African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Lesotho

The Self-Praises of Kola Khoali

Lithoko are praise poems from Lesotho, which is today a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa. These may be sung to praise chiefs such as Moshoeshoe the founder of the Sotho kingdom, there are also, lithoko tsa makoloane, praises performed at initiation rites and lithoko tsa bafo, the praises of male commoners.

The following self-praises of one commoner, Kola Khoali, was documented by Hugh Tracey in 1959 during his recording tour in 1959.

Be quiet and listen to celebration,
Mixed with cries of weeping…

The Crop Thieves

A Sotho poem from Lesotho on the subject of weaver birds, at harvest time one of the worst predators. The sounds and rhythms of this poem, even in the English translation, imitate marvellously the twittering and bustle of the weaver birds which are stealing corn from the fields.

Tswi-tswiri! I the person, I suspect!
What have you heard that makes you suspicious?..


An interlude in a Sotho Praise-Poem from Lesotho. The poem is addressed to Nathaniel Makotoko, one of the Sotho’s most famous military commanders.

Meeting him in 1879, the missionary Francois Coillard wrote, “Nathanael (sic) is no longer the young man of old, vigorous and valiant. Of those bygone days, nothing is left him but the scars which recall the dauntless courage he displayed in fighting for his country, defending the fortress of Moshesh.” See also Mosheoshoe.

This extract celebrates an episode of calm and relaxation between battles, when the men enjoyed a night of hospitality and peace.

The armies left the Great Place in full strength:
And when we arrived at the place of Lesaoana…


A Sotho poem from Lesotho, in praise of the crocodile.

The crocodile is the invoker of the rain waters,
The black one of the pool…


The opening lines of a long Praise-Poem from Lesotho in praise of Moshoeshoe, the founder of the Sotho nation. Today the Kingdom of Lesotho is a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa.

‘Moshoeshoe’ (pronounced mshweshwe, imitating the sound of a razor) means The Shaver, and his other praise-name Thesele means The Beater or The Thumper. As these praise-names indicate, Moshoeshoe was a warrior. However, the main emphasis of the Praise-Poem is on Moshoeshoe as the benevolent nation-builder, the father of Lesotho, who brought peace to warring factions. Interwoven into the poem are proverbs, said to be spoken by Moshoeshoe himself, about the art of government and stressing the need for rule by consent rather than by violence…

You who are fond of praising the ancestors,
Your praises are poor when you leave out the warrior

The Leopard (Tlokwa)

The following Northern Sotho poem appears to be about a leopard; but the allusion is to the chiefs of the Tlokwa, whose symbol was a leopard.

It is the yellow leopard with the spots
The yellow leopard of the cliffs

Chief Seeiso and the Christians

An extract from a Sotho Praise-Poem from Lesotho. In 1926, there was a succession dispute over the Paramount Chieftaincy in which the Roman Catholic missionaries supported Chief Seeiso’s rival. The attack on the Christians is therefore appropriate as part of the praises of Seeiso, the warrior (see also It All Started With the Conversion).

Seeiso accepts no cowards;
The children of the family of Mary he rejects:

Hyena (Lesotho)

A hunters’ poem from Lesotho. Throughout this poem, the description shifts to the first person singular to give the hyena’s own words.

The hyena is the greedy one among the wild beasts,
The one that drops a bone is a small one.

African Poems