An Igbo poem from eastern Nigeria. This poem is from the Odo masquerade when, through masked dancers, the ancestors speak to the living.

This poetry varies from one singing Odo to another, but the general pattern is roughly the same – ranging from the rehearsal of the ritual of the Odo cult, to the tracing of the history of the people, especially the heroes and the Ozo-titled men, who in the past had been renowned for their marvellous activities and whose present sons must inevitably inherit this heroic blood. This is expressed in lgbo as ‘Ani-na-efu­ Ngwu’, and that is to say ‘The-Land-That-Breeds-The-Ngwu-Tree’. The Ngwu tree is sacred and mystic; it is a symbol of magic and super­ natural power.

from Black Orpheus (21st April 1967)
translated by R. N. Egudu

I live by the Ngwu tree
Near the Nkwo market.
He who hastens to a fight
Knows not his death awaits him there.
Remember, my sons, the day
You called upon me for help,
Remember the wilderness
Where I encountered the foe:
It is for you to say what happened.

You have needed an increase of wealth,
I gave it before you asked:
I knew you had no male children last year,
Today their cries are heard in your compounds.

When I was living my name struck fear in my age-mates,
My deeds shone everywhere:
Now in the land of the dead
My place is higher still.
My sons, let not the light go out in your time:
When a blind man mistakes a lump of earth for food,
It is his brother that is ashamed, not himself.

from Black Orpheus (21st April 1967)
translated by R. N. Egudu