African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Category: Pleasure Poems (Page 2 of 4)

The Eggs

A Shona children’s song from Zimbabwe. “Zinjanja”, mentioned in the chorus, is a hill to the east of Harare.

There were once some girls,
There were once some girls,
Let’s go to Zinjanja…

Where the Blue-Grey Bulls are Grazing

A song from the Kipsigis people of the Kericho highlands in south-west Kenya, celebrating the beauty of the landscape. The description is almost entirely in terms of the singer’s cattle and of the scene’s colours.

We live at the field of Kagipsirich,
We live where the calf, the calf plays with the calabash…

Five Creatures

A funny ìjalá poem (hunters’ songs) from Nigeria, imagining improbable lines of business.

Five creatures
There were in Iresa Town…

The Best Dance

A wonderfully self-confident dance song from Somalia. The poem distinguishes the best grass for grazing and the best for hay-making or winter fodder.

The best dance is the dance of the Eastern clans,
The best people are ourselves…

Song of the Wrestler

A Yoruba song from Nigeria, sung by the wrestler as a prayer as he enters the arena. Each of the images takes for granted the wrestler’s natural superiority.

O Rat, help me to knock him down.
O Broken Stalk, assist me to lay him low…

The Song of King Agongolo

A drinking song from Benin, formerly Dahomey, celebrating the pleasures of life which should be enjoyed while we have the opportunity. Agongolo, who was King of Dahomey in the late eighteenth century, is chiefly remembered chiefly for two things: for good living, and for ‘walking in blood’.

If I had money
I should buy drinks to drink…

The Cases

Another song from the Kalela Dance of the Zambian Copperbelt (see also the Kalela Dance). The original language of this song is a form of Bemba spoken on the Copperbelt and easily understood by other people working in the mines. Most of the songs comment satirically on life on the Copperbelt, and they include a great deal of inter-ethnic joking.

The Lamba people, who are the target here, live to the west of the Bemba, but come in great numbers to work in the copper mines.

Mothers, I have been to many courts
To listen to the cases they settle…

Episode

An interlude in a Sotho Praise-Poem from Lesotho. The poem is addressed to Nathaniel Makotoko, one of the Sotho’s most famous military commanders.

Meeting him in 1879, the missionary Francois Coillard wrote, “Nathanael (sic) is no longer the young man of old, vigorous and valiant. Of those bygone days, nothing is left him but the scars which recall the dauntless courage he displayed in fighting for his country, defending the fortress of Moshesh.” See also Mosheoshoe.

This extract celebrates an episode of calm and relaxation between battles, when the men enjoyed a night of hospitality and peace.

The armies left the Great Place in full strength:
And when we arrived at the place of Lesaoana…

Dancing Song for Children

This song was recorded by Romanus N. Egudu (n.d.) in the Udi Division of Igboland, Nigeria. Professor Egudu comments “Each of these poems is meant to accompany a dance. Local musical instruments like ekwe, ogene and nkwa (all different kinds of drums), übo-aka (a string instrument) and öyö (bead instrument) are used. The drummers and other instrumentalists provide the dance rhythm, and sing at the same time. All the dancers sing as well, and the lead singer is at the same time often the chief dancer.”

The song is a pleasant game with words, but it can be taken in different ways. The boy has lost his pet rat. Everyone knows where the rat is. Is the problem that they daren’t approach the leopard’s house? Or is it implied that the leopard has eaten them all?

The boy was looking for his rat.
Nda
His rat was hiding in leopards’s house…

The Song of the Bicycle

Malam Aliyu na Mangi was the leading poet of the Hausa in the mid-20th century. Born in 1895, within his first year he lost his sight through an attack of measles and smallpox. Despite this, he became a Malam (a Hausa expression loaned from the Arabic word ‘Mu’alim’ that means ‘teacher’) learning by heart the texts required to become an Islamic scholar.

Like other Hausa poets, Aliyu developed his style through live performances to groups of the pious. Whilst the poems deal with Muslim religious themes such as praising the Prophet, Aliyu’s vocabulary and style also embraces the humour and wit that is traditional of Hausa oral poetry.

We give thanks to the Lord of the Worlds
for the bounty bestowed on us in no small measure…

Page 2 of 4

African Poems