Praise poetry can be found in many cultures and from many different eras. What a wonderful concept to include in different ceremonies.
Praise singing can consist of the reciting of a person’s family history, his or her great deeds, describing his personality and sometimes criticising what he has done.
The term “praise singing” is misleading on two scores – the poet does not sing, but rather speaks in a loud and theatrical way. And the poem does not only praise, but might point out the subject’s faults or criticise his deeds.
A praise poem can very effectively form part of a eulogy at a funeral or memorial service. Poetry condenses what we want to say, so one can put across many aspects of the deceased in an ear-catching way – particularly if the celebrant is able to read or recite the poem in a dramatic and energetic style.
Praise poets – called “imbongi” in South Africa – use similes and metaphors to capture the qualities of their subject, and often use symbolism and personification.
Praise singers mostly use short, simple sentences. The name of the subject of the praises will be repeated over and over again. Some of the praises will be in the present tense, even when the subject matter is from the past.
This is a very special way of saying “I know you!” Imagine a bride or a groom using a praise poem to capture the essence of the beloved one during a wedding. They can include the meaning of the names, as a way of leading into the poem, particularly if they are appropriate to the kind of person she or he is.
Praise poems also draw on history and educate the listeners. So a praise song for a new member of the family at a Baby Naming Ceremony can be used to place the child within the family tree, setting out the child’s ancestors in a poetic way. Then one could move on to express the wishes of the family for the future.
Here is an example of a praise poem presented at a recent funeral.
Praise Song for Noreen
You whose name means Light – we praise you!
Daughter of whimsy,
Wife of reason,
Mother of magic,
We here today praise you!
You who travelled all over this beloved land
You are now on the last stage of your life’s journey!
You who loved music and singing
You who gathered together songs of our nation
To you we now sing your praises!
Noreen, you held your family in such wonderful balance,
We hail you now in the community of our ancestors
Where your love and strength
Will continue to hold those who love you.
Noreen, you who so loved green,
You who knew so much about nature,
You who so loved trees,
We now place your memory
In the loving branches of the Tree of Life
Where you will live on in our minds and in our hearts.
Noreen, you who drew us to the great well of stories
You who told us of the gold rush, of meetings with Charles Dickens,
You who told us of strong women and of Jews fleeing persecution,
You who told us creation stories of your own making,
You who told us how you set your sights on a certain man
And how you succeeded in marrying him,
You now pass on into the Land of Legend
Where your name and your deeds shall be repeated often.
Noreen, lady of light,
We salute your life so very well lived.