5.1 East African Poetry & Drama: Do you know the various stylo-thematic aspects & poetic devices of poems?

Chapter 5    

East African Written Poetry

A Stylo-thematic Analysis of selected Short Poems. (Part II)

 5.1 Name at least three poems on economy in the selected anthology,


This lesson is a continuation of the previous one. You will remember that I classified the poems in Amateshe’s anthology into three i.e. poems on social life, on economy and on politics. We have already discussed poems on social life. In this lesson, we shall continue and look at poems on economic life and politics.


Objectives of this Lesson


By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

1.      Name atleast three poems on economy in the selected anthology,

2.      Define the term political poems,

3.      List atleast three political poems in the selected anthology,

4.      Discuss tone, mood and attitude as integral elements of a poem.





These are poems that dwell on activities people engage in as they seek sources of livelihood and to etch a living. They are poems that allude to the struggles that human beings undergo in search of the basic human needs of life, food, shelter, water and security.

In Amateshe’s Anthology of East African Poetry, the following can be regarded as some of the poems on economy:

Turn boy by Mabala

The Guilt of Giving by Erapu

The Motoka  by Luzuka

Ploughing by Noah Ndosi

Song of the Worker by Songoyi

A Johannesburg Miner’s Song by King’ei

Mother of Children by A.D. Amateshe


I will analyse the first three poems under this category. You are free to come up with your own analysis of the other poems.


Turn- boy by Richard Mabala

On the literal plane, this poem tells of a story of a polite young man whose work is to pack and unpack loads and baggage to and from a bus. This work seems enormous for his young body especially when he has to pack heavy loads like the sacks of coconut he loads on the bus in the poem. The loads he has to carry are too heavy to be lifted single-handedly but the boy has no otherwise but to load and offload them. The other passengers feel indifference and apathy to the plight of the boy until one of them who has  been in the same position points out to them that the boy will waste away very soon if he doesn’t stop carrying such heavy loads. The passengers empathize and sympathize with him at this point.

The loading and offloading of goods and loads of passengers to and from the bus is essentially a courtesy service that bus operators offer their passengers. However some passengers take advantage of the turn-boys employed by the bus companies to subject them to carrying heavy loads that they cannot carry themselves. The turn-boys cannot refuse because such passengers will report to their bosses who will waste no time in sacking them. So the turn-boys are exploited and they know it but they have to endure it for the sake of their jobs. They know if they loss the job, finding another one will be very hard. You can therefore deduce that the turn-boy in this poem is being economically exploited.


On a literary plane, this poem goes beyond just the turn boy and looks at how the rich exploit the poor.  The turn boy may be seen as a representative of all the working people who toil and moil yet earn so little. They toil and moil for the benefit of the rich who are so roguish, arrogant and inconsiderate just like the kanzu’d old man. The rich are always afraid and uneasy with what they are doing and that explains why the kanzu’d octogenarian has to supervise the turn-boy as he suffers under the weight of the coconut sacks. The old man is a mean, inconsiderate and mistrustful person who represents bourgeoisie merchants who always strive to make the maximum profits while investing minimally. They will suck every once of energy from the unfortunate workers in order to enrich themselves and those of their type. He represents those who value material wealth over life and happiness/comfort.


Poetic devices

To bring out the above issues of concern and character traits, the poet employs quite a number of technical devices. Mabala (the poet) starts by drawing the readers attention to the coconut merchant who is said to be ‘a bulging kanzu’d form’. The word ‘Kanzu’ is a Swahili to mean frock. The poet decides to say Kanzu’d man in describing the merchant so that we may examine him critically. This is a poetic device called neologism. Kanzu is a clad associated with Islam, a religious sect that professes equality among all the people of the world. Yet the actions of this kanzu’d man do not exhibit any equality. This in itself is irony.




Neologism: This is a style of forming words from other words that do not exist outside the context of their use. Such words can be formed through affixation and compounding. The word ‘kanzu’d’ is an example of neologism through affixation.[1]



The beginning of the poem has imagery. We are told that;

The bus squealed sluggishly to a halt.

