The following love poems are very different from the Shona poems previously posted on this site. The clan praises (see the praises of the Shumba Murambwi and the Shumba Tembo) are assumed to have been composed by bards who had a close relationship with the chief, hired to chronicle the history of the totem group. Those praise poems are for public performance, inspiring contemporary generations to meet the challenges of the present-day by providing models of heroic ancestors who overcame adversity in their own age.
In contrast, these erotic love poems are sung only in the bedroom, by husband and wife. It is also unclear who authored these love poems and how this distinct branch of Shona oral poetry developed.
These love poems share some similarities with contemporary love ballads in expressing a couples yearning for each other, but also have an esoteric quality in which the sacred totems of the couple are invoked as part of the praises the lovers bestow on each other. There is a playfulness to the poetry as well as a devotional quality whereby sexual union is transformed into a sacramental act which locates the partners within the lineage of their totem groups.
The poems are deeply sensual, with each partner celebrating their lovers skillful lovemaking and performance in bed. Both the poems for the male and female praise the beauty and magnificence of their partners sexual organs, comparing them with the most delicious fruits and the most admirable qualities of their totems. These are interwoven with more domestic accolades for their role as household provider and partner through life’s challenges.
From the love poems that Aaaron D. Hodza collected in the 1970’s, and which Alec Pongwani provided further analysis for his book The Oral Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe, I have selected two poems from the Tembo Mazvimbakupa clan. The totem of the Tembo Mazvimbakupa is the zebra, a sacred animal (the Tembo Mazvimbakupa do not trap or kill zebras) who is deeply intertwined with the dynasty of their clan.
I should note that people from the same totem group are not allowed to marry, as they are descendants of one common ancestor (the founder of that totem). So the following poems were not composed for one couple.
The love poem for the Tembo Mazvimbakupa woman is a poem sung by a man, from another clan, who marries a Tembo daughter, and the love poem for the Tembo Mazvimbakupa man is recited by a woman from another clan who takes a Tembo husband.
The first poem, for the Tembo Mazvimbakupa woman, is sung by her husband who celebrates the deliciousness of the sexual pleasure they experience together. These devotions are interwoven with praise for his partner as mother of the household and for her culinary talents.
The Love Poem for the Tembo Mazvimbakupa Woman
Thank you very much, Madam Nyemba! (1)
The single mother of one, Chivazve’s daughter,
The Chivazves, who hunt elephants.
Thank you, you of the girdle at the delicate place! (2)
Well done, Zebra!
Hail you, The Giver of consent!
Thank you, Ms-giver-by-the-gourd!
A service has been performed, The Interlaced One!
You, my elegant and exceedingly beautiful woman!
She, who is like distilled liquid honey.
Even the little piece of juicy meat is surpassed.
Thank you, Madam Muroro! (3)
Thank you, Madam Nyemba!
The single mother of one, Chivazve’s daughter.
(Daughters) the bars to whose receptacles can grind rice grain!
My Muroro, this one,
The single mother of one,
You have bars to the entrance which are like the spotted sweet pumpkin.
And indeed, inside you are just as sweet.
As for you who my mother is, it is you.
Let them ask who my provider is, the answer is you.
You will cater for my needs on the stomach and the intestines
Oh, dear mother! Oh that this was also eaten as a side dish!
As for now, it is the ultimate torturer of the one scratching,
A pimple that itches inside the heart.
You have performed wonderfully indeed!
The poem in Shona:
Maita VaHota Mukonde!
Muuya wangu munakunaku!
Anenge musvisvi wouchi.
Kagwedu kenyama kanosara pasi.
Vane nzariro dzinokuya mupunga.
Muroro wangu yuyu,
Muna mazeteko anenge mboko
Mukati kuzipa kunenge nhanga rendodo.
Amai vangu ndimi.
Muriritiri wangu ndimi.
Muchandizva padumbu napaura.
Mhezi yavavira mumwoyo.
Aiwa mazviita zvenyu
Just as the love poem for the Tembo Mazvimbakupa woman contains praises of the female’s sexuality, the love poem for the Tembo Mazvimbakupa man is full of adorations for the male sex organ. One of the praise names for the Zebra is the ‘hornless beast’ or ‘a beast without horns’ and here the male genitalia is favourably compared with the well-endowed attributes of the Tembo totem (Mazvimbakupa means ‘He who swells to give’).
