African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Zimbabwe (Page 2 of 2)

Praises of Lobengula

Recited in Ndebele by imbongi Mtshede Ndhovu to T.J. Hemens c.1970. Mtshede Ndhlovu was born when Mzilikazi was still on the throne, that is, before 1868, making him some 105 years old. His son, Bova Ndhlovu, acted as interpreter, assisting Hemans with the translation.

Lobengula succeeded his father Mzilikazi in 1868. By then, the Ndebele had been settled at Bulawayo for 28 years. They were no longer a wandering tribe, and the responsibilities of kingship had changed, from making war to ensuring the fertility of the land. In 1893, however, the Ndebele suffered catastrophic defeat at the hands of the British South Africa Company, invading Matabeleland. The praise-poem comments on all this.

It roared like a calf.
He who has books is at the river crossing…

Shava, my Child

A Shona song from Zimbabwe, sung by a mother at a dance in praise of her daughter’s singing. What is especially admired is a voice higher and purer than all the others, like the new moons flute.

E! There’s my one, drowning all the others.
Listen, girls, and hear what she’s to sing!

The Grandsons of Makomo

A song of a Shona clan from Zimbabwe, boasting of the invincibility of their ancestors as a warning to other rival clans. The ‘Sons of Chihuri’ say that their enemy has taken on more than he bargained for.

We, the grandsons of Makomo, are not treated like that!
No one in this country plays with us,

Three Women

This Shona Praise-Poem from Zimbabwe praises two women, the speaker’s mother-in-law and his wife, and criticises a third woman, his friend’s wife, for her laziness and unattractiveness. It belongs to the context of a beer party at which two friends, joined in the special joking relationship of ushamwari, are having a mock argument, each trying to outdo the other in eloquence.

The mother of my wife has guardian spirits like to mine.
On seeing me, she will give me her whole barn.


An extract from a Shona Praise-Poem from Zimbabwe, the clan praise of Chihota’s clan. For Chilota’s people the zebra is a symbol, and the sparkling description of the zebra is a metaphor for the qualities of the clan.

Thank you, Zebra,
Adorned with your own stripes

The Mbira-Player

A Shona song from Zimbabwe, praising the Mbira-player for his musicianship. The Mbira, which is sometimes called a hand-piano, is described in Lines 24-29. It has two (sometimes three) keyboards, made of metal strips, which are plucked with the thumbs, and it is set in a hollow gourd to increase the resonance. The gourd is decorated with shells, which rattle to provide a rhythmic accompaniment. It is a versatile instrument, offering the player and singer a great range of effects. In this song, the words ‘Expert With The Rattling Shells’, ‘The Mbira-Shatterer’, ‘He Who Makes The Mbira Resound’, etc, are all praise-names.

Strike the Mbira, Expert With The Rattling Shells!
It is he The Mbira-Shatterer of whom you hear nothing but praise,

The Boast of the Good Farmer

A Shona poem from Zimbabwe, recited by the farmer himself at a beer party given for his friends to celebrate his harvest. The poem ends with a well-known song in which everybody joined.

I have ploughed and I have sweated,
And now I am enjoying my crops, my friends,

In Praise of the Ironsmith

A Shona Praise-Poem from Zimbabwe, sung by the blacksmith’s wife in praise of her husband. His skills seem almost supernatural (he is a ‘craftsman’, a ‘wizard’, an ‘expert’), and his hoes, axes, hatchets, adzes and knives are bringing great wealth to his family.

Today this place is full of noise and jollity.
The guiding spirit that enables my husband to forge makes him do wonders.

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African Poems