glad) by Jama.

A praise poem written by a South African pupil

Praise poem for Sekhukunene by Nathaniel Seleka

He was born to rule,
A pure leader.
He had leadership blood in him,
The blood of great ancestors;
No one could take it from him.

He ruled equally,
Land was for everyone,
Land was not sold,
No one was a slave;
He loved everyone who came in peace
Without checking their colour.

He was a great man;
He showed Mama Africa how to live;
Many people don’t know him,
But he ruled his own land.
A praise poem written by a South African pupil. Praise poem for Sekhukunene by Nathaniel Selka, taken from:English Matters, Grad 7 Anthology, compiled by Lloyd, G. & Montgomery, K. (1999), p.67. Cape Town: Cambridge University Press) ISBN: 0 521 66747X

A praise song sung by children in Soweto

An explanation of some of the words and ideas follows the poem.

Ma Sisulu

Here is Ma Sisulu
Here is Ma Sisulu
She’s carrying her brown suitcase
She’s carrying her brown suitcase
Ma Sisulu is bringing us babies [line 5]
Ma Sisulu is bringing us babies
Sawubona, Ma Sisulu!
Keep your mouth shut, you laaitjie.
Keep your mouth shut, you laaitjie.
The SB ... eeez will arrest Ma Sisulu [line 10]
The SB ... eeez will arrest Ma Sisulu
She ... e is silenced
She ... e is silenced
I won’t shut my mouth
My mother has a big tummy [line 15]
Mrs Sisulu will bring us a baby
From her brown suitcase
SB... eeez or no SB ... eeez
I want my baby from Ma Sisulu
And her brown suitcase. [line 20]
A praise song sung by children in Soweto, taken from: New Successful English, Reading Book, Grade 6 (2001), p.115. (Cape Town: Oxford University Press). ISBN: 0 19 571433 4.


  • Mrs Albertina Sisulu is one of the heroes of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Her husband Walter was one of the leaders of the African National Congress and was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. While Walter was in prison, Albertina was not allowed to leave Orlando township in Soweto and for much of the time she was a banned person. This meant, among other things, that she could not be quoted in the media (i.e. she was silenced – line 12). She worked in Soweto as a midwife, helping to deliver babies.
  • Sawubona (line 7) is a Zulu greeting, roughly translated as ‘Hello!’
  • laaitjie (line 8) is an Afrikaans word meaning ‘little child’ or ‘young one’.
  • SB (line 10) refers to the Security Branch – the branch of the police who checked to see if Mrs Sisulu had defied her banning order.

A Yoruba poem in praise of the python

Some praise poetry praises animals or objects rather than people. Here is a poem from the Yoruba people. Explanation of some of the language is provided after the poem.


Swaggering prince [Line 1]
Giant among snakes.
They say python has no house.
I heard it a long time ago
And I laughed and laughed and laughed.
For who owns the ground under the lemon grass? [Line 6]
Who owns the ground under the elephant grass?
Who owns the swamp – father of rivers?
Who owns the stagnant pool – father of waters?

Because they never walk hand in hand [Line 10]
People say that snakes walk only singly.
But just imagine
Suppose the viper walks in front
The green mamba follows
And the python creeps rumbling behind – [Line 15]
Who will be brave enough
To wait for them?
Python taken from English Matters, Grade 7 Anthology, compiled by Lloyd, G. & Montgomery, K.


  • To walk with a swagger is to walk proudly – thinking you are the best, showing off. In Line 1, the poem describes the python as a swaggering prince.
  • The questions in Lines 6 to 9 suggest that the python has many houses – both on the ground and in water.
  • In verse two, the poem suggests that other animals and people would be too frightened to walk next to the snakes – that is why snakes ‘walk’ singly (by themselves).

Resource 2: Name poems and stories

Resource 4: Preparing lessons on life stories