5.2 East African Poetry & Drama: What are political poems? Can you discuss their specific elements?

Chapter 5    

East African Written Poetry

  5.2 Define the term political poems, and list at least three political poems in the selected anthology discussing their respective tone, mood and attitude as integral elements of  the corresponding poems.

 

POLITICAL 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

Tonight

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.

 

Keyword

 

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)

 

Note

 

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.

 

Keyword

 

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.

 

Activity

 

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.

 

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