NOTE: A more detailed version of this poem, including the vernacular, can be found here.

A Bahima women’s Praise-Poem from Uganda. The chorus is repeated after each praise. The first five praises (Lines 1-12) refer to the whole herd of cattle, after which the singer proceeds to praise each animal separately. Many of them have their own praise-names (e.g. ‘She Whose Horns Encircle Like Handcuffs’), and the general description in this Praise-Poem is marvellously vivid.

They are as greedy as Ishe-Katabazi; (1)
I want them to graze in the newly burnt grass of Rwanda.

When they stampede they are as loud as the morning rain;
They are searching for the progeny of the spotted bull.

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

They are dressed in spotted cloth;
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;
When they come home loneliness vanishes.

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

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.

She stretches out her horns till they reach to the Pleiades; (2)
When she draws them back we can see Rumaranku.

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

To long for a thing and to see it
Is as though you had seen Kihondwa and Rukari. (3)

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.

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.

Do not cut the tips of her horns and thus spoil them;
The Fighter tyrannises 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;
You have begun again upsetting your neighbours.

You should give them a second bell;
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 then have I forgotten The One Who Dries Her White Horn?

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

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


Footnotes

  1. Ishe-Katabazi is the hero of many Bahima stories, a man who comes to grief through his own greed.
  2. The Pleiades and Rumaranku are the names of stars.
  3. Kihondwa and Rukari were the clan’s ancestors, who lived in the early eighteenth century.