Letter From A Contract Worker – Antonio Jacinto

Posted: April 4, 2011 in ANGOLAN POETRY
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POET’S PROFILE – ANTONIO JACINTO

Jacinto

Jacinto

The man Antonio Jacinto was born a white Angolan in 1924. He schooled in Angola and became an office worker. But I have realised, and in fact it is true, that most of his poetry reflected an identity with the down-trodden black Angolan colonial subjects of the time when the Portuguese ruled. Jacinto was a critic of the Portuguese inability to educate the Angolan people and he was loud in this regard. He was arrested for his activism and sentenced to a fourteen-year prison term served in the Cape Verde Islands. He was released in the eleventh year of his jail term and sent to serve the Portuguese government as an accountant. He escaped and returned to Angola where he joined the independent struggle, becoming Minister of Education and Culture and later, Minister of Culture. This line from his poem: POEM OF ALIENATION is a summary of what he stood for in his work; “my poem is the suffering/of the laundress’ daughter”. Of all the Lusophone poets I have read, his poetry appeals to me most. I am always falling to the left of popular opinion, I know, as the greatest Lusophone poet in Africa is touted to be Agostinho Neto.

LETTER FROM A CONTRACT WORKER

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
a letter that would tell
of this desire
to see you
of this fear
of losing you
of this more than benevolence that I feel
of this indefinable ill that pursues me
of this yearning to which I live in total surrender …

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
a letter of intimate secrets,
a letter of memories of you,
of you
of your lips red as henna
of your hair black as mud
of your eyes sweet as honey
of your breasts hard as wild orange
of your lynx gait
and of your caresses
such that I can find no better here …

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
that would recall the days in our haunts
our nights lost in the long grass
that would recall the shade falling on us from the plum
trees
the moon filtering through the endless palm trees
that would recall the madness
of our passion
and the bitterness
of our separation …

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
that you would not read without sighing
that you would hide from from papa Bombo
that you would withhold from mama Kieza
that you would reread without the coldness
of forgetting
a letter to which in all Kilombo
no other would stand comparison …

I wanted to write you a letter
my love
a letter that would be brought to you by the passing wind
a letter that the cashews and coffee trees
the hyenas and buffaloes
the alligators and grayling
could understand
so that if the wind should lose it on the way
the beasts and plants
with pity for our sharp suffering
from song to song
lament to lament
gabble to gabble
would bring you pure and hot
the burning words
the sorrowful words of the letter
I wanted to write to you …

I wanted to write you a letter …
But oh my love, I cannot understand
why it is, why, why, why it is, my dear
that you cannot read
and I – Oh the hopelessness! – cannot write!

REVIEW

How could there be another poem of more beauty than this? Jacinto sums up all his mastery in these lines and they are enough to make him my favourite Lusophone poet, his other works notwithstanding.

A contract worker was an illiterate Angolan recruit whose duty it was to serve the colonial government on supposed contract terms in mines in South Africa. But the money was held by the government, with only a bit going to the worker to live on while the rest was purportedly saved for him. On his retirement from duty, the government deducts what it claims as tax and gives him the rest.

In faraway South Africa, he had no access to his family and they were not permitted to visit him either. So Jacinto, in the mind of a contract worker many miles from home, is writing this long lyrical piece to his love. He tells her of the longing he has to see her and the fear that she might belong to another man by the time he is back all in the first stanza.

In the next stanza, he compares her features to fruit and natural pleasures which he cannot even find where he is. He tells her also that the letter is about “intimate secrets” and “memories of you.” Evidently, he has missed his lover. In the continuing stanzas, he keeps on reminding her of some of the things they did in the past that highlighted their passion and how bitter it was to be separated. He claims that his letter will be so passionate that even if the wind loses it on its way to sending it to her, all the other creatures and trees, all sympathetic to his cause will pass it on, one to another, until it gets to her as hot as he wrote it. This is serious passion. Romance at the highest. But at the lowest too, a pathetic fallacy.

And we are just getting carried away when Jacinto brings us down quickly with the words, “but… I cannot understand” and the repetition that somehow confounds us “why, why, why”. These tell us that something is terribly wrong. And before we know it, he has confessed that it is hopeless that he cannot write and she too cannot read. Oh! What a waste.

