The train slowed down at the northern end of Uthiru village, its monstrous engine stopping finally opposite a borehole. A big hose pipe was rolled out and fixed to add water for the steam boilers.
Chege got up, careful not to disturb the man next to him sleeping a fitful sleep. Like him, he was another soldier returning home after eight years.
He wrapped his few belongings in a worn military trenchcoat and jumped out, walking past the clouds of the engine’s steam hissing out from under the carriages. At the top of the hill, he set down the roll and surveyed the land below grimly. There were sprawling coffee farms where most of the homes he had left once stood.
He picked the roll and walked on down a new wide dirt road cutting through big farms, his anxiety mounting. Then he came to his parents’ one-acre homestead and stood frozen. There was a new stone bungalow standing where their old house once stood, and the old banana trees and sticks of cassava were the only familiar things left.
A new driveway to the bungalow was lined by young cedar trees, and by their height, he could tell the colonialists, or the chief had seized the farm not long after they had forcibly recruited him into war. Then his jaws trembled as he remembered the look on the chief’s face those many years gone. It had not been normal hatred but one of a deeply personal kind.
He heaved the roll back onto his shoulder and walked on just as a jeep came racing. He moved away to avoid the dust, but it swerved towards him deliberately, forcing him to jump over a ditch.
Eight White British soldiers jumped out like a pack of wolves, surrounding him and staring at him menacingly. Then they turned to one another grinning.
“My, my. What do we have here? A nigger in the wrong part of town,” said the oldest, stepping forward, his tattooed upper arms showing out of rolled khaki sleeves. Then before Chege could answer, a blow caught him in the stomach, but he rode much of it by bending slightly, tensing his muscles at the moment of the impact.
He feigned pain although he hardly felt the blow, aware the rest of them had their pistols drawn out. He could tell they were looking for any excuse to shoot him so they could write more heroic letters to folks back home about how they killed another Mau Mau terrorist in action.
He straightened up studying them. They were locally known as Johnnies since Johnny was the name they usually called one another. The oldest among them was not more than twenty-four, and his attacker was around five foot ten while Chege was six. They locked gazes and the soldier flinched as if disturbed by something he had seen in Chege’s eyes.
“What are you doing here, and why were you staring at the D.O.’s house?” he demanded, but Chege could tell the bark was just to sound commanding.
Chege realised they must have been lying in wait for lawbreakers around the next bend. “I just got back from the war,” he said, and they grinned as if it was the best joke ever.
“Another bloody Mau Mau from the Aberdares,” one of them spat.
“Couldn’t bear the heat of our bombardment, eh?” said another.
“Shut the hell up!” the leader silenced them, still studying Chege. There was a peculiar air about him uncommon to the locals; an air born of confidence rather than arrogance, and his English was unusually good.
“Which war?” he asked.
“Burma,” Chege said picking up his roll and walking off before they could recover their surprise.
One of them flicked the safety catch of his pistol on and the leader stopped him. “Let him be,” he said jumping back into the jeep, still staring after Chege. That is one bad… he told himself.
Chege went asking about his family once he got into the new village, but the villagers avoided him fearing another convoy of Johnnies swooping down on them for talking to strangers. But finally, someone told him that his wife lived in the farther end of the long rambling reservation.
The kids playing outside her hut shrank away as he passed, their eyes filled with fear until he smiled. She came to the dark doorway as he knocked, and they stood staring at each other, suddenly hurtled back to years gone and shocked to see how much they had changed.
The soft lines on Ciro’s forehead were unfamiliar and the full cheeks Chege remembered so well were no longer as supple, but her beauty was the kind that carried through life.
She had aged well Chege thought again while she studied his powerful build, her gaze returning to his face. There were tiny crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes, and the face was no longer boyish. That only made him even more handsome man, she thought. Then that moment passed as well.
Chege’s attention turned to the two strange kids next to her, his eyes going from one to the other. His chest congealed looking at the girl with an oval face. She must be about six. Too young to be his. But the boy — aged about eight — he had his slightly hooked nose and broad shoulders.
As Ciro stared at his hard face, her mouth thinned into a bitter line.
“The chief…he…he told me you died!” she stuttered pleadingly as Chege picked up his roll and started for the door.
“Chege!” she screamed, running after him reaching for him, tears pouring down her face. “Chege, listen! it’s not what you think!”
He shook off her arm and walked on, leaving her rooted there, her arms at her slim waist, her fingers intertwined.
“Chege, please!” she screamed, “I have been dreaming each night that you would come back…even after the chief cheated me you died,” she sobbed.
Chege slowed his step, then walked faster, his jaws pulsating again. “Is that why you went with him;had his child?” he growled back, seeing heads peeping out of doorways, people wondering what was going on, and who he was.
“I never went with him!” Ciro whispered fiercely. “I…I just wanted to let you know that after we married, I promised myself I would never let another man touch me; that I would rather die.”
“So far as I can see, you’re alive and well, and you have a bastard kid!” Chege said brutally, choked by the utter futility of it all. Each day he lived in Burma as others died, it was for her. Thinking of her had given him the will, the reason to go on — turning his fears and doubts into a wall of anger so formidable that no enemy could destroy it.
“I did my best to die! I smashed your gourd of wine on his head giving him concussion! “For that I was jailed for six months. My mother had to take care of Gikeria. It’s okay, Chege if you don’t believe me,” she sniffed, wiping off tears and turning back, finally accepting she had lost him forever.
Chege stopped and retraced his steps. “You said the boy is called Gikeria?”
She nodded, still sniffing. “I…I named him after your father.”
“And the girl? “he asked quietly.
“Wamaitha. I didn’t know if you would like it otherwise, so I named her after my mother.”
Then she stared around worriedly. The sun was setting, throwing an orange glow over the baked countryside.
“We shouldn’t go too far, Chege. Especially you — a man. This far beyond the village and the mzungus demand to see your kipande.”
Chege flinched as if slapped. “My what?”
“It’s a pass. They declared a state of emergency while you were away and now all males over seventeen must show the pass on demand called kipande.”
Chege’s jaws hardened again. His people forced by colonialists to show IDs just to move freely in their own country.
They sat in her darkening hut, stealing occasional glances at each other, their faces etched out of the darkness by the glow of the fire. Ciro had confirmed what he already knew — that his parents’ farm had been taken, and that it was now where the D.O.’s house stood. They had also built a fort at the other end of the sprawling farm called Fort Smith. A lot had changed in all those years they had not shared.
Chege took a gourd of muratina which Ciro had procured from some neighbour and leaned back and took a sip. Outside the children were playing in the bright moonlight.
“Looks like there is a famine,” he said, and she nodded.
“People are surviving on government rations, but the White man only gives it to those in their good books — the collaborators and those willing to work in their shambas for free.”
“And others?” Chege asked.
“They are helped by others or left to starve,” Ciro sighed. “I can never bring myself to work for the same people who have enslaved us!” she said fiercely. “I too would be dead if it was not for my father. Much as he hates me, he can’t stand the shame seeing his only daughter dead of starvation.’
“Hates you? You mean he’s still bitter with you for marrying me?”
She nodded. Then, before she could talk, there was a distant gunshot. He cocked his ears, but there was no other one. He turned back to her.
“Is that why he didn’t intervene when that gikuruwe was harassing you?” he asked, using the hated chief’s nickname which meant big pig.
“Gikuruwe protected my father from losing his property, then later helped him also be named a chief. The two are now part of a clique of favoured Africans for whom greed for power and wealth supersede their own dignity,” she said bitterly.
He took another sip of the muratina then paused and again cocked his ear at another gunshot.
“They are still rounding up people?”
She nodded. “Just the other day, they came at night to a neighbour’s.”
