An improvised recitation sung by a Yoruba bride as she is escorted by musicians and relatives to her husband’s house. She speaks her mind about all the hopes and concerns that she has, whilst drummers announce her arrival.

Those who stand-let them stand well.
Those who stop-let them stoop well.
Those who sit on the verandah-let them receive our thanks.
You the elders, who have come from far,
I thank you for honouring this day.

I pounded yam softly,
I offered it to Eshu the trickster,
Eshu refused to eat.
I prepared yam flour softly,
Eshu refused to eat.
Then I asked him:
‘Will you stay indoors or outside’? (1)
He said: ‘Outside’.
When the dead come looking for me,
it will meet Eshu outside.
When disease comes looking for me,
it will meet Eshu outside.
But if a child comes looking for me,
it will meet me in my room.

When I left my house
my father told me
‘Don’t go through the market.’
I said: ‘But why?
Are you in debt?
Do you owe the butcher?’
When I left my home
my mother told me:
‘Don’t go through the market.’
I said: ‘But why?
Are you still in debt to the salt seller?’

You the people of the world,
help me to thank my mother,
for she decked me out in clothes
rich enough
to make Olokun jealous, (2)
the god of the sea.
My mother dressed me
in clothes so rich
I could confuse a god.
I am like a beggar woman
turned into a king’s daughter.

They wanted to lead me to my husband’s house
like a sheep to the market.
But my mother said, I should be escorted
like a free born child.
Let everybody thank my mother:
she did not allow me to borrow dresses
from those who would abuse me later.

And you, my best friend Ilajue,
you my best friend:
This sudden marriage has spoiled
many things for us.
We have been abusing people together,
we have been scorning together and laughing
good things and bad, we never did them alone.
They say marriage brings happiness
greater than any known before.
But were they thinking of you?

And you my parents:
when you don’t see the river
will you forget the waves?
When you don’t see the thunder
will you forget the rain?
When you don’t see me any more
will you forget me?
Is it not you who will decide
when a child is old enough to have a quiver?
Is it not you who will decide
when a child is old enough to have an arrow?
It was you who decided
that I was old enough
to move into another house.
Don’t leave me alone in that place.
What I am proposing to do
you have done it yourselves with success.
Then let me succeed also.
If you don’t know an elephant
at least you hear his voice.
If you don’t know the sea
at least you have tasted salt in your soup.
If you don’t know me: don’t you hear my voice?
I looked right
but saw no tree
taller than the silk cotton tree.
I looked left
but I saw no tree
taller than the silk cotton tree.
I looked in front of me
but I could not see anyone
who resembles my father.

What kind of god created me
in a sickly town
to make my relatives die like rotten yams?
If luck is not against me
I shall have them back
where I am going.
If luck is not against me
they shall re-enter the world
through me. (3)
May luck not turn against the mother.
When luck turns against the hunter
the animal escapes.
When luck turns against the farmer
his land does not yield.
When luck turns against the mother
she will bury her children,
as if she were planting yams,
It is not my head that is bad (4)
only fate.
My head – which is wearing a bright scarf today
will surely give me
male and female children.

By this time last year
my husband was writing angry letters
By this time last year
he was writing fighting letters.
But when this year came
he tore up his letters.
I am afraid
not because I am a coward.
I am afraid
not because I cannot fight.
It is this strange house
that is upsetting me.
Don’t bathe me in medicines.
Forget about your charms.
My mother’s care is enough for me.

I honour the bitter kola nut,
for through it I will gain Shango’s favour
I honour the red kola nut,
for through it I will gain the favour of the other gods.
I honour the hot pepper
for it cures sickness.

Those who gather firewood in the forest
tie their sticks together in bundles.
But if they tie three melons together
will they succeed?
Children of this world!
No one shall succeed me in tying me.
Don’t underrate the Oyoyo soup
because it is black
Don’t underrate me
because I am black
because I was born by a man
who is known by two hundred people (5)

And today
fortune descends on my head.
The melon seed soup only offends the hungry man
who was not invited to the feast.
The smell of fried bananas only offends the hungry man
who was not invited to the feast.
I who have come to this world
with ripe breasts
I have offended my younger sisters.
Whom shall I turn to in this new house?
In the strange corridors I never walked?
In the strange doors I never entered?
Whom can I turn to in this strange house?
Some of them may say:
‘See a loose girl coming’
Let them talk today
for tomorrow they shall be silenced.
Today is a glorious day.

from Yoruba Poetry
Cambridge University Press, (1970)
compiled and edited by Ulli Beier


Footnotes

  1. Eshu: The trickster god whose shrine is located beside the front door of the house to guard against malevolent forces.
  2. Olokun: An Orisha associated with the sea and wealth.
  3. The Yoruba believe in Àtúnwá, the reincarnation of ancestors within the family.
  4. It is not my head that is bad: The Yoruba word for ‘head’ is Ori, which is also the guardian spirit of each individual who guides their destiny.
  5. A man who is known by two hundred people: A term of praise for a man who is respected and popular.