Criticism in izibongo zamakhosi: The changing role of the modern imbongi yamakhosi
This article gives an overview of the kinds of critical content that were expressed in the izibongo of previous, powerful Zulu kings such as Shaka, Dingane and Cetshwayo and assesses the role of the old izimbongi against that of their modern counterpart, the current inyosi of King Goodwill Zwelithini, the current Zulu king. The imbongi was free in the times of the really powerful Zulu kings to pass any criticism he saw fit within the ambit of the king’s praises, in order to alert the king to his peoples’ opinions as well as caution him on certain actions. Today the role of the imbongi is far more tenuous. In times gone by, this man not only played a major role as exalter of the reigning monarch, but used to be the official channel through whom the opinions and general feelings of the populous were reflected back to the king. He was the leveller, responsible for lifting the king’s spirits when he was down by praising him, and bringing him down a peg or two when he flew too high, endeavouring to keep a healthy balance in the society between the king and his people. This role has changed immeasurably in modern society.