Chege hushed her as a series of booming shots came suddenly. Listening, he gauged they were coming from somewhere at the centre of the sprawling village. Then there was screaming, women screaming in high pitched voices repeatedly warning others to get out and run.
“Things will change, Ciro,” he said quietly, and she glanced at him, his words both chilling and warming her. She had been stealing quiet glances at him as they talked, seeing a change in him she could not define. He looked composed, frighteningly composed for someone just arrived from a war which had claimed countless millions of lives.
Her hand searched his, and she was gratified he did not pull away. Instead, their fingers intertwined and like that, they sat, both of them content to just sit and listen to the children playing outside. Then the children suddenly went silent, and Chege and Ciro heard rapid footsteps, followed by a slap.
Wamaitha came running back into the hut shrieking, and by then, both Chege and Ciro were by the door. Wamaitha buried her head in her mother’s dress, sobs wracking her as Chege stepped outside.
Gikuruwe and a home guard were glaring down at his son demanding to know what he and his sister were doing outside at that hour. Chege brushed past the boy who was holding his bleeding nose, refusing staunchly to cry or show fear.
“That is my son you slapped, a mere child. I don’t see any reason why you should have hit him.”
The obese chief staggered back laughing, and his guard raised his rifle ready to bring its butt down on Chege’s head.
“Hold it,” the chief told him pushing him back and facing Chege, his beady eyes glittering with malice. “I heard you’re back,” he said throatily. “We followed the news about the war — the carnage. Terrible!” he said, feigning sadness. Who would have thought you would survive? Not many did, so I guess that makes you feel like a hero, right? Just a word of caution; you don’t play big shot around here, boy. Understand?”
Chege flinched as if slapped. The fat sell-out was calling him boy, aping his White masters.
“Oh, I forgot to mention,” the chief went on, “I did my best to keep her company. After all, you were gone such a long…”
Chege had been steeling himself but now the dam burst. He stole glances at the guard noting the lazy way he was holding his weapons, and why not? He and the others They were now the masters of the land. They had nothing to fear.
He faked a grin which said the chief was the original Casanova, and the guard joined in grinning and winking at the chief knowingly. In turn, the chief smiled sheepishly, basking in their praise. Then it happened.
In the split second the guard was distracted, a devastating hook sent him reeling backwards doubled up, his gun slipping from his hands. Chege had it before it touched the ground and spinning it around in one smooth upward move which laid a haymaker to the jaw of the chief. He collapsed in a heap and Chege turned to the guard. He was just straightening up, holding his stomach, his face creased in pain. A fist slammed into his jaws like wood on wood.
“I’m back,” he said calmly, “from one war to another.”
He walked into the hut and grabbed his roll of clothes. “I have to go,” he told Ciro starting out. “They will be all over soon searching for me. But I’ll be back. Promise.”
She nodded, anxious to see him leave before the enemy arrived and choked with a sense of loss.
He stepped out, looking at the guard’s rifle, tempted to take it along, but decided that would only tell the enemy he had gone to the other side. Better to let them assume he was fleeing for assaulting the law.
He took out his war medal — the only thing they had given him apart from transport money. “Here. Keep this for whatever it is worth,” he told her, then hurried away into the night.
After high school in Kenya, Ngumi Kibera attended Bradford College in Massachusetts to study business, music, painting and writing. He graduated from both Ramapo College in New Jersey with a BSc in Business and the University of Minnesota with an MBA. An early retirement left him time to write his first book, The Grapevine Stories which won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature. To date, he has written over twenty-six titles for pre-teens to adults, among them The Devil’s Hill, winner of the Burt Prize for Kenya. Born at the height of the colonial suppression, it is inevitable that memories of its brutality and devastation remain indelible. He can be found at (99+) David Ngumi Kibera | LinkedIn, Ngumi Kibera | Author (@ngumi_kibera) • Instagram photos and videos, and (20+) David Kibera | Facebook
Decolonial Passage is honored to announce the 2022 nominations for the Best of the Net Anthology. This list includes writing published between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. Congratulations to the nominees!
*omadakwane – drunkards *izibotho ezingcolile – dirty drunkards *umuthi – African medicine *isiphithiphithi – chaos *skyf – refers to cigarette or smoke in South African slang *bhabhalazi – hangover
Zama Madinana is a South African poet based in Johannesburg. His work has appeared in The Shallow Tales Review,Stanzas, Africanwriter, Poetry Potion and other literary publications. His poems have been published in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and the USA. Madinana’s work focuses on love, politics and social issues. In 2021, he won the third prize in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award. His poetry chapbook, Water & Lights, was published in June 2021. He has performed his poetry in various locations, including Cape Town, Mozambique, and Botswana.
When my dad delivered me, The first thing he saw Was a thicket of black hair, Sticking out straight and wet, Like fur on a freshly licked kitten. It took a few months to curl into itself, Grow quick as mint after rain, Until it had to be gathered Into soft, twisted bunches, Always a few determined fronds Trying to escape.
Our ritual after swimming, Was two whole hours Of washing and blow-drying My drenched ringlets Into a triangular mane; Sharp comb teeth Gnashing at my scalp, Pools of pain Welling in my eyes. He always said sorry; And I tried not to complain.
My hair was never stroked By white people; At sleepovers with friends, In bed with lovers. They all seemed scared It would scratch them If they treated it gently. Only Black people, later, Knew how to whisper to it, See how soft it really was Beneath its wildness.
I put my curls to sleep, On our 11th birthday. Made them relax with chemicals That broke them down, Shocked them straight, Burnt my scalp to blisters. Told myself it was worth it To have hair which moved In the breeze, Rather than toward the sun; The passport to acceptance.
They reawakened 10 years later, From their drugged stupor; Regained strength slowly In the nurturing embrace of plaits, Interwoven to protect, Guard, replenish. Emerged shy and uncertain, Bit by bit, Until they were sure it was safe, And they could gently push The straight all the way out.
It took me 10 years to fall in love, Marvel at their shape, Finger every curve tenderly, Breathe their smell in deep, Rejoice with each bounce and spring. This hair was now acceptable Enough to put on posters To sell clothes to white people Who thought they were woke; To sell music to Black people Who should know better.
It only took seven hours To weave magic into my curls With a crochet hook; Wrap them around each other, Locked in love with themselves, Accepting their own beauty at last— None left to fall by the wayside. Thick glossy roots Growing with age and wisdom; Their dreaded power Will build, each and every day.
Grace Louise Wood is a British-Jamaican writer, artist, educator, and curator. An alumnus of Barbican Young Poets, she performed at their poetry showcase in 2013. Her poems have been published in Human Parts on Medium, Drama Queens Ghana COV-19 Zine, Tampered Press (Issues Five and Six), and A Womb with a Heart That Beats All Over the World: African Poetry. She performs her poems at numerous events, including: The Offering at Greenleaf Café, Arts Nkwa’ at The Canvas, Ehalakasa Online – Talk Party, SheSheSlams, and Tampered Press Sixth Issue Launch. She can be found on Medium at Grace – Medium
I have always known that “Black is beautiful” even before I became aware of the popular phrase that is now a cliché. Black is beautiful because Black skin is the most durable of all human skins on earth. Its pigmentation is resistant to many skin diseases. It’s a covering that slows and belies the scourge of aging
Have you ever seen a senescent White man? Mr. Joyman is my paramount boss and owner of a flourishing bakery in Port Harcourt. He is sixty-seven, with a frame slightly bent not by sickness, but old age. A sixty-seven-year-old African is still fully erect. A sixty-seven-year-old African is still blessed with a tough, smooth skin. And some, still boyish! The African blood is a beauty that displays its soldiery in the war against virus and bacteria. Have you ever wondered why in the past the colonisers from the West were easily afflicted and sent out of the world by malaria, cholera, and dysentery? Have you ever wondered why the newest afflicter, coronavirus, has killed far more white blood than a black blood? That is the answer.
