African Songs, Chants, and Games

Songs and dances are hard to transmit via the internet. Probably a good thing to do is to get a recording of African folk songs for the music (Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s “The Gift of the Tortoise” is great for REAL traditional songs). And there must be video available through the libraries or online that have some folk dances from Africa? Trying to describe these things in typed medium is SO difficult, but, here goes:

Songs & Chants

Vusi Drives the Kombi
Vusi drives the kombi that takes us all to school.
We open all the windows so the air blows nice and cool.
He hoots when he fetches us, he hoots when he goes,
He hoots at the cows that are standing in the road.
Vusi drives the kombi that we all love to ride.
If you want to travel with us, there’s lots of room inside!

note: a “kombi” [pronounced like “calm-bee”] is a small passenger van. These vehicles are used as taxis in South Africa. Most school children travel to school on these taxis. Vusi is a common Zulu name. Pronounced /voo-see/, it means “to lift up.”

Walking Through Africa
Walking through Africa, what do I see?
I can see inyoka looking at me.
Walking through Africa, what do I see?
I can see ufudu looking at me.
Walking through Africa, what do I see?
I can see indlovu looking at me.
Walking through Africa, what do I see?
I can see ikhozi looking at me.

note: This is a Zulu chant the children “sing” while they stalk about. The translation would probably be closer to “walking through the bush…,” but my children love to say Africa. I’ve translated all the words but the animals. These are as follows:

inyoka (een-yoh’-gkah) a snake
ufudu (oo-foo’-doo) a tortoise, /oo/ as in fool
indlovu (een-dloh’-voo) an elephant
ikhozi (ee-koh’zee) an eagle

Where Is the Rain
The giraffe and the elephant went for a walk.
They stopped in some shade and started to talk;
“I wish it would rain,” said the giraffe with a sigh.
“I’m tired of watching the clouds pass us by!”
“Yes,” said the elephant, “Where is the rain?
I wish I could eat fresh green leaves again.
The sun is so hot and the land is so dry;
When will the rain fall from the sky?”
Later in the day the sky turned grey,
The flying ants flew out to say,
“The rain is coming! We smell it in the air!
And in the distance, thunder we hear!”
The giraffe and the elephant looked up at the sky
And heard the black eagle give forth his cry,
“The rain has come, The rivers will flow;
The dry season is over; now the green grass will grow!”

note: Most rivers in Africa are dependent upon the rains. During the dry season they literally dry up and leave a brown, twisting snake-like path. The rainy season in KwaZulu is Summer time, when we get the most fantastic thunder storms imaginable. And these horrible flying ants always appear right before the first big storms!

Impuka nekati
Impuka nekati ziyawaleqana (repeat)
Zithi nyawu, nyawu, zithi nyawu, nyawu, nyawu (repeat)

note: This is an action chant. Children stand in a circle holding hands. One child is ikati (the cat) and another is impuku (the mouse). The cat starts outside the circle, the mouse starts inside. The cat chases the mouse in and out of the circle, weaving around each child. When the chant ends the cat and mouse choose a new cat and mouse. translation: The mouse and the cat are chasing around (repeat) They say, “meow, meow.” They say, “meow, meow, meow!” (repeat) The direct translation into English seems a bit silly…we know the mouse doesn’t say “meow,” but in Zulu the sound of the language is more important than the accuracy of the meaning.

Lions Roar
Lions roar, eagles soar,
Leopards growl, cheetahs prowl,
Snakes slide, eagles glide,
Lizards crawl, jackals call,
Monkeys leap, snails creep,
Ants heap, fledgelings cheep,
Birds sing, wasps sting,
Pathers stalk, people talk.

Rain Song
Imvula, Imvula (eem-voo’-lah)
Chapha, chapha, chapha (c=click sound with tongue in back of Chapha,
chapha, chapha front teeth,like the sound of exasperation) (cah’-pah)
Imanz’impahla yam’
Imanz’impahla yam’ (ee-mahn’zeem pah’hla yahm)
Gqum, Gqum, Liyaduduma (q=click made when pulling tongue down Gqum, gqum, liyaduduma from roof of mouth) (gqoom lee-yah doo’-mah)
Imanz’impahla yam’
Imanz’impahla yam’

note: this is a very old and traditional rain song. The translation goes like this:

“It’s raining, it’s raining
Chapha, chapha, chapha
Chapha, chapha, chapha (sound of the rain falling)
My clothes are getting wet,
My clothes are getting wet.
Gqum, Gqum (sound of the thunder)
There’s the thunder!
Gqum, gqum,
There’s the thunder!
My clothes are getting wet,
My clothes are getting wet!


Mbube, Mbube
Imbube is one of the Zulu words for “lion.” “Mbube” is addressing the lion, calling to him. Sort of pronounced like: mboo’-bay. In this game the lion is stalking the impala (a southern African buck).

  • All players form a circle.
  • Two players start the game. One is the lion, one is the impala.
  • Blindfold them both and spin them around. (Children used to just close their eyes, but the temptation to peek is so great!)
  • Players in the circle start by calling the lion, “mbube, mbube!”
  • The closer to the impala the lion gets the faster the chanting becomes. Likewise if the lion is far away the calling decreases, in volume as well as repetition.
  • If the lion has not caught the impala within a minute a new lion is chosen. If the lion catches the impala, a new impala is chosen.

Ubuthi is poison (usually made from the berries of an indigenous bush). Umuthi, on the other hand, is medicine made from plants (usually tree bark). This game, so I am told, used to be “umuthi” and the players were meant to capture the muthi and bring it home to their family. It has been corrupted to ubuthi, steal the buthi and take it home.

  • Players form a circle. One person is chose to be “sebi” (the thief).
  • The sebi stands in the middle of the circle with the buthi. The sebi must shout another persons name.
  • Both the sebi and the “muntu” (person) try to grab the buthi.
  • The player who gets the buthi first then tries to reach the spot in the circle that the muntu vacated. The player who did not get the buthi tries to tag the runner.
  • The sebi for the next round is the person who either successfully makes it back to the place in the circle without having been tagged and with the buthi, or the one who successfully tagged the other palyer.

A mamba is a big indigenous South African snake. There are green mambas and black mambas. Both are poisonous.

  • One person is chosen as the mamba.
  • An area on the playground is marked off (we usually make it 10×10 metres for 20 children).
  • Everyone must stay within the marked off area. The object is to stay away from the mamba.
  • At a signal the game begins.
  • The snake tries to catch the players. When a player is caught that player joins the snake by placing his/her hands on the snakes shoulders or around the waist.
  • Each new “catch” becomes another part of the snake’s body, always adding to the snake’s tail. (As the snake eats, it becomes bigger and bigger.)
  • If a player leaves the designated area the player must sit down on the boundary and misses out the rest of the game.
  • Only the “head” of the snake can catch new people. The snake can use its “body” to capture other players, as players may not pass between the snake’s body parts.
  • Game ends when all but one of the players have been caught. The last person caught becomes the next mamba!