Children's Literature in Southern Africa

isiXhosa Rhymes

As with many other poems and lullabies for children. isiXhosa rhymes perform important culture, educational and social functions. While passing on vocabulary and entertaining young children, they also teach sound recognition, rhyming patterns and cultural awareness. Zanele Mbude collected and recorded a number of isiXhosa nursery rhymes and game songs in the course of her research for PRAESA UCT. Perhaps you recognise some of them from your childhood? Perhaps you sing them to your own children just as your mother and grandmother sang them to you?

Storytelling at Salon du Livre 2013

The following is a popular nursery rhyme often sang by teachers and caregivers to warn children of the dangers of fire:

Umzi watsha
Umzi watsha
khangela phaya
khangela phaya
umlilo, umlilo
Galelamanzi, Galelamanzil.

(The house is burning!
The house is burning!
Look there!
Pour water, pour water!

The following is a game song performed by the storyteller or acted out by children:

Umvundlana othile
Umvundlana othile
wangena entsimini
waqakatha waqakatha
wadibana nembotyi
wayitya kwasemini
wanyantsula wanyantsula
wagoduka ehluthi

(A Little hare
A little hare
went into a garden
sniffed around searching
and met a bean
he ate it up till daylight
(dragging action of somebody full)
And went home)

We believe that keeping our oral traditions, stories and culture alive are national imperatives and work to make learning and living African languages a joyous and proud experience for young people. What are some of your favourite imilolozelo, izilandelo or folktales? Email them to bontle@book.co.za or share them on our Facebook page and we'll publish them right here on puku.co.za for a new generation to enjoy!


  • Mbude, Z. 2012. "The Collection & Recording of Xhosa Oral Material in the Form of Rhymes and Wordplay; to enhance Literacy learning and Development in Early Child Education" Available from: PRAESA. [14 April 2013]