African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Ijala (Page 1 of 2)

Ogun Passed Through Ilogbo Town

Previous poems about Ogun, the Yoruba god of blacksmiths, hunting and warfare (see A Salute to my Ogun and Ogun, God of War 1 & 2) have praised the Orisha as a terrible but necessary god. Terrible in that he is the personification of war with all its accompanying violence, horror and death. Necessary in that he represents victory through conflict and that as patron of blacksmiths and hunters is responsible for many of the innovations that make civilisation possible.

The following poem is an extract from an ìjalá performance by Raaji Ogundiran Alao on a ritual occasion in his hometown, Eripa in Osun State, Nigeria. The translation is by the famous scholar of Yoruba ìjalá, Adeboye Babalola.

It is now high time for me to say as follows:
It is the god Ogun that I worship…

The Incompetent Hunter

Another Yoruba Ijala (Hunting Poems), addressed to the guinea fowl, but with this difference – that instead of celebrating, the hunter makes fun of himself.

Fowl, we greet you, Guinea Fowl, we call you,
Your legs are slender like the ribs of palm leaves…

Incantation to Gain Popularity

This is another Yoruba Ijala (hunting poem) that was first translated into English in Ulli Beier’s Black Orpheus magazine. Ulli Beier was a German-Jewish scholar who moved to Nigeria in 1950 to teach Phonetics at the University of Ibadan. In 1957 he founded the magazine Black Orpheus, the name inspired by “Orphée Noir”, an essay that he had read by the French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre. Black Orpheus was the first African literary journal in English, publishing contemporary authors such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe as well as oral poetry from Nigeria. This Yoruba ìjalá poem appeared in issue 19 of Black Orpheus.

You cannot dispute the forest with a rat.
You cannot dispute the savannah with the buffalo…

At a Thrift-Club Feast

A thrift-club, known in Yoruba as Esusu, is a voluntary society which helps its members to raise money. Every member pays a fixed sum of money regularly at a fixed time (say every fifth or ninth day). One of the subscribing members will take the total amount subscribed for his personal use. The next subscription will be taken by another member, continuing in rotation until every member has taken. As an early form of banking, it played a part in the rise of businesses owned by former slaves in the United States.
This ìjalá, or set of praises, is spoken by the chairmen to encourage and compliment the members.

All you persons of prestige here gathered together,
I greet the woodcock with its characteristic ‘mese’ cry…

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…


This Yoruba Ijala (Hunting Poem) is different, praising not an animal but a plant. Cassava, also called manioc or tapioca, is a root vegetable, rich in starch, but not so nutritious as yams or maize, and consequently grown only along the farm’s boundary. But the images in this poem – bride, friend, prince, wife, camwood – along with the musical support, all suggest how greatly it is valued.

a stand-by cheering the despondent…


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…

A Salute to Fabunmi

Another Ìjálá or hunter’s poem from the Yoruba of Nigeria (see also the poems Elephant, Buffalo, Five Creatures and Hunters’ Salutes). This one is a salute to Fabunmi, celebrating both his skills as a hunter and his generosity towards others.

Oolo of Iware Forest,
why is it we no longer see Fabunmi…

Five Creatures

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

Five creatures
There were in Iresa Town…


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…

Page 1 of 2

African Poems