African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Orisha

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…

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…

In Praise of Shango

Shango was the third Alafin (king) of the Oyo kingdom. He was deified after his death and is one of the most popular Orishas across the Caribbean and the Americas. These praises are sung by devotees of Shango and emphasise the daily duty of paying respect to the Orisha.

Yoruba mythology describes Shango as having three wives during his lifetime, Oshun, Oba, and Oya. In this poem, Origeibo is mentioned as his wife, along with a line describing Shango as The man who married without paying a dowry. We have not come across the name Origeibo before and are hoping that perhaps a reader with some knowledge may be able to shed some light on this.

These Oriki (praises) were recorded in Yoruba in the early 1950s by Ulli Beier, the German-Jewish scholar who went on to make distinguished contributions to Nigerian literature. The translation has been modified slightly.

When the elephant wakes in the morning,
he must pay his respects to his new wife…

Ogun, God of War II

A collection of praises (Oriki) for the Orisha Ogun. Some of these were included in a previous post, but are included again here to illustrate how different Oriki could be recombined in performance.

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.

Ogun kills on the right and destroys on the right.
Ogun kills on the left and destroys on the left…

Alajire, God of Suffering

Ulli Beier describes Alajire as a manifestation of the Orisha, Sonponna, who is more commonly known as Babalu-Aye. This Orisha is associated with suffering and diseases such as smallpox, leprosy and AIDS. This poem describes Alajire as both terrifying in his unpredictability but also emphasises that it is only by undergoing suffering that individuals can attain maturity and wisdom.

Alijire, we ask you to be patient,
you are very quick-tempered

Oshun, the river goddess

Oshun is an Orisha goddess associated with rivers and the marketplace. Medicines for fertility, wealth, love and intimacy are often attributed to her. Whilst generally harmonious and peace-loving she can be fiercely destructive when angered, thus certain forms of witchcraft fall under her providence. She is the patron of the town of Oshogbo in Nigeria and the wife of Shango in Yoruba mythology.

Brass and parrot feathers
on a velvet skin.

Obatala, the Creator

In the pantheistic religion of the Yoruba people there exists a supreme God, Olodumare, who is considered almighty and eternal. However, no prayers or shrines are kept for Olodumare because the nature of such a being is regarded as beyond human comprehension. Olodumare creates various Orisha, who are manifestations of certain aspects of the supreme God and with whom humans can interact.

Obatala (King of White Cloth) is one of the eldest Orisha and held responsible for the creation of the earth and of human bodies. His devotees aim to reflect the purity of Obatala’s white clothing, striving for moral impeccability in their actions.

Within the Orisha mythology there are many cautionary tales illustrating the consequences of that follow when an Orisha acts in ways that they later regret. In the case of Obatala, a central myth describes how he becomes drunk on palm-wine resulting in the creation of humans with various disabilities and mutations. In his remorse he becomes the patron deity of albino’s, the disabled and people with genetic disorders or congenital defects; and his worshippers are forbidden to drink palm-wine.

He is patient.
He is silent.

The Importance of Ori

One of the most important poems of Ifa, the divination system of the Yorubas. In this long and fascinating poem we meet many of the principal Yoruba Orisa or gods, and each is characteristically described. But the central argument is that each man’s fate is ultimately decided by his own character.

Ogun, God of War

A Yoruba Praise-Poem from Nigeria. Ogun is the God of iron and metallurgy. He is pictured as a blacksmith, but presides over every activity in which iron is used – hoes for cultivating, cutlasses for reaping, guns for hunting, cars for travelling, and so on. He therefore becomes the God of creativity and of harvesting, of hunting and of warfare, of invention and exploration and destruction.

Eshu, God of Fate

A Yoruba Praise-Poem from Nigeria. As the God of Fate, the uncontrollable element in human life, Eshu is praised as a kind of trickster God, bringing about the unexpected, the contradictory and the downright impossible.

Eshu turns right into wrong, wrong into right.
When he is angry, he hits a stone until it bleeds.

African Poems