A Sotho poem from Lesotho, in praise of the crocodile. Modern Lesotho, then called Basutoland, emerged as a single polity under King Moshoeshoe I in 1822. Moshoeshoe was a descendant of the Bakoena (“those who venerate the crocodile”), a large clan in Southern Africa.
The crocodile is the invoker of the rain waters,
The black one of the pool,
The black black one lying on the water slime;
It is the crocodile of the pool
The biter, I go about hunting for prey.
Son of the father of pools, to whom tribute is paid, (1)
to the lords of the rivers,
To the lords of the rivers, the hippo and the crocodile;
The great torrents of rain will come thundering down.
It is the black crocodile of the pool,
The crocodile that drags down a beast into the depths,
It drags the beast into the dark depths;
The crocodile has jammed the beast down in a fork,
It has taken the beast into the dark depths.
The owners of the beast peer over and down into them,
They open out the rushes and willows,
They think they are looking right into the pool;
It is the pool into which the beast has disappeared.
It is the black crocodile, of Modiane of Tau,
Of those of Moxopa-a-dira, the Robber of his enemies. (2)
The crocodile stays down in the weeds with the beast,
It is still down in the dark pool with it;
It is the one that cannot be drowned, of Mmamolemana,
Crocodile that must not be poked with a reed,
though born in the reeds;
Cruel one, killer while laughing,
The crocodile is the laughing teeth that kill,
for anger slays no man. (3)
from ‘Praises of Animals in Northern Sotho’
pp. 195 & 197 Bantu Studies 12 (1938)
Witwatersrand University Press
- To whom tribute is paid refers to the custom of throwing a small object like a bangle into a river as a tribute to crocodiles and hippos before trying to cross the river.
- Modiane of Tau and Moxopa-a-dira are the names of ancestors whose symbol was the crocodile.
- Anger slays no man: the comment is that if you see your enemy is angry you will be on your guard, but the crocodile kills while smiling at you.