Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bongwi the baboon...

A haunted soul put under ban,
A hunted beast that has to roam,
The voiceless image of a man
With neither speech nor home-
Upon the summit of the height,
Where only wind-swept lichens grow,
Bongwi, lit by the dawning-light,
Watches the plain below.

Fierce eyes, low brow, protruding mouth,
Short hands that twitch and twitch again,
The hairy gargoyle of the South-
A man without a brain;
Upon the highest krantz he waits
Dim-lit by golden streak of dawn,
Guarding the interests of his mates
Who wreck the fields of corn.

Far down the mealie-gardens lie,
And he, a patient sentinel,
Shouts, ‘Boor-hoom!’ to th’ offended sky
To show that all is well.
A white fish-eagle sails along,
His mighty pinions harping tunes,
Till dawn throbs with Aeolian song
And, far below, the brown baboons

Look up and note the paling East,
The fading moon, the stars that wane,
And, gorg’d, they quit their stolen feast
And seek the open veld again.
And Bongwi sees. But turns his view-
Brown-eyed – towards the breaking morn,
And gazes through the soundless blue,
The golden distance of the dawn.

(By Kingsley Fairbridge)


  1. Parts of this poem seem different from the one I recited in my grade seven class those 33 years ago because it starts at : Upon the summit of the height where only wind swept lichens grow.............. Does this mean the one in the English language textbook Day by day English course was adapted for our level then?

    1. Yes, it was an adaptation, not the full poem.

  2. Possibly, I was actually looking for it and landed hear. Memories... :)

  3. You have made my day Chirere. One of the greatest poems in a primary school text book. Kuda Mamutse

    1. Mine too. Garage 7, 50 years ago. Highly appreciated

  4. Hello, Can anyone tell me about the word "Bongwi"? Google tells me it is a common surname in Zimbabwe. Has it any meaning in Shona or any other language in southern Africa? I have tried to look it up and one automatic online translator translates it as "magic" in Shona. Is this correct? Are there other meanings? Thank you.

    1. What I do know is that there is a Zulu/Xhosa feminine name, Bongiwe, meaning 'S/he for whom thanks/praise has been given', based on the verb 'bonga', meaning 'give thanks/praise', reflecting gratitude for the safe delivery of a healthy girl baby. Thanks and praise are synonymous. So perhaps 'Bongwi' is a shortened version of Bongiwe (despite the poet giving the name to a male baboon!).

  5. Icicle Hunter I have searched high and low Bongwi remains mythical to me.

  6. Actually reminds me of my uncle.. upon the summit of the hieght..

  7. Read this poem 48 years ago and the new version I not the Bongwi the Baboon that we knew the.The original version starts .. upon the summit of the height......

  8. The poem made a lot of pupils love school by then.It was motivational especially when rehearsed by a talented pupil