African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Dubulihasa, the Ox

The story of Dubulihasa strictly falls within the tradition of Xhosa folktale (nstomi) and not poetry (izibongo) but I thought readers would find it interesting as the story has at its heart a song that is repeated throughout the tale…

Salute to Aje, Goddess of Wealth

The goddess Aje appears within Yoruba mythology as a patroness of trade and economic prosperity. The following oriki is addressed to Aje and also describes the ways in which wealth effects human affairs. The oriki is followed by a chant to invoke the spirit of the orisha as part of an enchantment for money. Money in this context is in the form of cowry shells (cowries were an instrument of payment and exchange throughout western Africa until the nineteenth century and remain a symbol of wealth).

Aje, supreme god of wealth.
Benevolent provider of all human needs…

Eshu-Elegba in the Marketplace

A previous poem for the Yoruba trickster god Eshu (see Eshu, God of Fate) describes him as a deity who loves disrupting the laws of probability and creating impossible contradictions of time and space.

As an orisha who crosses boundaries his shrines are usually located at crossroads and at the entrances to homes. Another important station for Eshu is the marketplace…

Okunrin metta

A self-praise, sent to us by Amore David Olamide.

If all odds should favour to define me
I’ll sing of letters in their colouring brass…

Pamilerin

A praise-poem for Pamilerin, sent to us by Amore David Olamide.

If I should opt to smile in the night
I will not ignite for Eré Òsupá…

Oriki Ijebu

A poem sent to us by Amore David Olamide, praising the Ijebu people of Yorubaland. The Ijebu kingdom was formed around the fifteenth century and due to its position on the trade routes between Lagos and Ibadan became wealthy and powerful in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Ijebu have historically been praised for their business acumen and talent for trade.

The Ijebu Dynasty, although split into major divisions – Ijebu -Ife, Ijebu-Igbo, Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Ososa and Ijebu-Remo – has managed to remain united as one, under the leadership and authority of the Awujale (Awujale is the royal title of the King of Ijebu Kingdom) who seats in Ijebu-Ode.

One of the prominent Ijebu deities is Agemo, celebrated mid-yearly and the celebration event is used as an opportunity to unite and resolve disputes between Ijebu communities by gathering representatives called the Alagemos from the affected factions to discuss and resolve their dispute. The Oro is another notable deity of the Ijebus who is believed to purge the society of evil. The Oro festival often takes place before the Agemo festival in order to ensure that the communities are free of evil spirits leading up to the meeting of the Alagemos.

If Ijebu prefer,
They will weave it a bit…

Iyalode Ibadan

A modern poem in praise of Efunsetan Aniwura, a Yoruba woman who rose to a position of great wealth and political power in Ibadan, Nigeria, during the mid-19th century. Composed by Teslim Opemipo Omipidan from Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State in Nigeria.

Elegbe, let us not toy with a raging fire
for if the thumb get burnt,
all fingers shall suffer…

Stamping Song

A Shona song, sung by women to accompany the stamping or pounding of maize into flour (see also Pounding Songs).

You who are at the men’s meeting place,
The amount of sadza in the hand should be fine…

Libation of Blood

A modern poem in the traditional manner of an offering and petition to one’s gods and ancestors, sent to us by Adjei Agyei-Baah.

We have come to you with our gourd of tears
take, accept and make us men of huge testicles…

The Story of Miqdad and Mayasa

The following epic poem was transcribed by Dr Alice Werner, who was the professor of Swahili and Bantu languages at London’s School of Oriental Studies between 1917-1930. Dr Werner first encoutered the story of Miqdad and Mayasa during her visit to the village of Bomani, a village in Kenya’s Kilifi County, in 1913. During her visit Dr Werner met Sharif Hassan and his wife, Mwana Bamu, who entertained their guests by reading aloud from her treasured manuscript of the poem.

The Story of Miqdad and Mayasa opens with an encounter between the storyteller Miqdad and the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca. Taking shelter in a cave from the rain outside, Muhammad requests that Miqdad tells a story to pass the time.

There does not appear to be any versions of the story in Arabic and Dr Werner believed that the poem may have been transmitted through the oral tradition within Kenya for many years before being finally committed to writing. This may explain why from time to time the author of the text appears to forget that Miqdad is the narrator and speaks of him in the third person.

I begin with the name of the Compassionate,
and pray for the faithful one…

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African Poems