These are a series of Nyembara songs from Sudan, performed to mourn the death of Chief Yokwe Kerri in the 1930’s. They were collected by A. C. Beaton, with additional help in translation from the Bari language into English by a Father Spagnola.

How came bereavement to his house?
How came forlorn-ness?
The sire of Kerri lies buried.
We are lost in a wilderness of grief.

O Children of Yokwe!
Whither go ye weeping?
To the land of strangers,
Even to the mountains.
O children of Kerri’s son!
Who now shall hear our words of praise?
Ever will we sing of you to Löpu, (1)
Sing evermore at festivals.

O Son of Kerri! Whence came your death?
Whence came it?
Whence came the fatal stroke?
Gone is he, yea, withered like the grass.
Yokwe is gone from us
As water that dries in the sand.

O Löpu! Revered One!
Our vessel is broken, Yokwe is dead.
Would you had died of a man’s contriving,
On him would we requite your death, o Yokwe!
Death for a death, a just requital.

O Löpu! Revered One!
Who shall guards our cattle?
Our young mens cattle, who shall guard them?
Grief fills our hearts, o Child from Subör!
For Yokwe, grief for the son of Wolyan,
Grief for our Lord, o Child from Subör.

Stay, o stay!
Who shall inherit this kingdom?
Who shall inherit this greatness?
Yokwe’s foes are hard upon us.

Mead he made for us,
Mead he gave us,
Mead in the home of the son of Wolyan.
I hear a cry, o Revered One!
I hear a cry from the lips of his daughters:
“The young grass waves in all our country,
Our enemies are on our borders,
Drive them from our happy country.”

Come dire death and fell disaster,
Sporting with the son of Kerri,
Sporting with the son of Yokwe,
Who is helpless in their clutches.

Forget not, o forget not!
Life is but a borrowing from death.
The memory of our lord brings pain into our hearts.
Remember him in the distant future,
Remember him, o Land of Subör.

Beaton noted that the following song was ambiguous in it’s meaning, possibly representing the thoughts of Yokwe’s enemies, who are grateful that “the Scourger is dead”.

Laugh and be merry, ye people,
All of you laugh and rejoice,
Rescue has come for the Scourger is dead.

Whilst the following song implies that Löpu may have conjured witchcraft against Yokwe, Beaton interpreted it as an allegory for the mystery surrounding the cause of Yokwe’s death.

Dead is he, dead.
Is there vengeance for your death,
O Yokwe, for this death of yours?
Who of your house brought death on you.

Lominyo! Where is your father?
Bereft is his house and desrted.
Lominyo! Where is your sire?
Empty the realm of its ruler.
Death has devoured our father,
Devoured the father of Löpu.
Cold is our lord in his death,
Dead is the father of Löpu.

Our leader, our leader has fallen.
Who shall succeed to his rule?
Did your eye, o Löpu bewitch him?
Can the father of Kerri reply?

The tree of our councils is lonely.
For Yokwe is gone.
We are lost in a desert of sorrow.
We mourn with the weeping of women.

Work slowly, work slowly,
O Rain Serf of Yokwe!
Dig slowly his grave.
Beware of the ants in the antheap,
Beware of the ants in the ground.

The night-flitting spirit has envied our Chief. (2)
We heard it not,
The spirit that envied our Son of Wolyan.
Let this quarrel wax hot and wax quickly
Cry slowly, o Subek, cry slowly.
We wait till the time of grass-burning
To return to the home we knew.
We, your sons, all your sons, o Loringa,
Will follow the path that you show.

Poems collected by A. C. Beaton,
with additional help in translation from Father Spagnola,
from “Bari Studies”,
Sudan Notes and Records 15, p91-93, (1932)


Footnotes

  1. Löpu is the son of Yokwe.
  2. The night-flitting spirit: Implying that a malevolent spirit is responsible for the death of Yokwe.