Squealing is usually associated with the noise made by chicken yet here the bus is said to have squealed. This is giving inanimate things attributes of animate things which in a word we call personification. The alliteration that abounds in the above mentioned statement serves to create musicality as one starts the journey of reading the poem. This musicality aspect lures you into reading even more. There is also lexical deviation where the poet employs foreign words. The Swahili words in the poem are used deliberately for two purposes.




Identify the use of foreign words in any poem and explain the purpose of their use.

The first purpose is that they help you the reader to understand the setting of the poem i.e. a Swahili speaking world and most probably Tanzania. The second purpose is to help you the poet contrast the character traits of the poor and the rich. The poor ones like the turn-boy use polite and respectful Swahili words like ‘Shikamoo baba’ and ‘jameni’ while the rich can only callously respond ‘Marahaba’. Also remember that this Swahili greeting has no equivalent in English so the poet has no other way to translate it other than leaving it as it is.



Pick out other imagery words in the poem and explain their use.





Between the turn-boy and the kanzu’d man, who do you identify with and why?





The Guilt of Giving by Laban Erapu

This is a fine example of a poem that strikes you by suddenly letting you share in the expression of what you always know or feel but never formulated it in words. Right from the title, the poem is startling and interesting for we do not ordinarily associate guilt with giving. The poet uses the pronoun ‘you’ to make the poem sound like a direct address to the reader who is ‘you’; forcing you to accept the experiences recollected as if they are your own. The persona assumes a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude and uses this attitude to directly attack and accuse ‘you’ and the crowd for having neglected the poor ones in our society and calling them bad names like heap of rags. The speaker seems to be saying that it is because we regard beggars as pollutants in the society that we treat them as heaps of rags and not human beings.




Have you ever seen beggars on the streets of your city or town? What was your first reaction regarding them? Did you see them as a nuisance, as thieves or as economically challenged human beings?



The poet argues that poverty reduces human beings to a low level where other human beings refer to them as heaps of rags (line 1) or a louse that creeps about (line4). Erapu satirizes the social hypocrisy and calls for concerted efforts to fight poverty as means towards making us human. The beggar can only get human dignity if he sheds off those rags that point to his poverty. In the last line, the persona alludes to the fact that this vice of looking down upon others as heaps of rags is not innate but we learn it and so we can undo or ‘unlearn’ it.


Poetic devices

As suggested earlier, the title of the text itself is an oxymoron. We do not associate giving with feelings of guilt. When you give someone something, there is no need of feeling guilty. In deed you feel exalted and happy for your generosity. But here the author associates guilt with giving because when you give someone something and you do not want other people to see, then it is possible that you may feel guilty when other people stare at you hence the guilt of giving. Many people do not feel free to give beggars money because some beggars are pretenders and it is hard to distinguish between a genuine and a fake beggar especially when they are on the street.


As you read down the poem, you will meet such words as silent presence, grotesque gratitude and impenetrable patience. The examples given here have words that do not normally match in meaning and they are rarely used together in one sentence. When a person is present, we expect him/her to talk and not just be silent. Grotesque is a bad thing or sinister while gratitude is something holy and good. In the same way something impenetrable must be having bad qualities yet patience is a virtue. Therefore the use of the aforesaid oxymoron words serves to capture the attention of the reader to read further to unravel the mystery that is inherent in their oppositions. In the same way it is hard to unravel the meaning of oxymorons, so it is to determine whether a beggar is genuine or fake.




Oxymoron is an expression composed of words that are collocated (put) together yet they have different and in deed .opposite meanings. Therefore oxymorons operate at the level of semantics.





Identify other oxymoronic titles and phrases. Examples; the married bachelor, a clever fool, a relevant problem e.t.c.




A key metaphor in the text is the use of the word ‘louse’. This is a word used to refer to the beggar. A louse is something we associate with filth although it resides on ones body and feeds on it. It is bad for one to have lice especially when that person is clean outwardly. So if the society is clean and there are louses (beggars) in it, then the society is not cleaning itself well. It is not helping its people well hence others turn into beggars. The poet achieves a clear comparison between the louse and the beggar on one hand and the city and the society on the other hand.




