African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Animal Poems (Page 1 of 2)

Dubulihasa, the Ox

The story of Dubulihasa strictly falls within the tradition of Xhosa folktale (nstomi) and not poetry (izibongo) but I thought readers would find it interesting as the story has at its heart a song that is repeated throughout the tale…

The Mouse, the Squirrel and the Tortoise

This is another poem sent to us by Oluwatoba Opemip, a student of Adekunle Ajasin University in Ondo state, Nigeria. As in the previous poem, Oluronbi, this is a modern working on traditional Yoruba folklore…

Hyena (Yoruba)

Another Yoruba ijala (hunting poem) about the hyena (see also the Sotho praise-poem about the Hyena). Hyena is regarded as the ultimate scavenger, there being nothing the animal won’t eat.

Hyena, who goes into the farm and finds that a three-year old bone is full of marrow for him…

Lion Refused to Perform Sacrifice

Another of the thousands of poems associated with the Ifa oracle of the Yoruba people (see also How Leopard got his honour). There are 256 different Odu or branches of lfa poetry, and many hundreds of different poems are associated with each Odu. The Ifa priest learns these poems during many years of training. Each poem is associated with a set of ‘throws’ of the divination instruments (cowrie shells, kola nuts etc.) to indicate which poem is suitable when a client comes to him for advice. He recites the poem to the client who must find his own meaning in the words. The Ifa priest will also direct the sacrifices to be made to the relevant Orisha following the divination.

The twisted wooden stump which crosses the road in a crooked way.
Ifa divination was performed for Lion…

How Leopard got his honour (from the Ifa oracle)

I thought that with the inclusion of the Ifa poem, Lion refused to make sacrifice, that now would be a good time to repost one of my favourite poems, Tiger (From the Ifa Oracle) and to make a slight modification to the translation. In the translation from the Yoruba by Bruce Alvin King the big cat is referred to as a tiger but I think that the leopard is a more accurate translation.

This poem from the Ifa oracle illustrates how, through a superb description of the leopard’s hide and claws, leopard was granted honour by consulting Ifa and making sacrifice.

Ifa divination was performed for Leopard,
The one with the lovely and shining skin…


Another Ìjálá or hunter’s poem from the Yoruba of Nigeria (see also the poems Elephant, Buffalo, Five Creatures and Hunters’ Salutes). It lists, with a great deal of humour, the baboon’s main characteristics. At the end of the Ìjálá the poet breaks into song and the audience responds.

Opomu, who teaches a dog how to hunt successfully…

The Small Bird

An Igbo fireside song from eastern Nigeria. The first half of the poem describes an act of kindness to a small bird. The second half describes a reverence for life which is its own reward. We are not sure what the chorus “Ngalama” refers to, if any Igbo readers could enlighten us please get in touch.

I was working quietly in my own farm

Five Creatures

A funny ìjalá poem (hunters’ songs) from Nigeria, imagining improbable lines of business.

Five creatures
There were in Iresa Town…

Zebra II

Another hunters’ description of the Zebra (see also the Shona praise-poem Zebra). This one is a Khoi-Khoi poem from South Africa.

Target of the hunting shepherd boys
Whose head is too swift for the throwing stick…


A Yoruba Ìjálá (hunting poems) from Nigeria (see also Hunters’ Salutes). The poem describes vividly the buffalo’s attributes of speed and terrifying strength.

Buffalo, we salute you:
Butterfly of the savannah…

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African Poems