Another Ìjálá or hunter’s poem from the Yoruba of Nigeria (see also the poems Elephant, Buffalo, Five Creatures and Hunters’ Salutes). This one is a salute to Fabunmi, celebrating both his skills as a hunter and his generosity towards others.

First Hunter

Oolo of Iware Forest, (1)
why is it we no longer see Fabunmi,
he who snatches a tree branch from a monkey’s grip? (2)
Husband of Layemi, a man who confidently aims and shoots
at a black colobus monkey; (3)
he who snatches a tree branch from a monkey’s grip,
father of Ajani;
he who breaks a tree branch against an old female monkey
as he shoots her dead; (4)
he who snatches a tree branch from a monkey’s grip;
a relation of Elekede;
owner of many guns,
a man who stalks an animal in the forest,
swiftly making a trail like a rainbow in the sky;
man who hangs ponderously from a tree,
like a swinging broken branch;
rainbow in the forest linked with a trail for tracking an animal;
discharged bullets landing with a thud in the animal’s abdomen;
he who kills a black colobus monkey and ceremoniously
rubs its hand against the ground; (5)
the enterprising hunter who kills a porcupine near a kolanut tree;
he who is so expert at shooting he is vainglorious about his skill;
citizen of Iware, he who snatches a tree branch from a monkey’s grip,
husband of Laweni;
we sadly miss Fabunmi,
the man who fixes his gaze long and hard at one;
he who confidently aims and shoots at a black colobus monkey.

Second Hunter

Hey! Thank you greatly! Ha!
Oolo of Iware Forest.
Why is it we no longer see Fabunmi?
He who once killed an animal and gave it,
hand and all, as a gift to Akintola, (6)
he who once killed an animal,
and gave it foetus and all, to Oniroko, (7)
he who once killed a game animal,
and gave it to them at Oyo, (8)
waiving his right to the animal’s skin;
the short cannon explodes repeatedly; (9)
why is it we no longer see Fabunmi,
the man who confidently shoots at a black colobus monkey;
even if someone was the youngest of a set of triplets, (10)
or the youngest of a set of quadruplets,
or a person on whose head was a cap concealing a pair of twins,
when on a visit to Fabunmi,
such a person would eat maize gruel in leaves with meat from a monkey’s head;
Oolo of Iware Forest,
why is it you no longer see Fabunmi,
the man who daily kills a chimpanzee;
the smart hunter, citizen of Alediji,
priest of the god Ogun, (11)
frequenter of the forest trails.

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


Footnotes

  1. Oolo is the protective deity of Iware, a town in the Oyo region north of Ibadan.
  2. Fabunmi has shot the branch the monkey swinging through the treetops was about to grip.
  3. Colobus monkeys live in the very highest of treetops (see ‘Colobus’ in Hunters’ Salutes)
  4. Again, Fabunmi has shot the branch along with the monkey.
  5. Traditionally, the hunter would rub the palm of the dead monkey’s left hand against the ground.
  6. Akintola: Samuel Ladoke Akintola, premier of Niger’s Western Region, who died at Ibadan in January 1966, victim of the military coup.
  7. Oniroko: The traditional ruler of Iroko, a town near Ibadan.
  8. The Oyo state capital.
  9. An image suggesting the power of Fabunmi’s gun.
  10. The following five lines describe people of the utmost insignificance who are nevertheless, as Fabunmi’s guests, fed with the choicest delicacy (the meat from a monkey’s head).
  11. Ogun: The Yoruba god of iron and patron of all crafts employing iron, including the guns used in hunting. All hunters practice as members of a guild under Ogun’s protection. See also Ogun, God of War