A Bahima women’s Praise-Poem, recorded in 1955 in Ankole, and composed and recited by Ntamaare. The Bahima people are the cattle-herders among the Bayankole people of southwest Uganda. In these praises, originally in the Runyankole language, the subject is the cattle for which they are famous. Each of the different cows belonging to the herd is admired for its unique characteristics, especially their hide and their horns. The chorus (When they stampede etc.) is repeated after each praise.

They are as greedy as Ishe-Katabazi: (1)
I want them to graze in the newly burnt grass of Rwanda. (2)
When they stampede they are loud as the morning rain;
They are searching for the progeny of the spotted bull.

They stand still, graceful with their encircling horns, (3)
Like queens preparing their curls.

They are dressed in spotted cloth, (4)
They are well-behaved as they play in the rain.

The light rain has given them shade,
They have kept secret the new grass in the valleys.

They have spent the day at the muziizi trees of Katooma, (5)
When they come home loneliness vanishes.

She-Who-Wears-The-Bell
and She-Whose-Horns-Encircle-Like-Handcuffs (6)
Thanked him for bringing them from an evil country. (7)

How straight are the horns of the daughter of The-One-Who-Excels-All-Others!
The horns of The-One-Who-Gambols-Are-Spotless.

The reed-like horns of the daughter of The-Spotted-One stand erect;
There is no dust on the horns of The-One-Who-Is-Made-Forgetful-By-Dancing. (8)

She stretches out her horns till they reach to the Pleiades,
When she stretches them back we can see Rumuranka. (9)

She-Whose-Horns-Reach-To-The-Stars is graceful in her circlet; (10)
She-Whose-Horns-Are-Too-Wide-For-The-Trough has departed.

To long for a thing and to see it
It is as though you had seen Kihondwa and Rukari. (11)

I used to long for an active cow,
Now I am blessed by the daughter of Karanga’s beast.

At Bijinja which faces Mukande,
She-Who-Drives-All-Cattle-Before-Her walks in Kiganda style. (12)

She-Who-Goes-At-Speed-To-Her-Shed,
the brown cow, the daughter of the spotted one,
Is like a new bark cloth, soft as though smoked. (13)

Do not cut the tips of her horns and thus spoil them, (14)
The Fighter tyrannizes over her neighbours.

When they were gambolling in the hills
Those who were cold whistled.

At little Nshwere which faces Mpabura,
They took themselves to the troughs of others when their water was gone.

Here you are, you trouble makers, the insignificant ones, (15)
You have begun again upsetting your neighbours.

You should give them a second bell, (16)
Those with few cattle should separate.

She-Who-Seeks-No-Quarrel lows like the palace harp
As she stays in the sheds.

She who plays the harp first praises herself,
Why have I then forgotten The-One-Who-Dries-Her-White-Horn? (17)

When they started running to Kanyanya,
They left behind the old men with their shelters. (18)
When they stampede they are loud as the morning rain;
They are searching for the progeny of the spotted bull.

Here is the original in Runyankole:

Ebíítwa-nda nka Ishé-Katabazi
Nzitengyeire ékihirá kya Rwanda.
Ikángarana gwéboha ómujumbi
Ishúraine ez’énda ya Ruyenji.

Igumbíre ábakumira mu ngango
Ábaigárire énshunju niikuurwa.

Zambaire ótwenda twa siiti
Abeegirá gye izaana ómu rutonya.

Ebitonyererá byaimutsya ébibúnda
Ébinyangingo ishereka ómu mpanga.

Emiziizí isiibire Katóóma
Niitááha irungu niribomba.

Runyagékyoma na Ruta-ómupingo
Ikamwéyanza azihiiri éngoma mbi.

Etsimbíre shi rwa Ruhingurana
Rukinirayó tigáine wámbanda.

Ag’éngoro gatsimbwa bya Kiremba
Agá Ruhugibwa tigáinehó bugimbi.

Etsimbíre ganywaine na Kakáága
Ku ékuurá tuhweza Rumaranku.

Rugyera-énganzi ekunira ómu ngángo
Kyátsiburwa Rufunza-áha-murongo.

Okwétenga ékintu okakireeba
Kwingana Kihondwá na Rukari.

Nkabá ntenga énte erikugyenda
Mpirirwé bya kya Karanga.

Omu Bijinja ógworeka Mukande
Rurárambya egitambura Kiganda.

Rutaba-ébiju gaajú ya mayenje
Eba ómushara musyá gúkarangwire.

Mutagimína mutaijá kugishisha
Ruhanika eshagiza ábataahi,

Ku zaakinira ómunda y’émirambi
Hacurizá abaaba bátitire.

Nshwére enkye ógwenda ómu mpabura
Ikééshabisha ámáízi ítahaine.

Abáinazi kándi mwáízirwe
Mbaba záámaka íteerana ábataahi.

Muzongyéremu ékyoma kya kábiri
Ab’énte nkyé mwaijá kushoroora.

Erétereera énangá ya Kakaari
Ebihamizamu ébiju Rutayomba.

Owaateera énanga agyebanza
Keenyebíre Rwanika-ebinawamwa.

Ku zaakinira ómunda ya Kanyánya
Zaanaga ébiheregi n’ésanga.
Ikángarana gwéboha ómujumbi
Ishúraine ez’énda ya Ruyenji.

H.F. Morris
‘The Praise Poems of Bahima Women’
from African Language Studies VI (1965)


Footnotes

  1. Ishe-Katabazi: Hero of the cycle of trickster tales, loved throughout the region, who is constantly undone by his greed.
  2. Rwanda: Not the modern country, but one of the grazing areas of Ankole.
  3. Ankole Longhorns are a sub-species of East African Zebu, and one of the oldest indigenous cattle breeds of Uganda. They have striking, long, large-diameter horns, which assist their blood circulation and help keep them cool during hot temperatures. They are renowned for their hardiness, which allows them to forage on poor quality vegetation and live off limited amounts of water, but they are currently in danger of extinction. Were this to happen, this wonderful poem would be their epitaph.
  4. Siiti, in the original, is a type of cloth with a spotted pattern. The cow’s hide is similar.
  5. Throughout the poem, villages are named as the nomadic cattle roam in search of grazing.
  6. One cow wears a bell, and is the leader of the herd.
  7. Possibly a land of poor pasture, but possibly, too, these cattle have been raided and are imagined as thanking their captors.
  8. The original refers to the entooro, a dance fashionable c1935.
  9. The Pleiades and Rumaranku are the names of stars.
  10. The band of beads she wears.
  11. Kihondwa and Rukari were the clan’s ancestors, who lived in the early eighteenth century. The praise refers to the wonder of seeing them.
  12. In Kiganda style: to walk in the Ganda manner, firmly, with determination.
  13. Bark cloth is manufactured by beating the inner bark of trees of the moraceae family into sheets, which are then used for clothing. Ugandan bark cloth features in UNESCO’s cultural heritage list. It was superceded on the nineteenth century by calico from India, but this poem is happy with old styles.
  14. An aggressive cow, but it would be a shame to clip her horns.
  15. These are cattle of a neighbouring herd. Cattle herds can’t be integrated.
  16. In each herd of a hundred cows, one has a bell. The herd has increased, so it is time for a second cow to be belled.
  17. She-Who-Dries-Her-White-Horn is the singer’s own cow.
  18. Those unable to keep up with the herd as it moves on.