African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Mozambique (Page 1 of 2)

Drama Songs – Paiva

Many of the protest songs sung by the chiSena women of the Lower Zambesi region of Mozambique contain a short play, inserted into the song. A typical performance begins with the women standing in a circle, bending forward from the waist and clapping or clacking piece of wood or shaking tin machacha as accompaniment to the lead singer. Then, one at a time, they perform brief solo dances, eyes fixed on the ground slightly to the left and elbows crooked, shaking their buttocks to the rhythm. After several repetitions of the main verse, the song breaks off while the drama is performed, enacting its main theme. The stage is the circle of singers, which remains unbroken, and anyone it seems can perform, the actors frequently being replaced half-way through by women who feel they can do better. The audience consists of the remaining women, who scream with laughter at the caricatures of bribery and beatings, rape, extortion and arrest…

Marromeu has spoken

A Chuabo woman’s song from central Mozambique, about the separation of husband and wife (see also Complaint). Marromeu was the second of Sena Sugar Estate’s plantations, on the south bank of the Zambesi opposite Luabo. While her husband is absent there a labour migrant, the singer is growing rice under compulsion for Lopes e Irmão, owner of the rice concession for Maganja da Costa.

This poem was sung in Chuabo by Paterina João and Palmira Goodbye of Lower Licungo, at Juncua Compound, Marromeu, 2 September, 1975.

Marromeu has spoken
He has arrived

Here Comes Ruy’s Steamer

In October 1944, a company which came to be called Arrozal was awarded (by the Rice Propaganda Division) the rice concession for the lower Zambesi valley in colonial Mozambique. This granted the concession-holder, a man called Ruy Pereira de Lima, the right to levy four sacks from every adult woman in the area, paying them one-third of the market value…


A Lomwe woman’s song from central Mozambique. The singer is forced to grow cotton for the Companhia dos Algodões de Moçambique, owner of the cotton concession for the district of Ile. Her earnings are a derisory 5 escudos. Meanwhile, under the same forced labour laws, her husband is a labour migrant, working 300 km away at Luabo, headquarters of Sena Sugar Estates…


The following Sena song exists in many versions throughout the area of the lower Zambesi river in Mozambique, dominated from 1890 by an English company which came to be called Sena Sugar Estates. The original ‘Paiva’ was Ignacio Paiva Raposo, who in 1874 rented an estate (or ‘Prazo’) near the confluence of the Shire and Zambesi rivers. It was his son-in-law, John Peter Hornung, who in 1890 founded his sugar company on the same land, and who afterwards built an extensive empire, administering, policing, levying taxes, monopolizing trade, and extorting labour from some 14,000 square miles of central Mozambique. To the local Sena people, however, the company continued to be called ‘Paiva’, the name under which their land was first alienated.

The original version, dating from c.1890 was a simple work song, performed as accompaniment to field labour in the cane fields. It ran as follows:

Wo -o-o, Wo-…

Ng’godo: Gomukomu 1942

Another in our series of Chopi Migodo, from Mozambique, collected by the great ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey. In Gomukomu’s Ng’godo for 1942/43, work, taxation, and their effects on women are the dominant themes, against the background of oppressive Portuguese rule.

Ng’godo: Gomukomu 1940

Another in our series of Chopi Migodo, from Mozambique, collected by the great ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey. Gomukomu’s Ng’godo for 1940 is a celebration of the beauty and power of Chopi music, set against the sheer pettiness of Portuguese rule with its forced labour, its taxes and its tiresome officials.

Ng’godo: Katini 1940

The Migodo (singular Ng´godo)of the Chopi people of southern Mozambique are among the most exciting spectacles to be witnessed in Africa. They are annually staged entertainments made up of dances, songs and music played on orchestras of massed xylophones played by up to 48 musicians.

Song of the Machila-Bearers

A Lomwe song, from the early days of the Lugella Company, which in 1915 opened a Sisal plantation in north-central Mozambique. The word ‘machila’ means cloth, and became by extension the word for the hammock in which Europeans used to be carried. Four carriers, one at each corner, would run in step, singing to maintain their rhythm. Frequently, the songs made fun of the passenger, who didn’t speak the bearers’ language.

You weep, you sleep stiffly, when you are old!
O – o,
You weep, you sleep stiffly, when you are old!
O – o,

Lomwe-Chuabo Protest Songs

The following songs were transcribed in the 1970’s and express the bitter hatred that many Mozambican Africans had towards the chiefs and headmen that had been appointed by the Portuguese during the colonial era.

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African Poems