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.