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Hiraeth and Ubuntu

The Poetry of David Williams ~ An Anthology, 2003-2023


Hiraeth and Ubuntu are words, in Welsh and Nguni respectively, that are complex and difficult to translate into English. Hiraeth is a longing for one’s homeland, but is more than homesickness; it is an expression of one’s bond with their home country, especially, as at Rorke’s Drift, when they are away from it. Ubuntu is concerned with the connectedness that exists, or should exist, between people. It refers to behaving well towards others or acting in ways that benefit the community, a community such as existed in District Six, Cape Town. This poem substantially aligns with the historical interpretation of the events described. The reference to moles and birds is derived from the language of the official report of the Tribunal of Enquiry Board set up to examine the Aberfan disaster.

Hiraeth and Ubuntu, Challenged Together
When The Moles Did Not Understand the Habits of Birds

Nineteen sixty six
In District Six
Africa’s southern cape
Succumbed to urban rape
Not of Cordell’s fair country
More P W’s unfair country
Razed to the ground
Erased from the earth

Many miles to the north
Land of my Fathers spewed forth
When valleys that were green
Harbored hills looking mean
Years of black waste
Released with haste
Cold, coal dust of man
Burying young of Aberfan

Hiraeth trembled, submerged by cruel fate
Ubuntu quivered in the racial hate
A harvest of death in the tips
Sewing seeds of revenge in townships
The children and non-whites were moles
Driven down and out by uncaring souls

Not the first time the Welsh and
Natives defined death together
Different birds above the century before
In London and Natal
Generals of the Queen’s empire
Descendants of Zulu Shaka
Fought on the banks of the Buffalo
For supremacy and land
Of which there was plenty for all

In the eighteen seventies
The British commanded the world
Apart from the lost colonies
Where the stars and stripes unfurled

Overlords in India and South Pacific
Controlling the African scramble
From Cape Town to Cairo was their specific
Aim, one-sided treaties without preamble

Southern Africa a melting pot
English, Dutch and Boers
Matabele, Xhosa and Hottentot
Skirmished in the Kaffir wars

But the empire’s army had not changed
Since vanquishing Napoleon at Waterloo
The drills of Sandhurst not rearranged
No match for Cetshwayo, King of Zulu

The forces met at Isandlwana Hill
Chelmsford’s demands gone unheeded
Tens of thousands impis went for the kill
Fleet-footed, assegai wielding, necks beaded

Massacred the moles of the empire
Bogged down by uncertainty and fear
Colours and drums under fire
Courage and guns insufficient here

The commander-in-chief had ordered
A reserve to stay behind
The makeshift hospital had afforded
Respite for the injured, if they only could find
Their way back, through a nightmare indaba.
Dismembering and defiling those living and dead
Zulu’s war cry “Usuthu, usuthu inKomo ka baba”
Aimed at Welsh defenders, wearing their red

Rorke’s Drift, surely no heaven
Temporary home to South Wales Borderers
William and Robert Jones, John and Joseph Williams, Gunner Evans
Lieutenant Bromhead and Surgeon Reynolds giving the orders

Just eighty combatants, and some without guns
Faced four thousand Dabulamanzi warriors
Impis unused to rifles they had just won
Could not overcome Taff’s defensive barriers
Zulus in unchartered warfare
Found their ferocity equaled by Cymru’s stead
A day and night of strife laid bare
The pride of usuthu, a field of black dead

After the battle, the Victoria Cross
Rewarded eleven men of the Drift’s defence
The highest ever, redressing, maybe, the loss
Of moles both sides of the fence

Generals were promoted and glorified
But moles returned to obscurity
In other fields many soon died
Auctioning medals for family’s surety

Ubuntu had not been in Shaka’s mind
That came when the nation had grown
Hiraeth in abundance aligned
Searching for motherland and home

In that home, eighty years on
Different moles and different birds
Different lives, different reason
Defining deaths too difficult for words

Aberfan, Aberfan, Aberfan
On the silent lips of a whole nation
Crying, crying, every woman and man
For the children of Wales destroyed, with no notion
How to cope with their vision
Of so many little lives lost, defying emotion

Aberfan, just outside Merthyr
The best coal had come from here
Down and down went the shafts
Up and up came the profit
Attached to the tailings and fines
Separated by gratings and filters
The lumps of profit on trains to Cardiff
The waste left behind on the new black hills

The habits of the birds of prey
In board rooms and ministries of state
Were seen by some to protect their nests
Others persuaded they saved their jobs
As pits were exhausted and closed
Making demands over safe tips
Threatened livelihoods and families
Some moles blinded by the blackness of their future

It did not need wise men in the town
To know the tip was placed on a spring
Not as wide as the river at Rorke
No drift to cross, but a drift it was
As a man-made mountain of shifting black sand
Had only one way to go, not if only when
Denials all around confirmed the myth
Nothing could harm God’s children here

Like Vesuvius and Pompeii before
A deluge no nightmare imagined
Devoured the school, they breathed no more

In slow motion, a terrible thunder
Followed by a terrible silence
A community torn asunder

Mothers at home, fathers down the pit
Knew that children were lost and dead
Listened to preacher in pulpit
Not believing a word that was said
Suffer my children
He choked at the thought
Identify little ones as the law demands
In body bags, in his chapel, at the back

The birds, the owls, the hawks
Circled around very soon
Not our fault, not us, unpredicted accident
Inquests, where stoicism collapsed
Inquiries, where bosses retreated
Around a collective lapse
Of memory, and responsibility
Lords and ministers denied souls
Even stole from the memorial fund
The public had formed to help those who suffered
Birds preened, hiraeth struggled

To this day, fifty years on
The Welsh may remember where they were
The day JFK was killed
They sure know where they were
The day that Aberfan’s school was buried
District Six has also yet to recover
Group Area’s Act that split moles apart
Whiter moles being better than colored moles
Far better than black moles

District Six had everything and everybody
Crime and prostitution, yes
Along with poverty
But all together, Malays and Muslims
Seamen, bullies, squatters
Rugbymen, jazz and church
Fighting life from within
Living the life of the sixties

Did not accord with National Party’s ideas
Create a ghetto for non-whites declared the seagulls above
In the same month of Aberfan
The new drift took place
Not by a sudden mountain of dirt
Or a thousand impi warriers in a day
One by one families were moved out
Streets torn down

The moles and their detritus
Pushed out to Cape Flats
Along the same tracks of the Boertrek
The century before
Afrikaans speaking white birds
Injecting their revenge
A waste land still today
Seen from Mandela Way; even he could not avenge
Blood like Rorke’s Drift, no
Sudden death as Aberfan, no
The end of community
Slowly, agonizingly, wrongly, yes

Today the Welsh play springboks at Newlands
Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau meets Nkosi sikelel’ Afrika
Hiraeth and Ubuntu together again
No moles or birds in sight

Winston-Salem, North Carolina, June 2016

- David F  Williams

Explore the Collections in Hiraeth and Ubuntu

The Poetry of David Williams ~ An Anthology, 2003-2023

In North Carolina

War and Peace

Human Behavior

Political Views

Soccer and Rugby

Special Collection I:
Could I, Should I, Run Away

Special Collection II:
Emotions of Color

Special Collection III:
Prisoners of the Irish Sea

Special Collection IV:
The Poetry of Simple Words

Special Collection V:
Landscapes of Beauty; Where the Birds Would Fly