A Yoruba Ìjálá (hunting poems) from Nigeria (see also Hunters’ Salutes). The poem describes vividly the buffalo’s attributes of speed and terrifying strength.

Buffalo, we salute you:
Butterfly of the savannah (1)
skimming along without touching the grass:
Corpulent beast,
equally at home in the thick forest
and in the wooded plain:
You have not presented the hunter with a wife
and yet he prostrates himself before you: (2)

Hunters pose ceremonially on the head
of the elephant they have just killed,
But who would dare pose on the head of a fallen buffalo,
the raging buffalo of the bone-hard horns? (3)

Let the hunter whose medicinal charms have lost their potency
give up pursuing the buffalo.
In case the beast accidentally devours him like grass.
The demon who frightens a young hunter,
making him scramble up even the thorniest tree:
The demon who has razors at the tips of his horns:
Buffalo, ancient beast,
when you hear roaring (4)
and there is no rain,
that is the buffalo!

from Oral Poetry from Africa (1984)
compiled by Jack Mapanje and Landeg White,
Longman


Footnotes

  1. Butterfly: The image is of speed and lightness. This first impression is immediately altered by the first word of the next line.
  2. Prostrates himself: the hunter lies down when the buffalo is near, although he has no reason to pay him respect.
  3. The sense is that no one can be sure the buffalo is really dead.
  4. Roaring: The buffalo roars as loud as a rainstorm. The poem has moved from the opening image of butterfly to this final image of tremend­ous power.