An extract from a Kanuri Praise-Poem from the ancient Bornu kingdom of northern Nigeria (see also The Sultan of Bornu). The Yerima was an official responsible for the defence and general administration of the northern part of the Bornu kingdom and was invariably the grandson of a Sultan.
This Praise-Poem is said to refer to the Yerima who held office during the reign of Sultan Arri Umarmi, 1645–85, though the joke about reading (line 14) must date from a later time.
The Yerima is like a prancing horse whose legs are not hobbled,
Like a camel which wanders where it will without a halter.
He is but the grandson of a Sultan, but he is greater than a prince,
Yerima Mohammadu, son of Doguma:
Let me sing his praises and do you give heed.
My song will fit him as a gown made with a neck-band,
As trousers made with a slot for a string round the waist.
If you doubt it, ask the Ngijima, Babuma and Zakkama who are the three people whose news is trustworthy. (1)
White hairs are dignified,
But good fortune belongs to the man twenty years old.
The fair women of the capital are Asma, daughter of Rugaya,
Kagudi, daughter of Jamall,
Zahra, daughter of Ali the leather worker:
The women said, ‘Kelima, playful fellow, we don’t see the truth of what you say’: (2)
He said, ‘Is what I said a piece of reading?’
Playfulness it is that makes the world forgetful of trouble;
To rouse the men we said it.
from Oral Poetry from Africa (1984),
Compiled by Jack Mapanje and Landeg White,
- Ngijima, Babuma and Zakkama are the titles of the three official court-singers, responsible for chanting Praise-Poems.
- Kelima is the title of the Yerima’s own praise-singer.
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