SEK Mqhayi Monument is situated about 3km outside Berlin on the way to East London. SEK Mqhayi was a praise singer for most of the Xhosa chiefs.
Praise singing is described as one of the last living traditions of spontaneous oral poetry in the world.
THE PRAISE SINGING TRADITION:
A vigorous oral tradition has existed throughout South African history – from the lyric songs of the Bushmen to the praise singing of African societies.
The praise singing tradition was highlighted when Zolani Mkhiva, 22, performed at the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela at the opening of the first democratically elected Parliament in South Africa in 1994. He comes from a family tradition of imbongi – his uncle and grandfather were praise singers too.
The praise singer – or imbongi – was as much a critic as an eulogiser. He also fulfilled a role as a commentator on political events and as a mediator. The praise singer as critic commented on delicate political situations – and as mediator conveyed to political leaders what the common folk were saying.
Some imbongi regard themselves as prophets or visionaries. As one writer to a newspaper letters page commented: “Indeed, it is when they stop praising that one needs to begin to worry!”
The praise song was a highly emotional enactment, praising the features or characteristics of a person, usually a chief or very important person, and it tended to exaggerate somewhat.
There are usually six sections to the structure of a typical praise song:
- a statement of intention or a salutation in the form of an exclamation “A!”;
- praises treating physical and moral qualities of the subject;
- praises treating his achievements;
- genealogical information;
- reference to the social context;
- exhortation of the audience and a concluding formula at the end of a performance .(‘Ncincilili’ – ‘I disappear’ – or ‘the imbongi has spoken’).