Another Ìjálá or hunter’s poem from the Yoruba of Nigeria (see also the poems Elephant, Buffalo, Five Creatures and Hunters’ Salutes). It lists, with a great deal of humour, the baboon’s main characteristics. At the end of the Ìjálá the poet breaks into song and the audience responds.

Laare. (1)
Opomu, who teaches a dog how to hunt successfully; (2)
having mastered the technique of hunting, the dog feeds.
Opumo,
O baboon,
I greet you, possessor of hard-skinned swollen buttocks,
having a whip in each hand, (3)
whom the hunter pursues and in the process smears his tunic with earth. (4)
Animal speckled all over his body,
like a patient cured of deadly smallpox;
wearer of a cap enhancing the face, drummer in the forest. (5)
He who covers his mouth with slab-like jaws;
Animal from whose hands the hunter has no received a wife,
yet before whom he prostrates himself. (6)
Immediately I see him on the ground before him, I carefully hide.
While he was away from home,
an extra share of occiput was reserved for him; (7)
on his arrival,
he started crying for an additional share for his mouth. (8)
He who after raiding a farm returns to his perch,
his mouth hanging down like a Dahomean’s pocket. (9)
Possessor of eyes shy like a bride’s,
seeing the farmers’ wives on their husbands’ farms.
Bulky fellow on the igba tree, (10)
uncle to the red Patas Monkey. (11)
Gentleman on the treetop, whose fine figure intoxicates him like liquor.
Lagoodi, whose mouth is protuberant, (12)
longish like a ginning rod, (13)
whose jaws are like wooden spoons and whose chest looks as if it had a wooden bar in it,
whose eyes are deep-set as he goes raiding farms, even the farms of his relatives-in-law,
four hundred while going through the farm,
twelve hundred when returning to the bush.
He said it was a pity it was the farm of his relatives-in-law,
otherwise he would have eaten two hundred more. (14)
He whom his mother gazed and gazed upon and burst out weeping,
declaring her child’s handsomeness would be the ruin of him.
Possessed of a hair-denuded posterior.
He whose claws are mischievously sharp,
he who stares defiantly at human beings, (15)
whose female’s udders are never left in peace,
nursing mother who clings continually to the branches of trees.

Song: Stout and noisy,
I saw a baboon on my forest farm, munching away.

Chorus: Stout it was, and munching away.

from The Content and Form of Yoruba ljala (1966)
S.A. Babalola


Footnotes

  1. Laare: A attributive name, emphasising the baboon’s skill in running (are).
  2. Opomu: An ideophone (meaning descriptive sound), imitating the baboon’s cry
  3. His fingers are long, as though each hand is holding a whip.
  4. Hunting the baboon, the hunter has to creep along the ground.
  5. Three points of description, the spots on the body compared to smallpox scares, the distinct texture of the hair on his head looking like a cap, and his habit of beating his chest.
  6. Again, emphasising that in hunting the baboon, the hunter has to creep along the ground.
  7. Occiput: The back part of the skull, where the tastiest meat is found (see footnote 10 to Salute to Fabunmi
  8. An anecdote emphasising the baboon’s greed.
  9. A joke at the expense of ‘greedy Dahomians’, neighbouring inhabitants of the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, now party of the state of Benin.
  10. Igba tree: A tree whose fruit is the calabash, a type of gourd.
  11. Patas Monkey: Like baboons, a ground dwelling monkey with a striking red coat and black face, common throughout west Africa.
  12. Lagoodi: Another ideophone, suggesting the drooping protrusion of the baboon’s jaws.
  13. The connecting rod of a cotton gin.
  14. Another condensed tale, emphasising the baboon’s greed. The ‘two hundred’ etc. are maize cobs he has stolen, even from his in-laws.
  15. Another characteristic of baboons. Fabunmi was also described as “the man who fixes his gaze long and hard at one.”