Gudugwe Mlilo
(Zimbabwe, 1892–1966)   

Imbongis (praise-singers) represent the traditional school and order of poets, they are wandering bards, creating his poetry for any audience, especially at rural, beer-drinking parties. Since Gudugwe Milos is such an oral poet, very little of his work has been transcribed or recorded, apart from the few poems presented here.

Mlilo lived and died in the Matopo Hills. As a young man in the Amawaba Amnyama, he served in King Lobhengula’s regiment based at Mawabeni, a communal area some sixty kilometres south of Bulawayo. His military involvement served as the basis for his nostalgic reflections, as well as forming a constant reference point for a warrior displaced by colonialism and modernity.

Mlilo was an exceptional poet but never had his work recorded, he was probably not even aware that this could be done. He believed that locals would listen to him, and, if they liked his poetry, would preserve it in their minds to recite to another audience at another time. (The few poems that survive were memorised by Jerry Zondo.)

Mlilo had a good memory and was inevitably the ‘official’ repository of clan praises – he could recite the praises of any family in the Ntunjambili community and was constantly involved in the long, ceremonial greetings which had to include the various clan names of the many, distinguished individuals in the broad locality. 

The poet was buried in a cave because locals believed that he had been one of the band of poets in the official entourage in King Lobhengula’s court. (When Mlilo died, his dog which had followed him everywhere, disappeared and its bones were never found. Mlilo had an unusual ritualistic relationship with the animal: for example, its food first had to be pressed against Mlilo’s feet before being fed to it.)

© Irene Staunton


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