Symbolic Meanings and Style of Traditional Praise Poetry in Sepedi Language with Reference to Ramohlale’s Tottem

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Ramohlale M.I, Chauke O.R, Motlhaka H.A


Traditional praise poetry in this context refers to poetry that was narrated by African people which is regarded as the pioneer of all kinds of poetry. It first began with oral poetry, evolved with time until it finally arrived at the written, well-structured and differentiated kind of contemporary poetry. But it should be clear that oral literature has somewhat different potentialities from written literature, and additional resources which the oral artist can develop for his own purposes; and that this aspect is of primary significance for its appreciation as a mode of aesthetic expression (Finnegan, 2012:7). The most interesting part is how this poetry was able to survive through generations to be able to be transmitted to next generations.

Though praise poetry did not enjoy the written status; through rote learning and memorization, poems were able to be transmitted to next generations with minor alterations. Finnegan (1978:1) says that “the context that often springs to mind when 'oral poetry' is mentioned is of some remote village far off the beaten track with the indigenous people non-literate and unindustrialized - engaged in performing some local song or piece of traditional verse. Thus, oral poetry is not only a poem that tells a story, it is also a poem that, regardless of its manner of composition, has been changed in the process.

Traditional praise poetry was prominently recited in royal functions, to usher praises to the king before he addresses his sub-ordinates and after the address. This poetry was prominently recited by initiates during the initiation ceremonies; each initiate will praise himself with the motive of challenging the audience to give him gifts. Hidden within praise poetry is cultural beliefs, cultural traits and reputations as well as the origin of the particular tribe. Careful analysis of the following poem will reveal the origin of the poet:

                           Ke nna tlou ya Bolepṡe,                    

                           Ke tṡwa Kgwara ke kgwahlile,

                           Botse ke tṡwa Bokgalaka.

                           Ke nna kaparaphiri baloi ba go tṡhabe,

                           Botse o tṡhabjwe ke Mankuke, moloi wo mogolo.

                          I am the elephant from ‘Bolepṡe’

                          I come from ‘Kgwara’ being strong,

                          Originally I come from ‘Bokgalaka’.

                          I wear Hyna skin to scare witches,

                          Rightfully to scare ‘Mankuke’ the big witch.

From the poem above, one could draw up a conclusion that the poet is originally from ‘Bokgalaka’. ‘Bokgalaka’ is named after ‘Bakalanka’, which is one tribe in Zimbabwe. The poetic line implies that the poet’s origin is Zimbabwe. The poetic line, ‘ke nna Kaparaphiri baloi ba go tṡhabe’ reveals his character; something that is mostly related to cultural traits, something that tells us that if you want to know the origin of an individual, you get it from his praise poems. Sepedi language praise poetry has its own unique way to convey messages and preserve cultural heritages which will be transmitted from one generation to another. Sepedi language praise poetry displays yet another interesting characteristics that makes them different from western poetry. Its unstructured content, form and unplanned technique of traditional poetry is what prompted us to pursue this study.

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