African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Ogun Passed Through Ilogbo Town

Previous poems about Ogun, the Yoruba god of blacksmiths, hunting and warfare (see A Salute to my Ogun and Ogun, God of War 1 & 2) have praised the Orisha as a terrible but necessary god. Terrible in that he is the personification of war with all its accompanying violence, horror and death. Necessary in that he represents victory through conflict and that as patron of blacksmiths and hunters is responsible for many of the innovations that make civilisation possible.

The following poem is an extract from an ìjalá performance by Raaji Ogundiran Alao on a ritual occasion in his hometown, Eripa in Osun State, Nigeria. The translation is by the famous scholar of Yoruba ìjalá, Adeboye Babalola.

It is now high time for me to say as follows:
It is the god Ogun that I worship…

Praise Poem of the Shumba Tembo Samaita

A previous Shona clan praise published here was of the Shumba Murambwi, whose totem is the lion. The following clan praise is of the Tembo-Shumba, the “Zebra-Lion”, a mythical totem animal that serves as the emblem of the Mutasa people, whose homestead is Manyikaland in eastern Zimbabwe. By fusing together the attributes of the lion and the zebra into one mythical creature the clan creates a sacred totem that personifies the qualities they claim to represent themselves and their ancestors.

Thank you, Zebra.
Thank you Chiwara,
Hornless beast of the wilderness,
The Well Dressed One…

More Praises for Aje, Goddess of Wealth

Another oriki dedicated to the Yoruba goddess of trade and wealth, Aje (see also Salute to Aje, Goddess of Wealth).

The poem makes reference to Adebisi…“Brother at Idikan”. This was Sanusi Adebisi Giwa (1882-1938) a highly successful entrepreneur who began as a weaver of Ofi cloth (a traditional Yoruba cloth worn at occasions such as marriages, funerals etc) and then expanded into large-scale farming. He was praised for his philanthropy and for paying the taxes of other farmers who were struggling.

The man who poverty makes a beggar among friends
Knows how the world dodges the needy…

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…

Page 1 of 32

African Poems