Saturday, August 21, 2010

Let no one uproot the Pumpkin

Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino is a poem concerning the rural Acholi woman Lawino’s tribulations as her husband, Ocol, has turned ‘western’ and looks down upon his roots. Lawino, the defender of her people’s virtues and values, laments her husband’s modern ways of living, but his degrading reply is to be found in the book from 1970, Song of Ocol, where he mocks her defence.

The excerpt below is taken from Song of Lawino:

The Democratic Party
How does it differ
From the Congress?

Ocol says
They want Uhuru,
His brother says
They want Uhuru and Peace,
Both of them say they fight ignorance and disease!

Then why do they not join hands,
Why do they split up the army
Into two hostile groups?
The spears of the young men
And their shields,
Why are the weapons
And the men and women
Dispersed so uselessly?

And while the pythons of sickness
Swallow the children
And the buffalos of poverty
Knock the people down
And ignorance stands there
Like an elephant,

The war leaders
Are tightly locked in bloody feuds,
Eating each other’s liver
As if the D.P. was leprosy
And the Congress yaws;

If only the parties
Would fight poverty
With the fury
With which they fight each other,
If diseases and ignorance
Were assaulted
With the deadly vengeance
With which Ocol assaults his mother’s son,
The enemies would have been
Greatly reduced by now.

Okot p'Bitek was born in 1932 in Gulu, Northern Uganda to Acholi parents. He began writing in his mother tongue Lwo, one of the Western Nilotic languages, subsequently his works White Teeth and Song of Lawino were translated into English.
p'Bitek passed away on July 20, 1982.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Tomorrow by Frank Kobina Parkes from Songs from the Wilderness, 1965.

"If you forever fix your eyes on muddy river banks
To see the slime and rotten eggs that foul the air
You lose sight of the graceful brook
Which though not clear, is not so dark
As to absorb your image

If you will ever strain your eyes on bloated, croaking frogs
Beside the stream, and filthy ducks that swim the tide
You may not taste the flowing spring
Which though not white, is yet not black
And can reflect your shadow

If you forever look with jaundiced eye on struggling man
And see his faults and only those - his darker self
You will deride the God-like soul
Which sleeps beneath. Yearns. Waits just a while
A brief, brief while to flower."

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Redemption by Frank Kobina Parkes from Songs from the Wilderness, 1965

"My world pines in your marble breasts, daughter of woe
Green buds crack in the dry harmattan wind
Sun beats down on the city of a million dead
Men wove hats with their hands for a shelter
And monkeys, from tree-tops bare, mock
With crown-capped glee
Bare-headed among the despoiled flowers I stand
Empty-handed, in built-up deserts
I groan mankind's loss
And search wide heavens for a sign not written there

I am a stranger....

My mother's house is desolate and bare
I, stranger upon earth, walk alone the misty pavements
Where bright sun shines and brings no warmth
As snowflakes parachute to rescue earth

Yet you are shivering, daughter of the land

I feel, can touch and yearn to chant old psalms
Recorded on soundtracks through Adam's mind
But I am no more human
Purged of mankind-knowing griefs
Snobbery passes me by
And I have lost my voice
In the whining of the arctic winds bleak and sharp
Despair withdraws from my cold paw in friendship shot
Alone I prowl, being without soul
Lone as a star that twinkles in a firmament of crushed-out eyes
Depths are frozen wombs
Barren skulls and cross-bones picked
And earth belongs to other races - pressed in steel

I am lost...and you...
And what shall we make
Of all these shining orbs and incandescent tombs?

The sun is dark, is cold the sun
I am a potter's vessel shaped by knowing hands
Fallen from sky of earth-dreams that never flower
The eye of the Lord is on me
(And his wrath too)
How long,
How long shall I riddle rock breasts for warmth
How long shall I, a worn Silesian exile, turn
Sore feet for refuge to shrines of past oppression?

Suffer me
Oh suffer me not to be separated
Firm breasts that milked my toothless gum

In the desert place
Let my cry come unto Thee!

I shall return
I shall return to sun-warmed lands
Where rivers flow all through the year
I shall return with the glory of sun-down
Only to battered citadels will I return
To bashed-in skulls and sun-picked bones
Wild groans of shattered hearthstones pierce my ears
Knock, O knock down the battlements of pride

Caress stone breasts with benumbed hands
That fire may rise
And coldness burn
And warmth return
And in red glow, behold:
That sign sure writ in blood

Shall these bones live?
Shall these bones live?

