Praise poetry

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Praise poetry is central to any delineation of southern African literature and performance since praising is an important part of the peoples' political and literary expression.

The genre of praise poetry called izibongo in Zulu (used in its plural form) and lifela or lothoko (in Sotho) is a political art form found in southern African societies like the Nguni- and Sotho-Tswana-speaking peoples. The term refers to the form of poetic expression that defines and names an individual, and is characterized by bold imagery expressed in carefully selected language. (The individual works are sometimes referred to as Praise songs). This type of poetry applies to the personal set of praise names of individuals, comprising cumulative series of praises and epithets bestowed on them by their associates, from childhood onwards, interspersed with narrative passages or comments. These praises, composed and recited by professional bards, often embody concise allusions to historical incidents and memorable achievements or characteristics connected with each family, and may amount to verses of considerable length and excellence. Among the Nguni linguistic groups, the characteristically colorful heroic praise poetry has a rich body of collected literature dating back four hundred years, and such poetry is treasured by people in this subregion as their highest form of literary expression. The major function of praise poetry is to conserve and transmit social consciousness, while simultaneously entertaining the audience. Because it deals with happenings in and around the individual being praised, informing the audience of his/her political and social views, praise poetry is documentary, and speakers of many (and similar) southern African languages have retained this cultural expression to aid them in remembering their past.

See also Imbongi, Lifela, Lithoko


Mphande, (2004)

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