Find other words of imagery in the poem and explain their use.


The Motoka by Theo Luzuka

The persona in this poem is a tomato seller and he/she looks at the government from a mesmerized peasant’s point of view.  The poet makes this peasant use the minister’s vehicle which seemingly is a long limousine car to expose the excessive powers and privileges that government officials enjoy. Therefore this poem deals with both economical and political issues.

The persona uses words that suggest hyperboles which we can assume are products of rumours of the market place. Because the whole poem is hinged on unsubstantiated and unconfirmed facts, it is bound to have a lot of hyperboles. The minister’s vehicle is said to have a TV set, a radio station and gears. A vehicle of such features is in-deed expensive and buying it for a government official is wasting public funds because the minister does not need all those features in his vehicle for him to discharge his/her duties. These are some of the strategies African government leaders use to squander public funds. Elsewhere a hyperbole intertwined with similes has it that the vehicles movement is compared to how a Lyato sails while its speed is as fast as that of a swallow. Additionally, this vehicle is designed in such a way that the minister can enjoy a sexual affair ‘while driving in the back seat with his darly between his legs without the driver seeing a thing.’ (Lines 12-13). The hyperboles are meant to draw your attention as the reader to the many privileges that the immoral ministers enjoy.


Despite these hyperboles, the issues that the poet wants to put across are real. Issues of excesses of government officials and ministers sneaking into campuses and stealing young ladies are well brought out in the poem. Another serious issue conveyed is the idea of political doctorates where University authorities award non-deserving politicians doctorates of Honoris Causa so that such University chiefs may enjoy political favours, patronages and protection from those politicians.




Compare the way Luzuka in the Motoka handles the theme of sexual exploitation against young girls and the way Mabala handles the same theme in The ways of the world.





Have you ever heard that a politician has been awarded a doctoral degree in your country? Do you think the politician truly deserved to be recognized?



Amateshe (1988:7) argues that this poem is conversational and hence allows the reader to be drawn into the conversation by forcefully being the active listener to what the speaker is saying. The poet makes the persona speak as if he is addressing a friend or colleague at the market and that friend happens to the reader. The starting line inevitably draws you into the conversation; ‘You see that Benz sitting at the rich’s end?’

It is like a signature tune that welcomes you into the poem. And correspondingly the last line of the last stanza signs you out;

You just wait, I’ll tell you more

But let me first sell my tomatoes


There is a way in which this poem evidently draws its expressions from ordinary everyday to day market speeches which is very rich in literary language use. Right from the title The Motoka, the poet uses a localized English word corrupted from the word Motor Car.  The title itself tells you the kind of person the persona is (a not well schooled person). It helps the poet deviate from the normal English to attract the reader’s attention. Another instance where the poet localizes English is when the persona says; ‘it belongs to the Minister of Fairness’. The speaker means to say Minister of Justice but because he/she is unschooled in English, he/she translates Justice as fairness. Remember in most East African languages the words justice and Fairness are synonyms and can be used interchangeably. In other languages, there is no word such as Justice so the closest is fairness.

When the poetic persona speaks of ‘the glory of the motoka’s inside having robbed the market women of words,’ he/she is still using a metaphor in a localized expression of English.  We associate robbing with bad people like gangsters who violently snatch your wealth yet you cannot help it. The glory of the motoka is compared to such snatching of words from the mouths of these market women. The vehicle is so sophisticated that you cannot afford not to look at it and marvel at its complexity.



Identify other instances where the author uses localized English in the poem.






Translate the word Justice in your vernacular language.  Does it have an equivalent or must you use a statement to define it?



To sum up the discussion on this poem, let us look at the phrase literate thighs of an undergraduate.  Thighs cannot be literate but an undergraduate lady who has thighs can be literate. The poet takes a part of a person to represent that person. This is usually called metonymy.