The streams of Life gush out in tuneful song
Dead bones in rocky caves astir
Dead bones in mansions moving,
As the glory of God descends on earth

To be despoiled."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

After the Holocaust

The poem After the Holocaust by Frank Kobina Parkes from his collection of poems Songs from the Wilderness from 1965:

"Let us build new homesteads
New dreams to decorate these ruins
Let us weave fresh rafters from rescued stalks
Let us start all over again

The past is a pitiless dream
A dread nightmare, you may remember, which stared
Deep into our fearless eyes
We gave it a glance for glance
Frown for frown
Fouler word for filthy word
And when it kept on staring
Like a senseless imbecile
We lost our minds completely
We braced ourselves for self-assertion
To knock this beast over
And so redeem our peace

And that, you may remember,
Was the storm clouds breaking over us
And death marching in
And flowering fields laid low
And children in the womb with them

Now we look back to the pity of the nightmare
Not being anywhere near at all
And to sad awakening that our stare
Had been nowhere but into blank brotherly eyes
Seized by delirium like ourselves
And that, had the black storm only given us
A moment's chance,
And not struck just then....

But the past is horrific reality."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Busi Mhlongo has joined the ancestors...

I just heard that Busi Mhlongo's time had come, and I try in vain to stop my tears. She had a voice which reached the deepest core of my soul.
The Queen of Maskanda, traditionally Zulu music played by men, fought a battle against cancer but succumbed at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital, Durban, 15th June.

Jacob Zuma uttered these words in her remembrance: “She transformed the maskandi guitar of migrant Zulu mine workers into an instrument of peace.
Her music carried poignant messages of South Africa’s struggle for freedom and justice. She ensured her compositions defied categorisation and emphasised the universality of the human race.
Her love for music kept the flames of hope alive during our country’s struggle for democracy. Her music encouraged and influenced a range of contemporary South African artists.
She inspired the nation and let the world know of South Africa’s quest for freedom. A true legend has passed away.”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Andamanese Coming to A Halt?

As the late Boa Sr, aged 85, died on 26 January 11.30pm, so did the Bo tongue, one of the ten Great Andamanese languages.
The people have lost a irreplaceable part of their culture, as the old songs only were remembered and sung by Chaachii, Boa Sr, which means an ancient element of self-understanding and history have disappeared forever.
This remarkable and lonely woman had been Bo's, or Aka-Bo, only speaker for 30-40 years after the death of her parents, so she had to learn an Andamanese version of Hindi just to communicate with people.

Just last year in November, a woman named Boro, passed away as the last speaker of the now extinct Khora language. This is a serious concern as two languages have died out in just three months.
The Andamanese languages have been divided into four groups: The Great Andamanese, which includes 'the northern' aforementioned Bo, Khora Jeru, and a fourth language now extinct, Cari (also northern language); the Jarawa; the Onge; and Sentinelese. The Great Andamanese speakers only number 52 in comparison to the pre-colonial presence of 5,000. The British either murdered most or they died of diseases carried by the British. They failed to 'pacify' these Great Andamanese, so many were captured and put in an Andamane home where none of the 150 children lived beyond the age of two.

The Andamanese people arrived at the Andaman Islands some 65,000 years ago maybe from India or a land bridge from Burma, and the languages thought to have originated in Africa may be 70,000 years old.

Even languages we consider constant and invariable, such as English, have come a long way the last 200-300 years. If we read it today it would seem very, very strange and maybe unrecognisable. Language changes from generation to generation. There is no stopping it even though some people may want to preserve it in the 'correct form' as it presently is or up until recently have been.
But normal changes in language is not what is endangering the Andamanese languages; disease, low population, alcohol abuse and dependency on food and shelter from the Indian government are, not to talk about when the colonizers stripped them of their lives, land and rights.
The perils are many, but I would hate to see yet another people become assimilated into urban dwellers, educated or not... People have the tendency to think there is but a few ways to live right and 'save' and 'salvage' others by giving them what they themselves have. The basics are of course desired by everyone, but dependency on a bigger government to provide the necessaries to the ones small in number have its disadvantages. Without media attention, NGOs and the people's own voice they will be lost in bureau-crazy.

