African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Category: Protest & Satirical Poems (Page 1 of 5)

What Happened in Olenguruone?

Olenguruone is in Nakuru County, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, at the heart of Gikuyu homeland. In the days of Mau Mau, when the fighters for Kenya’s independence made the neighbouring forest their base for attacks on British settlers, the colonial authorities cleared the region under a forced resettlement (or “villagisation”) programme, deporting those who resisted to the detention centre at Yatta or to prisons in Nakuru and Nairobi (see also The Day Kenyatta was Arrested). In 2012, in the High Court, survivors of the Uprising won their case for maltreatment against the British government.

The great sadness occurred in Olenguruone.
Children and livestock were weeping in the heavy rain and bitter cold..

As I came from the bush I met a demon

An Akan song from the Ashanti region of Ghana, complaining about the work conditions during the colonial period. For this singer, colonial rule began with the recruitment of carriers.

As I came from the bush I met a demon:
Come and help me carry!..

Drama Songs – Paiva

Many of the protest songs sung by the chiSena women of the Lower Zambesi region of Mozambique contain a short play, inserted into the song. A typical performance begins with the women standing in a circle, bending forward from the waist and clapping or clacking piece of wood or shaking tin machacha as accompaniment to the lead singer. Then, one at a time, they perform brief solo dances, eyes fixed on the ground slightly to the left and elbows crooked, shaking their buttocks to the rhythm. After several repetitions of the main verse, the song breaks off while the drama is performed, enacting its main theme. The stage is the circle of singers, which remains unbroken, and anyone it seems can perform, the actors frequently being replaced half-way through by women who feel they can do better. The audience consists of the remaining women, who scream with laughter at the caricatures of bribery and beatings, rape, extortion and arrest…

To Work in a Butchery

Another satiric song from the Kalela Dances of the Zambia Copper mines (see also The Kalela Dance and The Cases). The song is in Bisa and jokes about Mulumba who is the dance leader.

Mulumba should have a job at the abattoir
So that he may steal the heads of slaughtered cattle…

The Day Kenyatta Was Arrested

A Kikuyu song from Kenya referring to the arrest of Jomo Kenyatta in October 1952. Jomo Kenyatta was the leader of Kenya from independence in 1963 to his death in 1978, serving first as Prime Minister and then as President. He is considered the founding father of the Kenyan nation.

The day Kenyatta was arrested,
was on a Monday,
He was taken to the airport…

Election Songs

Three Yoruba songs, sung by women supporters of the two parties in the Federal elections of 1959 in western Nigeria. The main contenders were the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (N.C.N.C.), the ruling party whose symbol was the Palm Tree, and the Action Group, whose symbol was a cockerel.

The first song is by the Action Group women who claim the N.C.N.C. belongs, like its symbol, in the bush, along with lepers.

The palm tree grows in the far bush:
Nobody allows the leper to build his house in the town:
The palm tree grows in the far bush…

Towns (Ibadan)

A Yoruba Iwi, or masqueradors’, chant from Nigeria. It is a sharp criticism of modern Ibadan as a town of thieves, violence and disease. For more Iwi poetry, see Tricks.

The spirit of the rock protects the town.
Ibadan, don’t fight!..

More Vimbuza Songs

Vimbuza is a spirit possession ceremony practiced by the Tumbuka people who live in eastern Zambia and northern Malawi. In Vimbuza ceremonies women who are believed to be possessed by wrathful spirits are given free reign to express their anger about members of their family and the community who have ill-treated them. Their complaints are attended to and they are rewarded with gifts in order to allow the angry spirits to leave in peace. See also Vimbuza Songs that we’ve posted previously.

Tumbuka women have mixed feelings about their husbands going to work in the South African gold mines. The following spirit possession songs express some of their complaints…

Marromeu has spoken

A Chuabo woman’s song from central Mozambique, about the separation of husband and wife (see also Complaint). Marromeu was the second of Sena Sugar Estate’s plantations, on the south bank of the Zambesi opposite Luabo. While her husband is absent there a labour migrant, the singer is growing rice under compulsion for Lopes e Irmão, owner of the rice concession for Maganja da Costa.

This poem was sung in Chuabo by Paterina João and Palmira Goodbye of Lower Licungo, at Juncua Compound, Marromeu, 2 September, 1975.

Marromeu has spoken
He has arrived

Which is the Better for Me?

A Somali song from the days of Turkish rule. The singer’s ironically compares his troubles – the Mahdi making war, the locusts eating his crops, his wife’s grumbling, the ants eating his stores, the Sultan’s men who have stolen his horse, and the soldiers camped nearby.

Between the Sayyid who upsets wealth and exterminates people
And the locust who has eaten the buds, which is the better for me?..

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African Poems