Archive for January, 2011

POET’S PROFILE

Dadie

Dadie

Bernard Dadie was born an Ivorian in 1916. He had his education both in his native country and in Senegal where he graduated with a degree in Administration. In this light, he had very intense experience of his Africanness from two perspectives. After his schooling, he worked for twelve years at a museum in Dakar and this opened his eyes to African folklore and traditions. He returned to Ivory Coast in 1947 and got engaged in dramatic and literary activity.

This poem is translated from his publication La Ronde des Jours (1956). He has written several plays and chronicled many dramatic pieces on African tradition and legend including the more Francophone-popular Monsieur Thogô-Gnini which satirizes the social anomalies of post-colonial society.


I GIVE YOU THANKS MY GOD

I give you thanks my God for having created me black
For having made of me
The total of all sorrows,
and set upon my head
5 the World.
I wear the livery of the Centaur
And I carry the World since the first morning.

White is a colour improvised for an occasion
Black, the colour of all days
10 And I carry the World since the first night.

I am happy
with the shape of my head
fashioned to carry the World,
satisfied with the shape of my nose,
15 Which should breathe all the air of the World,
happy
with the form of my legs
prepared to run through all the stages of the World.

I give you thanks my God, for having created me black,
20 for having made of me
the total of all sorrows.
Thirty-six swords have pierced my heart.
Thirty-six brands have burned my body,
And my blood on all the calvaries has reddened the snow
25 And my blood from all the east has reddened nature.
And yet I am
Happy to carry the World,
Content with my short arms,
with my long legs,
30 with the thickness of my lips.

I give you thanks my God, for having created me black,
White is a colour for an occasion,
Black the colour of all days
And I carry the World since the morning of time.
35 And my laughter in the night brought forth day over
the World.
I give you thanks my God for having created me black.

REVIEW
This poem is a good anthem for black pride. It satirically weaves its way around mythical, biblical and historic tales and brings its story through.
Dadie is ironically thankful here to God for having made him a bearer of the world’s sorrow as a black man. This is a symbolic statement of the history of forced service and suppression that the black race has endured since “the first morning” (line 7) and “the first night” (line 10) of creation. Note that in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, the first in the bible, God remarks that “And there was evening and there was morning” before a day has come to completion. The black man has been made “The total of all sorrows” (line 3), a phrase that rivals the biblical allusion to Jesus Christ as a man of sorrows. (Isaiah 53:3; He was despised, and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with disease: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we didn’t respect him). This allusion to the 53rd chapter of Isaiah is very useful in appreciating the depth of this poem as many more references are made to that chapter. This is the strength of this poem, comparing the black man to a type of Christ, bearing the weight of “the World” on his head, adorned otherwise in the uniform of a Centaur (line 6); a mythological half-man, half-horse.
In the third and fourth stanzas, Dadie is proud of “the shape of my head” (line 12), “the shape of my nose” (line 14), “the form of my legs” (line 17) and “the thickness of my lips” (line 30). He is pleased that they have been so formed to help him bear the suffering that is his curse. A most striking accession is the fact that his legs are made ready to run through all the stages of the World (line 18), an agreement to the fact that in all the generations of man, the black man has been a crucial role-player, leaving his prints.

But the beauty of this poem lies in the fourth stanza, where Dadie talks of thirty-six swords piercing his heart (line 22). This is much like Christ on the cross where a spear was thrust into his side. (Isaiah 53:5 – But he was pierced for our transgressions…). Thirty-six brands burnt his body (line 23) and proved that he is a whore, a slave of more than one owner, eligible to be trampled underfoot by all. And like Christ, “his blood on all the calvaries has reddened the snow” (line 24). To appreciate this line, it is worth noting that Christ was crucified on Calvary, a hill just outside the city walls of ancient Jerusalem according to the Bible. And also, if Dadie’s blood reddened the snow, then he bled in a foreign land where it snows, not in Africa. This just powerfully states the crimes of slavery and colonialism – dark chapters in Africa’s books. Dadie lays the blame right on snowy shores. On the doorstep of the white man.

The final stanza is where hope is set alight, like in all other African dreams. Dadie claims for the second time that “White is a colour for an occasion” (line 32) but “black is the colour for all days” (line 33). He laughs in the night in line 35 and his laughter brings on the day over the world. This is it: in the darkness of his circumstances, he is able to laugh. And it is this laughter that brings strength to defeat the burden of his oppression. The biblical Christ had the last laugh after he carried in his body the sins of Dadie’s World. In this victory, our black man Dadie is thankful to God for his blackness.

This is a truly moving tribute to the power of blackness, poetry and religion.

The Sunset is Hope

The Sunset is Hope

In Africa, everyone is a fighter.

The African spirit is a spirit that is constantly seeking, always searching, always roaming, constantly restless. No, maybe I should be talking about the African soul instead.

