African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Category: Praise-Poems (Page 2 of 7)

The Self-Praises of Kola Khoali

Lithoko are praise poems from Lesotho, which is today a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa. These may be sung to praise chiefs such as Moshoeshoe the founder of the Sotho kingdom, there are also, lithoko tsa makoloane, praises performed at initiation rites and lithoko tsa bafo, the praises of male commoners.

The following self-praises of one commoner, Kola Khoali, was documented by Hugh Tracey in 1959 during his recording tour in 1959.

Be quiet and listen to celebration,
Mixed with cries of weeping…

Praises of Sobhuza II (second version)

This is a second version of the Praises of Sobhuza II. This version of Sobhuza’s tibongo, sung by Mhlabeleli Dlamini, another member of the royal house, focuses on the later part of Sobhuza’s reign after his position had been secured. It begins with Sobhuza’s dispatch of the regiments in World War 2, and continues with his later political campaigns, culminating in national independence and the triumph of the royalist party in parliament.

The hurrying one of Mahlokohla
Who hurries to Egypt…

Praises of Mbandzeni

While Mswati II (1840-1868), who expanded Swazi land beyond its present boundaries, is celebrated as the greatest Swazi king, his son Mbandzeni (1875-1889) was beyond all doubt the worst. He was forced to accept borders imposed jointly by the British and Afrikaners in 1881 and 1884, which left thousands of Swazis stranded in the eastern Transvaal. But he was also largely responsible for selling off what remained of his kingdom to White concession hunters. These included grazing and mineral rights, often for the same patch of land, rights to collect taxes and levy customs duties, and monopoly rights in every conceivable branch of the economy. Before the end of his reign, the Swazis had literally no right to live anywhere (except the eastern Transvaal), and no right to practice any kind of economic activity. Historians dispute whether Mbandzeni was a kind man out of his depth, or a vain and greedy man who cared little for his subjects. Imbongi Maboya Fakudze presents him, in this tibondo, as an unmitigated disaster.

Eater at noon,
By eating in the sun…

Praises of Mswati II

Mswati, also called Mavuso III, succeeded Sobhuza I as king, ruling from 1840 to 1868. There are seven modern versions of Mwsati’s tibongo, all sharing the same emphasis on the scale of his conquests from the Indian ocean to the Drakensberg Mountains and from Zululand into what is today southern Mozambique. The following tibongo is by Mcoshwa Dlamini, Mbanzeni’s grandson and a fellow member with Sobhuza II of the Balondolozi regiment. His poem is a celebration of military ferocity.

You of the inner circle!
Agitator of Mbelebeleni…

Praises of Sobhuza I

Sobhuza I (1780-1836) who ruled Swaziland from 1815 until his death, was also called Somholo, ‘the wonder’, because just before his birth his father Nduvungunye was struck by lightning. It was he who led his people away from the turmoil of the wars associated with the rise of Shaka Zulu, settling them in what is now central Swaziland. In this, he was a comparable figure to Mzilikazi, founder of the Ndebele nation, to Soshangane of the Gaza, and Zwangendaba of the Ngoni.

In a tibongo which is full of affection, Sobhuza is praised for rescuing his people, hiding them in the forests of the Drakensberg mountains until it was safe to emerge. Key verbs are “arrived”, “escaped”, “stands”, and “emerges”, key images of things threatened surviving, and of things buried coming to light. The Imbongi is Mutsi Dlamini, a cousin of Sobhuza II.

Let him alone, the son of Langa.
Let him go upstream the Crocodile river…

Praises of Sobhuza II

Sobhuza II (1899-1982), one of the most remarkable Africans of the last century, was king of Swaziland for 61 years. Educated at the Lovedale Institution in South Africa and an early member of the African National Congress, he was at the same time a passionate traditionalist, pledged as he once put it “to extricate Africa from this idea of one man one vote”…

Ndlela, Son of Sompisi

The praises of Ndlela kaSompisi, a key general in the Zulu army, who rose to power after defeating the Ndwandwe on Shaka’s behalf (see also Shaka’s Praises). Despite his non-Zulu origins, he was rapidly promoted. Shaka is said to have commented, “Any man who joins the army becomes a Zulu. He would promote a man, regardless of the road (ndlela) he came by”. A fierce traditionalist and opponent of the missionaries, he was executed by Dingane, Shaka’s successor, after failing to win the Battle of Blood River against the Boers in 1840. A monument to him was unveiled in KwaZulu by President Jacob Zuma in 2004.

As with all Zulu izibongo, each line is a separate praise, often referring to specific incidents, not always understood today.

Rattler of spears!
He who is unable to lie down, one side being red with wounds…

In Praise of Sorghum

A Rukiga farmers’ song in praise of sorghum, one of their staple crops, from the Bakiga “people of the mountains”, who straddle the border between northern Ruanda and southern Uganda. Sorghum is a drought-resistant and heat-tolerant grain, used for food, animal fodder, the production of alcoholic beverages, and more recently, biofuels.

Sorghum, sorghum, O sorghum,
sorghum and Kiga are one…

Song of the Zakkama to the Sultan of Borno

An extract from a Kanuri Praise-Poem from the ancient kingdom of Bornu in northern Nigeria (c.f., The Sultan of Bornu, Queen Gumsu, The Yerima Mohammadu, In Praise of Yerima Aji, and The Song Sung to Kaigama Anterashi, son of Lima). The Sultan had three official praise singers, who walked beside him procession, or stood before him in audience. Their titles, in order of precedence, were Ngijima, Babuma and Zakkama. The praises are addressed by the Zakkama to Sultan Aman Alimi, who reigned 1793-1810.

You, son of Gumsu, Gumsu Amina, daughter of Talba, you Ibrahim,
Have attained to your father’s place among the great…

Incantation to Gain Popularity

This is another Yoruba Ijala (hunting poem) that was first translated into English in Ulli Beier’s Black Orpheus magazine. Ulli Beier was a German-Jewish scholar who moved to Nigeria in 1950 to teach Phonetics at the University of Ibadan. In 1957 he founded the magazine Black Orpheus, the name inspired by “Orphée Noir”, an essay that he had read by the French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre. Black Orpheus was the first African literary journal in English, publishing contemporary authors such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe as well as oral poetry from Nigeria. This Yoruba ìjalá poem appeared in issue 19 of Black Orpheus.

You cannot dispute the forest with a rat.
You cannot dispute the savannah with the buffalo…

Page 2 of 7

African Poems