Two Zulu women’s Praise-Poems. In Zulu society, women often compose their own praises which are performed whenever groups of women are together with no men present. The Praise­-Poems are descriptions of a woman’s personality and achievements, though they are often used to express complaints. No. I describes the girl’s courage (she ‘cuts across the game reserve’), her determination and her strong sense of pride and independence.


I am she who cuts across the game reserve
That no girl crosses.
I am the boldest of the bold, outfacer of wizards.
Obstinate perseverer,
The nation swore at me and ate their words.
She cold-shoulders kings and despises mere commoners.

No. II is more relaxed and humorous, being the self-praise of an older woman. Her praise-name is Bitter Tobacco leaf, and the humour of the poem is that the ants want her to die so that they may feed on her body while the cockroaches, which live in the rafters of her house, want her to live so that they can continue licking her spoons after she has eaten.


The Bitter Tobacco leaf,
Ground and powdered by men and women.
The ants want her down;
The cockroaches refuse, they say, ‘Oh Royal Madam,
What will we eat when we’re left alone? When you say,
“I’ve finished,”
You take your spoon and stick it up in the rafters,
Then we cockroaches can have a lick.’
Comforter of the baby, and the mother is content.

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