A funny ìjalá poem (hunters’ songs) from Nigeria, imagining improbable lines of business.

Five creatures
There were in Iresa Town, (1)
which engaged themselves in unprofitable business.
The woodpecker:
He set himself up in business as a carver of mortars. (2)
The crab set himself up in business as a producer of edible oil. (3)
The toad set himself up in business as a maker of beads. (4)
People of my age were eyewitness of these happenings.
The spider:
He set himself up in business as a maker of thread.
The awurebe: (5)
He set himself up in business as a maker of roads.
The woodpecker set himself up in business as a carver of mortars.
O citizens of lresa.
Who would use the woodpecker’s mortar for pounding yam?
I know no one who would buy the crab-made oil for cooking his stew.
I pray you, listen to the words of my mouth.
Who would buy a string of beads from the toad
And put it round the neck of her child? There’s no one I know.
Who would pay tolls to the awurebe and use his roads?
Who would pound yams in the woodpecker’s mortar,
in the town of my fathers?

from The Content and Form of Yoruba ljala (1966)
S.A. Babalola


Footnotes

  1. Iresa Town: A town in Oyo state.
  2. The woodpecker, of course, pecks holes in trees.
  3. Crabs are notably oily.
  4. The skin of a toad is covered with bead-like pimples.
  5. The awurebe: An insect resembling a black ant. Swarms of them move about like an army in close formation.