African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Igbo (Page 1 of 2)

The Odo Masked Dancers

Odo, as practised by several Igbo-speaking communities in eastern Nigeria’s Enugu State, is the occasion when ancestral spirits return in the form of masked dances to share in important events, or simply to bridge the gap between the living and the dead. The dancers perform in public arenas and openly compete, both in their costume and in poetry. The Odo in this case is wearing the mask of the okpoko bird, a mythical bird that makes a loud noise while approaching its prey. See also the poem Self-Praises for the Ozo Title.

May the gathering here listen,
for it’s the Odo that hears the market din…

A Widow’s Lament

An Igbo lament from eastern Nigeria, listing six very pragmatic reasons for mourning a dead husband.

Six times the widow recalls her husband’s death.
When the yam-planting season sets in early…

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

Dancing Song for Children

This song was recorded by Romanus N. Egudu (n.d.) in the Udi Division of Igboland, Nigeria. Professor Egudu comments “Each of these poems is meant to accompany a dance. Local musical instruments like ekwe, ogene and nkwa (all different kinds of drums), übo-aka (a string instrument) and öyö (bead instrument) are used. The drummers and other instrumentalists provide the dance rhythm, and sing at the same time. All the dancers sing as well, and the lead singer is at the same time often the chief dancer.”

The song is a pleasant game with words, but it can be taken in different ways. The boy has lost his pet rat. Everyone knows where the rat is. Is the problem that they daren’t approach the leopard’s house? Or is it implied that the leopard has eaten them all?

The boy was looking for his rat.
His rat was hiding in leopards’s house…

Morning Prayer (Igbo)

An Igbo prayer from eastern Nigeria. The names invoked, Agu, Okaibe, Ogbaugu and Ezenna, are the elder’s ancestors, to whom the kola nuts and the prayer are being offered.

Agu, my father, come:
Take kola and chew…

Pronouncements of the Dead

An Igbo poem from eastern Nigeria. This poem is from the Odo masquerade when, through masked dancers, the ancestors speak to the living.

This poetry varies from one singing Odo to another, but the general pattern is roughly the same – ranging from the rehearsal of the ritual of the Odo cult, to the tracing of the history of the people, especially the heroes and the Ozo-titled men, who in the past had been renowned for their marvellous activities and whose present sons must inevitably inherit this heroic blood. This is expressed in lgbo as ‘Ani-na-efu­ Ngwu’, and that is to say ‘The-Land-That-Breeds-The-Ngwu-Tree’. The Ngwu tree is sacred and mystic; it is a symbol of magic and super­ natural power.

from Black Orpheus (21st April 1967)
translated by R. N. Egudu

I live by the Ngwu tree
Near the Nkwo market…

If We Should All Die, Who Then Will You Govern?

Five Igbo satires from eastern Nigeria. These songs are of the type performed at the funerals of prominent people by groups of singers known as Abigbo singers. The satirical sections form only a part of the performances on these occasions, but the Abigbo singers are renowned for their eloquence and outspokenness. What makes it possible for them to be so sharp in their criticisms is that they accept the idea of hierarchy. They admit that some people must be in positions of power, but they insist that power must be wielded responsibly: as the second poem says, ‘The great man keeps the gun, we keep the gun cap’. When this arrangement breaks down their criticism begins.

A message should be taken to the Council men at Aboh,
Should the ruling of this world be with guns?

The Wife who refuses to feed the visitor

An Igbo poem from eastern Nigeria, about the duties of hospitality

Woman, though you cook without ending
And leave your pot on the fire till evening,

Self-Praises for the Ozo Title Day

An Igbo poem from eastern Nigeria, celebrating initiation into the Nze na Ozo society. To be made Ozo is to become a pillar of the community and a member of the most revered magical-religious community within the Igbo.

In Praise of the Farmer

An Igbo poem from eastern Nigeria, praising the farmer for his fortitude and encouraging him in his cultivation.

You have wedded your hoe to the soil,
You uproot trees with bare hands,

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African Poems