Africa also had another beauty, a greater one in the past. I am a voracious reader. Sundays free me from my bakery’s assignments. We do bake on Sundays, but as a supervisor, I have the privilege of staying off work. It is a privilege that affords me the time to read books about different facets of life. I am more a fan of literature and history. I have a bulk of these books, more so than any other kind, in my mini library at home. It is from my home library I draw out this past beauty of Africa, written in poetry:
“Rejoice and shout with laughter
Throw all your burdens down,
If God has been so gracious
As to make you Black or Brown.
For you are a great nation,
A people of great birth
For where would spring the flowers
If God took away the earth?
Rejoice and shout with Laughter,
Throw all your burdens down
Yours is a glorious heritage
If you are Black, or Brown.”
Gladys Casely Hayford, an African American woman titled her poem, written in the 1930s, “Rejoice” because she wanted Africans to be proud of a glorious heritage, a great birth, and a great nation. Casely Hayford makes me realize that Africa had an impressive past, unlike what the likes of former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants me to believe. The Frenchman gave a speech on July 27, 2007 at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal in the presence of an audience of 1,300. He said: “The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history…They have never really launched themselves into the future. The African peasant, who for thousands of years has lived according to the seasons, whose life ideal was to be in harmony with nature, only knew the eternal renewal of time… In this imaginary world, where everything starts over and over again, there is room neither for human endeavor, nor for the idea of progress.”
Unfortunately, or rather, ironically, Sarkozy said this at a center of learning named after a great Africanist, Cheikh Anta Diop. Diop was an anthropologist and a historian. He was among the first whose works dug out the glorious history of Africa hundreds of years ago. The first Black man to point out through his findings that the ancient Egyptians were Black. Yet his findings are still debatable on the table of scholars and historians.
While some researchers and archaeologists believe the Black race entirely populated ancient Egypt, others see the ancient land as multiracial with the Black man existing among the Hamitic and Semitic inhabitants; Black pharaohs also sat on the Egyptian throne. Other historians give a flat no to the concept of Black inhabitants in ancient Egypt. But the doubtless truth is Africa has a history of abundance. The Sarkozys of this world attempt to deny that and reduce our ancestors to peasants who were only in tune with their natural surroundings, and dead to ideas and exploits.
The Francoise-Xavier Fauvelles of this world will continue to counter the fallacy with: “People like to think of Africans as more rooted in nature than culture. But history teaches a different lesson: of kings, diplomats, merchants.” And the Mutabarukas of this world will continue to educate with his reggae song, “Great Kings of Africa.”
Ironically, Anta Diop’s namesake and fellow Senegalese, poet David Diop, gave a glowing tribute to Africa of old during his short life on earth. I can still remember Diop’s most famous poem titled, “Africa:”
“Africa my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins
Your beautiful Black blood that irrigates the fields … “
My library holds a history book called The Story Called Africa, written by Maina Maikasuwa. Maikasuwa, through extensive research and quoted works from other researchers, Europeans and Africans, unearthed an authentic African story. It is a balanced story of “gory” and glory. I heard the book won a prize a few years ago.
But my former favorite books on Africa were: Toward the Decolonization of African Literature by Chinweizu Ibekwe and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney. Now my favorite is the voluminous work by Amanga Habinomana titled The Unveiling of Timbuktu.
The Rwandan author chronicles the gradual rise of Timbuktu, a sort of city state in the ancient empire of Mali. Initially this African city was a large storage house for salts and other goods. It was a waiting area for traders to choose goods for trading at big markets. Travelers coming from Europa, Arabia and the Americas brought gold to trade for salt. Some of these traders chose to make Timbuktu their permanent residence, and before long the village became a small town and, in turn, a city.
By the early 1300s, Timbuktu had become a hub, a center of attraction, and the pride of the Malian empire. People came from across the continent. Europeans were awash with rumors of Timbuktu’s abundant wealth and resources. It was said that, in 1324, Mali’s sultan-leader, Mansa Moussa, travelled for pilgrimage to Mecca with 60,000 slaves and servants and with an abundance of gold. During his visit to Cairo in Egypt, the price of the precious metal dropped precipitously. Explorer Ibn Battuta from Arabia visited the famed city 30 years later, and his descriptions of the bustling city stoked the flames of European imagination.
During the period, Europa (as Europe was called then) was plagued by the ice age and the bubonic plague. Listening to the constant impressive tidings about a faraway African city spurred a dream they wished to achieve. They dreamt of streets lined with gold in Timbuktu. The city was a sort of African El Dorado.
Can you imagine that? White folks longing to visit an African city? Wow! Timbuktu was at that time, what London, Dubai or New York means to Africans in our present days. Many Western historians will never broadcast this African history of glory.
I also read that the peak of Timbuktu’s greatness occurred in the late 15th century. And guess what the prime commodity in the city was? I know many will shout out gold! But it wasn’t; it was books! Hundreds of scholars studied at the almost 200 maktabs (Quranic schools in Mali). These scholars worked as scribes, which increased the number of manuscripts in the City-state. Visitors to the city, especially scholars were specially welcomed and entertained in the hope that they would share their knowledge and books.
I read a Nigerian newspaper that has a column squarely dedicated to African Literature and history. The columnist quoted from the words of an American intellectual at California State University, Brent Singleton. Singleton graciously, or rather, factually corroborated Habinomana’s Unveiling Timbuktu, about the importance of books during the golden day of the land. He said, “The acquisition of books is mentioned more often in Timbuktu than any other display of wealth, including the building and refurbishment of mosques.“
Like Timbuktu, the Nok civilization is also a reminder of Africa’s beauty. The old-time civilization was located in the southern part of Kaduna state, Nigeria. The people of the land had perhaps the finest sets of terracotta in the world. It’s no wonder, bulks of these sculptures, stolen by thieves, are still nowhere to be found.
The Benin civilization, unlike Nok’s, has good news about her stolen artifacts. Not too long ago, French President Emmanuel Macron demanded the return of twenty-six artifacts that were stolen by the French colonial power in 1894 from the kingdom of Benin. The stolen goods have been returned and were received by Oba Ewuare II, the current Benin monarch in the modern day Edo state of Nigeria. In 2014, his predecessor had received two artifacts taken from the Benin kingdom in 1897 during an invasion by British soldiers which resulted in the monarch going into exile. But why steal from a people considered inferior and crude? Well, perhaps, that will be a discussion someday.
Africa had produced great minds in the past and has produced new great minds today. These include Soyinka, the first African man to win the Nobel prize; Wangari, the first African woman to win the Nobel prize; Okri, the first African to win the Booker prize; Evaristo, the first black woman to win the Booker prize; Adichie, for her feministic revolution and impressive mastery of writing stories; Kperogi, for his unusual mastery of the English language – an exceptional wordsmith; and Weah, the first African to be crowned world footballer of the year by FIFA in 1995 and the only African to date.
Africa has produced firsts worldwide. Ethiopian Haile Gabreselasi, was the first human being on earth to run a marathon with a world record time of 2:03:59 in 2008. African American Ben Carson became the first doctor in the world to perform the first successful neurosurgical procedure on a fetus inside the womb, the first to dissever a set of twins conjoined at their heads, and the first to develop new methods to treat brain-stem tumors.
“Africa’s history has been badly distorted,” says a friend of mine whom I visit. Like me, he is passionate about the history of our Africa. Often times, when we converse, our conversations unconsciously revert to history. I visit him on a Sunday with two loaves of bread as a gift. Bassey is a chronic consumer of Joyman Sweet Bread. I use the adjective “chronic” to describe my friend because he eats bread and drinks tea to a state of disgust; at least, that is how I see it. I have never seen anyone else eat bread and drink tea for breakfast, lunch and supper. And when he wants to add something different, it is either bread and beans, or bread and akara, or bread and moi moi, or bread and butter. But the day I met Bassey adding okra soup, I understood he badly needed redemption from his addiction. He had sliced the Joyman Sweet Bread into two halves and smeared it with two spoonfuls of a thick okra soup.