I don't know of any projects done to specifically help the indigenous Andamanese people. If anyone knows, you are most welcome to leave a comment and I will post it on the blog.
I know Survival International helps the Jarawa people among other 'tribal people' all over the world. You might want to check out their website to see what problems the Jarawa face and what SI does to help.

With the awareness of being one, comes the awareness of being different

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How Ananse Obtained the Sky-God's Stories

This is a tale from the Ashanti. The tales of Ananse, the spider, is known among the African diaspora all over the Americas.

Kwaku Ananse, the spider, once went to Nyankonpon, the sky-god, in order to buy the sky-god's stories. The sky-god said, "What makes you think you can buy them?" Ananse answered and said, "I know I shall be able." Thereupon the sky-god said, "Great and powerful towns like Kokofu, Bekwai, Asumengya, have come, but they were unable to purchase them, and yet you who are but a mere masterless man, you say you will be able?"
Ananse said, "What is the price of the stories?" The sky-god said, "They cannot be bought for anything except Onini, the python; Osebo, the leopard; Mmoatia, the fairy; and Mmoboro, the hornets." Ananse said, "I will bring some of all these things, and, what is more, I'll add my old mother, Nsia, the sixth child, to the lot."
The sky-god said, "Go and bring them then." Ananse came back, and told his mother all about it, saying, "I wish to buy the stories of the sky-god, and the sky-god says I must bring Onini, the python; Osebo, the leopard; Mmoatia, the fairy; and Mmoboro, the hornets; and I said I would add you to the lot and give you to the sky-god."
Now Ananse consulted his wife, Aso, saying, "What is to be done that we may get Onini, the python?"Aso said to him, "You go off and cut a branch of a palm tree, and cut some string-creeper as well, and bring them." And Ananse came back with them. And Aso said, "Take them to the stream." So Ananse took them; and, as he was going along, he said, "It's longer than he is, it's not so long as he; you lie, it's longer than he."
Ananse said, "There he is, lying yonder." The python, who had overheard this imaginary conversation, then asked, "What's this all about?" To which the spider replied, "Is it not my wife, Aso, who is arguing with me that this palm branch is longer than you, and I say she is a liar." And Onini, the python, said, "Bring it, and come and measure me." Ananse took the palm branch and laid it along the python's body. Then he said, "Stretch yourself out." And the python stretched himself out, and Ananse took the rope-creeper and wound it and the sound of the tying was nwenene! nwenene! nwenene! until he came to the head.
Ananse, the spider, said, "Fool, I shall take you to the sky-god and receive the sky-god's tales in exchange."
So Ananse took him off to the sky-god. The sky-god then said, "My hand has touched it, there remains what still remains."
Ananse returned and came and told his wife what had happened, saying, "There remain the hornets." His wife said, "Look for a gourd, and fill it with water and go off with it." Ananse went along through the bush, when he saw a swarm of hornets hanging there, and he poured out some of the water and sprinkled it on them. He then poured the remainder upon himself and cut a leaf of plantain and covered his head with it.
And now he addressed the hornets, saying, "As the rain has come, had you not better come and enter this, my gourd, so that the rain will not beat you; don't you see that I have taken a plantain leaf to cover myself?" The the hornets said, "We thank you, Aku, we thank you, Aku." All the hornets flew, disappearing into the gourd, fom! Father spider covered the mouth, and exclaimed, "Fools, I have got you, and I am taking you to receive the tales of the sky-god in exchange."
And he took the hornets to sky-god. The sky-god said, "My hand has touched it; what remains still remains."
Ananse came back once more, and told his wife, and said, "There remains Osebo, the leopard." Aso said, "Go and dig a hole." Then Ananse went off to look for the leopard's tracks, and, having found them, he dug a very deep pit, covered it over, and came back home. Very early next day Ananse said he would go off, and when he went, lo, a leopard was lying in the pit. Ananse said, "Little father's child, little mother's child, I have told you not to get drunk, and now, just as one would expect of you, you have become intoxicated, and that's why you have fallen into the pit. If I were to say I would get you out, next day, if you saw me, or likewise any of my children, you would go and catch me and them." The leopard said, "O! I could not do such a thing."
Ananse then went and cut two sticks, put one here, and one there, and said, "Put one of your paws here, and one also of your paws here." And the leopard placed them where he was told. As he was about to climb up, Ananse lifted up his knife, and in a flash it descended on his head, gao! was the sound it made. The pit received the leopard and fom! was the sound of the falling. Ananse got a ladder to descend into the pit to go and get the leopard out. He got the leopard out and came back with it, exclaiming, "Fool, I am taking you to exchange for the stories of the sky-god."
He lifted up the leopard to go and give to the sky-god. He said. "My hands have touched it; what remains still remains."
Then Ananse came back, carved an Akua's child, a black flat-faced wooden doll, tapped some sticky fluid from a tree and plastered the doll's body with it. Then he made eto, pounded yams, and put some in the doll's hand. Again he pounded some more and placed it in a brass basin; he tied string round the doll's waist, and went with it and placed it at the foot of the odom tree, the place where the fairies come to play.
And a fairy came along. She said, "Akua, may I eat a little of this mash?" Ananse tugged at the string, and the doll nodded her head. The fairy turned to one of the sisters, saying, "She says I may eat some." She answered, "Eat some, then."
And she finished eating, and thanked her. But when she thanked her, the doll did not answer. And the fairy said to her sister, "When I thank her, she does not reply." The sister said, "Slap her." And she slapped it, pa! And her hand stuck. She said to her sister, "My hand has stuck." She said, "Take the one that remains and slap her again." And she took it and slapped her, pa! and this one, too, stuck to it. And Ananse came and tied her up, and he said, "Fool, I have got you, I shall take you to the sky-god in exchange for his stories." And he went off home with her.
Now Ananse spoke to his mother, Ya Nsia, the sixth child, saying, "Rise up, let us go, for I am taking you along with the fairy to go and give you to the sky-god in exchange for his stories." He lifted them up, and went off to where the sky-god was.
Arrived there he said, "Sky-god, here is a fairy and my old woman whom I spoke about, here she is, too." Now the sky-god called his elders, the Kontire and Akwam chiefs, the Adonten, the Gyase, the Oyoko, Ankobea, and Kyidom. And he put the matter before them, saying, "Very great kings have come, and were not able to pay the price: I have received from him Osebo, the leopard; Onini, the python; and of his own accord, Ananse has added his mother to the lot; all these things lie here." He said, "Sing his praise."
"Eee!" they shouted. The sky-god said, "Kwaku Ananse, from today and going on forever, I take my sky-god's stories and I present them to you, kose! kose! kose! my blessing, blessing, blessing! No more shall we call them the stories of the sky-god, but we shall call them spider-stories."

