African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Yoruba (Page 2 of 7)

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…

Oluronbi

We were sent the following poem, a modern working on the Yoruba folklore tale of Olúrónbí, by Oluwatoba Opemip who is a student of Adekunle Ajasin University in Ondo state, Nigeria.

The tale of Olúrónbí concerns a beautiful woman who has been yearning for a child but has been unable to conceive. Following the tradition of her village, Olúrónbí ventures into the forest to petition the spirit of the Iroko tree, Olúwéré, to enable her to become pregnant. Most women who perform this ritual promised to make offerings of wines, food and sacrifices of sheep and goats to Olúwéré. Olúrónbí however, promises her first child to the spirit of the Iroko tree if he grants her request. Time passes and Olúrónbí gives birth to a beautiful female child which she named Béporé. But when the time came for her to fulfill her promise to her benefactor, Olúrónbí in decided to keep her daughter and tries to placate Olúwéré with various other offerings. Olúwéré warned and warned as his patience grew cold, turning to rage and anger until one day Béporé is taken away mysteriously.

Twice a union stroll a year
Even when these amulets of riches…

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…

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…

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!..

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…

Page 2 of 7

African Poems