“Bassey, what on heaven and earth are you eating?”
“Okra pie,” he replied gleefully with a mouthful of the odd combination.
“Okra what?” I asked with a repulsive mien mixed with something like a smile.
“You don’t know what you are missing. This is hyper delicious and nutritious.”
It would have been a great disservice to my pal, going to his house without Joyman Special Bread. Ha ha ha! So, we sit on the only settee in the living room which also doubles as the bedroom. His bed is directly opposite his settee. We are still full-blooded bachelors. The need for living for a two-room apartment for family has not arrived. I confess I rented a room and a parlour a few months ago to free myself from the harassment of my immediate boss who kept chiding me for being a supervisor living in a single room. “Don’t you know you are the only supervisor in the world living in a single room?” He would mock.
The reason I said our history has been badly twisted,” Bassey continues, “is because of two things. First, because of the racist slur unleashed on Bernadine Evaristo last year by the BBC when she became the first Black woman to win the prestigious Booker Prize. Without this age of information technology, her achievement would have been deleted, twisted or buried forever like the achievements of some African greats in the past. No one would have known her as a Black writer of worth. She would have become hearsay, a rumour, a myth.
I listen attentively to my friend’s analysis even though I remember everything with more detail. It was in October 2019 that Evaristo’s historical feat was bruised by the racist utterance of a presenter on the world’s most popular radio station, the BBC. I still remember every word uttered as the presenter said, “Now, this is a bit different from the Booker Prize earlier in the year where the judges couldn’t make up their minds, so they gave it to Margaret Atwood and another author, who shared the prize between them.”
The first Black woman to win such a coveted prize as the Booker was contemptuously reduced to a nameless “another author” while her white co-winner was named. The degrading comment instantly sparked a public outcry. Evaristo, herself, understandably provoked, tweeted to her huge fans on twitter. She said disappointedly, “BBC described me yesterday as ‘another author’. How quickly and casually they have removed my name from history – the first Black woman to win it. This is what we’ve always been up against, folks.”
The BBC apologised and stated that their presenter’s words were not intended to belittle Bernadine Evaristo. Whatever. The damage has been done.
“My second point is,” Bassey continues, “how can a race be labelled as inhabitants of the Dark Continent? Do you know what that means?” Of course, I know, but I shake my head to listen.”It means the race is full of shit and negativity. It means the race has never been blessed with exploits and adventures; therefore, it has no history. A fat, smelly lie peddled by white racists.”
Bassey puffs out carbon dioxide from his nostrils; a glum appearance dampening his visage as if the lie and mischief are newly inflicted. As if he is the new Kunta Kinte. Ha ha ha! That is Bassey, always an emotional being. I release a throaty cough to pave the way for me to speak, but Bassey speaks on. He says,”But we must, just like Chinweizu and Habinomana, continue to kill the lie and rise to speak about our truth: Our undiluted African story, a story of worth. We must rise up in spite of the heavy burden of falsehood and hatred on our heads bent to pin us down forever. Maya Angelou told us to rise above our enemies’ lies. Remember her poem, ‘Still I Rise’?” I nod. The first stanzas of the poem captured what I just said now. She says:
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
I leave Bassey that evening with a truth he agrees with. The truth is that we can only rise if we love ourselves and unite, like Bob Marley’s “Africa Unite” encourages. After all, part of the injustice of lies and slavery meted out on us were rooted in the inharmonious postures we assumed and the lovelessness reeking out among us. We may be playing the second fiddle now, but we must have a hidden plan to become an equal economically with the West. We need a new Sankara, Lumumba, Sisulu, Biko, Che, Brutus, Gani, Bitek, Mitshali, Zik, Rodney, Mandela, Kenyatta, Sawaba, Tosh, Marley, Macaulay, Awolowo, Funmilayo Kuti, Balewa, and more; we can attain this feat.
Langston Hughes, a great African American poet, talked about this equality years ago in his poem, “I, Too”. He said:
“I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody will dare
Say to me,
‘Eat in the kitchen,’
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed!
I, too, am American.”
We must be proud of who we are to achieve this equality. We must be proud of Africa to beautify Africa. Stephen Adinoyi’s “My African Pride” echoes that pride when he says:
“Oh Africa, so proud to be yours
Your colour on me, my glory
And I vow not to bleach
Sweet Africa, wish every day I could make merry
For the graceful natures of your abode
Low I bow sometimes to kiss your lovely soil
Which beneath lie my ancestors
Proudly, I cherish my differences from other races
My colour is my crown
No reason to frown
Loving the way I was born
Oh Africa, with you no boredom.”
Finally, it’s necessary to say this: the West is not the eternal enemy of Africa. We have gained some things from the White man. Their advancement in science and technology is one of the sweet pies they have shared with us. If we are fortunate to become strong economically, we mustn’t rustle our feathers on their faces in their presence. But rather, stretch open arms of harmony to them. The world badly needs this.
Again, Stephen Adinoyi says it well in his poem called “Black or White,” about this harmony I desire. He says:
“Open your arms
To Black or White
It’s no mistake
For that Hand to make
Black and White
Able to make
But He makes Blacks and Whites
His discretion makes the difference
Yet in the difference lies sameness
Inside the White
Lies the replica of the Black
Colour is no crime
Cos the content is one
All fashion so fine
By the greatest Divine
Open your arms
To Black or White“
Stephen Adinoyi is a writer of prose and poetry. His poetry and a short story have won multiple prizes. His published novella is titled “Teen of Fifteen.” He is a fellow of the Ebedi Writer Residency. His writing has been published in various newspapers including New NigeriaNewspaper and The Sun. He has been published in numerous journals and literary journals including Ebedi Review, and Ake Review. His writings have been anthologized in several publications including Fireflies, After The Curfew, and Footmark. He is the Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Kaduna Chapter.
of that fine gentleman whose hand found my breast.
Monument: Lincoln, Kansas
The monument on the courthouse lawn
lists ten who died.
Blood oozing on the prairie,
Her brother was among those
who lost their lives,
his innocent play interrupted,
by the false Pawnee.
Her telling was graphic, intense,
full of sorrow.
It seemed but yesteryear
tomahawks split heads,
broke settler lives.
I saw it all in print,
found it happened
before Grandmother’s birth.
Her vivid recollections
were family tales
she’d heard from crib.
Later, too, I pondered
protecting home, family,
forests once full of game,
fields where they had wandered free,
tracked the sacred buffalo.
More lives were shattered
than Grandmother knew or told;
more died than had their names carved
for all to see. I claim each one
as brother, sister. I cannot grieve
the named without the unnamed.
Wilda Morris, Workshop Chair of Poets and Patrons of Chicago and past President of the Illinois State Poetry Society, has published numerous poems in anthologies, webzines, and print publications. She has published two books of poetry, Szechwan Shrimp and Fortune Cookies: Poems from a Chinese Restaurant (RWG Press) and Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books). Current projects include haiku, rengay, and other poems. Wilda’s grandchildren say she lives in a library. Her poetry blog features a monthly poetry contest and can be found at wildamorris.blogspot.com .
He licked it, not like a lollipop, but with intent,
the burden of royal tasters, back in bad old days:
tongue artists whose job was to absorb poison
and ensure it was palatable for noble appetites—
Wolf’s music his way of explaining: I asked you
for water and all you’re giving me is gasoline.
He would lick that mouth organ as if eating
the blues, taking a bite out of this hard life,
as a Black man living always under suspicion
of the same things he sang about: killing floors
& moaning at midnight, white eyes expecting
you to play the fool—or prove your innocence.
