The theme of the poems in this section is pleasure — pleasure in games and riddles, pleasure in singing and dancing, pleasure in drumming and musicianship, pleasure in drinking, smoking and story-telling, and pleasure in the beauty of the landscape, a whole range of pleasures from childhood to old age.
This does not mean the section is less important than the others. What is true of these poems is true of oral literature as a whole. Ultimately, the pleasure that matters is the pleasure of the audience in the artistic mastery of the performer.
Riddles, for example, are games with language, with the sounds and meanings of words. Riddling looks simple and it is done for enjoyment. But the person who can complete the metaphor in, for example, this riddle — A black woman with a nasty temper?, or who can understand the play on the double-meaning of words in this riddle — It goes outside, it does not cross the threshold, is well-equipped to understand poetry. From riddles, game-songs and tongue-twisters, it is but a short step to the skills of the singer, the dancer, the drummer, the mbira player and the story-teller.
‘To play the timbila you must dream about it’, sings Katini, the xylophone player from southern Mozambique (Hark How the Music Thunders). The brilliance of his performance is the result of his total absorption in his art. ‘We also have gospels — the drums’, sing the Kalela dancers from the Zambian Copper belt. when invited to join the Watchtower church (The Kalela Dance). Their commitment is to their dancing, a commitment expressed in all their performances. ‘Were I a Moslem man, I would excel in reciting prayers’, exclaims the Yorùbá poet as a delighted comment on the skilled use of language he has just demonstrated in his chant (Three Birds).
Too much attention has been paid in the past to the social functions of oral literature, on the part played by songs and stories in imposing discipline and laying down the law. The poems in this section are a healthy reminder of the artist’s sheer love of words and music. Poetry is about pleasure, and at the heart of all performance is the exuberant demonstration of skills.
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