Metonymy is a poetic device where a poet uses an attribute or a part of something to stand for the whole of that thing. In the above case, the thigh represents the undergraduate female student who entertains the Minister




 5.1.1      Define the term political poems,

5.1.2  List at least three political poems in the selected anthology,

5.1.3  Discuss tone, mood and attitude as integral elements of  the corresponding poems.



These are poems that respond to human activities associated with governance and leadership and the welfare of states or countries. Poets world over respond to political situations of their time and place in a bid to advice, warn or psych the people for or against certain decisions or ideologies on governance and leadership. In the selected anthology, the following poems may be considered political;

  1. Analogy by Bahadur Tejani
  2. Facelift for Kafira by Imbuga
  3. Their City by Okola
  4. Yet another Song by Rubadiri
  5. Groaning for Burial by Mnthali.
  6. Epistle to Uganda by Leteipa Ole Sunkuli
  7. Maji maji by Yusuf Kassam
  8. The Anniversary by A.D. Amateshe
  9. To the Shameless one by Imbuga


I will only analyse the first two poems in this module. You are free to analyse the rest of the poems.


The Analogy by Bahadur Tejani

In our earlier discussions, we mentioned that when analysing a poem, it is important to look at the title carefully. This poem is a good example of the importance of the title in the content of a poem. The title analogy refers to some form of comparison or representation. So once you read the word analogy, you will be looking for what is being compared to what. What resembles what or what parallels what. And as one plunges into the poem you start getting the resemblances in the first stanza


In the beggar

I saw the whole

Of my country

The beggar then becomes the analogy of the country. This beggar suffers from leprosy which is the analogy of corruption in the country. This leprosy has been caused by a worm which is an analogy of bad leaders. The beggar is ailing just like the country’s economy is ailing. You can see therefore that the title Analogy is very appropriate to the content in the poem.




Analogy is a word used to show the resemblance or correspondence of two things.



At the beginning of the poem, the persona adopts a contemptuous attitude against the worm but at the end his attitude turns into doubt. He wonders whether the beggar is better off dead than alive or if the beggar is simply pretending. Let us look at the last two stanzas critically in order to unlock the message of the poem. The poet asks whether killing the beggar (country) would subdue his pain which is greater than death itself. This is a paradox because death finishes one and one cannot help another person by killing him. What the poet then suggests here is that drastic and painful decisions have to be made for the country to heal from the ills of corruption and bad governance. In the last stanza, the persona poses;

Or pity?

Is he cheating?


The persona doubts whether the beggar is simply pretending to be ill. I am sure you have heard of stories of very well to do people going on the streets begging for money which they later use to buy plots and grow rich by night. Therefore if the beggar represents a country, then it is normal for one to think that a country can do better than it is actually doing. The fact that the country has so much resources yet it is ailing economically is dubitable and that is why the persona thinks that this is simply pretence. The beggar (developing country) can remove the worms (bad leaders) that cause leprosy (corruption) then he/she will be normal instead of begging from passers-by (developed nations)




The beggar is likened to an underdeveloped or developing country that is ravished by the worm of corruption. Leprosy is equated to the ailing economy as a result of corruption. The persona doubts the idea that the country is indeed sick economically.


Facelift for Kafira by Francis Imbuga

This is one poem that dwells on the hope for third world countries ailing from economic malaise whether self inflicted or accruing from natural calamities. Imbuga in the poem envisages a situation where Africa and in deed all the whole third world will emancipate itself from the political and economical downturn through such committed and dedicated leaders like the persona. In this poem the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Africa is seen to be nigh and supreme. This goes in complete contrast against the pessimistic view of Africa as a land ridden with political and economical turmoil. For example Chinua Achebe in his text, The Trouble with Nigeria insinuates that the problems of Africa emanate from its poor political leadership; that Africa has poor leaders.


The persona in the poem is an African leader who is singing his song of dedication, taking his vow of commitment and making his declaration of availability to serve his country, Kafira.  This is especially seen from the way he repeatedly says that he will take it, ‘a challenge well cherished’. The key word here is ‘cherished’ because not so many people cherish their challenges especially when the challenge involves serving others and not themselves.

