African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Category: Pleasure Poems (Page 1 of 4)

On Chewing Khat

Khat (also spelled qat or qaat) is a flowering plant native to the Northeast African peninsula (the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia). When chewed it produces a stimulant effect similar to amphetamines. The talkative high that emerges has made it popular for a variety of social occasions. Politicians and businessmen chew it whilst making deals, Sufis chew it to enflame themselves in prayer, and some Somali poets use it to inspire spontaneous verse.

This poem by Yuusuf Meygaag Samatar of Hargeisa (the capital of Somaliland) discusses the various benefits and drawbacks of chewing khat.

When I eat of this Qaat plant I find it to inspire
It helps me to take a seat among notable peers…

At the New Moon

Another Nandi children’s song from Kenya (see also Who will throw goat’s dung at me).

When the moon is new
The children, if they are Nandi,

The Incompetent Hunter

Another Yoruba Ijala (Hunting Poems), addressed to the guinea fowl, but with this difference – that instead of celebrating, the hunter makes fun of himself.

Fowl, we greet you, Guinea Fowl, we call you,
Your legs are slender like the ribs of palm leaves…

The Mouse, the Squirrel and the Tortoise

This is another poem sent to us by Oluwatoba Opemip, a student of Adekunle Ajasin University in Ondo state, Nigeria. As in the previous poem, Oluronbi, this is a modern working on traditional Yoruba folklore…

The Twilight Song of Honey-Bird

A Gikuyu herdsboy’s song from Kenya. It sets up a chain of language which links together humorously all aspects of life (see also Who Will Throw Goat’s Dung at Me?).

Honey-bird, honey-bird,
Get arrows, get arrows…

The Hesitation Dance

A Swahili dance song, recorded in the 1860s, giving a glimpse of sophisticated life in the coastal cities in earlier centuries. The song is also called ‘The Stumbling Figure’. Bishop Steere calls it ‘Gungu’ or ‘The Hesitation Dance’, adding “it is the custom meet about ten or eleven at night and dance on until daybreak. The men and slave-women dance, the ladies sit a little retired and look on. Each piece takes a long time to sing, as most of the syllables have several notes and flourishes or little cadences to themselves.”

Mother take me that I may see, may see
Beauty and ornaments at Ungama…

The Well-Wined Warrior

This is another version of the song in praise of palm-wine, attributed to Liyongo the national hero of the Swahili people. See also Liyongo’s Drinking Song for a different version of this song.

O tapster of soured wine,
from the sheath of the withered palm…

To Palm Wine

Palm wine is an alcoholic beverage created from the sap of various species of palm tree. This is a popular Yoruba song in praise of the drink.

Alimotu of the gourd
Lamihun in the fibrous clump…

Chain Riddle

A Fulani chain riddle from northern Nigeria. This is a word game for two people. One makes up a line, and the other has to add a second line beginning with the last word of the first. In the process, the players are constantly devising fresh metaphor.

The foreigner salutes you?
Salutes imply royalty?..

Who will throw goat’s dung at me?

A Nandi Children’s song from Kenya, a humorous word-chain that links together all aspects of the children’s future life.

Who will throw goat’s dung at me?
What will you do with goat’s dung?..

Page 1 of 4

African Poems