African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Category: Relationship Poems (Page 2 of 5)

May Allah Give Me a True Friend

A Hausa song from northern Nigeria. The singer is longing for a child. It is from an anthropological record of the Hausa people, partly compiled from an oral account given by Baba (1877-1951), the daughter of a Hausa farmer and Koranic teacher, and translated by May K. Smith.

May Allah give me a true friend whether he’s small or big,
Even an infant sucking at the breast, or one lying in the womb…

The Horn of My Love

An Acoli girl’s love song from northern Uganda, collected and translated by the famous Ugandan poet Okot p’Bitek, author of Song of Lawino. It would be sung during the ortak or courtship dance.

Where has my love blown his horn?
The tune of his horn is well known…

Bawa’s House

A Hausa song from northern Nigeria, popular with women. It is from an anthropological record of the Hausa people, partly compiled from an oral account given by Baba (1877-1951), the daughter of a Hausa farmer and Koranic teacher, and translated by May K. Smith.

The poem refers to a barber who is also a pimp, with a purely businesslike attitude to love. The women, by contrast, look to Allah for wealth and to Bawa’s love for pleasure.

The barber doesn’t want a burning passion:
He doesn’t wish it to break him up…

At a Thrift-Club Feast

A thrift-club, known in Yoruba as Esusu, is a voluntary society which helps its members to raise money. Every member pays a fixed sum of money regularly at a fixed time (say every fifth or ninth day). One of the subscribing members will take the total amount subscribed for his personal use. The next subscription will be taken by another member, continuing in rotation until every member has taken. As an early form of banking, it played a part in the rise of businesses owned by former slaves in the United States.
This ìjalá, or set of praises, is spoken by the chairmen to encourage and compliment the members.

All you persons of prestige here gathered together,
I greet the woodcock with its characteristic ‘mese’ cry…

Lime of the Forest

A love song, translated from Amharic, the language of government in Ethiopia, spoken originally by the Amhara people of the northern and central highlands. Theirs is a Christian community of great antiquity, the land of the legendary Prester John, its ruling house claiming descent from Solomon and Sheba. The poem combines natural, religious and courtly imagery in praise of the loved one.

You lime of the forest, honey among the rocks,
Lemon of the cloister, grape in the savannah…

Eye of the Calf

A Rukiga love song, from the Abakiga “people of the mountains”, who straddle the border between northern Ruanda and southern Uganda. As so often in these poems, the images are drawn from the cattle they rear, the bananas they grow as a staple crops, and the natural life of their region.

Eye of a calf
Neck like the crested crane’s…

Song of the Coco-Palm

A Swahili poem in praise of the coconut palm, discovered c1905 by the scholar Muhammed Kijuma (1855.1945) in an old collection of marriage songs. It is attributed by some to the legendary hero Liyongo (see ‘The Legend of Liyongo’). Swahili poetry is much influenced by Arab and Persian forms, as is evident here from the long lines (each of 20 syllables), and rhymed couplets.

Give me the minstrel’s seat that I may sit at ease and tell of the praises of the coco-palm.
This tree, when it is young and sprouting, spreads its leaves outwards widely…

The Song of the Poor Man

Another Swahili song discovered c1905 by the scholar Muhammed Kijuma (1855-1945) in an old collection of marriage songs. It begins by seeming to mock the poor man, but quickly shifts to sympathising with him…

Song of the Bride

A Yoruba Wedding Song, sung by the bride at the climax of the wedding ceremony, as she leaves her father’s house for her new husband’s, and setting out an ideal vision of her future life. See also Recitation of the Bride.

I loosen my head tie and bow down,
I shall be leaving now…

A Widow’s Lament

An Igbo lament from eastern Nigeria, listing six very pragmatic reasons for mourning a dead husband.

Six times the widow recalls her husband’s death.
When the yam-planting season sets in early…

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African Poems