African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Yoruba (Page 1 of 7)

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…

Iyalode Ibadan

A modern poem in praise of Efunsetan Aniwura, a Yoruba woman who rose to a position of great wealth and political power in Ibadan, Nigeria, during the mid-19th century. Composed by Teslim Opemipo Omipidan from Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State in Nigeria.

Elegbe, let us not toy with a raging fire
for if the thumb get burnt,
all fingers shall suffer…

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)…

Mother is gold

A short poem sent to us by Laju Ereyitomi Oyewoli. Iya ni wura means “Mother is gold” and is a common saying among the Yoruba people of western Nigeria.

Iya ni wura
Mother is Gold…

Oriki Ìnagije

A Yoruba praise poem or Oriki, commemorating the figure of Balógun Ìbíkúnlé, the great ruler and commander-in-chief of Ibadan forces in the nineteenth-century. Ìbíkúnlé was born in Ogbomoso, a city in Oyo State, south-western Nigeria, during the first decade of the nineteenth century. This was at a time when the Fulani jihads were beginning to make incursions into various territories within Yorubaland.

Ìbíkúnlé joined the Ogbomoso army and rose to an influential position within the war council in his twenties. Observing that Ogbomoso lacked the numbers to effectively banish the Fulani jihads, Ìbíkúnlé moved to Ibadan in the 1830’s. Ibadan contained the largest concentration of warriors in Yorubaland at the time and Ìbíkúnlé aligned himself with an Ibadan war-chief known as Toki Onibudo. Through the 1840’s – 1850’s Ìbíkúnlé had led a series of successful conquests that made Ibadan the most formidable power in Yorubaland. An interesting biography of Ìbíkúnlé can be found at Ibadan Insider.

The Oriki that follows celebrates Ìbíkúnlé’s courage, martial prowess, prosperity and leadership qualities. In addition to being an accomplished soldier and commander in chief, he is also praised for his wealth and generosity.

Ìbíkúnlé, the Lord of his Quarters,
The proverbial magnificent doer…

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…

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African Poems