Laughing Drums |David Amadu

History’s white hand wrote my country’s course
In a language that will come back and hunt her
In the twenty first century ;
The man at the round-about calls it exploitation
Beyond redemption.
But I say it is far beyond our imagination.
Who would have ever thought
Shedding blood for diamonds will be our lot?
Not even the ruthless bullies
Who scrambled for our land to please their hungry bellies;
Nor did big city dwellers in their luxury
Have the faintest idea of our misery.
The man at the round-about says
We are in a conundrum
But I say let’s play our joyful laughing drums
Play our laughing drums
To the sound of hungry children chewing crumbs.

History’s white hand wrote
Signatories and pernicious agreements both
As IMF loans and World Bank Killer packages
Inflicting unparallel wounds and damages;
The man at the round-about calls it Neocolonialism
Without Comparison
But I say it’s beyond human realism
So let’s play our joyful laughing drums
To the sound of children chewing crumbs.

David Amadu is a poet based in Sierra Leone.

6 Amazing Books by African Women You Have to Read

So Long a Letter by Mariama BâSo Long a Letter is an epistolary novel written in the voice of Ramatoulaye, a Senegalese school teacher. Addressed to her best friend Aissatou, the letters chronicle Ramatoulaye’s emotional journey after her husband’s second marriage and his unexpected death. Considered a classic of contemporary African women’s literature, So Long a Letter is a must-read for anyone interested in African literature and the passage from colonialism to modernism in a Muslim country.

 

A Bit of Difference by Sefi AttaUsing the life of Deola Bello, a single auditor working for a British charity, Atta explores everything from Western perceptions of Africa and African women, to the contradictions inherent in social expectations for women and their abilities to meet, ignore, or defy set expectations.

[Read our interview with Sefi Atta here]

 

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieFifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They’re completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear.

 

 

Maru by Bessie HeadA moving and magical tale of an orphaned girl, Margaret Cadmore, who goes to teach in a remote village in Botswana where her own people are kept as slaves. Her presence polarizes a community that does not see her people as human, and condemns her to the lonely life of an outcast. In the love story and intrigue that follows Head brilliantly combines a portrait of loneliness with a rich affirmation of the mystery and spirituality of life.

 

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga: This stunning first novel, set in colonial Rhodesia during the 1960s, centers on the coming of age of a teenage girl, Tambu, and her British-educated cousin Nyasha. Tambu, who yearns to be free of the constraints of her rural village, especially the predetermined lives of women, thinks her dreams have come true when her wealthy uncle offers to sponsor her education. But she soon learns that the education she receives at his mission school comes with a price.

July’s People by Nadine Godimer: Set against a fictional civil war during the aparatheid in South Africa, Godimer’s second novel covers a middle-class family of white liberals in South Africa fleeing the horrors of a large scale revolution started by blacks who then find safety in their black servant’s village.

A Book That Breathes Life Into the Path of Uhuru

“Yesto be great you must stand in such a place that you can dispense pain and death to others without anyone asking questions. Like a headmaster, a judge, a Governor.”

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat, set in the days leading up to Kenya’s independence, depicts a cast of characters whose lives are unavoidably impacted by the struggle for independence.

As A Grain of Wheat was first published only four years after the independence, it is important to acknowledge how contemporary this book is to that history. Furthermore, wa Thiong’o himself, who had a brother in the Mau Mau, experienced the path to independence in ways similar to some of his characters.  The book is powerful in and of itself but knowing these facts makes us understand how close the author was to what he writes about and how significant and relevant this novel is.

Wa Thiong’o uses a large cast of characters, weaving together their intricate stories which all show some form of courage and weakness. As their experiences are revealed, it becomes apparent that even the people thought to be the most virtuous, executed some form of betrayal. The beauty of the book however, is that as the story progresses, we begin to be less critical of the characters for these betrayals, and start to understand them.

wa Thiong’o reveals the flaws of those we most want to believe are fully righteous, and the humanity of those we most want to revile.

He blurs the line between “good” and “bad” and allows us comprehend the mistakes and unlikable decisions the characters make for their sakes and for the sake of their cause.

“The coward lived to see his mother while the brave was left dead on the battlefield. And to ward off a blow is not cowardice.” (168)

Through these characters we ultimately learn that independence was not just the violent, turbulent time we read in history books, but was a human fight, as internal as it was external. The characters grapple so fiercely with themselves because they have been severely tainted by their circumstance, and have internalized it such that there is no real separation between their personal and political lives.

“It is not politics…it is life. Is he a man who lets another take away his land and freedom? Has a slave life?” (112).

In A Grain of Wheat, wa Thiong’o ultimately breathes life into the path to Uhuru, a path that is real and complex and reflective of innate humanity. When we see the personalities and pasts of the characters, we see the struggle and the triumph, and the struggle within the triumph during this pivotal time.

A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.

Penguin Modern Classics |2002| ISBN:978-0-14-118699-3

Review by Liyou Mesfin Libsekal

 Liyou Mesfin Libsekal  is an Ethiopian poet born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She spent the majority of her childhood in different parts of East Africa. She earned a BA in Anthropology from the George Washington University in 2012; she now lives in her home country. She’s the winner of the 2014 Brunel University African Poetry Prize. Find more of her work here and on Facebook

Song of Lawino (excerpt) |Okot p’Bitek

Listen Ocol, my old friend,
The ways of your ancestors
Are good,
Their customs are solid
And not hollow
They are not thin, not easily breakable
They cannot be blown away.
By the wind
Because their roots reach deep into the soil.

I do not understand
The way of foreigners
But I do not despise their customs.
Why should you despise yours?
Listen, my husband,
You are the son of the Chief.
The pumpkin in the old homestead
Must not be uprooted!

Okot p’Bitek was a prominent Ugandan poet. Song of Lawino was originally written in Acholi language. It was self-translated to English, and published in 1966.