He licked the harmonica only because he had to
spend the rest of his time swallowing the gristle
of separate but equal, and all the things awful
about the South—and North; no safe haven then
(& now); either sitting on top of the world or else
you’re going down slow, one spoonful at a time.
Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and has been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. A long-time columnist for PopMatters, his work has appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, and others. His chapbook, The Blackened Blues, was published by Finishing Line Press in July, 2021. This Kind of Man, his first collection of short fiction, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press. He has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, twice for Best of Net, and his book Please Talk about Me When I’m Gone was the winner of Memoir Magazine’s 2022 Memoir Prize. He served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha’s Vineyard, and is Founding Director of 1455, a non-profit literary organization (www.1455litarts.org). To learn more, and read his published short fiction, poetry, and criticism, please visit seanmurphy.net/ and https://twitter.com/bullmurph
If I am to be killed, then maybe it is my destiny,”
I was greeted by a host of nervous congregants
who ushered me to the back of the waiting room,
where if you stood long enough you could still hear
rebel yells filtering through windows that trembled
at each burst of the horn, offering to pay my return ticket.
“Sister, for your own protection, you best
get back on the train,” my driver advised
and a wave of chills wracked my body even more
than the story he whispered about a sister
who had been lynched the night before—
how her tongue wagged to the side of her mouth,
her breasts heaved, and then a stream of yellow
trickled down the back of her dress on to the green
below. I am not a “little Joan of Arc,” as George
McGuire likes to tease. I mounted the pulpit
like those venerable pastors from my boarding
school and preached a gospel of freedom:
“Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.”
And when the voices from the Amen
Corner rose in a crescendo that spiraled up
the rafters into the belfry and over leaves of gumbo
limbos dozing in the moonlight beside the murky
waters of the bayou, and the sisters wailed,
“Tell it, sister, tell it,” I knew I wouldn’t have to use
my gun that night. For all they can do is kill me.
Better to live with that knowledge than in the fear
of what is to come, which I know will never
be worse than the battles we have survived.
To My Spanish-Irish Heiress, 1914
Perhaps in another life, we could have
married under a white canopy facing
the ocean, where sharks trailed slavers
laden with misery. There we’d build
a red brick mansion in Andalusia
where we would raise a brood of children
under a sky where the rain blesses
the just and the unjust. But in this life,
we could never be together. The war
between our ancestors could curse our bond.
We would have bred monsters.
Born under flags that would compete
like squabbling school children,
they would, like many “black-white”
elites choose poorly. In this life,
those who are destined to have their names
trampled by the unjust are ruled by leaders
who have never broken a shackle, or blinded
the eyes of those who kill with a stare.
No, my love, better to end what never
should have begun, so now we can look
back after many summers of being apart
at the disaster we avoided.
Geoffrey Philp is the author of two novels, Garvey’s Ghost and Benjamin, My Son, three children’s books, including Marcus and the Amazons, and two collections of short stories. He has also published five books of poetry. His forthcoming books include a graphic novel for children, titled My Name is Marcus, and a collection of poems, titled Archipelagos. His forthcoming poetry collection borrows from Kamau Brathwaite’s “Middle Passage” lecture, Aime Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, Sylvia Wynter’s “1492,” and Amitav Ghosh’s thesis in The Nutmeg’s Curse to explore the relationship between Christianity, colonialism, and genocide. He is currently working on a collection of poems, titled “Letter from Marcus Garvey.” He can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/GeoffreyPhilp and on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/geoffreyphilp/
I have watched Alejandro spiderman over the wall. I am
climbing up too. and I over. my ribs hurt. footprints left. I stumble in
them. and ran towards wide expanse. but this earth is booby-trapped. the
knives of decorative barb snaps. at
Alejandro is faster than I.
caught. hung upon
a thrashing prey.
ripping hoodie. grabbing back onto soapy non-grip freedom. another wire rips out
bigger chunk of my calf. paroxysm has to be swallowed. Like the sand.
Mary. mother of jesus.
I kiss talisman. swallowing
lumps in my throat. undigested shrapnel cutting wider roads to my stomach.
families back home. their prayers. for me limping to jump across the moats. I cry. a
stupid boy. I stop crying. I see Alejandro. I break the damn cotton thread.
I throw things off my back. everything. gotta catch up with Alejandro.
like vaca shit.
crawling like soldiers on YouTube. across.
spitting out dust. swallowing some. taste like cactus. like manure.
but mud hut-boy gotta keep moving across
Lady Liberty. a GIANT lady. I bet she’s
like Mother Teresa.
Upper new York bay. uncle describes. he drives cab. knows all 50 states. he
says they are really 50 different countries. but one hate for dirt people.
he’s supposed to pick me up. at drop spot.
I lay still. I am opossum.
the moonless black night is back. quarterbacking
into cactus. out of cactus. under underbrush. out
uncle says a man can make a living over here.
my heart thumps against the hot sand. Ignore pain. I. mud-boy. It is what it is.
damn, noisy knapsack. village food for uncle and some other shit that he likes.
I have to be quiet……shit.
keep still. dirt boy.
you are underbrush. underbrush becomes you.
quiet. like you. pretty much. dead. quiet.
it swings over to the east.
I run. west. left leg is still bleeding. Alejandro is gone.
I am now ( in )
I am now home health aide.
wiping nose. wiping butts. sponging backs. washing feet of
border guard memory-loss old folks. and I cut lawns. their
dog shit splashing my goggles. splashing in my mouth.
my family is eating more regular now. my little daughter. Juana
now going to school. I cry.
I am happy. but
I can’t be happy.
I miss them.
I miss my home.
I am not apocalyptic
Eaton Jackson is a Jamaican, naturalized US citizen. He has been writing all of his adult life. Inspired by an undying desire to produce publishable works, he considers himself still on the learning curve. His writings have appeared in Scarlet Leaf Review, River Poet, The New Verse, and other publications. Eaton’s dream is to be read as a credible writer.
Dee Allen is an African-Italian performance poet based in Oakland, California. Active in creative writing and spoken word since the early 1990’s, he is the author of seven books–Boneyard, Unwritten Law, Stormwater, Skeletal Black (all from POOR Press), Elohi Unitsi (Conviction 2 Change Publishing), including his two most recent, Rusty Gallows: Passages Against Hate (Vagabond Books) and Plans (Nomadic Press). He has fifty-three anthology appearances to date.
When we come to the round table of literary discourse and are asked questions about our identity as writers of African extraction, what do we say in response to the query that questions our identify as African writers?
Who is an African writer?
Many contemporary writers from Africa, particularly those in the Diaspora have debated over this.
So that we do not peel off the cicatrix and bring back injuries from edgy debates of the past on this subject matter, you would expect that I tread with caution. You would expect that I do not dig deep or say more than should be said.
As a writer whose focus consists primarily in telling stories of the human condition, I will be writing not only through the prism from which I observe as an insider, but also from that of fellow writers of African extraction.
Writers from Africa presently in the Diaspora form the chief part of this discourse.
Going back to the cicatrix metaphor, to say that this topic isn’t ideal for contemporary discourse, or that it has become stale, would mean missing the mark.
Questions of identity are always with us. The problem has always been that we sometimes fail or refuse to acknowledge them, especially when new discourses take centre stage. They are always here but they keep changing from one form to another.
Aaron Bady, in African Writers in a new World: An Introduction, offered insight. He sought for an answer to the question posed above by conducting a series of interviews with African writers on Post45, “a collective of scholars working on American literature and culture,” (as written on the Post45 website, http://www.post45.com).
