This is another Yoruba Ijala (hunting poem) that was first translated into English in Ulli Beier’s Black Orpheus magazine. Ulli Beier was a German-Jewish scholar who moved to Nigeria in 1950 to teach Phonetics at the University of Ibadan. In 1957 he founded the magazine Black Orpheus, the name inspired by “Orphée Noir”, an essay that he had read by the French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre. Black Orpheus was the first African literary journal in English, publishing contemporary authors such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe as well as oral poetry from Nigeria. This Yoruba ìjalá poem appeared in issue 19 of Black Orpheus.

You cannot dispute the forest with a rat.
You cannot dispute the savannah with the buffalo.
You cannot dispute his father’s title with Olukere. (1)
You cannot play with a snake.
You cannot dance with a praying mantis.
A small child cannot beat his mother.
An old man cannot get annoyed with his own shit.
A woman cannot look at the penis, without being glad.
Look at me, then, and be glad!
The children are enjoying themselves with the birds.
Children of the house, elders of the house,
Men, women, old and young,
You cannot see a new-born babe without happiness.
I am now a new-born babe.
Come and dance with me.

from Black Orpheus 19


Footnotes

  1. The paramount ruler.