A very old Ngoni poem from Malawi. This was a poem traditionally performed at weddings, but became popularly sung at other occasions such as church meetings. The refrain, ‘the earth does not get fat’, refers to the earth constantly consuming the dead.

The earth does not get fat.
It makes an end of those who wear the head plumes (1)
We shall die on the earth.
The earth does not get fat.
It makes an end of those who act swiftly as heroes.
Shall we die on the earth?
Listen O earth. We shall mourn because of you.
Listen O earth. Shall we all die on the earth?
The earth does not get fat.
It makes an end of the chiefs.
Shall we all die on the earth?
The earth does not get fat.
It makes an end of the women chiefs.
Shall we die on the earth?
Listen O earth. We shall mourn because of you.
Listen O earth. Shall we all die on the earth?
The earth does not get fat.
It makes an end of the nobles.
Shall we die on the earth?
The earth does not get fat.
It makes an end of the royal women.
Shall we die on the earth?
Listen O earth. We shall mourn because of you.
Listen O earth. Shall we all die on the earth?
The earth does not get fat.
It makes the end of the common people.
Shall we die on the earth?
The earth does not get fat.
It makes an end of all the beasts.
Shall we die on the earth?
Listen you who are asleep, who are left tightly closed in the land.
Shall we all sink into the earth?
Listen O earth the sun is setting tightly.
We shall all enter into the earth.

from ‘Songs of the Ngoni people’
Bantu Studies 11, (1937)
recorded by M. Read


Footnotes

  1. Those who wear the head plumes: Refers to headdresses worn by the elders.