A Yorùbá poem from the Iwì Egúngún traditional. Iwì Egúngún is the poetry of masqueraders, who personify the ancestors in the Egúngún masks. Through the masks, the ancestors comment wisely or satirically on the living.
In Tricks a series of proverb-type metaphors are put together to make the point that death is unavoidable.
The star is trying to outshine the moon,
The frog is preparing a trick to get wings,
The one who wears a cotton dress pretends to wear velvet,
The one who is wearing velvet pretends to be a king.
We all try to do
What God never intends us to do.
Watch out, ‘We shall catch and kill’
Is what we cry when we go to the battlefield:
We tend to forget that we shall meet another man there
Uttering the same cry.
When Death is far away,
We may protect our child with aja charm:
When Death arrives,
He tears the aja from his neck
And carries the child along.
from Yoruba Poetry (1970),
ed. Professor Ulli Beier