Song of the Wrestler

A Yoruba song from Nigeria, sung by the wrestler as a prayer as he enters the arena. Each of the images takes for granted the wrestler’s natural superiority.

O Rat, help me to knock him down.
O Broken Stalk, assist me to lay him low…

In Oyewumi Alabi’s Time

Oyewumi Alabi was a nineteenth century chief of Ibadan. He was preceded by two chiefs whose reigns were marked by prodigies – a stream breaking forth, a comet appearing. Under Oyewumi Alabi, the colonial hut tax was first imposed.

This satire was recorded in Yoruba in the early 1950s by Ulli Beier, the German-Jewish scholar who went on to make distinguished contributions to Nigerian literature.

In Aburu’s reign,
A stream broke forth in the sacred grove…

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…

Praises of the Ogoga of Ikerre

These Oriki, or Chief’s 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 city of Ikerre is in the Ekiti State of Nigeria. The translation has been modified slightly.

However small the needle, the hen can swallow it.
The toad jumps happily in the presence of the snake…

Why do we Grumble?

A Yoruba Iwi poem from Nigeria. In a series of proverb-like metaphors, the poem comments on the advantages of variety in life.

Why do we grumble because a tree is bent
When, in our streets, there are even men who are bent?…

Tiger (From the Ifa Oracle)

This is one of the many thousands of poems associated with the Ifa oracle of the Yoruba people. There are 256 different Odu or branches of lfa poetry, and many hundreds of different poems are associated with each Odu. The Ifa priest learns these poems during many years of training. Each poem is associated with a set of ‘throws’ of the divination instruments (cowrie shells, kola nuts etc) to indicate which poem is suitable when a client comes to him for advice. He recites the poem to the client who must find his own meaning in the words. The Ifa priest will also direct the sacrifices to be made to the relevant Orisha following the divination.

This poem from the Ifa oracle illustrates how, through a superb description of the tiger’s hide and claws, tiger was granted honour by consulting Ifa and making sacrifice.

Ifa divination was performed for Tiger,
The one with the lovely and shining skin…

Salute to the Olu Oje Onpetu Lineage

An extract from a Yoruba Praise-Poem from Nigeria. According to legend, Olu Oje was one of the first kings at Ile Ife. Forced to abdicate because of his bad temper, he went into exile and founded the town of Oje, bearing the title Olu Oje, king of Oje.

He had three sons of whom Onpetu (meaning ‘Killer of the Duiker’) was his favourite, and this name later became the title of the rulers of the town of Ipetu. This very appealing Praise-Poem, with its striking gentleness and humour, is a salute to the Olu Oje family.

Offspring of Layimese who was invited to assume a chieftaincy title,
Because of a chieftaincy title he went to Oje…

Recitation of the Bride

An improvised recitation sung by a Yoruba bride as she is escorted by musicians and relatives to her husband’s house. She speaks her mind about all the hopes and concerns that she has, whilst drummers announce her arrival.

Those who stand-let them stand well.
Those who stop-let them stoop well…