We believe that keeping our oral traditions, stories and culturesi alive are national imperatives and work to make learning and living African languages a joyous and proud experience for young people. What are some of your favourite imilolozelo, izilandelo or folktales? Email them to or share them on our Facebook page and we’ll publish them right here on for a new generation to enjoy!

isiZulu Imilolozelo

isiZulu imilolozelo, which are lullabies and izilandelo, which are songs that include a game, cover a range of topics and themes including nature, games, food and household objects. They can be educational, for entertainment or teach morals, history or traditions. In Ubhedu, their 1993 book of Zulu folklore Gule, Maphumulo and Thwala (1993:51) share their definition of umlolozelo. A short excerpt of this is shown below on the left with the English translation on the right hand side.

Umlolozelo uyinkondlo ethile yokudlalisa nokuthunduzela umntwana. Uhleleka njengenkondlo noma isizosha, kepha ulandwa ngezwi elisamculo . . . usangomana yokukhulisa abantwana . . . Umlolozelo uyinto eyakhiwe futhi eyaqanjwa abaqambi bakudala. Umlolozelo ungomunye wemidlalo yesiNguni … wakha ubudlelwano phakathi
kwengane nonina.

A lullaby is a poem that is used to entertain a child or to induce a child to sleep; its structure is that of a poem, but it is voiced in a form of a song … A lullaby is like a song that is used in the upbringing of children. It is something that originates from people of long ago. Umlolozelo is one of the games of the Nguni people… it builds a relationship between mother and child.

This next short poem is what is known as a game song and it is specifically a game that is played by young boys only:

We bafana iyo! Aphʼ amathole iyo? Akonina iyo Azodlani iyo? Umgqushumba iyo!

Hey, boys, iyo! Where are the calves, iyo? They are at their mother s, iyo What will they eat, iyo? A mixture of mashed food, iyo.

The following is a song about birds:

Yaqhamuka inyoni
Yandizela phezulu
Yabhula izimpiko
Bhengu bhengu yandiza
Yandizela phezulu
Kunyonini lokhuya
Okundizela phezulu?
Kufana noheshane Inyonʼ edlʼ izinkukhu.
Izinkukhu zonkana
Zisala ziphithiza
Zizihlomʼ ezingcweni
Selokhu zazingelwa
Amakhosi oheshane
Zakubonʼ okukhulu
Zakubelethʼ emhlane.

A bird appeared
It flew high in the sky
It flapped its wings
Flap flap it flew
It flew up in the sky
What kind of bird is that
That is flying up in the sky?
It looks like a hawk
A bird that eats chickens
All the chickens
Scurry about
And go blindly into fenced barriers Since they have been hunted
By hawks the kings
They had a terrible experience Which burdens them.

Gule, Z.W., Maphumulo, A. M. & Thwala, J.J. 1993. UBhedu. Johannesburg: Lexicon Publishers.
Ntuli, C.D. 2011. “From Oral Performance to Picture Books: A Perspective on Zulu Children’s Literature” Available from: UNISA Institutional Repository. [14 April 2013]

Koiyetsa Bana

In the past, Sesotho koiyetsa bana (lullabies for children) were sung to babies by their mothers, older sisters and nannies to comfort, encourage, educate or entertain them. According to Edith Dikotla, the oral tradition of storytelling through short prose included game songs sung by young girls, which played an important part in their socialization. The songs are regarded as a form of literature which is an integral part of culture and tribal life.

The following is a traditional lullaby frequently sung by the mother to communicate with her ancestors to welcome her baby into their family:

Badimo baetsho wee
Radimo haetsho wee
Hei hei
Hei hei badimo baetsho
Amogelang ‘sea la me
Sea le tswang tlapeng
Tlapeng la badimo
Hei hei
Hei hci badimo baetsho

Our ancestors hey
Our ancestors hey
Hey; hey
Hey hey our ancestors
Welcome my baby
Baby from the rock
Rock of ancestors*
Hey hey
Hey hey our ancestors

*Rock of ancestors refers to an unknown place where it is believed that the ancestors are staying.

The message conveyed in the following song consoles a young girl growing up in difficult circumstances, perhaps with an absent or unknown father. It has an empowering element and goes against the tradition of marginalising illegitimate children while encourages the child to face the challenges of life:

Go ne go le ngwanyana
A dutse letlapeng
A ntse a lela
Ka nako tsotlhe
Ema ngwanyana
Phumula dikeledi
Tlhopha yo mo ratang
O tshegetshege nae
Tlhopha yo mo ratang
O iturnele nae

There was once a girl
She sat on a rock
She was crying
All the time
Stand up girl Wipe your ur tears
Choose the one you love
And laugh with her
Choose the one you love
Rejoice with her)


Dikotla, E.M. 2007. “Batswana Women’s Songs: Vehicles for Enculturation, Continuity and Change”. Available from: North-West University Institutional Repository. [14 April 2013]

isiXhosa Rhymes

As with many other poems and lullabies for children. isiXhosa rhymes perform important culture, educational and social functions. While passing on vocabulary and entertaining young children, they also teach sound recognition, rhyming patterns and cultural awareness. Zanele Mbude collected and recorded a number of isiXhosa nursery rhymes and game songs in the course of her research for PRAESA UCT. Perhaps you recognise some of them from your childhood? Perhaps you sing them to your own children just as your mother and grandmother sang them to you?

The following is a popular nursery rhyme often sang by teachers and caregivers to warn children of the dangers of fire:

Umzi watsha
Umzi watsha
khangela phaya
khangela phaya
umlilo, umlilo
Galelamanzi, Galelamanzil.

The house is burning!
The house is burning!
Look there!
Pour water, pour water!

The following is a game song performed by the storyteller or acted out by children:


Umvundlana othile
Umvundlana othile
wangena entsimini
waqakatha waqakatha
wadibana nembotyi
wayitya kwasemini
wanyantsula wanyantsula
wagoduka ehluthi

A Little hare
A little hare
went into a garden
sniffed around searching
and met a bean
he ate it up till daylight
(dragging action of somebody full)
And went home

Mbude, Z. 2012. “The Collection & Recording of Xhosa Oral Material in the Form of Rhymes and Wordplay; to enhance Literacy learning and Development in Early Child Education” Available from: PRAESA. [14 April 2013]