Friday, 27 February 2015


With many thanks to David Walker who has a Facebook page commemorating the South Africans who died in the First World War for bringing Samuel Mqhayi to my attention.

Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi was born on 1st December 1875 in Gqumashe in Alice, Transkei, Cape Province, South Africa.  His family were Christians.  Samuel, whose mother tongue was Xhosa, trained to become a teacher in Lovedale and worked on the translation of the Bible into Xhosa.  He also worked as a journalist on Xhosa newspapers, as well as publishing novels and poems. Nelson Mandela considered Samuel to be a poet Laureate of the African people and heard him recite his poetry.  Samuel died in 1945.

The Xhosa language is one of the official languages of South Africa and is a tonal language, written with a Latin alphabet. It is a ‘click’ language, the word ‘Xhosa’ starts with a click.
In the western world, the singer Miriam Makeba (Zenzile Miriam Makeba 1932 – 2008) made the Xhosa language famous when she released a recording of the song “Pata Pata” in 1957. “Pata Pata” (meaning ‘touch touch’ in English) was written by Dorothy Masuka.   Miriam’s “Click Song”, the name given to the song Qongqothwane (in English “knock-knock beetle), which is sung at weddings to bring good luck, is another example of a song in Xhosa.  

Here is a link to Samuel's poem about the sinking of the S.S. "Mendi" - a ship carrying members of the South African Labour Corps to the Western Front which sank off the Isle of Wight with great loss of life

The Steam Ship 'Mendi' was on her way to France from South Africa, when she was involved in a collision in thick fog at 5 a.m. on the morning of 21st February 1917 with the Royal Mail Packet Company's cargo ship 'Darro'.  The 'Mendi', which was the smaller of the two ships, rapidly sank with the loss of the lives of 616 South Africans and 30 crew members.

And another of Samuel's poems can be seen here:

Source:  Wikipedia
`Xhosa Poets and Poetry by Jeff Opland, published by David Philip Publishers (Pty.) Ltd., Clarement, South Africa in 1998

And many thanks to the ever-vigilant Michael Shankland who is researching sea poetry of WW1 for spotting the error which has now been corrected.