African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Nigeria (Page 2 of 9)

Cuckold Contented

A Yoruba song, partly satirical, partly pragmatic. Sourced from the Black Orpheus magazine that was founded by Ulli Beier in 1957 and co-edited by Wole Soyinka and Es’kia Mphahlele.

My wife told me
I go to the market…

May Allah Give Me a True Friend

A Hausa song from northern Nigeria. The singer is longing for a child. It is from an anthropological record of the Hausa people, partly compiled from an oral account given by Baba (1877-1951), the daughter of a Hausa farmer and Koranic teacher, and translated by May K. Smith.

May Allah give me a true friend whether he’s small or big,
Even an infant sucking at the breast, or one lying in the womb…

Election Songs

Three Yoruba songs, sung by women supporters of the two parties in the Federal elections of 1959 in western Nigeria. The main contenders were the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (N.C.N.C.), the ruling party whose symbol was the Palm Tree, and the Action Group, whose symbol was a cockerel.

The first song is by the Action Group women who claim the N.C.N.C. belongs, like its symbol, in the bush, along with lepers.

The palm tree grows in the far bush:
Nobody allows the leper to build his house in the town:
The palm tree grows in the far bush…

Bawa’s House

A Hausa song from northern Nigeria, popular with women. It is from an anthropological record of the Hausa people, partly compiled from an oral account given by Baba (1877-1951), the daughter of a Hausa farmer and Koranic teacher, and translated by May K. Smith.

The poem refers to a barber who is also a pimp, with a purely businesslike attitude to love. The women, by contrast, look to Allah for wealth and to Bawa’s love for pleasure.

The barber doesn’t want a burning passion:
He doesn’t wish it to break him up…

Towns (Ibadan)

A Yoruba Iwi, or masqueradors’, chant from Nigeria. It is a sharp criticism of modern Ibadan as a town of thieves, violence and disease. For more Iwi poetry, see Tricks.

The spirit of the rock protects the town.
Ibadan, don’t fight!..

Song of the Zakkama to the Sultan of Borno

An extract from a Kanuri Praise-Poem from the ancient kingdom of Bornu in northern Nigeria (c.f., The Sultan of Bornu, Queen Gumsu, The Yerima Mohammadu, In Praise of Yerima Aji, and The Song Sung to Kaigama Anterashi, son of Lima). The Sultan had three official praise singers, who walked beside him procession, or stood before him in audience. Their titles, in order of precedence, were Ngijima, Babuma and Zakkama. The praises are addressed by the Zakkama to Sultan Aman Alimi, who reigned 1793-1810.

You, son of Gumsu, Gumsu Amina, daughter of Talba, you Ibrahim,
Have attained to your father’s place among the great…

Incantation to Gain Popularity

This is another Yoruba Ijala (hunting poem) that was first translated into English in Ulli Beier’s Black Orpheus magazine. Ulli Beier was a German-Jewish scholar who moved to Nigeria in 1950 to teach Phonetics at the University of Ibadan. In 1957 he founded the magazine Black Orpheus, the name inspired by “Orphée Noir”, an essay that he had read by the French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre. Black Orpheus was the first African literary journal in English, publishing contemporary authors such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe as well as oral poetry from Nigeria. This Yoruba ìjalá poem appeared in issue 19 of Black Orpheus.

You cannot dispute the forest with a rat.
You cannot dispute the savannah with the buffalo…

Incantation

The Yoruba believe in Atunwa, reincarnation within the family. Yoruba funeral songs such as Slowly the Muddy Pool Becomes a River and Where are You Now? incorporate the symbolism of loved ones returning in other forms. This poem is a grief-stricken Yoruba prayer, inviting a dead child to be born again.

Death catches the hunter with pain.
Eshu catches the herbalist in a sack…

At a Thrift-Club Feast

A thrift-club, known in Yoruba as Esusu, is a voluntary society which helps its members to raise money. Every member pays a fixed sum of money regularly at a fixed time (say every fifth or ninth day). One of the subscribing members will take the total amount subscribed for his personal use. The next subscription will be taken by another member, continuing in rotation until every member has taken. As an early form of banking, it played a part in the rise of businesses owned by former slaves in the United States.
This ìjalá, or set of praises, is spoken by the chairmen to encourage and compliment the members.

All you persons of prestige here gathered together,
I greet the woodcock with its characteristic ‘mese’ cry…

Hyena (Yoruba)

Another Yoruba ijala (hunting poem) about the hyena (see also the Sotho praise-poem about the Hyena). Hyena is regarded as the ultimate scavenger, there being nothing the animal won’t eat.

Hyena, who goes into the farm and finds that a three-year old bone is full of marrow for him…

Page 2 of 9

African Poems