Under southern skies
Rainbow children scatter tears
Go in peace, great man
I finished writing this haiku at 6:55pm on Thursday evening, 27-June-2013 after hearing the news reports that Nelson Mandela was on life support and no longer breathing for himself.
From the outset I gave this haiku the same name as the ones I saw on the televised vision of posters outside the hospital, and perceived as an honorific name, but had assumed was given by his people as though it was an affectionate nickname. It got me thinking of the power of names…
No one in my family had ever attended school […] On the first day of school my teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave each of us an English name. This was the custom among Africans in those days and was undoubtedly due to the British bias of our education. That day, Miss Mdingane told me that my new name was Nelson. Why this particular name I have no idea. — Mandela (1994) Long Walk to Freedom Volume I: 1918–1962, p.19.
So the ‘first name’ naming rights belong to his first teacher. Where does the name ‘Madiba’ come from? Curious as ever, a bit of online research reveals that it a Xhosa clan name or family name which is considered more important than surnames. It has similarities to the Scottish clan system as each Xhosa person can trace their family history back to a specific male ancestor. It is considered polite to enquire after someone’s clan name when you meet them, and mentioning the clan name of someone you wish to thank is the highest form of respect.
So I thank you, Madiba.
There will be tears like stars in the sky when you leave.