African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Kenya (Page 1 of 3)

The Story of Miqdad and Mayasa

The following epic poem was transcribed by Dr Alice Werner, who was the professor of Swahili and Bantu languages at London’s School of Oriental Studies between 1917-1930. Dr Werner first encoutered the story of Miqdad and Mayasa during her visit to the village of Bomani, a village in Kenya’s Kilifi County, in 1913. During her visit Dr Werner met Sharif Hassan and his wife, Mwana Bamu, who entertained their guests by reading aloud from her treasured manuscript of the poem.

The Story of Miqdad and Mayasa opens with an encounter between the storyteller Miqdad and the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca. Taking shelter in a cave from the rain outside, Muhammad requests that Miqdad tells a story to pass the time.

There does not appear to be any versions of the story in Arabic and Dr Werner believed that the poem may have been transmitted through the oral tradition within Kenya for many years before being finally committed to writing. This may explain why from time to time the author of the text appears to forget that Miqdad is the narrator and speaks of him in the third person.

I begin with the name of the Compassionate,
and pray for the faithful one…

At the New Moon

Another Nandi children’s song from Kenya (see also Who will throw goat’s dung at me).

When the moon is new
The children, if they are Nandi,

What Happened in Olenguruone?

Olenguruone is in Nakuru County, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, at the heart of Gikuyu homeland. In the days of Mau Mau, when the fighters for Kenya’s independence made the neighbouring forest their base for attacks on British settlers, the colonial authorities cleared the region under a forced reseettlement (or “villagisation”) programme, deporting those who resisted to the detention centre at Yatta or to prisons in Nakuru and Nairobi (see also The Day Kenyatta was Arrested). In 2012, in the High Court, survivors of the Uprising won their case for maltreatment against the British government.

The great sadness occurred in Olenguruone.
Children and livestock were weeping in the heavy rain and bitter cold..

Lullaby (Kamba)

A Kamba lullaby from Kenya for singing babies to sleep. The singer calls her child ‘Mama’ as a form of endearment by which a child is addressed as a parent.

Mama, child’s mother, don’t cry like a poor person.
You have come to me, you are crying more than I used to…

Serenade II

This is another version of the much-loved Swahili love song from the east African coast (see Serenade), probably the best known and most widely admired of all Swahili poems in translation. Like My Mwananazi, it is associated with Liyongo, the epic hero. There are interesting differences from the former version. Here, for instance, she is advised to listen, not to sing, to her suitors, and the ‘passers-by’ are not supposed to hear anything of what is going on.

O lady, be calm and cry not out but attend to your suitors patiently,
listen patiently to them who have climbed up to your window,
lest those passing along the road may see…

My Mwananazi

This is a well-known Swahili song, a version of which we posted previously without the vernacular text (see Mwananazi). This is an older, longer version, sung in praise of a dutiful wife in the Islamic tradition. It was first recorded in the 1860s, but is still extant in slightly different versions. The translation (slightly revised) was by Hamisi wa Kayi…

The Twilight Song of Honey-Bird

A Gikuyu herdsboy’s song from Kenya. It sets up a chain of language which links together humorously all aspects of life (see also Who Will Throw Goat’s Dung at Me?).

Honey-bird, honey-bird,
Get arrows, get arrows…

The Day Kenyatta Was Arrested

A Kikuyu song from Kenya referring to the arrest of Jomo Kenyatta in October 1952. Jomo Kenyatta was the leader of Kenya from independence in 1963 to his death in 1978, serving first as Prime Minister and then as President. He is considered the founding father of the Kenyan nation.

The day Kenyatta was arrested,
was on a Monday,
He was taken to the airport…

The Well-Wined Warrior

This is another version of the song in praise of palm-wine, attributed to Liyongo the national hero of the Swahili people. See also Liyongo’s Drinking Song for a different version of this song.

O tapster of soured wine,
from the sheath of the withered palm…

The Hunter’s Praise of his Bow

Another of the poems attributed to Liyongo, the national hero of the Swahili people, who lived in the area of the delta of the Tana River, north of Mombasa.

Praise my bow with its haft of the wild-vine,
let it be dressed with oil and shine like glass.

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African Poems