According to Bady, some of the writers interviewed on Post45 dislike the categorisation, “African writer…some were indifferent to it, and some accept it without particular enthusiasm.” In his article, he made reference to Binyavanaga Wainanina’s satirical piece, How to Write About Africa, which brings a sense of urgency to the misplaced understanding of the African continent common amongst westerners. The article also refers to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TedX talk, Danger of a Single Story, where Adichie pointed out the danger of telling a particular set of stories until it becomes a stereotype. In her popular talk, she says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”
A good example of this stereotypical craving in our stories is the set of stories in the early 2000’s in Africa that portrayed Africa as a poor continent, the practice of which unfortunately hasn’t phased off completely in the present. In fact, the term “poverty porn” was formulated to categorise such kind of stories that tend to disregard other aspects of the African continent. Binyavanga’s satirical piece, in its rib-cracking flow, illustrates this very well:“Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the ‘realAfrica’, and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West.”
Many African writers have lambasted this overindulgence mentality, this unnecessary dwelling on poverty-related issues in our literatures even to the point of smearing the totality of a work with it in such ways that you find it hard to know whether the perpetrators of this are approbating, excoriating, or analysing.
It is important we put things in proper context. So, I go back to the business of questioning. Who is an African writer? Is there an “African writer”? Is he or she the one who lives in Africa and writes about Africa?
Is he or she the one who lives either in Africa or the Diaspora and writes mainly about Africa and African-related themes in total exclusion of other such themes in places other than Africa? Indeed, there are numerous questions. And while the questions look simple, this assumption may be quite misleading. Let me make recourse again to Bady’s article.
Bady referred to the 1962 Conference of African Writers of English Expression which had in attendance the likes of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Grace Ogot, Christopher Okigbo, Lewis Nkosi, Kofi Awoonor and several other reputable writers of the time.
The Conference examined the questions: “What constitutes African literature? Is it literature written by Africans, literature that depicts the African experience? Does African literature have to be written in African languages?”
This Conference was held in the 1960’s. Considering the varied phases of events in present times, we realise that the issue still lingers – the issue about who the African writer is. Should the Black writer born in Texas whose Nigerian parents migrated to the US and who has never been to Nigeria not see himself as an African writer?
I think it is one thing owning up to being an African writer; it is another choosing the dynamics of your thematic engagements over time.
Theme plays a very important role and can be an influencing factor in arriving at the issue of perceived identity. Predicated on theme is the environment where the writer finds himself.
British-Nigerian writer, Ben Okri, presently residing in the UK, explores themes relevant to Nigeria and his British environment where he has lived for more than three decades. In his 1991 Booker-Prize-winning novel, The Famished Road, he utilizes a plot that is influenced undoubtedly by African stories on spirits. Over the course of his writing career, Okri has written works informed either by his Nigerian heritage, or his British nationality.
I will proceed with few more examples, but not of a detailed nature, since this is a brief essay that seeks only to scratch the surface concerning who the African writer is. The example of Adichie, whose works have explored Nigerian and American settings as well as other places, is a well known one— a testament to the mutable nature of cosmopolitanism in a rapidly changing world.
American-based Nigerian novelist, Chigozie Obioma, explores a Nigerian and a Cyprian setting in his second novel, An Orchestra of Minorities. Beyond just exploration, these settings also serve as stimulus for writing that dives deep for true, cultural penetration of the setting referents.
The ambiguity surrounding the definition of who an African writer is still lingers. And while it does, the world keeps evolving, the language of culture and commerce amongst nations is bridging, and common grounds and divisions are taking place simultaneously.
The areas of focus on discussions of identity keep shifting from generation to generation.
Looking back at early-twentieth-century West Africa, we observe the efforts of Senghor, Cesaire, and a few other intellectuals of the time who created and popularised the Negritude movement in Africa and the Diaspora. While it was an intellectual movement that sought to popularise African values, features, and similar considerations, at their core these juxtapositions aimed at the concept of identity.
During this period, especially after the Second World War, there was a big wave of nationalism blowing across the African continent. Although, African nationalism, being more a political ideology, sought to liberate African nations from imperialist subjugation, it also served as a conduit for defining identity, whether at national or continental levels.
From the early twentieth century, when nationalist fervour began to gather momentum, to the middle of said century, when the wind of independence swept through much of Africa, writers pushed the identity debate constantly.
If we look kaleidoscopically at the concept of identity, perhaps we may be forced to consider overarching political interpretations of it. In this wise, history offers the millennials of today, me included, surprises and counter-surprises knowing that some of our Nigerian intellectuals in the 70’s and 80’s canvassed vehemently for a socialist state. Beyond that, they wore the socialist toga as part of their identity and revealed it consistently in much of their works during that period. Samuel Ikoku and Tunji Braithwaithe are two prominent intellectuals who come to mind in this regard.
The affinity shared between our findings from history on the one hand, and what Nigerian writers think about identity in contemporary times shows the protean nature of identity. There is also another set of writers who are not comfortable with the African writer descriptor because on the face of it, it appears limiting—as it connotes that they are restricted to writing about certain themes only. We keep seeing changes in the views of writers from both divides.
Many popular Nigerian authors writing today have at one time or the other been to Western nations like the USA or the UK, or were born and bred there, or born in their respective African nation but later relocated to these Western nations. The effect is that Western ideals rub off on them over time. Because some writers passed through the educational systems or publishing industries of these nations, it becomes difficult for them to separate themselves completely from such influences.
These writers embed in their work plot narratives or themes that include both their adopted Western nation and the African nation of their cultural heritage. This juxtaposition of plot or setting, involving both the Western and African nations, explains why the immigrant narrative has become a well pursued theme. This is a personal preference which I think every writer has the liberty of acting upon. I do not think it is an indulgence. It is a response to an ongoing synthesis of different worlds in the writer’s mind, or a response to the association or dissociation of various aspects of different worlds within the writer’s experience.
We see a quintessence in Abdulrazak Gurnah, the 2021 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, whose work consistently portray themes of displacement, exile and colonialism in settings that are predominantly along the coasts of East Africa.
For the sake of clarity, I have not in any way tilted my opinion to any side of the divide– whether it is wrong for these writers to refuse to be tagged as “African writers” or for them to readily accept it. I should add another category, the set that are “indifferent.”
Some of these writers who refuse to accept the tag “African writer” may do so because they see it as a limiting description, something that boxes them into a fixed spot with little or no alternatives. To push this argument further, I assume that they look at the whole issue from this angle: If I am called an African writer, it probably means most of my readers will think I write only about Africa and nothing else. The radical effect of such thinking portends that these writers have nothing to say about literature from other parts of the world.
It is imperative for the 21st century writer to write about events happening in the world today, not just politics, but socio-economic matters as well, not just culture, but religious matters, too. To expect the Nigerian writer to write solely about African-related themes would be a sheer display of myopic tendencies in a global setting where boundaries are perpetually making way for commonalities and hybrid thinking.
For example, if there were another September 11 (not that we wish for another),Nigerian writers irrespective of their “Africanness,” should not dodge such issues. They must air their views. I believe what comes first is who we are as humans. Humanity is the basic unifying factor amongst us all. Another example to pursue the ongoing argument is the current COVID-19 pandemic in which virtually all nations of the world have been affected, African nations not excluded.
While we know that the global economy is spreading technology across continents at an astronomical rate, we know too that this sort of diffusion is also happening in politics, culture, and other vital indices within nations. The news in California announcing the release of a new Apple iphone arrives in all parts of the world at the same time.
We have witnessed the undeniable power of social media activism. The sheer power for social engagement through a simple hashtag underscores the capacity of social media in aggregating mass views. In 2014 when over 276 girls were abducted in Chibok, the #bringbackourgirls hashtag surfaced on Twitter. Although it was started in Nigeria, more Americans shared it online than did Nigerians.