This is a powerful poem by any standard. It reflects the single stories of men which were lost in the greater story of the independence struggle. If great men fought for independence, they surely had personal stories too and this could well be one of the many untold personal stories that died with the unheard colonial subjects. God bless Jacinto’s heart.

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Comments
  1. easylifestyles says:

    Excellent job. Thanks for sharing. Sharing poems is something I truly enjoy doing. I enjoy reading your blog very much.

    Check out – A Day at the Park

    Like this

  2. Kinna says:

    Wonderful. Love it. Keep them coming. Now I have to go and look for more poems by Jacinto! Thanks.

    Like this

  3. paapa kwesi amerado says:

    I love it. If he could write and she could read, his letters to her would be something out of this world.

    Like this

  4. Lillian Gyamena says:

    That was a beautiful piece. if only they could read and write.

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  5. Gift kangele says:

    This it so cute poem,i like it.

    Like this

  6. ginasmom says:

    This is one of my all time favourites, which i can still recite word for word froom memory – loooove the poem,and your analysis straight to the point. Curious though, not sure if it’s the translation, but some of the wording is different from the copy i memorised years ago, but still a beauty.

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    • Dela says:

      Good observation there!! The original poem is of Portuguese origin so there have been varied translations into the English. Perhaps, I should have used the version you most likely are familiar with, with the ‘dark diloa fish’, ‘the tacula fruit’, ‘the macongue’ and the ‘maboque fruit’ which maintain the Africanness of the original words. Thanks for reading and joining the discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. ginasmom says:

    Okay you got me, that’s my favourite version…..every time i read the poem (That version), i can feel his pain, but can also feel his passion, and the depth of his emotions, you’ve got to to be able to write this beautifully. keep it up.

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  8. Idara koffi says:

    The poem is one of my best poems and its touching.It arouses my interest in poetry.

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  9. Katebes says:

    Brother, i gave this poem to my students today to analyse various aspects of poetry and when i went in search of notes, i landed here! How else can i explain such a masterpiece? Antonio was a lusophone hero.

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  10. bigfish wa okalo says:

    what amaster piece a true heart of poetry .wow jacinto

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  11. Edna Jebichii says:

    It is all in the language use,a great poem it is n its characteristics immense,leaves u longing for more.Thanks for the you are doing

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  12. evans says:

    can also include he poetic elements used in the poem

    Like this

  13. Olaniyi Adekanye. says:

    I’m a student of Modern African poetry in Nigeria. I’m actually in search of southern African poets and their poetry to discuss the nature of MAP when I came across this. It’s of great help. Thanks.

    Like this

  14. vivian says:

    This is the best poem ever it so happened that i read this poem for the first time and i have fallen in love with it.Such a master piece i tell you go for it everyone and i assure you you are going to love it.

    Like this

  15. it appeals to the soul and enlightens the mind too

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  16. The poem is touching and reveals lots of illiteracy in it, am doing it at my second year at Moi University

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  17. Davee says:

    Simply a masterpiece.

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  18. Agnesia Thobeka says:

    Nice 1

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  19. nokuthula t muzenda says:

    i loooooove this

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  20. Benjamin says:

    That’s extremely pretty.Its hot work actually.

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  21. omwoyo isaiah says:

    indeed this one is mighty expression. good God-given mind Jacinto Antonio

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  22. julius says:

    the poem realy speaks on behalf of those who r not in position 2 xpress their love…………..JACINTO>truely a poet

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  23. katelo joseph says:

    This is one of the best poems I have ever come across!Antonio Jacinto is a great poet and he lives even today through his words!A masterpiece of its own kind

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  24. wow……………..am very humbled by such a great work by your.Am moved greatly and i do admire the work from deep my herat

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  25. Quayson says:

    The painful separation of love ,,,,,i luv dis poem

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  26. Clever M. Chikowi says:

    That’s indeed a very great and fascinating poem

    Like this

  27. Jupis sengo says:

    Thank you for that poem, it creates strong feeling to me, Sengo, J

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  28. andyonandy says:

    I ‘grew up’ with the tacula fruit version. Indeed, a poem to take one’s breath away

    Like this

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