African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Kenya (Page 2 of 3)

Who will throw goat’s dung at me?

A Nandi Children’s song from Kenya, a humorous word-chain that links together all aspects of the children’s future life.

Who will throw goat’s dung at me?
What will you do with goat’s dung?..

Where the Blue-Grey Bulls are Grazing

A song from the Kipsigis people of the Kericho highlands in south-west Kenya, celebrating the beauty of the landscape. The description is almost entirely in terms of the singer’s cattle and of the scene’s colours.

We live at the field of Kagipsirich,
We live where the calf, the calf plays with the calabash…

Pounding Beer

An Embu pounding song from north eastern Kenya, close to Mount Kenya. Pounding songs are sung by women using mortar and pestle to pound grain to flour, the thud of the pestle providing the songs’ rhythm (see also these poems). In this poem the singer pounds malted-millet grain to be made into millet beer for her husband, Mwaniki.

Let me pound beer, pound it for Mwaniki:
He is the one who drinks dilute beer…

Farming Song

A song from the Embu region of Kenya, sung by women at work on their farms.

Ululate for me, my time for going home is not yet,
I shall go home as the sun sets…

Morning Prayers of the Elders (Uganda)

Two separate prayers of the Nandi people, who live in the highlands at the edge of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. These are songs that would be recited at dawn to Asista, the Sun god, along with offerings of beer and milk.

Asista, give us health!
Asista, give us raided cattle!..

The Untiring Singer

A song of the Luo people, from Kenya. This is a courtship poem, sung by young women as they approach where their lovers are staying. It is sung in a curiously artificial style, intended to show off the girls’ voices. The doree ree yo is a passage of very high-pitched vocal acrobatics, compared by the singer to birdsong.

I am possessed,
A bird bursting on high with the ree lament

The Beni Dance

Five Swahili songs from the Beni Dance which is popular throughout East Africa. Beni first became popular in Swahili-speaking communities at the end of the nineteenth century. Its origins have been traced to coastal dance societies (see also Mwananazi), but Beni is also very much influenced by the rituals of German and British colonial forces and especially by their military bands and displays of marching.

The Army is Going to War

A Kipsigi war song from Kenya. Though the song describes the army and its exploits, the purpose of the raid is to capture cattle, this time from the Masai (see also the Cattle Raid). The names in the song are of people and places.

Child’s mother oo wo ho
Child’s mother oo wo ho

Liyongo’s Drinking Song

A Swahili song from the East African coast. It is one of the songs attributed to Liyongo, the Swahili national hero. The ‘tapster’ is the man who taps the palm tree for palm wine. Muscadet is a kind of European wine. Like other peoms associated with Liyongo, the Drinking Song arises from the rich culture of the East African coast with its centuries of trading with the East and with Europe.

O tapster, give me the palm-wine
With the bitter flavour from the coconut palm

The Legend of Liyongo

Liyongo, the national hero of the Swahili people, lived in the area of the delta of the Tana River, north of Mombasa. His father, ruler of the city-state of Shaka, had two sons – Liyongo the elder, and Mringwari. On his father’s death, Mringwari was chosen as ruler and Liyongo was imprisoned: he escaped, joining the villagers and ivory hunters on the mainland, and building a reputation for bravery, chivalry, generosity and justice. Many of the poems praising him are said to have been composed by him, so that he is also celebrated as a poet.

Oh my child, be silent, do not cry;
Listen to the tale of the King of Bauri,

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African Poems