Universities in the West are now including the study of literature written by African writers, whether resident on the Mother Continent or in the Diaspora. In addition to educational institutions, there are literary institutions that allow for collaboration amongst writers from different parts of the world. This allows for a gradual whittling down of polarities across national lines and racial focal points.
Linguistics, just like culture, has no rigid rules for the interpretation of the meaning of certain words or phrases. A word or phrase might have shades of meaning in several world languages. The same can be said of the phrase, “African writer.” That a writer is called an African writer doesn’t mean he or she writes only about the African Continent or issues pertinent to it; neither does it mean he or she is thoroughly or partially precluded from cosmopolitan literary discourse. One of the interpretations that can be drawn in an attempt to “deconstruct” that phrase could be this— that the writer was born in Africa or the writer has parents who were born in Africa or are Africans, or that the writer was not born in Africa but contributes significantly to African discourse through his writings. Another possibility is that the writer at some time in his or her life lived in an African nation and wrote about Africa. The possibilities listed here do not cover the field sufficiently.
This brief piece is meant to stoke the base of this often-ignored topic. What I will not agree with is the argument that there is no such thing as an African writer or African writing based simply on the pretext that Europeans do not use the term European writer. Neither do I think it is right to argue we have no need for the descriptive tag because we live in a globalised world where the dynamics of a person’s place of origin is gradually paling.
Living in a global world does not do away with our past or our histories. Western nations, home to some of our most popular and influential African writers, all place a premium on their cultural legacies, whether in art or literature. We, too, have a past from which we have walked into the present. To deny our identity will be too grave an act despite the fading of boundaries and the flourishing of hybridized thinking.
It is left to the writers who are the subject of this piece to speak for themselves at the round table and state whether they are comfortable being called an African writer or not.
Onis Sampson is an award-winning Nigerian writer, lawyer, and singer currently recovering from a singing hiatus. He was recently longlisted for the 2021 African Human Rights Playwriting Prize. He was a finalist in the 2019 Inspire Us Short Story Contest for his short story, An Unassuming Woman. His poems, short fiction, and nonfiction have been published in Ake Review, Lunaris Review, Vinyl Poetry, Erbacce, Praxis Mag, World Reader, Tuck Magazine, Authorpedia, African Eyeball Anthology, African Writer, Kalahari Review, and elsewhere. You can find him on twitter with the handle https://twitter.com/OnisSampson
The bloodbath like raindrops, please persuade me into believing will
cease soon. Tell me protest fields will halt to morph into abattoirs every time
we demand for a sunny life, for the right to inhale and exhale, every night we want
to resurrect strangled justice from its grave. Assure me please, that my brother will
return unscathed from where he went to air his deprived voice, please and please
sweet-talk me into a new realm where I can perceive the fragrance of freedom
even from a thousand miles, paint my questioning mind with the hue of affirmation
that my unmatched mother’s soul will not be catapulted to the shore of afterlife for
frowning at inequity. Men and women of this anguish-strewing land, justice-mourning
settlement, unveil to my yearning eyes: the time, day, week, month and year,
when we will have bliss as neighbors, when we will wine and dine
without dread knocking on the doors of our hearts, when our minds
will truly certify this land, home. Tell me now,
now, now or forever be a graveyard.
Death of Another Night
The sunshine cocks have crown again, signalling the death of another night
that will never grace the streets of the sky again in this era, the radios have
risen with a shriek to their daily ritual of feeding your ears with worms, loading
the cart of our frail minds with tons of grief, narrating tales too sore for a boy
my age– stories of dirty uncles brewing nectars out of their unripe nieces’ thighs
when eyes were shut like doors, of blood claiming a northern street, of statesmen
turned python swallowing a nation’s vault of golds in a stretch. The radios in
the neighborhood have christened me– coward and so– their owners.
I tremble at the perch of radios’ baritone at dawn on the twig of my ears
like a bird staring at its death two feet away. Elegies and bloodstained news
are no oceanic views to awake to, neither are they sunshine to grace your dawn.
I Want to Live Where II:
religion doesn’t breed walls
and enormity amidst inhabitants.
skin pigmentation is not a
yardstick of being, of value,
of bliss, of essence, of wit,
of impact, of sanity and sanctity.
compassion— a river of goodwill
flows with rage across the city,
for compassion no matter how little is pivotal
in keeping this moribund world breathing.
natives wake up every morning
with winsome smile on their faces,
highly inebriated on the wine of motivation
to dream beyond the clouds, not with sigh,
not with hiss, nor a face laden with
remorse, you know every night here,
we pray to God to make dawn
to our souls an unattainable feat.
Abdulmueed Balogun is a Nigerian poet & and undergrad at the University of Ibadan. He is a 2021 HUES Foundation Scholar and a poetry editor at The Global Youth Review. He was longlisted for the 2021 Ebarcce Prize, a finalist for the 2021 Wingless Dreamer Book of Black Poetry Contest, and won the 2021 Annual Kreative Diadem Poetry Contest. His works are forthcoming in Avalon Literary Review, The Night Heron Barks Review, ROOM, Watershed Review, Bowery Gothic, Subnivean Magazine, Jmww Journal, Active Muse and elsewhere. His writiting is anthologized in: Fevers of Mind (Poets of 2020), Words for the Earth, 2021 Cathalbui Poetry Competition Selected Entries and elsewhere. He tweets from https://twitter.com/AbdmueedA and can be found on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/balogun_abdmueed/
Lalini Shanela Ranaraja is a multi-genre creative from Kandy, Sri Lanka. She holds a BA in Anthropology and Creative Writing from Augustana College in Illinois, USA. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Entropy, Off Assignment, Random Sample, Sky Island Journal, Transition, Uncanny Magazine, and elsewhere. Discover more of her work at https://www.shanelaranaraja.com/
Jaiminho, the son of Dr. Carlos Tati, wished to have a talk with his father but was unsuccessful.
Dr. Carlos Tati was an anthropologist, educated in Kinshasa, at least according to his calling card. The card was a bit problematic because the name that appeared right in the center was “Doctor Carlos Tati,” which, at first glance, might mean that his name was Doctor. But that was a naïve reading that those who had known him for some time seldom made since they would never call him by the supposed name, but just Carlos or Tati.
Besides the name, Dr. Carlos Tati’s card also mentioned his profession– anthropologist–and included a supreme innovation, a color photo in which he appeared wearing a striped brown coat, yellow tie, and a green handkerchief with black polka dots. If color photography had never been invented, I don’t know what would become of Dr. Tati.
Dr. Carlos Tati was so effusive and imperious that his son couldn’t look him in the eye, much less speak to him. His father’s phrases, always delivered in a tone of absolutism and superiority, fell on his head like huge stones that devastated him in such a way that he always felt crushed, squashed, flattened to ground level. A worm. Worse, a useless insect, because worms at least possess some potential for menace, which obliges and legitimizes their destruction. Jaiminho, on the contrary, felt like a nullity, a zero to the left, a nothing.
Actually, he was a sensitive youth full of doubts. It can be said that, in theory, all young people are like that, but in the time period when this story took place it was inadvisable to be so. It was a complex era, one in which young people had to be tough, self-confident, and decisive since the examples they received from earlier generations were not exactly edifying. Therefore, the young people of his time killed, stole, and fornicated from a young age. (I read somewhere I don’t recall that these constitute the three vital functions of human beings in times of crisis). Thus, Jaiminho felt like a true stranger in the nest.
He would have liked to talk with his father about it. But the mere thought paralyzed him with fear.
Before we explain Jaiminho’s terror — if the diffuse fear he experienced is even explainable — it is worthwhile for us to know, briefly and succinctly, some of the theories defended by Dr. Carlos Tati regarding the future of Angola as a nation.
The anthropologist was an obdurate defender of the Bantu underpinnings of Angola. He even argued that they were the only ones that must be considered. He used the verb “must” with complete naturalness, a dangerous symptom, as anthropological realities are not formulated by decree. But I say this protected by my position as narrator. Jaiminho experienced a slight but particularly incisive shock when his father made such statements.