The Love Poem for the Tembo Mazvimbakupa Man
Hail, Zebra clansman!
Thank you very much, Zebra!
The Zebra with spots.
Is this really me!
You belong with those of the shaking loose horns,
While those of other men blow water (4)
Well done, Zebra!
Thank you, my lord!
Thank you, the Hota of the Mutasa clan.
You put things straight in this land.
You, the immersers of Zomba.
You have now immersed grain into water to sprout,
Where there was no one to immerse.
Hail, my man of Zomba, this one!
My own husbands,
They of Mbizinyoro, (5)
Who are spread all over Dzangare
The sons of Chibandamujodho, (6)
The little bone which has no marrow
To view the Zebra is to view the feet.
Above there are paths between parted hair
It is the place of shaking loose horns.
You, the hornless beast,
You have done a service, Mr Chiteketeke.
You have a praise poem that leaves crumbs when recited. (7)
They of the house of Mr-Sweet-at-the-bottom, (8)
The green stalk of sugar-cane, the old woman of the male beast. (9)
You have a totem on which the flies dare not land.
Add to that, a praise poem with no refuse to be spat out.
Well done, Hornless beast, a loose horn himself!
Thank you, son of Chivazve, the Supreme Hornless Beast,
Which comes out of a small skin bag. (10)
Tilling the land is for women
While men’s preoccupation is hunting
Your motto is, ‘Our morsel is animal hair,
And the relish is you’,
You, Mr-Giver-by-the-ladle, the hornless bull.
You invited me, ‘Leave your mother
So that we can spend the rest of our days caressing each other.’
Indeed, even to this day we are feasting on meat.
And francolins we have aplenty,
Talk of honey, we are swimming in it.
You have performed wonderfully, Matendera,
You the hireling of the sleeping mat.
The poem in Shona:
Mbizi ine chivara,
Vane mhuno dzinofura dzihwa,
Dzavamwe varume dzichifura mvura.
Maita vaHota vokwaMutasa,
Makatwasanura nyika ino.
Mazonyika chimera muno,
Makanga musina anonyika.
Hekani muZomba wangu yuyu
Chipfupa chisina mwongora
Kuringa mbizi huringa makumbo
Kamusoro kuna mahwara
Njuma isina nyanga
Muno kutendwa kuno mubvururu
Gunde repwa muchembere wegongo
Muno mutupo usingagarwi nenhunzi
Mukati chidao chisina masvisvinwa
Hekani Manjuma Ngwere!
Maita mwana waChivazve
Munoti ‘Gushe musuva
VaChipanegombe, mombe njuma.
Makanditi, ‘siya amai
Nanhasi nyama tinongodya
Nehorwe zvose zviripo
Uchi tinongotamba nahwo.
from The Oral Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe,
The Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (2012)
- Nyemba: Refers to the ‘cowpea’ plant (of which the black-eyed bean is a subspecies), a key crop in Zimbabwe. Its branches grow outwards in all directions from a central stem and this becomes a symbolic metaphor for the way the Tembo lineage expands and extends their influence through marriage.
- Tembo women wore girdles, often made of small beads, around the waist. The praises of the Shumba Tembo alludes to the Zebra’s stripes as girdles — The Zebra, which dons girdles like women do.
- Muroro: This is the name of a fruit plant of the custard apple family that has both culinary and medicinal applications. The name Muroro can also refer to a Shona clan and may indicate that the woman being addressed is descended from this lineage.
- A man who is impotent is said, by the Shona, to discharge only water.
- Mbizinyoro: ‘Those of the soft Zebra’
- Chibandamujodho: ‘He who crushes mujodho with his teeth’. Pogweni suggests that this refers to an aphrodisiac used by Shona men, with The little bone which has no marrow possibly describing the phallus before the aphrodisiac has taken effect.
- A praise poem that leaves crumbs when recited: Refers to semen
- Here the male phallus is compared to a sugar-can stalk, which has sugar concentrated at its thickest end.
- The old woman of the beast: Old women in Shona proverbial lore cook the finest meals, the thickest past of the male organ is being described here as the source of the finest food.
- Traditionally Shona men wore mufoi/mubindo, a loincloth passed between the legs to cover their private parts.