African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Hausa (Page 1 of 2)

May Allah Give Me a True Friend

A Hausa song from northern Nigeria. The singer is longing for a child. It is from an anthropological record of the Hausa people, partly compiled from an oral account given by Baba (1877-1951), the daughter of a Hausa farmer and Koranic teacher, and translated by May K. Smith.

May Allah give me a true friend whether he’s small or big,
Even an infant sucking at the breast, or one lying in the womb…

Bawa’s House

A Hausa song from northern Nigeria, popular with women. It is from an anthropological record of the Hausa people, partly compiled from an oral account given by Baba (1877-1951), the daughter of a Hausa farmer and Koranic teacher, and translated by May K. Smith.

The poem refers to a barber who is also a pimp, with a purely businesslike attitude to love. The women, by contrast, look to Allah for wealth and to Bawa’s love for pleasure.

The barber doesn’t want a burning passion:
He doesn’t wish it to break him up…

The Victory of Ali, Son of Abdu

A Hausa song from northern Nigeria, unusually for a war song performed by women. The song was recorded by the Hausa scholar C.G.B. Gidley in 1964. Among his informants was Mallam Isa Ahmed Kurawa, who remembered it being sung during his childhood by an old lady in Kano, to the accompaniment of the shantu, a cylindrical gourd laid across their thighs by women drummers.

It describes the so-called victory of Aliyu (Ali), the Emir of Kano, over Amadu, Sultan of Damagaram, at the battle of Tiittarawa outside Kano in 1898 (‘so-called’, because Ali was actually defeated in this war). The causes of the war are not precisely known, but the two states had long struggled for control of the Saharan slave trade.

Great Visitor, Son of Abdu,
Water it is that drowns whoever goes against it…

Ancient Hausa Praises

For over five centuries, Hausa has been one of African’s written languages. But a strong tradition of oral poetry exists alongside the written forms, and at times the two have been in competition. These ancient praises are of former rulers (see also Rano). But the official Islamic culture disapproves. “Singer, stop, do not waste your time / In singing the praises of men. Sing the praises of the Prophet and be content.” Hiskett, 17)

Yaji, snarer of rocks,
Confounder of knavish tricks…

Abdu dan Tsoho, the Sarkin Daura

A Hausa praise poem (see also Rano and Bawa Jangarzo). Daura, one of the ancient Hausa kingdoms, suffered a succession dispute in 1806, leading to the creation of three separate states. These praises are addressed to Abdu dan Tsoho, also known as Lukudi, whose title was Sarkin Daura. He ruled (1809-1825) the second of these new states, and they vividly reflect the insecurity on his position.

You boy, take heed of the groundnut that sprouts a second year!
The old one, he can make spells…

Mai Zaria, the Drummer

Three Hausa poems from northern Nigeria, praising a professional drummer whose skills, with Allah’s help, have made him a wealthy man.

The drum drums health,
The drum drums wealth…


A Hausa Praise-Poem from northern Nigeria, in praise of Galadima Dauda who ruled in the mid-thirteenth century. This is a good example of the simplest and oldest kind of Praise-Poetry, in which the hero’s memory is preserved in a brief description packed with meaning. In just three lines, the Galadima (the word is a title, not a name) is described as a warrior, a popular leader and a bringer of great wealth.

Champion of the axes of the south,
Champion of the young men of the south…

Bawa Jangwarzo

A Hausa praise poem (see also Rano), Bawa Jangwarzo was ruler (1777-1795) of Gobir, one of the seven original Hausa kingdoms. He is chiefly remembered today for sponsoring Usman dan Fodio (1754-1817), the Islamic reformer, who encouraged literacy and scholarship for both men and women, and who, after his expulsion from Gobir by Bawa’s successor, founded the city-state of Sokoto.

Causer of terror, chief of iron ore,
Son of Alasan, owner of the drum…

The Wealthy Merchant

A Hausa example of something that happens across West Africa, but is not often recorded. A singer accosts a prominent person in public, in this case a merchant, and begins praising him. But the praises are ambiguous, and unless the singer is rewarded, they slip into savage satire. The poem becomes a dialogue between the singer and the merchant’s pocket, each line tipping the balance one way or the other.

There is no god but Allah,
this is the praise of Allah…


A Hausa Praise-Poem from northern Nigeria. Rano was a chief killed in battle around 1870. The poem’s emphasis is placed very firmly and vividly on Rano’s exploits in battle up to the time of his death.

Line’s 5-8 are Rano’s own words, as he rejects food to get on with fighting. He is remembered as a ruler who bound people into new relationships – which explains the epitaph that, since he died, ‘marriage has become unmanageable’.

Sarkin Rano is a beloved of God;
Since he fell in battle, marriage has become unmanageable…

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African Poems