African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Nigeria (Page 1 of 10)

Salute to Aje, Goddess of Wealth

The goddess Aje appears within Yoruba mythology as a patroness of trade and economic prosperity. The following oriki is addressed to Aje and also describes the ways in which wealth effects human affairs. The oriki is followed by a chant to invoke the spirit of the orisha as part of an enchantment for money. Money in this context is in the form of cowry shells (cowries were an instrument of payment and exchange throughout western Africa until the nineteenth century and remain a symbol of wealth).

Aje, supreme god of wealth.
Benevolent provider of all human needs…

Eshu-Elegba in the Marketplace

A previous poem for the Yoruba trickster god Eshu (see Eshu, God of Fate) describes him as a deity who loves disrupting the laws of probability and creating impossible contradictions of time and space.

As an orisha who crosses boundaries his shrines are usually located at crossroads and at the entrances to homes. Another important station for Eshu is the marketplace…

Oriki Ijebu

A poem sent to us by Amore David Olamide, praising the Ijebu people of Yorubaland. The Ijebu kingdom was formed around the fifteenth century and due to its position on the trade routes between Lagos and Ibadan became wealthy and powerful in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Ijebu have historically been praised for their business acumen and talent for trade.

The Ijebu Dynasty, although split into major divisions – Ijebu -Ife, Ijebu-Igbo, Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Ososa and Ijebu-Remo – has managed to remain united as one, under the leadership and authority of the Awujale (Awujale is the royal title of the King of Ijebu Kingdom) who seats in Ijebu-Ode.

One of the prominent Ijebu deities is Agemo, celebrated mid-yearly and the celebration event is used as an opportunity to unite and resolve disputes between Ijebu communities by gathering representatives called the Alagemos from the affected factions to discuss and resolve their dispute. The Oro is another notable deity of the Ijebus who is believed to purge the society of evil. The Oro festival often takes place before the Agemo festival in order to ensure that the communities are free of evil spirits leading up to the meeting of the Alagemos.

If Ijebu prefer,
They will weave it a bit…

Ode To Sango

Another in our series of Modern Poetry in the Oral Manner, this one about one of the most prominent Orisha, Sango, also known as Shango (see also In Praise of Shango) or Xango in Latin. The following poem not only addresses his encounter with the Owu people, now concentrated in Abeokuta, but also portrays Sango’s personality ranging from his birth, life and wives, to his controversial end.

Jakuta, son of Aganju,
Violent ruler, grandson of Oduduwa…

Moremi Ajasoro

This is a modern poem by Aremu Adams Adebisi on the theme of the legend that surrounds the 12th century Yoruba princess, Moremi Ajasoro. Moremi was married to the Yoruba king Oranmiyan who ruled the kingdom of Ile-Ife. Ile-Ife had been at war with a neighbouring tribe for many years, who the Yoruba referred to as ‘the Forest people’ (Ìgbò in the Yoruba language, though the said tribe is believed by scholars to have had no relation to the contemporary Ìgbòs of modern Nigeria)…

The Itsekiri Praise Poem

A modern poem sent to us by Laju Ereyitomi Oyewoli, in the style of a traditional praise of one’s own clan. The Itsekiri people live in Nigeria’s Niger Delta area and traditionally refer to their land as the Kingdom of Iwerre. The area is a key centre of Nigeria’s crude oil and natural gas production.

Iwere ni mi
For I belong to the powerful bloodline…

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…

Iremoje for Ogundele

Another example of the Yoruba poetic chants sung at the funerals of dead hunters. See Iremoje for the background and for other examples of this genre.

In Yoruba mythology, death does not wage war against men alone but travels with a team of supernatural war lords, the ajogun. The following was chanted by Lamidi for the deceased hunter Ogundele at Akeetean, Oyo in 1976.

Death does not kill alone,
Nor does he fight singly…

The Mouse, the Squirrel and the Tortoise

This is another poem sent to us by Oluwatoba Opemip, a student of Adekunle Ajasin University in Ondo state, Nigeria. As in the previous poem, Oluronbi, this is a modern working on traditional Yoruba folklore…

Iremoje for Ogunjinmi

The following Iremoje was part of the dirges chanted at the funeral of a deceased hunter, Ogunjinmi, whose name means “the god Ogun blesses or favours me”. See also The Asipade and Iremoje for Pa Ogundele for previous examples of this genre.

The Iremoje funeral rites are held at night, outside the house of the deceased hunter, and will continue until dawn. As Ogun is regarded as the Orisha who brought the knowledge of metallurgy to mankind, other members of the community who use iron implements such as farmers, blacksmiths, barbers, drivers and weapon-smiths also join the hunters family and friends in attending the ritual. The audience forms a circle around the ritual space. At the center of the ring, the hunters tools are arranged around an effigy of the deceased including his hunting clothes, tools and weapons.

To live in the forest the hunter must master various skills, carpentry to build his hunting lodge, knowledge of medicinal plants to heal his wounds, knowledge of culinary plants for cooking, and tailoring so that the hunter can weave clothes to keep him warm and disguise himself from his prey. The following Iremoje was chanted by Lamidi Abonikaba at Oyo in 1975. During the dirge Lamidi holds up the needle that the hunter used whilst in the forest.

Ogunjinmi, you have caught your father’s dog.
A needle that falls into a pit is lost forever…

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African Poems