Adinkra symbol, Ananse Ntontan, "spider's web", stands for wisdom, creativity and the complexities of life

Friday, January 22, 2010

Memorable pictures; town in the mountains

A Kabyle town in Algier. Their name comes from the Arabic word qabīlah (sg.) meaning "tribe".

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Winner of the Caine Prize 2009: E.C. Osondu

Annually an African short story writer receives the Caine Prize, which is a £10,000 award, founded in England in 2000 and is supported by Nobel Prize literature winners Wole Soyinka, Nahguib Mahfouz, Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee and a various organisations and funds. The name for the prize is a dedication to the former chairman of Booker plc, the Booker Prize management committee and Africa 95, Sir Michael Harris Caine. Ben Okri, a Nigerian writer and winner of the Booker Prize, chaired the first panel of Caine Prize judges. He is a wonderful writer, so if you do not know him yet, watch the interview with him (below) when he was in Denmark.

2009 made it its tenth anniversary of the Caine Prize, and the year in which E.C. Osondu could add another award to his collection. He has previously won the Allen and Nirelle Galso Prize for fiction, and his story "A Letter from Home" was judged one of the "Top Ten Stories on the Internet" in 2006.
"Waiting" is the title of Osondu's award-winning story, which take place among refugees. Read it on the link below.

Read the award-winning "Waiting" here or in a pdf file here

Visit the official website and check out the other winners and nominees

Must see Ben Okri interview in the Black Diamond, Copenhagen, Denmark!

Read other stories here
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