African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Category: Relationship Poems (Page 1 of 5)

Mother is gold

A short poem sent to us by Laju Ereyitomi Oyewoli. Iya ni wura means “Mother is gold” and is a common saying among the Yoruba people of western Nigeria.

Iya ni wura
Mother is Gold…

Bitter and Sweet – A Somali Gabay

The following poem, ‘Macaan iyo Qadhaadh’ or “Bitter and Sweet”, was composed by Axmed Ismaciil Diriye Qaasim, who died recently in exile. Qaasim was a legendary Somali poet and a scholar who served under the British Colonial Administration as an officer in Odwayne District Commission.

More Somali Balwo

Another group (see Balwo) of love songs from Somalia. Balwo means ‘sorrow’, and the subject of this type of song is invariably unhappy love which is described briefly in striking and unusual images. These songs are immensely popular in Somalia and are regarded by the orthodox as blasphemous (see no. 1: “let not now the imam / drive you from your song”). Abdi Simino, b. 1920s, is credited with having devised and popularised the form.

Since, when you die, delight
By earth’s silence will be stilled…

Songs of the Baggara

The Baggara, meaning “cow-herders”, are composed of several Arab groups living in that part of the Sahel region between Lake Chad and southern Kordofan. The majority live in Chad, but being nomads they move between borders, entering Sudan’s Dafur region following the rains. As elsewhere in the Sahel, this brings them into bitter conflict with settled farming communities, conflicts aggravated as the Sahel spreads south. During the long civil war against the Peoples Liberation army of South Sudan, the Baggara were armed by the Sudanese government, becoming notorious as the paramilitary Janjaweed, seizing cattle, people and land as a perennial local struggle became national in scale. The following songs, recorded in the 1920s by Sigmar Hillelson of the Sudan Civil Service, show them in a different light, as warriors, lovers and poets. The groups mentioned are the Messiria, the Humur, and the Rizeigat, but there are others.

The fair ones, Mahmud’s three daughters,
Umm Misel daughter of Kir…

The Iron Sheets

A ChiChewa song from the southern region of Malawi about the perils of matrilocal marriage. The singer has married into “a women’s village”, Njenjema, where the land is inherited through the female line and everything is controlled by the wife’s family. He, however, has worked in the mines of South Africa, and has invested his savings in a house with a corrugated iron roof. The marriage ended in divorce and he lost his investment when the chief presiding over the traditional court ruled the sheets of iron must remain for the sake of the children. The song is by Edwin Sankhulani and was recorded at Njenjema in August 1982.

At Njenjema, do not dare
At Njenjema, do not dare…

Maize has a Market

A spirit possession song from the southern region of Malawi, sung in chiChewa and opening for the outsider a window on the sufferings of a society where children had, and have, only a 50% chance of surviving infancy. For women like Effie Musa from whom this song was recorded in August 1982, witchcraft practiced by one of her neighbours was the only plausible explanation.

Maize has a Market
Sorghum has a Market..

Lullaby (Kamba)

A Kamba lullaby from Kenya for singing babies to sleep. The singer calls her child ‘Mama’ as a form of endearment by which a child is addressed as a parent.

Mama, child’s mother, don’t cry like a poor person.
You have come to me, you are crying more than I used to…

Serenade II

This is another version of the much-loved Swahili love song from the east African coast (see Serenade), probably the best known and most widely admired of all Swahili poems in translation. Like My Mwananazi, it is associated with Liyongo, the epic hero. There are interesting differences from the former version. Here, for instance, she is advised to listen, not to sing, to her suitors, and the ‘passers-by’ are not supposed to hear anything of what is going on.

O lady, be calm and cry not out but attend to your suitors patiently,
listen patiently to them who have climbed up to your window,
lest those passing along the road may see…

Song of the Aged

A very ancient Zulu song for the old and the dying, said to date from before the reign of Shaka.

The body perishes, the heart stays young,
The platter wears away with serving food…

My Mwananazi

This is a well-known Swahili song, a version of which we posted previously without the vernacular text (see Mwananazi). This is an older, longer version, sung in praise of a dutiful wife in the Islamic tradition. It was first recorded in the 1860s, but is still extant in slightly different versions. The translation (slightly revised) was by Hamisi wa Kayi…

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African Poems