African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Ethiopia

The Farmer in Chaha Song

The Gurage people traditionally inhabit the fertile region of southwest Ethiopia where they grow a banana-like plant called Ensete, as well as coffee and khat. The diligent farmer is often praised in Chaha (the local language of which there are various dialects) songs as the model Gurage citizen and he is depicted on the Ethiopian dollar ploughing his fields.

To be a hardworking cultivator of land, generous to beggars and orphans, and hospitable to neighbours and kinfolk, is the model to which the Gurage aspire.

O man who cultivates the field, how great is your merit!
Wealth flows out from your fingers…

Lime of the Forest

A love song, translated from Amharic, the language of government in Ethiopia, spoken originally by the Amhara people of the northern and central highlands. Theirs is a Christian community of great antiquity, the land of the legendary Prester John, its ruling house claiming descent from Solomon and Sheba. The poem combines natural, religious and courtly imagery in praise of the loved one.

You lime of the forest, honey among the rocks,
Lemon of the cloister, grape in the savannah…


Two Gonga laments from the Kaffa Highlands of south-west Ethiopia. They use the form of the Praise-Poem to mourn the defeat of the king, Hinnare-tato, and the scattering of his people. The over­throw of the Hinnaro kingdom actually occurred in the early eighteenth century, but these songs were popular in the 1970s when they expressed the feelings of the people of the area about the rule of Haile Selassie before the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974. The poems convey a vivid impression of former wealth and glory and the sadness of living under alien rule.

The Hinnare-tato has become a simple man,
Our magnificent gold has become copper…

O Cultivator, How Great is Your Merit

A song from the Gurage people of Ethiopia. Like Warga, Son of Qariso, this poem is in part an appeal to the successful man to share his wealth.

O cultivator, how great is your merit!
Wealth flows from your fingers…

The Cure for Poverty

A Chaha song from the Gurage people of Ethiopia. The song recommends hard work and cooperation as a cure for poverty, and explains how vanity and recklessness are its causes.

One expels and drives away poverty
By holding the gaza-wood of the plough,

The Gimma

A Gonga song from the Kafa Highlands of south­ west Ethiopia. During the mid-nineteenth century, according to tradition, the Kafa king asked his people to prepare for war against the Gimma, a powerful sultanate on their northern borders. The people refused to fight.

The Abdication

A Gonga Praise-Poem from the Kafa High­ lands of south-west Ethiopia. The poem records the drama of a succession dispute. Tumi Taki, the king of the Hinnaro people, was overthrown by his wife Sini who wanted to make her lover Sisi (or Sisiti) the new king. Sisi, however, was offered the crown by the counsellors only on condition that he abandoned Sini, which he refused to do, choosing his mistress rather than the throne. The poem expresses deep contempt for Sisi’s lack of concern for the people, and is a good example of how Praise-Poetry may be used to express sharp criticism of bad rulers.

After the death of Gamma Kegocci,
Tumi Taki has left me empty-handed.

Warga, Son of Qariso

A Chaha Praise-Poem from the Gurage people of Ethiopia. Warga is not a ruler but a wealthy man who is praised for his generosity to the poor. This is, of course, a poem chanted by someone hoping to benefit from Warga’s wealth.

My master Warga, son of Qariso,
Since you were created, when has there been any distress?

African Poems