Many poets have chronicled the passion and soul of a continent that has fought herself out of wars, colonialism, apartheid and is now warring against neo-colonialism. Now, the truth is that Africans have always had reason to be on edge. It is only natural that our poets script our collective journey along the walls of a common history.
There is no disputing the fact that Africa is seen by Africans as a Nation: The Motherland. This is important to anyone who reads African poetry, because then, you can see through Zambian eyes to understand Nigerian poetry. You can see through Senegalese poetry by wearing Ghanaian glasses. And you can appreciate South African poetry even if you are sitting on the banks of the Nile in Egypt. When a poet anywhere on the continent says “me”, he speaks more as a citizen of the Greater country than as a staunch nationalist. A classic example of such context is the poem “Young Africa’s Plea” written by Osadebe (review coming soon).

Claiming Tomorrow

Claiming Tomorrow

Many of the established African poets who are studied and read today draw on themes that were common to Africans everywhere, even bordering on the Diaspora. In fact, greatness in achievement has in times past been likened to whose poetry has helped shape Pan-Africanist ideals most. This helped to push Pan-Africanism and improved the cooperation between states in forging out common destinies. Imagine this: Leopold Sedar Senghor, one of the leading poets coming out of Africa, was a one-time Senegalese president, Kofi Awoonor, one of Ghana’s leading poets was Ambassador to Brazil and his compatriot Atukwei Okai has served in like capacity to a poet Laureate, Dennis Osadebe was a founding Father of the National Council on Nigeria and the Cameroons while Wole Soyinka has long served as the most outspoken voice on political decadence in Nigeria. This is a small mirror to the large image of poets all over the continent fighting for the popular rights of the common man made unpopular. How could I even leave out Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o, not poet but playwright, who was forced into exile for 22 years for standing against Kenyan rule, having taken the lead in standing against colonial rule? And all this with a pen!

But Africans don’t only write about their struggles, after all, great love stories await the warriors who come from the battle. The most beautiful words have been woven for unnamed damsels who have represented the African woman. Sometimes, even the continent itself has been eulogised as a woman. The affection that Africans attach to their home is intense.

So in this blog, many diverse lyrics will be explored: the romantic, the emancipationary, the dirge, the attributive, the epic, the melancholic, the landmark, the historic. None of them will be far from the soul of African poetry. None of them will stray from the identity of the man who blends in with the heart of his continent. The man whose very footsteps are the heartbeat of the place he calls home. This home called Africa.

I am proud to belong here.

POET’S PROFILE

Osadebe

Osadebe

Dennis Osadebe was born in Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria in 1911 to parents of mixed cultural backgrounds. For a long time, his education and work were in Nigeria before he left to study law in England in the 1940s. He has been in politics, journalism and practiced as a jurist. For a time, he was Premier of the Mid-West Region of the Federation of Nigeria upon its creation. He was also one of the founders of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons in 1944.
Like many poets, Osadebe wrote first for journals and newspapers such as the West African Pilot. His first anthology, Africa Sings was published while he was studying in England. As an African born in the colonial era, his poetry resonates with others rising across the continent at that time, talking about Africanness and the desire to carve an identity for a continent fighting to put herself on a more-deserved pedestal.

WHO BUYS MY THOUGHTS
Who buys my thoughts
Buys not a cup of honey
That sweetens every taste;
He buys the throb,
5 Of Young Africa’s soul,
The soul of teeming millions,
Hungry, naked, sick,
Yearning, pleading, waiting.

Who buys my thoughts
10 Buys not false pretence
Of oracles and tin gods;
He buys the thoughts
Projected by the mass
Of restless youths who are born
15 Into deep and clashing cultures,
Sorting, questioning, watching.

Who buys my thoughts
Buys the spirit of the age,
The unquenching fire that smoulders
20 And smoulders
In every living heart
That’s true and noble or suffering;
It burns all o’er the earth,
Destroying, chastening, cleansing.

REVIEW
This poem is Osadebe’s statement of Africa’s soul at a time that he can confidently call Africa young: a continent waking to the realities of her need for independence. He compares his thoughts to the throb/ Of Young Africa’s soul (lines 4-5) and in his opening lines, he tells us that they are not a cup of honey/That sweetens every taste (lines 2-3). Osadebe feels the revolutionary wind that is blowing across the continent and which he embodies in the soul of this poem, representing The soul of teeming millions (line 6) with his thoughts. He writes on despair but looks to hope in the contrast of the lines that end the first stanza: Hungry, naked, sick (line 7) are desperate but in the next line, Yearning, pleading, waiting are more hopeful.
Osadebe says that his thoughts are not the thoughts of any one man who bestrides Africa, the country, like a Colossus, a tin god to be worshipped. But he breathes the fire of restless youths who, are tired of their present and are sorting, questioning, watching (line 16). In pre-colonial times, this was a common theme that helped to shape the thinking of a continent on the brink of revolution. What Osadebe does best is to use a prophetic, rhythmic repetition to show the desperation of Africa for change. His continued repetition of the line, Who buys my thoughts, is more of a warning than a statement of harmony.

The final stanza ignites the volcano that is hid in his heart and is now brewing inside the African revolutionary heart. He claims his thoughts as unquenching fire that burns in every heart that is alive. Every heart that is suffering and is honest! Osadebe now calls his thoughts a fire that burns all over the earth. Here reflects the mission of his life which was lived on two continents and goes beyond the call for freedom in his country Africa. Here sounds a call for freedom for people suffering everywhere. A call that Osadebe, and of course Africa, is not ready to beg for, but to claim in an inferno.

