African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Category: Protest & Satirical Poems (Page 2 of 5)

Here Comes Ruy’s Steamer

In October 1944, a company which came to be called Arrozal was awarded (by the Rice Propaganda Division) the rice concession for the lower Zambesi valley in colonial Mozambique. This granted the concession-holder, a man called Ruy Pereira de Lima, the right to levy four sacks from every adult woman in the area, paying them one-third of the market value…

Leaving town

A Dinka song from South Sudan. The singer can’t wait for morning so he can leave the town he abominates and return to his village and his cattle. The poem is a succinct catalogue of everything that is wrong with modern life from the perspective of an intelligent herdsman.

O morning, come soon,
My curve-horned Ox, Mading…


A Lomwe woman’s song from central Mozambique. The singer is forced to grow cotton for the Companhia dos Algodões de Moçambique, owner of the cotton concession for the district of Ile. Her earnings are a derisory 5 escudos. Meanwhile, under the same forced labour laws, her husband is a labour migrant, working 300 km away at Luabo, headquarters of Sena Sugar Estates…

May You Handle Lagos with Care

A Yoruba dance song, very popular in the 1950s when Abu Bakry Olorun Nimbe, a medical doctor turned politician, was Mayor of Lagos.

I am greeting you, Mayor of Lagos,
Mayor of Lagos, Olorun Nimbe…

In Adela’s Time

A short satire recorded in Yoruba in the early 1950s by Ulli Beier, the German-Jewish scholar who went on to make distinguished contributions to Nigerian literature. Onalu, Kurumi, and Adela were nineteenth century Yoruba chiefs. See also In Oyewumi Alabi’s Time.

In Onalu’s reign we changed our dress frequently
In Kurumi’s time we used cloth on the finest material…


An Udje song, or satirical song from the Urhobo people of the northwestern part of the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria. Udje were sung during the festivals held irregularly, but usually in December, in honour of local deities, who are here named at Djudu and Ogode. Different communities would lampoon each other on topical matters in songs divided, as here, between a lead singer and the main group. This song was performed during the first decade of Nigeria’s independence from Britain in 1960.

Fortitude, indeed we need it,
a wrong step warns us not to be careless in repeating it…

His eyes died long ago

An Acoli poem from Uganda.

His eyes died long ago,
You can see clouds in them…

A mighty bell is six o’clock

A Xhosa song about working in the gold mines of Johannesburg. These short work songs are sung rhythmically by a group of miners to make the work easier. Rhini, Qonce and Tinarha are the Xhosa names for three of the local gold mines.

A mighty bell is six o’clock:
I went to Rhini and found the men…

In blowing your nose, you must expose your teeth

A Yoruba chant from Nigeria, consisting of a series of mock proverbs on the theme of vanity. Only by wearing ‘the appropriate dress’ can we recover a little of our dignity.

In blowing your nose, you must expose your teeth:
In stooping, one perforce exposes one’s seat…

The Migrant Workers

A popular Zulu song about a young migrant worker who has left home to seek jobs in Johannesburg, based on a true incident.

We were sent by our parents
To search for our father’s child…

Page 2 of 5

African Poems