African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: San

The Broken String

A San lament from South Africa, sung by Xaa-ttin for the death of his friend the magician and rain maker Nuin-kui-ten. The halting rhythms of the English translation, and the image of the bow string which no longer vibrates, are perfectly expressive of grief. The song was originally recorded in the 1870s.

They were the people, those who
broke the string for me…

Hunters Prayers (San)

A prayer of the San bushmen, calling to the Moon to assist the hunter the following day. In the prayer the hunter describes how he will steal the yolk of an ostrich’s egg while the ostrich is actually sitting on the nest. To do this the hunter must creep up behind the ostrich without being noticed, crack the shell of an egg within the nest and scoop out the yolk without being detected. For this amazing piece of hunting, he will use a brush made of the tail hairs of a Gemsbok antelope.

Ho moon lying there,
Let me early tomorrow see an ostrich…


A San prayer, recorded in the mid-nineteenth century. The moon, which renews itself each month, becomes an image of re-birth.

Young moon, take my face up yonder,
Give back to me your face up there, take away this pain.

African Poems