Right from the title to the body of the poem, there is suggestion of cleansing of country in question, which to me suggests a third world African state.




Kafira is a convoluted word version of Africa. In this case it means a third would nation in Africa. The use of this word and its meaning can also be deduced from Imbuga’s other texts like, Man of Kafira and Batrayal in the City.



 ‘Facelift for Kafira’ would therefore mean giving Africa a new meaning of life by re-inventing, renovating, repairing, resuscitating and purifying its cultural, economical, political and social structures which were vandalized and destroyed by colonialism, Trapped in the vices of the mighty, (line 12). In the main body of the poem the following words suggest purification of Africa:

Lines 18-19,    it is that will rekindle

that fire that burned gently

Beneath your maiden name

Lines 25-26     With luke-warm water and soft cotton fingers

I will wash you gently each passing day

In the first stanza, the poetic persona makes a direct address to the reader as ‘you.’  ‘You’ in this case is not the reader as was the case in Laban Erapu’s The Guilt of Giving. ‘You’ in this case is a country, Kafira’ which we have already said that it may be any country in Africa. The persona suggests an intimate and warm relationship between him and his country Kafira. This is a way of reconnecting and bonding between the leader (poetic persona) and the country (Africa)


In the second stanza, the poetic persona acknowledges that his country was indeed impurified, ‘You’ve lost something of that purity’ (line 2) and ‘Your smile is no longer, The first cockcrow of each passing day, and your walk is the walk, Of a tired traveler.’ (lines 5-8). However he goes on to exonerate Kafira from having participated in this process of impurification and exploitation because Kafira was the ‘innocent one’. ‘Trapped in the vices of the mighty,’ means that Kafira was caught in the economical and power struggles of Europe (mighty colonialists). You will remember from your history lessons that in Europe there was a scramble for Africa in which representatives of European countries met and divided Africa and allocated their countries potions of Africa; as if it was a piece of cake.

The subsequent stanzas then go on to show the persona’s willingness, readiness and interest to dedicate himself to the service of his nation.


Poetic devices.

To bring out the subject matter and its attendant themes, the poet has used several technical devices. The one that stands out is his diction. The author has adopted a diction of hope. The words used and the way they have been arranged show that the author has hope for Africa which can be made even better through its leadership, ;washed gently each passing day.’ He uses this diction to send a message of optimism that things can in deed get better indicated by such statements as, ‘I will rid you of that foreign smell’ and ‘what purity!’


Additionally, there is repetition of the statement ‘a challenge well cherished’. This statement is repeated in lines16, 24 and 34 and it is meant to emphasize the persona’s readiness in reviving his country. Another repetition can be seen in line 17 ‘And now is my turn.’ The words ‘my turn’ are repeated to emphasize the availability of the persona in taking his responsibility of reconstructing and rehabilitating Africa from cultural and ideological colonialism.


There are quite a number of metaphors used in this poem. In stanza one, Africa is compared to a woman who lost her purity. In stanza two, it is compared to a traveller who is tired from walking. This is supposed to show how sluggard the process of growth and development in Africa has been affected through wanton exploitation. In the third stanza, it is compared to a meek rabbit which is trapped in the vices of the mighty. Here Africa is seen to be docile and meek it was undeservedly pulled into the struggles for power. But after being cleansed of this foreign culture which in the poem is also metaphorically referred to as ‘foreign smell’, Africa is compared to an object that shines brightly. This is to show that Africa’s national structures in terms of culture, economy and politics will grow and be recognized just as a shiny object is easily recognized.




Read the poem again this time more keenly. Attempt to unravel the meaning of the second last stanza

Then tomorrow they will come and say,

Look, what tears of joy!

What purity!

What warmth, KAFIRA!



To end the discussion on East African written poetry, I need to recap the fact that good poetry observes economy of words to pass a message. This economy of words is achieved by means of poetic devices. East African poets have used quite a number of poetic devices to achieve this end. However what distinguishes East African poetry from any other poetry is its close reference to the East African situations.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s