A Sotho poem from Lesotho on the subject of weaver birds, at harvest time one of the worst predators. The sounds and rhythms of this poem, even in the English translation, imitate marvellously the twittering and bustle of the weaver birds which are stealing corn from the fields.

Tswi-tswiri! I the person, I suspect! (1)
What have you heard that makes you suspicious?
I heard things said, rumours of weaver birds;
They ate corn in Lesiba’s field and finished it. (2)

And when they left they sounded hummmm(3)
They said, ‘Listen to the numerous weaver birds,
Sons of Mosima’s family,
Children of the horse that ate the courtyards and the times. (4)

It is the numerous weaver-birds,
The grey ones that go about in swarms,
Children with the little red beaks,
Children that make a noise in the mimosa trees.’

Tupu-tupu! The smoke comes out while the dew still glitters. (5)
Howaa! Sweaa! – is heard in the early morning. (6)
They are finishing the corn, the numerous weaver birds,
Children with the little red beaks.

At home it is yo! yo! (7)
The children are crying.
Their mothers have gone to the fields to the birds,
It is the Zulus that have entered the country. (8)

Take axes and lop the tree branches. (9)
Yo! This year we shall eat fire,
We shall lack even a blue-tongued goat! (10)
It is the numerous weaver birds, the grey ones that go about in swarms.

from ‘Praises in Northern Sotho’
Bantu Studies 15 (1941)
H.J. Van-Zyl


Footnotes

  1. Tswi-tswiri!: The sound of the weaver birds chattering in the field. The rest of the line suggests what they are saying to each other.
  2. Lesiba’s field: The chiefs farm. Even he is affected.
  3. hummmm: The noise of the birds’ wings as they fly away together.
  4. A legendary horse which, in the story, devours everything. Mosima is a common name, suggesting that the weaver birds are too numerous to count.
  5. A description of the mist of early morning.
  6. Howaa! Sweaa!: What the people shout to scare the birds away.
  7. The children at home are crying with hunger while their mothers chase away the weaver birds.
  8. The weaver birds are like the warlike Zulus in their raiding.
  9. The people must chop down the trees where the weaver birds have nested.
  10. Eat fire … blue-tongued goat:Two expressions meaning the people will experience great suffering and poverty.