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Praise Poetry


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African Verse

Praise Poetry, specifically of South Africa nations, is a popular indigenous oral tradition which in the past century  has also transitioned to the literary world. In Zulu it is called izibongo, Lesotho, dithoko and in Setswana, maboko. I could find no name nor apparent tradition of Praise Poetry in the north.

The poetry celebrates national heroes, kings and often the poet him or her self and is more laudatory than epic. It doesn't tell a story, it simply lavishes praise on the subject. These poems were originally on the spur of the moment compositions and frequently created by the one being praised.  Which sounds to me to be more brag than praise, but I like the positive vibe this genre expends. We have to believe in ourselves first to truly recognize the glory in others.  Praise poems are often composed right after a personal or national victory or composed to be sung for gatherings of various kinds. The genre seems to be the counterpart of Insult Poetry.

The structure of the poetry is at the discretion of the poet. The one praised is usually still alive. I think the African-American Kwansaba may be an extension of the Praise poem of South Africa.

One evolution of the genre extends to praise of the migrants who became laborers of the African mines and is called the "song of the country travelers". Nostalgia, aggression and satire have become features of the verse.

There is not a lot of information is available in English about the traditions of this genre which makes sense because of the oral and indigenous nature of the poetry. But the simple fact that these cultures not only composed, recited and also named this tradition is very telling about the cultures themselves. They even have a name for the performers, griots (West African praise-singers, poets or musicians) One might call these the South African version of the Paeon. As described these poems could be considered Odes.

One source suggests we first write a Praise Poem about ourselves and provides this formula:

  1. begin with your name and lineage and expand
  2. describe yourself in metaphor using nature or an animal
  3. continue with your physical description 
  4. other subjects the poet can address, talent, a favored animal or natural object, and the way you walk. Your given name comes first, but there is no specific order for the rest of the lines.
  5. finally express you as a special being. Relate an event or something you've done, an action or deed to tell what makes you special
  6. end rhyme is rare but can be used.  The rhyme of alliteration and consonance, however, are abundant.

Judith, Praised Be

I am the daughter of grace and glory 
                mother of integrity and honor 
I am the earth and sky 
my aged body
                remains straight and strong 
my mind is ever captured 
                by the wonder of words 
my joy unfettered and contagious 
my gratitude humbled and lavish 
I am a survivor amongst the giant trees 
                rooted yet with the wings of eagles 
                           ~~Judi Van Gorder

Another source suggests the Praise Poem can be written about oneself or someone else using one "praise name" in each line.  "A praise name is a colorful description (imagery) of some aspect of the person. The praise song could be chanted to a drum beat or performed as a song." Brenda Covert.    From the standpoint of the written word, the poet should pay particular attention to the sound and rhythm of their word choices. It should read like it sounds.  Rhyme is at the discretion of the poet but should be a secondary element if used at all.

Jimmy Carter, Humility Raised Up

Here is James Earl Carter,
          born to farm the land,          
navigated the ocean floor in wartime,
         grew to lead a nation,
                         and inspire a world.
Governor of the Great State of Georgia,
           he is the good heart of the South.
39th President of the United States of America ,                                    
           visionary of environmental, 
                        energy and educational policy.
           Connected hands across war zones.
Nobel Peace Prize Winner,
            sitting enemies at the same table,
                       negotiating peaceful resolve.
            spearheaded effort that eradicated
                       deadly Guinea disease, 
            with hammer and nails
                       builds houses for the poor. 
Blessings on this man who walks
            in the footsteps of his Lord!
                                 ~~Judi Van Gorder            

Jimmy Carter: Eagle

Praise to James Earl Carter,
a plow horse, born to work the land,
a shark in wartime, deadly and swift,
a lion with a great mane, led our nation,
a giraffe standing tall, gentle inspiration
         to a world in chaos.
He is an eagle who soars above
         the rest of us.
                         ~~Judi Van Gorder

Boppa by Judi Van Gorder









And another version of the Praise Poem can be the African "call and response" technique, which a praise statement is made by the poet followed by a refain or repeated response by the reader. (written of course by the poet.)

African Poetic Genres and Forms

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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