“We are a Bantu nation and that’s all there is to it! The rest is nonsense…”
Dr. Carlos Tati was also a champion of the ancestral Angolan nations. One day he had a major confrontation during a television debate with a journalist who liked to call himself an intellectual. This man reminded Dr. Tati that those ancestral nations — which, he said, were not yet “Angola” — no longer existed. The journalist quoted an Italian statesman who, it seems, said at the beginning of the twentieth century: “We have created Italy; now we must create Italians.” To the journalist, that is what must be done in Angola.
That day, Dr. Carlos Tati arrived home especially upset. Jaiminho heard him say, as he paced about the house: “We need an Idi Amin… We need an Idi Amin…”
His son opted not to comment with him on the television debate. He chose, rather, to retreat to his room and read a strange book.
Another theory of Dr. Carlos Tati’s was that there is an intrinsic relationship between individuals’ names and their identity. He railed against the fact that many parents gave their children Portuguese and, above all, Brazilian names like Ana Cristina, Vera Lúcia or Rita de Cássia. In the same way, he detested supposedly revolutionary names, like Marx, Fidel, Nkrumah, or Mandela, not to mention Eastern European names, revolutionary or not, like Natasha or Svetlana.
“People with those names cannot be Angolan… Shit! Why don’t those parents give their children authentic Bantu names?!…”
Yes, I have noted that Doctor Tati’s first name is Carlos. And that his son is named Jaiminho. What’s the problem? As I have said over and over, human beings are complex and inherently contradictory. Besides which, if literature is not for explaining something, it is much less for understanding anything.
Jaiminho’s father spoke fastidiously correct Portuguese in the style of Coimbra — which was in fact his native tongue — and Lingala, a creole language he had learned in former Zaire. He barely spoke Kikongo, the country’s mother tongue. However, he accused Portuguese of being the “language of the colonizer” and defended the urgent prioritizing of the African “national languages” spoken in Angola. This was another of the theories that he considered essential for the future of the nation.
When the President, in a speech that became famous, classified those languages as “regional” given their limited range, Dr. Carlos Tati almost had a stroke. Days later, he wrote an article asking if the president was crazy or merely misinformed. Nothing happened to him, which proves that the absence of democracy in Angola is, as said by supporters of the government, “a maneuver of imperialism.”
All these assertions were expounded by Dr. Carlos Tati with such vehemence that his son Jaiminho knew it was practically suicidal to disagree with him. His father’s personality was omnipresent and omnipotent, to the point that it not only smothered, but annihilated him.
Jaiminho was incapable of having with him the special conversation that he sheltered in his fragile and seamless heart. Every day, his doubts grew.
He was Dr. Carlos Tati’s youngest son, the only one who lived with him. His father was on his third marriage, to the secretary of his department at the university. She was a young woman from Huíla, a descendant of the Cuanhamas, slender and well-spoken, and Jaiminho’s mother. Dr. Carlos Tati had three other children from two previous relationships, all of whom lived with their mothers. In addition to Portuguese, Jaiminho’s mother spoke fluent Cuanhama, her native tongue, and Nyaneka-Humbi, the language of the Huíla region. All that diversity irritated her husband, who one day expressly forbade speaking other languages in the house.
“Portuguese is the only truly Angolan language — because all of us at least understand it!” he said, quickly adding, “How am I supposed to understand what you say in those bizarre languages?”
The truth, however, is that Jaiminho had an almost inborn difficulty in dealing with hypocrisy. His father’s position mortified him.
He was a sensitive youth with no known friends who spent most of his time at home reading strange books he showed no one and listening silently to what was called “foreign music” by Dr. Carlos Tati. Tati’s musical knowledge was limited to the songs of Urbano de Castro, a popular Angolan singer of the 1970s who plagiarized from old Latin American merengues. Ray Charles, Jacques Brel, Patxi Andión and other musical preferences of his son were for him more cryptic than the languages his wife insisted on speaking at home, especially when she received family members from what he called “the backwoods.” Jaiminho had become acquainted with that music through the writer Freddy da Cunha, and he listened to it mystically in his room at night. He had an inexplicable admiration for da Cunha, who he had approached at one of the frequent activities of the Union of Angolan Writers.
Before independence, the writer had studied abroad. And it was overseas, alongside influential authors, that he learned to know and love this kind of music. . When Jaiminho, who was twenty years younger then he, approached him and spoke of his literary trials, Freddy da Cunha lent him books by Mayakovski, Eluard, Neruda, Lorca, and Guillén, saying:
“You have to read, young man, read a lot… To be a writer it’s necessary to read a lot…”
Later, upon returning from a trip to participate in an international literary symposium, he brought back for Jaiminho a package of blues, jazz, and protest music. In his view, Jaiminho needed to increase his general culture, without which he could never be a writer.
“Have you ever thought of spending some time outside the country, for example, to study?” he asked.
Jaiminho made the writer his master, albeit secretly, as not even Freddy da Cunha had any notion of it. There was one aspect of the writer’s personality that Jaiminho had trouble accepting: Freddy da Cunha was a womanizer. Without his knowing why, that saddened him.
Dr. Carlos Tati never met the writer. He didn’t know whether he was Black, White, or mulatto. He was unlike those Angolan legislators, who years back had made the strategic decision to include “race” on ID cards. That was why, when Jaiminho arrived home with the jazz records given him by Freddy da Cunha, his father didn’t hesitate to let escape that surprisingly original and creative phrase:
“Jazz is mulatto music!”
Jaiminho paid no attention.
The truth is that by then Jaiminho had completely given up the idea of talking with his father.
His dilemma was now a different one: did he want to be a writer or a musician?
His attempts to transform into literature his doubts, anguish, desires, and plans had turned out to be a total failure. Freddy da Cunha’s hints seemed more and more useless to him. Besides that, he couldn’t help remembering that the writer was an inveterate womanizer.
Maybe his path was music. He didn’t want to dedicate himself to jazz, despite his continuing to listen to it every night. When he was more depressed than usual, he wanted to make protest music. The problem was: protest against what? And how?
He felt he harbored a repressed scream in the depths of his soul. But finding out the nature of that scream anguished him profoundly.
In addition, how could he communicate it at that unique and special moment so that everyone might hear and come to respect him the way he would like to be respected, with his desires and choices? His father, Dr. Carlos Tati, would die from displeasure.
Jaiminho found out what to do the day the anthropologist brought home a newspaper whose front page dealt with homosexuality in Luanda. His father was painfully peremptory:
“Jaime, take a look at this shit… Queers in Angola? Where are we heading? This is contrary to our culture! Homosexuality isn’t part of Bantu civilizations! It has to be the influence of those gringos in the United Nations, those NGOs, those consultants who run around corrupting Angolan youth!… Or else TV Globo… The petty bourgeoisie in Angola spend all their time watching Globo soap operas… Angola is truly lost! Homosexuality is the direct manifestation of the roots of evil. If I had a son who took it in the butt, I’d beat him to death!…”
The next day, Jaiminho left home, leaving just a note asking his father not to come looking for him and above all not to worry about him anymore.
(Translated by Cliff E. Landers)
JOÃO MELO, born in 1955 in Luanda, Angola, is an author, journalist, and communication consultant. Founder of the Angolan Writer´s Association, and of the Angolan Academy of Literature and Social Science, he currently, splits his time between Luanda, Lisbon and Houston, Texas. His works include poetry, short stories, articles and essays that have been published in Angola, Portugal, Brazil, Italy, and Cuba. A number of his writings have been translated into English, French, German, Arabic, and Chinese. He was awarded the 2009 Angola Arts and Culture National Prize in literature category.