Edwin Smith’s Umalusi acclaimed

Posted on November 21, 2023

As the year draws to a close, the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies reflects on the achievements of its staff, scholars and students. One such achievement would be the publication and launch of Umalusi (The Shepard): A Collection of Xhosa Poems by the Department’s very own Edwin T. Smith. Umalusi is a collection of poetry written and conceived in Xhosa by Smith and published by ESI Press. The book is beautifully illustrated by Smith’s daughter, Mbali-Enhle Khaya Smith. The collection showcases both Smith’s exceptional poetic talent and his Xhosa heritage and has been highly acclaimed by fellow academics and acknowledged in scholarly journals.

The launch of Umalusi in May 2023 coincided with Mother’s Day, a significant event for both the collection and its creator. The central subject of Umalusi is Smith’s mother, a Xhosa woman from whom Smith learned the Xhosa language. In early May 2010, Smith travelled to Cape Town to fetch his mother after she was discharged from Groote Schuur Hospital. After embarking on their journey back to Pretoria, Smith’s mother passed away during their road trip on Mother’s Day, 2010. It is to his mother that Smith had dedicated Umalusi.

The title, Umalusi, is the Xhosa term for ‘a shepherd’, which fittingly encapsulates the spirit of Smith’s collection. Furthermore, in the Introduction, Smith explains the essence of the collection, which he articulates is a story of him “shepherding” his mother home. Although the poetic contents of the collection was originally written by Smith in Xhosa, English translations have been included to combat issues of accessibility due to language constraints. However, Smith acknowledges the challenges that come with translation as he writes in Umalusi’s Introduction:

While Umalusi was conceived and intended as a Xhosa collection without an

English translation, this exercise enables the translation of the poems into English

for sharing with a broader, non-Xhosa reading community, without, as far

as possible, compromising the original intention

(Smith, 2023, ix)

Additionally, Smith’s “Unchokozo wakho/Your beauty” from his collection was published in Imbiza: Journal for African Writing 1(6) in August 2023. Here is “Umchokozo wakho/Your beauty” with its English translation:


Umchokozo wakho Your beauty

Njengelanga lihlab’ umkhosi 

amashiy’ akho axhentsa nomzobo    

okhaziml’ ebusweni bakho


andikhumbuz’ iintsikelelo zakho  

njengeenzwakazi zasekhaya   


Ukhany’ ebumnyameni

ilanga kudala litshonile  

abantu sebehambile bebuyel’emakhaya

ndisele ndodw’ aph’ emalandalahla 


Uphakamis’ umoya wam 

kude nekhaya apho ndingaziwa khona,

apho ndingenabuhlanti na nja             

kodwa ndinawe nomchokozo wakwaNtu

Like the sun lighting the day 

your eyebrows dance with designs 

sparkling on your face


reminding me of your blessings 

like the maidens from home 


You shine in the dark

with the sun long gone

and folk no longer around, having returned home 

leaving me alone in the middle of nowhere 


You raise my spirits

far from home where I am not known

and have no standing, let alone a dog

but I have you and the beauty of our heritage 


In Umalusi’s Preface, Smith asserts that he does not wish for his poetry to be compared to the work of “proper Xhosa writers or traditional poets” (Smith, 2023, xxv). Nor should it be. Umalusi is Smith’s own contribution to Xhosa literature and poetry, which is both original and exceptional. Smith’s collection is a touching and unique accomplishment and deserves to be read and appreciated in its own right.

Congratulations on the publication of your remarkable collection of poetry, Edwin – you have made the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, as well as the Faculty of Humanities, proud!

The eBook copy of Umalusi can be downloaded from the ESI website here.

- Author Robyn Schnell

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