African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Category: Poems of Gods & Ancestors (Page 1 of 5)

Iremoje for Ogundele

Another example of the Yoruba poetic chants sung at the funerals of dead hunters. See Iremoje for the background and for other examples of this genre.

In Yoruba mythology, death does not wage war against men alone but travels with a team of supernatural war lords, the ajogun. The following was chanted by Lamidi for the deceased hunter Ogundele at Akeetean, Oyo in 1976.

Death does not kill alone,
Nor does he fight singly…

Iremoje for Ogunjinmi

The following Iremoje was part of the dirges chanted at the funeral of a deceased hunter, Ogunjinmi, whose name means “the god Ogun blesses or favours me”. See also The Asipade and Iremoje for Pa Ogundele for previous examples of this genre.

The Iremoje funeral rites are held at night, outside the house of the deceased hunter, and will continue until dawn. As Ogun is regarded as the Orisha who brought the knowledge of metallurgy to mankind, other members of the community who use iron implements such as farmers, blacksmiths, barbers, drivers and weapon-smiths also join the hunters family and friends in attending the ritual. The audience forms a circle around the ritual space. At the center of the ring, the hunters tools are arranged around an effigy of the deceased including his hunting clothes, tools and weapons.

To live in the forest the hunter must master various skills, carpentry to build his hunting lodge, knowledge of medicinal plants to heal his wounds, knowledge of culinary plants for cooking, and tailoring so that the hunter can weave clothes to keep him warm and disguise himself from his prey. The following Iremoje was chanted by Lamidi Abonikaba at Oyo in 1975. During the dirge Lamidi holds up the needle that the hunter used whilst in the forest.

Ogunjinmi, you have caught your father’s dog.
A needle that falls into a pit is lost forever…

Iremoje for Pa Ogundele

The following poem is part of the dirges chanted at the funeral of a deceased hunter, Pa Ogundele, by Atoyebi at Agunpopo, Oyo in 1975. Pa Ogundele was a member of the hunters society, the Asipade, (see The Asipade) for whom magical charms are an essential tool for capturing animals and surviving in the forest. However, whilst these charms are highly prized ultimately no magic can defeat death.

Ajuwon Akanbi,
Hunter, I thought you had egba magic…

The Asipade

Iremoje are a Yoruba corpus of poetic chants sung at the funerals of dead hunters. The activities of hunting and warfare fall under the providence of the Yoruba god Ogun, and thus Iremoje also emphasise the virtues and talents associated with this Orisha. See also A Salute to my Ogun, Ogun, God of War i, and Ogun, God of War ii.

Ogun is said to have spent half his life in the forest and the other half in the townships bringing civilisation to mankind. This contrast between the wildness of the forest and the order of the townships is often referenced in Iremoje.

Ogun, Chief Lakaaye
Chief Osin Mole…

Incantation for Luck

A Yoruba poem describing the results of a magical incantation performed to bring good fortune in life, collected by Ulli Beier.

I am waiting at the crossroads
I look to the right…

Oluronbi

We were sent the following poem, a modern working on the Yoruba folklore tale of Olúrónbí, by Oluwatoba Opemip who is a student of Adekunle Ajasin University in Ondo state, Nigeria.

The tale of Olúrónbí concerns a beautiful woman who has been yearning for a child but has been unable to conceive. Following the tradition of her village, Olúrónbí ventures into the forest to petition the spirit of the Iroko tree, Olúwéré, to enable her to become pregnant. Most women who perform this ritual promised to make offerings of wines, food and sacrifices of sheep and goats to Olúwéré. Olúrónbí however, promises her first child to the spirit of the Iroko tree if he grants her request. Time passes and Olúrónbí gives birth to a beautiful female child which she named Béporé. But when the time came for her to fulfill her promise to her benefactor, Olúrónbí in decided to keep her daughter and tries to placate Olúwéré with various other offerings. Olúwéré warned and warned as his patience grew cold, turning to rage and anger until one day Béporé is taken away mysteriously.

Twice a union stroll a year
Even when these amulets of riches…

Prayers Uttered by the Zezuru at Mabwe aDziva

A prayer to Mwari (God) and the ancestors at a time of drought among the Zezuru, one of the groups making up the Shona people of southern and south-eastern Zimbabwe. Mabwe aDziva, refers to the Stones of Dziva, or the Matopos Shrines. Dziva, meaning pool, is one of Mwari’s praise names…

Incantation

The Yoruba believe in Atunwa, reincarnation within the family. Yoruba funeral songs such as Slowly the Muddy Pool Becomes a River and Where are You Now? incorporate the symbolism of loved ones returning in other forms. This poem is a grief-stricken Yoruba prayer, inviting a dead child to be born again.

Death catches the hunter with pain.
Eshu catches the herbalist in a sack…

Where are You Now?

Another Yoruba funeral song from Nigeria. (See also the poem ‘Slowly the Muddy Pool Becomes a River’). In ‘Slowly the Muddy Pool becomes a River’, the bereaved son appealed to a hunter not to kill the kob antelope encountered on the way to the farm, but to ‘let the dead depart in peace’. Here, the poet accepts that though the dead may be reincarnated in different form, life has to continue as normal. The dead ‘cannot receive double punishment’.

The hunter dies
and leaves his poverty to his gun

A Salute to my Ogun

Another set of praises (Oriki) for the Orisha Ogun. Ogun is one of the most popular Orisha, both in Nigeria and across the Caribbean and the Americas. Known as the god of hunting, iron and warfare Ogun is both a violent destroyer and a heroic leader who delivers strength and justice to society. (See also poems for Ogun, God of War 1 & 2)

Now I will chant a salute to my Ogun:
O Belligerent One, you are not cruel…

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African Poems