African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Category: Poems of Gods & Ancestors (Page 1 of 6)

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…

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…

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…

Iremoje for Ogundele

Another example of the Yoruba poetic chants sung at the funerals of dead hunters. See Iremoje for the background and for other examples of this genre.

In Yoruba mythology, death does not wage war against men alone but travels with a team of supernatural war lords, the ajogun. The following was chanted by Lamidi for the deceased hunter Ogundele at Akeetean, Oyo in 1976.

Death does not kill alone,
Nor does he fight singly…

Iremoje for Ogunjinmi

The following Iremoje was part of the dirges chanted at the funeral of a deceased hunter, Ogunjinmi, whose name means “the god Ogun blesses or favours me”. See also The Asipade and Iremoje for Pa Ogundele for previous examples of this genre.

The Iremoje funeral rites are held at night, outside the house of the deceased hunter, and will continue until dawn. As Ogun is regarded as the Orisha who brought the knowledge of metallurgy to mankind, other members of the community who use iron implements such as farmers, blacksmiths, barbers, drivers and weapon-smiths also join the hunters family and friends in attending the ritual. The audience forms a circle around the ritual space. At the center of the ring, the hunters tools are arranged around an effigy of the deceased including his hunting clothes, tools and weapons.

To live in the forest the hunter must master various skills, carpentry to build his hunting lodge, knowledge of medicinal plants to heal his wounds, knowledge of culinary plants for cooking, and tailoring so that the hunter can weave clothes to keep him warm and disguise himself from his prey. The following Iremoje was chanted by Lamidi Abonikaba at Oyo in 1975. During the dirge Lamidi holds up the needle that the hunter used whilst in the forest.

Ogunjinmi, you have caught your father’s dog.
A needle that falls into a pit is lost forever…

Iremoje for Pa Ogundele

The following poem is part of the dirges chanted at the funeral of a deceased hunter, Pa Ogundele, by Atoyebi at Agunpopo, Oyo in 1975. Pa Ogundele was a member of the hunters society, the Asipade, (see The Asipade) for whom magical charms are an essential tool for capturing animals and surviving in the forest. However, whilst these charms are highly prized ultimately no magic can defeat death.

Ajuwon Akanbi,
Hunter, I thought you had egba magic…

The Asipade

Iremoje are a Yoruba corpus of poetic chants sung at the funerals of dead hunters. The activities of hunting and warfare fall under the providence of the Yoruba god Ogun, and thus Iremoje also emphasise the virtues and talents associated with this Orisha. See also A Salute to my Ogun, Ogun, God of War i, and Ogun, God of War ii.

Ogun is said to have spent half his life in the forest and the other half in the townships bringing civilisation to mankind. This contrast between the wildness of the forest and the order of the townships is often referenced in Iremoje.

Ogun, Chief Lakaaye
Chief Osin Mole…

Incantation for Luck

A Yoruba poem describing the results of a magical incantation performed to bring good fortune in life, collected by Ulli Beier.

I am waiting at the crossroads
I look to the right…

Oluronbi

We were sent the following poem, a modern working on the Yoruba folklore tale of Olúrónbí, by Oluwatoba Opemip who is a student of Adekunle Ajasin University in Ondo state, Nigeria.

The tale of Olúrónbí concerns a beautiful woman who has been yearning for a child but has been unable to conceive. Following the tradition of her village, Olúrónbí ventures into the forest to petition the spirit of the Iroko tree, Olúwéré, to enable her to become pregnant. Most women who perform this ritual promised to make offerings of wines, food and sacrifices of sheep and goats to Olúwéré. Olúrónbí however, promises her first child to the spirit of the Iroko tree if he grants her request. Time passes and Olúrónbí gives birth to a beautiful female child which she named Béporé. But when the time came for her to fulfill her promise to her benefactor, Olúrónbí in decided to keep her daughter and tries to placate Olúwéré with various other offerings. Olúwéré warned and warned as his patience grew cold, turning to rage and anger until one day Béporé is taken away mysteriously.

Twice a union stroll a year
Even when these amulets of riches…

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African Poems