Thursday, April 12, 2007

Xiaolu Guo's protagonist "Z" about whom I blogged yesterday, reminded me of a poem I grew up on, expressing the pain and frustration of having one's name and identity evaporated, really because others cannot take the trouble to see the real person. I tracked it down, and here it is.

First, a translation issue 'Wat is daai, se nou weer?' means "What is that, say it again." More importantly, the poem must be seen in the context of Apartheid-era bureacracy and society. All black people working in cities were required to apply for a pass in order to work or pass through an area other than where they were born, without which they would be arrested. This was a vile system - in other words just to get from place to place within your own country you had to have documentation. Because white officials were uninterested in black names and language, (and also as a way to deliberately make people feel oppressed) almost all black people in South Africa eventually acquired a "school name," in other words a name easy for white people to pronounce. One of the fabulous things about the new South Africa, is seeing this practice gradually falling away, with full names used, and all languages represented on official documentation, but it will take time. While it seems a small thing, it is yet another way to enforce rule over others when you take their name and personhood away. I don't think this is a great poem, but it is a great expression of pain and confusion and in the end perhaps that is what makes a good poem...

MY NAME - Magoleng wa Selepe, South Africa

Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa

Look what they have done to my name...
the wonderful name of my great-great-grandmothers
Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa

The burly bureaucrat was surprised.
What he heard was music to his ears
'Wat is daai, se nou weer?'
'I am from Chief Daluxolo Velayigodle of emaMpodweni
And my name is Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa.'

Messia, help me!
My name is so simple
and yet so meaningful,
but to this man it is trash...

He gives me a name
Convenient enough to answer his whim:
I end up being
Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa.

from EXPLORINGS: a collection of poems for the young people of Southern Africa compiled by Robin Malan

By way of preparation, should you attempt to say this out loud yourself: "q" is a hard, echoing click a bit like a cork popping - place the main part of your tongue on the middle of the roof of your mouth towards the back and click; "c" is a soft sound - place the tip of your tongue against your top front teeth and click; "x" is a click through the side of the mouth between the teeth (as when using the universal sound encouraging a horse to "gee up"). Go on, try - you know you want to!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

what do we mean by that poem?

7:34 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to write an essay on how launguage servers as a powerful toool in construction racism and diminishing the humanity of individuals by referring to this poem. The instructions state that I must pay close attention to the choice of words used in the poem and its stylistic features.

Do you have any advice for me on primarily what the question actualy means and secondly and how I should go about constructing my essay. Your help would be much appreciated

7:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This do not help a bit, It is just that black people want to get back at the white people. I just want to say its over and done so move on. An this firs part of the translation form Afrikaans to English does not help. We can all find out what it means but the meaning of Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa is another story.

Wake up people its not like u lived in that years and not like u did not think what happened and sad that must of been better. It is just a way to show your hate for white people that was the first to land in Cape-Town so do not hate whites for what they have done to help SA.

If u ask me apartheid must come back so that people can see what happened. And to show that not all of it was bad and that there was more order then there is now in our corrupt country.

Tank You.

3:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous who typed above and who thinks apartheid must come back- All I can say is that I feel sorry for you. And yes, I am in fact a white person myself. But you have a lot to learn! This poem is beautiful, empowering and has every right to stand in the power and glory that it does. If you took the time to try understand it maybe you would learn something too. EQUIANO, thank you for sharing.

3:12 pm  

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