This Yoruba Ijala (Hunting Poem) is different, praising not an animal but a plant. Cassava, also called manioc or tapioca, is a root vegetable, rich in starch, but not so nutritious as yams or maize, and consequently grown only along the farm’s boundary. But the images in this poem – bride, friend, prince, wife, camwood – along with the musical support, all suggest how greatly it is valued.

Lafunyinrin, (1)
a stand-by cheering the despondent. (2)
As it stands along the farm-plot boundary,
its base appears beautiful like a bride’s feet.
Friend of beef, (3)
cult-colleague of green vegetables. (4)
It doesn’t struggle with anyone
save one who has come very close to the pot. (5)
On failing to get a supply of it,
the son of Akinyele would ask himself, saying, (6)
‘Has Lafunyinrin gone to the farm, or on a visit somewhere in town?’
Lalee. (7)
Sticking to the pot tenaciously.
Wife along the farm-plot boundary (8)
who teaches the house how to wrestle. (9)
O cassava to whom the bembe drum beats a salute
that never reaches an end, (10)
but becomes a song
which runs thus:
I alone ate it
and I was fully satisfied.
I alone ate it
and I was fully satisfied.
It is no small service the cassava renders us in this our land.
O my dear friend,
consider that we eat eba, (11)
we eat feselu, (12)
and when in a hurry we buy kasada and eat it as a meal, (13)
the tall and slender plant which takes on the hue of camwood, (14)
along the farm-plot boundary.

Singer: O karagba! O karaba! (15)
Pounded cassava can is delicious.

Chorus: O karagba!

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


Footnotes

  1. Lafunyinrin: An attributive name, meaning white and glittering, the honourable one.
  2. Cassava is cheap and plentiful, a meal the poor can always rely on.
  3. Cassava goes well with a relish of beef or green vegetables.
  4. Belonging to the same religious group.
  5. Only those preparing the cassava have to struggle with it, peeling, boiling and pounding.
  6. Akinyele: A former paramount chief of Ibadan.
  7. Lalee: An ideophone for the sticky quality of the mashed cassava.
  8. A variant on a Yoruba expression for a fiancée, iyawo-oju-ona or ‘wife along the way.’
  9. Refers again to the peeling, boiling and pounding required to make it edible.
  10. bembe drum: A type of Yoruba talking drum.
  11. eba: Also called gari, a ball of cassava flour eaten with a variety of relishes.
  12. feselu: Also called fufu, a ball of cassava or yam flour dipped in a tasty soup.
  13. If you’re in a hurry, just eat the kasada (cassava) by itself.
  14. Camwood, baphia nitida, a small tree with an extremely hard red wood, used to make mortars and pestles.
  15. karagba: An attributive name, meaning body-builder.