Ancient African Poetry

Ancient African poetry was presented over the centuries as oral traditions. The oral traditions were taught to many children by the elders of the tribe or community.

Ancient African poetry revealed many aspects of life for ancient Africans. The ancient poems spoke of love, life, fertility, war, animals, and hunting.

Ancient African poetry was often accompanied by music. Ancient poems were combined with music during ceremonies like marriage, funerals, and to give thanks to their native gods.

Ancient African poetry can also be found on rock art. The rock art explains the poems by using symbols and pictures.
The Deluge tablet,

After the development of ancient African writing systems, people started to engrave or paint ancient African poetry on rocks and scrolls of papyrus.

Types of ancient African poetry

Hunting poems in ancient African were quite popular and often accompanied by dance and music. The poems celebrated the hunt, the hunter’s weapons, the animals, and the prowess of the kill.

Love poems were mainly used during marriage ceremonies or courtships. Love poems combine beauty, companionship, infidelity, and sometimes explained sexual encounters.

Music and dance also accompanied most ancient African poetry that describes war. War poems concentrated on weapons, tactics, and their enemies.

Many of the poems describe bravery and death. The poems also tell stories of their leaders and their enemies in battle.

Ancient African poetry about religion and gods spoke of many things from good to evil. Religious poetry also helped explain the relationship between humans and nature.

These poems combined many themes together to enhance the spirituality of the people.

Notable ancient African poetry

The Legend of Liyongo is a special ancient African poem told by oral poets. The poem gives praise to Liyongo who was a national hero of the Swahili people.

The ancient African poem offers insight to his imprisonment, his escape, his bravery, and his views on justice.

Sundjata is from the region of the ancient Ghana Empire. The ancient African poem celebrated the Ghana Empire at a time of upheaval in the empire.

Sundjata has numerous verses that are usually changed in context depending on the speaker.

Kisukuma was an ancient African hunting poem from Tanzania. The poem celebrated wild pigs.

Wild pigs were a large part of diet for many ancient African peoples. The poem sympathizes with the animal and gives thanks for its life.

Galadima Dauda is an ancient African poem from Huasa in north Nigeria. This praise poem is about Dauda who was the tribe’s leader. Dauda brought a warrior spirit and great wealth to his people.

Important facts about ancient African poetry

  • The first poetry created was of oral tradition.
  • Rock art exhibits poetry through the use of symbols and pictures.
  • Many ancient African poems are accompanied by song and dance.
  • After the introduction of ancient African writing systems, oral traditions were converted to written form including poetry.
  • Ancient African poetry was about love, hunting, animals, death, funerals, marriages, and war.
  • Sundjata is an ancient African poem from the ancient Ghana Empire.
  • Kisukuma was an ancient African poem about hunting.
  • Ancient African poetry was a spiritual event to their gods.


  1. What was the first ancient African poetry?

Oral traditions

  1. What accompanied the reading of many ancient African poems?

Song and dance

  1. What type of ancient African poetry was Kisukuma?

Hunting poetry

  1. What type of art was used to explain an ancient African poem?

Rock art