African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Death (Page 2 of 3)

The Homestead of Death’s Mother

An Acoli death-defying dirge from Uganda, sung by relatives of the deceased as they arrive for the Guru Lyel ceremony. See also the poems Close to Her Husband and If Death were not there

The Broken String

A San lament from South Africa, sung by Xaa-ttin for the death of his friend the magician and rain maker Nuin-kui-ten. The halting rhythms of the English translation, and the image of the bow string which no longer vibrates, are perfectly expressive of grief. The song was originally recorded in the 1870s.

They were the people, those who
broke the string for me…

The Sinking of the Troopship Mendi

A popular Zulu song about the sinking of SS Mendi in February 1917 as it carried African Battalions belonging to the South African Native Labour Corps on their way to World War 1 in France. The ship collided in fog off the Isle of Wight with an empty merchant vessel bound for Argentina. 646 men were drowned, in one of the worst ever marine disasters…

Think Carefully of this Path

A chiSena funeral song from southern Malawi on the theme of equality in death, for rich and poor, black and white.

This path, yes, this path, yes,
think carefully of this path, o-ye

The Dirge of the Warriors’ Widows

A lament by Sotho women, said to date from the time of Shaka Zulu’s wars. There are different versions of this song in several southern Africa languages, presenting Shaka’s achievements from the perspective of those who suffered from them.

Weakened and weeping, I remain among the ruins.
Weakened and weeping, I remain amid trackless plains…

Slowly the Muddy Pool Becomes a River

A Yoruba funeral song from Nigeria. The metaphors have the force of proverbs, expressing but generalising the son’s grief.

Slowly the muddy pool becomes a river,
Slowly my mother’s disease becomes death…

Death Does Not Like Money

An Akan Highlife song from Ghana, popular in the 1970s. It is by the late, well-known singer Alex Konadu (1950-2011).

Death does not like money oo! Konadu ee!
We shall all enter a hole in the earth, this death hmm!..

Death

A Yoruba funeral poem from Nigeria. Within a few lines the poem evokes the weight of bereavement, and contrasts the reverence in which some deaths are held with the unsentimentality of others.

I cannot carry it
I cannot carry it…

Drum Address to the Earth Spirit

An Ashanti drum poem from Ghana. The poem is praising the Earth which supports us in life and receives us in death.

Earth, condolences,
Earth, condolences…

The Earth does not get fat

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

Page 2 of 3

African Poems