A Rukiga farmers’ song in praise of sorghum, one of their staple crops, from the Bakiga “people of the mountains”, who straddle the border between northern Ruanda and southern Uganda. Sorghum is a drought-resistant and heat-tolerant grain, used for food, animal fodder, the production of alcoholic beverages, and more recently, biofuels.

Sorghum, sorghum, O sorghum,
sorghum and Kiga are one. (1)
When you have a guest
you give him sorghum beer.

Through the upturned soil
two shoots first show themselves.
During the rains
the tiny plant swells and trembles.
More shoots emerge
to peer at sun and moon.

The farmer watches keenly
this life-giving plant, mother of people,
from whose juice grows the dark blood
that nourishes young and old.

As the rains endure and weeds multiply,
he must clean his plot,
toiling through torrents,
resting only in the torrid night,
till the plant begins to flower
and a crown of berries,
irridescent green to copper,
forms its spear head (2)
over grass and pollen-grain.
The season’s march brings birds, so many birds.
They soar, dive, perch and peck.
They plunder the lovely sorghum fruit.
They sing in discords and in chorus
“O happy season of harvest time”.
Cuckoos, weavers, crows and partridges –
they fly, they mate, they feed.
O merry time, O sorghum!”

Then with his curved blade,
singing and whistling among the stalks,
the farmer fells the sorghum.
Fat, happy women chop off the berry, (3)
youths carry it home.
When the brew is ready
men suck the juice through tubes.
They sing, shout, groan and howl,
they stoop, dance and lie down,
they collapse under the heavy, powerful weight.
Who cares? “It’s harvest time,”
sing women in the inner room, dancing in praise.

from Pulsations, an East African Anthology of Poetry,
Arthur Kemoli (ed),
(Nairobi, 1969)


Footnotes

  1. The Bakiga people.
  2. The soghum stands like a spear planted in the soil, high above other grasses and flowers.
  3. Being fat is a sign of prosperity.