Friday, July 18, 2014

Two Excerpts Of The "Kaidara", A Fulani Epic Poem (with English translations)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post features two excerpts of the "Kaidara", a traditional African epic poem. The "Kaidara" originally was prose recitations which formed part of traditional Fulani religious education.

These excerpts demonstrate that people speaking traditional African languages created compositions that are the complete opposite of the meaningless "ooga booga" utterances that Hollywood and other elements of Western societies characterized those languages as being.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thank to those who composed this traditional narrative. Thanks also to Amadou-Hampaté Ba for putting this narrative in versified form. And thanks to D. W. Arnott and others for providing excerpts of and information about "Kaidara" and other examples of Fulani narrative compositions.

"An epic poem is a long, narrative poem that is usually about heroic deeds and events that are significant to the culture of the poet. Many ancient writers used epic poetry to tell tales of intense adventures and heroic feats. Some of the most famous literary masterpieces in the world were written in the form of epic poetry."
The two examples of epic poems that the article cited focus on are "Gilgamesh" and "The Iliad". The Fulani narrative "Kaidara" fits that definition of an epic poem.

From D. W. Arnott. "Literature in Fula" in in Literatures in African Languages: theoretical issues and sample surveys B.W. Andrzejewski, S. Pilaszewicz, W. Tyloch (eds.)Cambridge University Press. 1985. p. 72-97

The Fulani, Fula, or Fulɓe are the traditionally nomadic cattle owners of West Africa, whose ultimate origins have been the subject of much speculation. While their early habitat in West Africa was apparently in an area in the vicinity of the borders of present-day Mali, Senegal and Mauritania, they are now, after centuries of gradual migrations and conquests, spread throughout a wide band of West Africa...

The Fulani preoccupation with cattle is also reflected in their many spells and incantations, while traces of their pre Islamic religion survive in initiatory recitations and the like.

An outstanding example of such a survival is Kaidara, with its sequel Laaytere koodal (The brightness of the great star), and Lootori (Ritual bathing). Originally prose recitations which formed part of traditional Fulani religious education, they have been published in a versified form which owes much to the poetic genius of Amadou-Hampaté Ba.

Kaidara, a poem of 2,452 lines, is an allegorical representation of the process of initiation with its 12 stages. It tells of the descent into a magic underworld of three men —a freeman and two serfs— and the adventures and vicissitudes they encounter on their journey to “the country of dwarf spirits, the mystic land of Kaidara”, the supreme spirit. They encounter successively a dozen creatures or natural phenomena which are symbols with mystical significance : a chameleon, a bat, a scorpion, a pool guarded by twin serpents, two fountains, and so forth.

The whole tale is presented dramatically and with imaginative and highly developed descriptions which from the literary point of view are the highlights of the poem-poetic descriptions of the dawn, and vivid and artistic accounts of a forest fire, a tornado and a tropical storm, of which the following verses are typical

[Citation] 12 & 13: Ba, Amadou-Hampaté and Lilyan Kesteloot (ed.), Kaidara, lines 1246-1271.
13. Ibid., lines 1544-1547

Nde Baylal-kammu kem-noo Doo, e mbayla,

yani ana wifa bifirDi fa mbayla jaaBa.

Nde ka hoondoy wulaare wadoy e leydi

teddi e mayri faa kala waryhi, hayyhi.

YimBe e daabe nguli mum annii yaara

Keddii duule kaadime njaa na ngarta

ana tayha mbeeyu ana njaha weendu kammu

de yhoogoya Doon ndiyam njara faa De mbiya pett!

Yo Dee maa duule cinyruDe yarde diyyhe

ngoni a bawloyde, tuutude jukka leydi

hono faa enta kala kala boofi suuDii.

Baylal-kammu annii golle hiinnii

mo tappan Boolde dow taaneere nyaara

pette na njalta, ngona maje leydi njottoo.

Hammadi taykiti sifa majje jeegom

De laaytal mum majoy fade kammu toBde.

Yogaaje wulaam tan tan nii rufoyta.

Mo yii yoga majje saltini yeru no kahi nii,

caBe mum mawDe telloo faa a leydi.

Mo labbini laayte deen kaa yeru mo dammbaa

hakkunde duule DiDi cukkaa yo buurti

DiDi nyonngaaDi ana leldii a boowal.

Hammadi yiiti yoga majje gaDDe gabbe

Delmita seyna ede ngay hono no nyaango

ngo siire waDaa e muuDum semmbe toyyaa

leydi e kammu hakkunde mum waDoyta.

[English translation]
When the Great Forger of the skies reached his forge,

he plied his bellows till the forge came alight.

When it glowed, heat came to the earth

and was heavy on it, till everyone sweltered and suffocated.

Men and beasts sweated in its heat.

The servitor-clouds were coming and going,

cutting across the firmament, going to the pool of heaven,

drawing water there, and drinking their fill.

These are the clouds, pregnant with the waters they have drunk,

that then relieve themselves, and spit out stabbing the earth,

as though to purge every man of his every hidden sin.

The Forger of the skies now sets to work:

He hammers the mass on his anvil till it glows

And the sparks fly and come to earth as lightning flashes.

Hammadi could discern six various kinds

whose brightness flashed before the heavens rained down.

Most merely poured down fire.

He saw some forked like a kahi-tree,

its great branches descending right to the ground.

He noticed some flashes as it were fettered together

between two clouds, close together like two cattle-tracks,

separate but bunched together, in a clearing.

Hammadi saw others like little grains

dazzling wonderfully like a magic jewel

imbued with a mystic force, striking sparks

between earth and sky.

And there are many sensitive little touches such as the picture of a dying flame

Mo sooynii fooyre ana maja fooyre fitila.

Liccere mum yarii timmii nebam mum.

Fooyre na fooDa Demngal saa e saanga,

ana mettoo ko heddii ko suuwi-noo e mum.

[English translation]
He saw a flickering lamp-flame.

Its wick had drunk up all its oil.

And the flame from time to time threw forth its tongue,

Licking up the last liquid drop.

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  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome, Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju.

      I believe your first and last name are Yoruba.

      Are you Yoruba? It would be great if you would share any Yoruba songs, or poems here.

      Thanks again for commenting!