Analysis of Anna Zgambo’s “Mfumu” by Friday Hanene 

“Mfumu”, translated in the English language as “The King” is a short six-line single stanza poem written by Anna Zgambo, a resident of Lusaka in Zambia, who did her Bachelor of Arts Languages in English Studies at University of Pretoria, South Africa and is currently studying for her Master of Arts in Literature at The University of Zambia.

The poem “Mfumu” is in her collection, Cinyanjadi (2023). Anna Zgambo is also the author of Read Prose Poetry, published by Zambia Educational Publishing House (ZEPH), in 2022.

Like all the poems in the Cinyanjadi collection, she writes in Nyanja and renders an apt English language translation. The poem opens with an introductory line 1, which sets the theme that, “The King is our head” but to allay some ambiguity or rather spare the audience from questioning which head, she settles and qualifies it in line 2 “in the Commonwealth of Nations.”

Line 3 further goes to give some background to this King. Who was he? Perchance the reader would ask. We see more information being provided in line 4. Lines 3 and 4 are sufficient to let us know where this King is coming from and how he came to be.

Line 5, “The sceptre was brought to him.” Typical of Zgambo, she leaves little latitude for a plethora of interpretation, the instrument of power was conferred unto the now King at the coronation. The sceptre symbolizes power or the mandate to rule. 

Line 6, “Our jewels adorn the King.” This is a closing line which somewhat evokes some pondering. Should the reader think in the lines that this sentence reminds us of the homage that we accord to the King?  Could the splendour of the Kingship be as a result of the resources that were drawn from countries that are now part of the Commonwealth? 

Anna Zgambo has used important poetic devices in this short piece, notable among them being:


There is continuation of sentences (and with no punctuation) from one line to the next as observed between lines 1 and 2 and also lines 3 and 4. The writer could have opted to write, “The King is our head in the Commonwealth of Nations.” But she opted to use enjambment and thus wrote:

“The King is our head

in the Commonwealth of Nations.”

The same device is used between lines 3 and 4, but lines 5 and 6 are end-stopped. Enjambment stirs some curiosity in the reader, making them yearn to get to the other part. For instance, the phrase, “The King is our head” compels the reader to hasten to the next line.


This poetic device, where two or multiple words sharing the same first consonant sound are linked, can be observed in lines such as:

“Mfumu ndi mutu wathu”, where the consonant ‘m’ appears as the first letter of close words ‘Mfumu’ and ‘mutu’ and “mu Chumachonse cha Maiko”, with the consonant sound of ‘C’ being notable, especially when read aloud. The ‘Z’ consonant sound in the line, “Ngale zathu zaveka Mfumu”, is another notable use of alliteration in this poem.


Another poetic device that Anna Zgambo has made use of in this short poem is assonance, the repetition of the vowel sound across words within a line. This device creates some form of internal rhyme, and so we note the following:

In the line, “Mfumu ndi mutu wathu”, the vowel ‘u’ is repeated and it creates some internal rhyme. We have the vowel, ‘a’ also being repeated and creating some internal rhyme in the line, “mpaka mai wake anamwalira”. The ‘I’ vowel and its effect is observed in, “until his mother died.” 


This technique has also been used by Anna Zgambo, albeit the poem being short. The word, ‘Mfumu’ and the phrase, ‘The King’, might be cited as examples of the poetic device called repetition.


This is a resemblance in sound between words or an initial rhyme. Words like ‘head’ and ‘died’, ‘mutu’ and ‘wathu’ may pass for this poetic element in the piece in consideration.


This commonly used device although not so much by Anna Zgambo can be argued to have been used in lines 1 and 4 of the English translation.


The poem is written in Nyanja with a subsequent translation in English, to assist those not conversant in one of the languages to grasp what the poem is talking about, and also as a means to teach the readers about the language they may not be acquainted with. A comparatively larger audience is catered for when some literary work has a translation and it at the same time assuages the language barrier challenge. Such writing also elevates the local language.

The poem, typical of Zgambo’s writings, impacted my terminology, especially the Nyanja vocabulary. To an informal Nyanja speaker like me, I have learnt quite a number of words like ‘kalonga’ which means prince, ‘Ndodo’ and ‘Ngale’ which are sceptre and jewels respectively and the crown of all is the name Chumachonse cha Maiko which means the Commonwealth of Nations. These poems by Anna Zgambo just go to expose how informal and inadequate my Nyanja is!

It is important to write poetry in local languages and the trend should be encouraged. This acts as a bulwark against language erosion; it is a repository of cultural knowledge and a depository of traditional norms. It significantly uplifts the local languages and is a formidable teaching mode for learners of such languages as poetry is a powerful language tool. The local language eases the burden of language barrier, brings out identity and provides some measure of pride.

The famous folklore we are privileged to read today were written in native languages and translated into other languages thereby teaching us about other cultures and at the same time promoting and preserving those cultures.

Writing poetry and literature in general, in local languages also assist people in learning those same languages. In our current era where globalisation and the consequent changing education systems are somewhat threatening the continued existence of certain languages, the only hope of salvaging them is in promoting their use through poetry and prose. Literature transcends many boundaries.

These poems by Anna Zgambo are important because the translations that follow are done by the writer herself. It may be argued that third-party translations may slightly vary in elements like tone or the actual message being conveyed due to differences in choice of words and the personal interpretation of the translator.

Critic: Friday Hanene 

Date: 13 May 2023