African Poems

Oral Poetry from Africa

Tag: Women’s Songs (Page 1 of 3)

Lullaby (Kamba)

A Kamba lullaby from Kenya for singing babies to sleep. The singer calls her child ‘Mama’ as a form of endearment by which a child is addressed as a parent.

Mama, child’s mother, don’t cry like a poor person.
You have come to me, you are crying more than I used to…

Drama Songs – Paiva

Many of the protest songs sung by the chiSena women of the Lower Zambesi region of Mozambique contain a short play, inserted into the song. A typical performance begins with the women standing in a circle, bending forward from the waist and clapping or clacking piece of wood or shaking tin machacha as accompaniment to the lead singer. Then, one at a time, they perform brief solo dances, eyes fixed on the ground slightly to the left and elbows crooked, shaking their buttocks to the rhythm. After several repetitions of the main verse, the song breaks off while the drama is performed, enacting its main theme. The stage is the circle of singers, which remains unbroken, and anyone it seems can perform, the actors frequently being replaced half-way through by women who feel they can do better. The audience consists of the remaining women, who scream with laughter at the caricatures of bribery and beatings, rape, extortion and arrest…

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…

Election Songs

Three Yoruba songs, sung by women supporters of the two parties in the Federal elections of 1959 in western Nigeria. The main contenders were the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (N.C.N.C.), the ruling party whose symbol was the Palm Tree, and the Action Group, whose symbol was a cockerel.

The first song is by the Action Group women who claim the N.C.N.C. belongs, like its symbol, in the bush, along with lepers.

The palm tree grows in the far bush:
Nobody allows the leper to build his house in the town:
The palm tree grows in the far bush…

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…

More Vimbuza Songs

Vimbuza is a spirit possession ceremony practiced by the Tumbuka people who live in eastern Zambia and northern Malawi. In Vimbuza ceremonies women who are believed to be possessed by wrathful spirits are given free reign to express their anger about members of their family and the community who have ill-treated them. Their complaints are attended to and they are rewarded with gifts in order to allow the angry spirits to leave in peace. See also Vimbuza Songs that we’ve posted previously.

Tumbuka women have mixed feelings about their husbands going to work in the South African gold mines. The following spirit possession songs express some of their complaints…

Marromeu has spoken

A Chuabo woman’s song from central Mozambique, about the separation of husband and wife (see also Complaint). Marromeu was the second of Sena Sugar Estate’s plantations, on the south bank of the Zambesi opposite Luabo. While her husband is absent there a labour migrant, the singer is growing rice under compulsion for Lopes e Irmão, owner of the rice concession for Maganja da Costa.

This poem was sung in Chuabo by Paterina João and Palmira Goodbye of Lower Licungo, at Juncua Compound, Marromeu, 2 September, 1975.

Marromeu has spoken
He has arrived

Lament (Ngoni)

An Ngoni song from northern Malawi, sung at girls’ initiation ceremonies. The Ngoni were driven into exile by Shaka Zulu’s conquests, and this song presents Shaka’s achievements from the point of view of people who suffered from them.

Zwide was the chief of the Ndwandwe whom Shaka defeated in 1818 (see the poem Shaka). Soshangane, who established his own kingdom in southern Mozambique, was originally one of Zwide’s generals. See also the poem The Dirge of the Warriors’ Widows.

It is because of Zwide, chief of the Soshangane people
That though I lie down I cannot sleep…

Here Comes Ruy’s Steamer

In October 1944, a company which came to be called Arrozal was awarded (by the Rice Propaganda Division) the rice concession for the lower Zambesi valley in colonial Mozambique. This granted the concession-holder, a man called Ruy Pereira de Lima, the right to levy four sacks from every adult woman in the area, paying them one-third of the market value…

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African Poems