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Translating African praise poetry
with Albert Nyathi

Year 7 students at Christ's Hospital, Horsham, enjoyed a workshop on translating African praise poetry for performance in the company of the unofficial Zimbabwean laureate, Albert Nyathi.

The students were first treated to Albert's inimitable performance of his own version of a traditional poem 'Iphi Nkosi U Mzilikazi' ('The Praises of King Mzilikazi') and were able to discuss with him some of the cultural issues 'around' the poem: the Ndebele people and their language, some late nineteenth century history, and the role of a griot (or, in a Zimbabwean context, an 'imbongi') in societies like Zimbabwe which have a strong oral tradition.

Students worked in groups to create their own performance versions of the poem, using an English prose translation as a base but with the freedom to translate faithfully or more creatively according to their inclinations. The results were good and often startlingly original.

A version of the activity, including teacher notes and a pupil worksheet, is available here.

Read about Christ's Hospital's school-wide translation project.