The beauty of every last line of the stanzas is the fact that it ends with a word that evokes a brighter future for which Africa is waiting (line 8), watching (line 16) and with her fire, is cleansing, (line 24).

POET’S PROFILE

Mtshali

Mtshali

Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali is a South African poet who was born in Vryheid, Natal. After his early education, he left for Johannesburg with a dream to pursue further schooling in the University of Witwatersrand but he fell victim to the endemic workings of the apartheid era in which he was born. He did not gain admission and resigned to live in Soweto, a Bantu suburb of Johannesburg.
But Mtshali was a dreamer. He continued to war in his mind the injustices of the system in which he was born. His poetry borders on the survival of a people and the hope that tomorrow will bring. His commentaries were sometimes of the despair of a people who doubtless continued to protest. His great poem, “Amagoduka at Glencoe Station” closes with these epic lines:

“We’ll return home
to find our wives nursing babies-
unknown to us
but only to their mothers and loafers.”

This explains the disruption of family life and with it, identity, which was one of the trademarks of the apartheid era.
The beauty of Mtshali’s poetry is that though he wrote about serious issues, his lines were comical, humorous and sometimes, careless of the consequences. That was a subtle way of saying the most difficult things and getting the desired impact. He has been tagged as one of the most influential black South African poets of all time.

JUST A PASSERBY
I saw them clobber him with kieries,
I heard him scream with pain
like a victim of slaughter
I smelt fresh blood gush
5 from his nostrils,
and flow on the street.

I walked into the church
and knelt in the pew
“Lord! I love you.
10 I also love my neighbour. Amen”

I came out
my heart as light as an angel’s kiss
on the cheek of a saintly soul.
Back home I strutted
15 past a crowd of onlookers.
Then she came in –
my woman neighbour:
“Have you heard? They’ve killed your brother.”
“O! No! I have heard nothing. I’ve been to church.”


REVIEW

This poem is a sarcastic statement of the helplessness of black South Africa under the apartheid regime. The story is almost unbelievable but is not surprising, with the knowledge of Mtshali’s style. The poet narrates his witnessing of the clubbing of a man to death. He uses the word “clobber” (line 1) which is a more savage form of “clubbing.” Knobkieries or kieries, as he uses here, are huge clubs that are used for defence across East and Southern Africa.
The first six lines are gruesome narrations of a slaughter scene. The clobbered man is here representing the rights of the black race in the apartheid regime apparently beaten to death. But nobody can talk about it. He is said to scream with pain/ like a victim of slaughter (lines 2-3). He bleeds from his nostrils (line 5), representative of all the blood that was shed in apartheid South Africa.
But the poet just passes by, helpless.
He walks into a church. This cowardly act of unconcerned piety reflects the total failure of the passivity that apartheid-era religion offers. Religion is a means of escape and under its purported shade, the poet can declare: “Lord I love you…”(line 9). Love is a high contrast to the emotion that courses through his veins. He feels anger and hatred but in the church, he leaves all those emotions outside. “…I also love my neighbour. Amen” (line 10) is the phrase that reinforces his denial.
Now, the poet leaves the church …heart as light as an angel’s kiss/ on the cheek of a saintly soul… (lines 12-13). His conscience is cleared and he struts home. Strutting is walking with kingly poise and haughty carelessness. Past the spot of death and with others looking on, he walks home, not even stopping. Does he not care? He does. But in apartheid South Africa, where the life of a black man means less, survival overrides sympathy. Even brotherly sympathy! So it is of no consequence when his woman neighbour comes in to tell him of the death. Of no consequence to him but to our shock when we find out that it is his brother who was clobbered!! … “Have you heard? They have killed your brother” (line 18).
Mtshali is a master. The poet just answers, in unbelievable self-denial: “I have heard nothing. I’ve been to church” (line 19). This last line opens the eye to the horror of apartheid and makes us appreciate the work of Mandela and all those who fought for the end of the system. This last line enforces Mtshali as a master.

POET’S PROFILE

Anyidoho

Anyidoho

Kofi Anyidoho is a Ghanaian poet who hails from Wheta in the Volta Region. He entered the University of Ghana, Legon, as a mature student, having previously attended two teacher training colleges. He holds an M.A in Folklore from Bloomington, Indiana and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Austin, Texas.

To his name, he has three published anthologies: Elegy for the Revolution (Greenfield Review Press, 1978), A Harvest of our Dreams (Heinemann 1984) and Earthchild (Woeli, 1985). He has contributed to and edited essays and papers on African literature. Among other prizes, his poetry has won the Langston Hughes prize, David Nicholson Prize and the BBC “Arts and Africa” Poetry Award.

Anyidoho’s poetry draws nourishment from the tradition of the Ewe cantor, who is the seer and the conscience of the ethnic group. But his poetry speaks for the entire nation of Ghana, the black race and the whole of humanity. He speaks from the mind of a free man seeking answers to the injustices of the world. A questioner of the place of the trampled man in a world where answers are fewer than questions. Yet he asked still.

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