African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Yoruba (Page 1 of 6)

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…

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…

Iremoje for Pa Ogundele

The following poem is part of the dirges chanted at the funeral of a deceased hunter, Pa Ogundele, by Atoyebi at Agunpopo, Oyo in 1975. Pa Ogundele was a member of the hunters society, the Asipade, (see The Asipade) for whom magical charms are an essential tool for capturing animals and surviving in the forest. However, whilst these charms are highly prized ultimately no magic can defeat death.

Ajuwon Akanbi,
Hunter, I thought you had egba magic…

The Asipade

Iremoje are a Yoruba corpus of poetic chants sung at the funerals of dead hunters. The activities of hunting and warfare fall under the providence of the Yoruba god Ogun, and thus Iremoje also emphasise the virtues and talents associated with this Orisha. See also A Salute to my Ogun, Ogun, God of War i, and Ogun, God of War ii.

Ogun is said to have spent half his life in the forest and the other half in the townships bringing civilisation to mankind. This contrast between the wildness of the forest and the order of the townships is often referenced in Iremoje.

Ogun, Chief Lakaaye
Chief Osin Mole…

Incantation for Luck

A Yoruba poem describing the results of a magical incantation performed to bring good fortune in life, collected by Ulli Beier.

I am waiting at the crossroads
I look to the right…

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African Poems