Using “Olokun”, “Casualties”, “Night rain”, “The Sun on this Rubble” and “In the friendly dark”
African literature with its themes and structural form has evolved over the years from its oral form of moonlight stories, folktales, legends and myths to being written in black and white conveying its rich experiences. It is therefore not out of place to maintain that African literature got its thematic and structural form from the dynamics of the society; the sociological framework which ranges from colonial, political, economic, ethics and religious experiences.
With a fusion of Western style and language learned, African writers have been able to express their cultures and traditions inherited to a large heterogeneous audience constituted by the Europeans and other peoples of the world. This has earned it a pride of place in the comity of world Literature. According to Ogunyemi Christopher, African Literature especially the poetry genre has expressed many thematic concerns which make them unique to the understanding of African ethos and traditions. Wole Soyinka states that these poems “embrace most of the experience of the African world-modern and historic”.
They have used their poetry either as a protest or as warning to caution on the need to solve the militating problems ravaging the African society. That is why African Literature has been perceived by critics as “weeping literature”. The literature of “lachrymal” as Charles Nnolim would rightly put it.
Although most of them use melancholic tone, the purpose of this is to show how sorrowful black poets have been. Ogunyemi is of the view that from the discourse of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism, these poets have shown their grievances through their poems because it is the only medium by which they can easily communicate their feelings. When we read African Literature, we should, by obligation remember that colonization was its harshest in Africa. As history stands proof, it was highly exploited and savaged by the ambitious ‘white man’. This is on the minds of all thinking poets. Despite getting independence, the bitterness returns angrily alive in their poems.
For instance, the love poems of Dennis Brutus are not just centred on the theme of love, but it is an indictment on the brutish environment from which such emotions are painfully wrenched. They speak of the integral refuge and outer defiance, hope and resolve of the African people. Soyinka notes concerning Dennis Brutus that “even when (his) poems emerge as essentially tender, its poignancy remains a yet more lacerating accusation.”
Though African countries share peculiar experiences such as colonialism, there however remain some experiences common to some regions. For instance South Africa battles with Apartheid which reflects in the works that emanates from that region. Theodore sheckels notes that a great deal of contemporary South African Literature deals with sufferings in the mines and particularly the prisons. Dennis Brutus uses his poems not only to denote his prison ordeals but to capture the phenomenon of love, betrayal and torment.
In his poem “In the friendly dark” and “The sun on this rubble”, Dennis Brutus explores the limitations blacks suffer in their daily activities especially forced labour in the hands of the whites. He therefore longs for relief and hopes for freedom which seems unreachable. In “The Sun on this Rubble”, Dennis Brutus asserts;
The sun on this rubble after rain
Bruised though we must be
Some easement we require
Unarguably, though we argue against desire
He however expresses integral refuge and mental resolve in his poem “In the Friendly Dark”
As a bird checks in flight
To glide down streams
And flames of slanting air…
But my heart soars and wheels
Other themes which African poetry discusses include ethics, indictment, mortality and prayer. African poets are of the opinion that literature mirrors life and it portends the historical evolution of the African people. While some dwell on self assertion, others struggle for identity. Yet some examine the powerlessness of man in the face of uncontrollable phenomenon.
J.P Clark’s poetry for example, strives for the place of man in the face of natural and uncontrollable phenomenon. In his poem “Casualties”, J.P Clark informs us about the reality that /The casualties are not only those who are dead / (line 1) but every one in the society. He structures the language in such a way that it addresses socio-political issues. Clark tries to capture the state of the down trodden in the society. A lot of problems hover round man as he moves in time and space.
Even in his poem “Night rain”, Clark hints on the extent of poverty prevalent in the African society; a direct reference to the sociological experience of Africans in the hinterland and villages. Lines 10-24 clearly brings this to fore as they battle to survive the surging rain on their thatch roof house made from rafters.
Droning with insistent ardour upon
Our roof thatch and shed
And thro’ sheaves slit open
To lightning and rafters
I cannot quite make out overhead
Great drops are dribbling
Falling like mango…
In wooden bowls and earthen ware
Mother is busy now deploying…
He further outlines the theme of religious belief of Africans in his poem “Olokun”. Here the poet expresses his affection to the River Goddess Olokun, the divinity of the sea and an emblem of the material prosperity worshipped by the Edo people and indeed the Niger Delta region in Nigeria. This Goddess is personified in several human characteristics such as endurance, sternness, and appreciation for history, future visions and royalty. Thus the Goddess is symbolic of African spiritual essence.
In lines 17-20 Clark implies that the Goddess is responsible for the prosperity of the land and like a mother she protects the people.
We crumble in heaps at your feet
And as the good maid of the sea
Full of rich bounties for men
You lift us all beggars to your breast
J.P Clark demonstrates more ancestral phenomenon with this poem to show that Africans belief in ancestors, though dead are not asleep. They watch over their children and they protect them from the enemies.
With a rich use of imagery, metaphors and irony, African poetry is an embodiment of creativity. It is with these elements that its structural form is achieved. It is expedient to state here that these poets use distinct imagery which set them out from their contemporaries in Europe. It is also paramount to state that new metaphors were created to illuminate the various themes based on the poet’s divergence of cultures.
Finally, African literature is universal for its artistry and descriptive power, and singular for the attention that it draws to its own locality for its imagery and ideology. It is an enriching combination of rich oral literature, native experiences and the cultural heritage naturally inherited by the poets with the acquired Western tradition gotten through Western education.
Soyinka, Wole ed. Poems of Black Africa. London: Heinemann. New Edition 1999
Ogunyemi, Christopher. Various Voices in African Poetry: Analysis of Poems of Black Africa.Falun 2007
Bright Hub. www.Brighthub.com/arts/books/articles/65695.aspx