A Song of Praise

An oriki is a praise song or an attribution to a person. Praise songs are an important part of Yoruba oral traditions.

The following oriki was sung by one of Olowe's wives and reveals the extent of his fame.

photograph by Joyce M. Sims

I am...Oloju-ifun Olowe
Olowe, my excellent husband.
Outstanding leader in war.
Elemoso. [Emissary of the king.]
One with a mighty sword.
Handsome among his friends.
Outstanding among his peers.
One who carves the hard wood of the iroko tree as though it were as soft as a calabash.
One who achieves fame with the proceeds of his carving.
The frightening Esu his forbids being burnt.
The frightening Esu his forbids being hurt.
Whoever burns him [Olowe] invites trouble.
Whoever hurts him [Olowe] incurs the wrath of Esu,
[Esu] forbids that [Olowe] be publicly disgraced.
Olowe, you are great!
You walk majestically
And with grace.
A great man, who, like a mighty river, flows beneath rocks,
Forming tributaries
Killing the fish as it flows.

A river has no slaves,
His father had slaves
The unworthy dead are his father's slaves.

But, Olowe is honorable.
The son of one who dines with masquerades.
The son of the great elephant killer in the forest.
Even though he slaughters a dog at home
And a slave behind the house
He is only interested in joining them in consuming the dog.
He does not join them to eat Elekole's slave.
Although Elekole has a good name, his oriki spoils it.

The son of Elekole, who has an overabundance of clothes
And uses them to wrap the Ose tree.
His cloth is so plentiful that there is enough to throw away.
The one whose house is painted white [with lime chalk] right up to the gate.
Rather than being ugly, the lime chalk makes it attractive.
It is against Olowe's custom,
And so we do not use ego to drink water in his house.

My lord, I bow down to you,
Leader [senior head] of all carvers.
He is a great dancer,
Whose dancing entertains.
I adore you!
You have done well.
You have brethren who are not uninitiated.
The ignorant person who does not know his mother today will never know her.
You, the brethren of Ejige, where rituals are performed.
I shall always adore you,my lord.
He [Olowe] spends iroko money to achieve great things,
Who carves the iroko tree with the ease of carving a calabash.
Whoever meets you unawares risks
Becoming a sacrificial victim.
Whoever meets you unawares
Sees trouble.
I shall always adore you, Olowe!
Olowe, who carves iroko wood.
The master carver.
He went to the palace of Ogoga
And spent four years there.
He was carving there.
If you visit Ogoga's place
And the one at Owo,
The work of my husband is there.
If you go to Ikare,
The work of my husband is there.
Pay a visit to Igede,
You will find my husband's work there.
The same thing at Ukiti.
His work is there.
Mention Olowe's name at Ogbagi
In Use too,
My husband's work can be found.
In Deji's palace,
My husband worked at Akure.
Olowe also worked at Ogotun.
There was a carved lion
That was taken to England.
With his hands he made it.

From: The Yoruba Artist: New Theoretical Perspectives on African Arts. Edited by Rowland Abiodun, Henry J. Drewal, and John Pemberton III. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994; pp 100-102. Recorded by John Pemberton III, 12 June 1988, at Olowe's house at Ise Ekiti. Sanmi Adu-Fatoba transcribed the oriki and Rowland Abiodun assisted in the translation.