The Past

The Past
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Friday, June 3, 2011

African Poetry’s Conflicts on Varied Perspectives

Zahidur Rahman Nahid

Conflict is the way of substantiate something through opposing or developing the contradictory doctrines between two objects. In African poetry, conflict mingles with its essence of perception. Here, conflict not only contradicts the western concepts and values but also develops the identity of Africa with its own history and perspectives. It creates through contrast with the western concepts and symbols. The opposing aspects of the Europeans made the Africans to contradict with them. African poets focused the conflicts in culture, nature, race, generation, power, values, religious, psychological and so on. Unlike these issues the double consciousness of the poets also creates the self contradictory conflicts. Where, overlapping these problems are really challenge to them and to face the challenge making conflict become inherent.
Cultural conflict is one of the most striking points in African poetry. In Africa what is culture and tradition that seems uncultured or peculiar to the western. The constructed culture of Europeans is subverted by the African poets through imposing their own culture and tradition. In Africa, there were festival songs, work songs. So, poetry has some benefit. They write about their problems, they wanted to convert the oral tradition in to the written form. It is the combination of traditional and modern element. African poet Gabriel Okara focuses the ice-cold attitude of Europeans to the African culture. In Africa what is traditional and cultural that appears as uncultured and humorous to the Europeans. They also represent the African culture in the humiliated sense. Okara in his poem “You Laughed and Laughed and Laughed” focuses this humiliation:
        “You laughed at my song
you laughed at my walk
Then I danced my magic dance
to the rhythm of talking drums pleading, but you shut your
eyes and you laughed and laughed and laughed” [Anthology of Commonwealth Poetry, page 127, L: 9-13]

Gabriel Okara focuses the ice-cold attitude of the Europeans to the Africans. This ice-cold attitude of the Europeans creates the conflict between Africa and European and Okara make the self identity of African culture through his poems. The conflict in Okara’s poetry substantiates the self identity of Africa. This conflict continues by Okara to satirize the artificial European manners and their cultural attitudes. Gabriel Okara in his poem “Once Upon A Time” satirizes European speech manners:
           “And I have learned, too,
            to laugh with only my teeth
            and shake hands without my heart
            I have also learned to say ‘Goodbye’,
            when I mean ‘Good-riddance’;
            to say ‘Glad to meet you’
            without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been
            nice talking to you’, after being bored.” [Anthology of Commonwealth Poetry, page 130, L: 27-32]

Above lines are presenting the artificiality of European manners and this also glorify African manners because it’s natural and instinct in this sense. This showing of European fake manners makes the deconstruction of European attitudes and reverses the humiliation.  Okara was greatly concern about the African people and in his rhythm he brought back the folk tradition. To focus on the folk tradition, Okara works on rural settings and drawing local images which conveys the traditional culture of the native Africans.

Moreover, Okara in his poetry “Snow Flakes gently down” bring out the cultural conflict as theme. The theme is the conflict of cultures of the confrontation of Europe and Africa. Here conflict shows metaphorically by using symbols. Besides the previous conflicts, this cultural conflict prefers the conflict against the constructed culture of Europe to the Africans. Some others poem like “Nuit de Sine” of senghor focuses on the black culture on the opposite of white celebration.

Nature means the feature or aspects of something which is instinct. It is usual that nature of anything is different from the others. In African poetry the portraying of African nature is noticeable. Focusing true African nature in foreign language became a tradition of African poets. Though having double consciousness, the African poets wanted to glorify the African nature rather than the constructed European nature. Poets like Leopold Sedhor Senghor, Gabriel Imomtime Okara, David Diop and Dennis Brutas are the successful portrayer of the nature of Africa in their poetry. Celebration of black, portraying matriarchal system etc is the contradictory doctrines of the western concepts. Bringing these issues African poets make the representation of true African nature and it deconstructs the European ideology. Such as Leopold Sedhor Senghor in his poem “Nuit De Sine” use the theme of black woman and show a tribute to the matriarchal system. Senghor in his poem “I will pronounce your name”, praises ‘Naett’ which symbolizes Africa:

            “Naett, coin of gold, shining coal, you my night, my sun!...” (A selection of African poetry, page 28, line-9 )

This praising line not only glorifies the Africa but also make the counter discourse [1]. This is an utter conflict of the African poets against the western concepts of ‘Dark Africa’. In this poem the poet has used many indigenous images to confirm their stand in conflict with colonial concepts. Where the whites counts black as nasty, impure there the poet Leopold Senghor glorifies ‘black’. One of his innovations in African poetry is his inversion of traditional images associated with black and anything dark. Rather than see black and dark as outrageous and evil, Senghor portrays it as beautiful and good. Traditional idea of black is totally absent in this poem, rather he is celebrating the ‘black’, it is ‘gold’ to him, it is his ‘shining coal’ and it is his ‘sun’. Gabriel Okara in his poem “Once upon a time” satirizes European culture through binary opposition. He criticizes European manner, their attitudes, talking manners as artificial and refer the Africans attitudes as natural.

Generation conflict portrays successfully in Gabriel Okara’s “Once Upon A Time”, in this poem the speaker was the father and the listener was the son. Father’s experiencing of colonialism illustrate to the son. A vivid description about the colonialism and the attitudes of colonizers describe here. As a teacher, father talked about his past to teach his son. Nostalgia of youth and age of father encourages him to teach his son. But at the ending this teaching is reversed by the statement of father:

“So show me, son,
            how to laugh, show me how
            I used to laugh and smile
            Once upon a time when I was like you” [Anthology of Commonwealth Poetry, page 130-31, L: 40-43]

This reversal of teaching suggests that the son will be the teacher of his father. This assertion of father reflexes the hope and aspiration of him to his son. Here father is the generation of pre-colonial and colonial state and his son is the generation of postcolonial state. Changes occurred in the meantime of colonialism; Africans are in essence of loss. To overlap this position the new generation is the hope. Here the conflict is, unlike the tradition the ancestor can not be the guiding spirit of young generation. This generation gap and the failure of ancestor’s guiding is the consequence of colonialism. Okara brilliantly portrays this generation conflict through the reversal of teaching. Moreover, this generation conflict gives a suggestion to the ancestors to hope on their young generation. Here the guiding spirit becomes the young generation because of the loss and conflict in colonial period of Africa.                                            

Besides drawing African vernacular poetry, African poets also draw for subject matter, re-telling stories from African histories and legend. Describing African folk-beliefs and customs, and putting into poetry the appearance of African landscapes. They also try to express the political experience that Africa has going through under the colonialism. Some of these revolutionary poetries asserting Africa and African traditions and values against Europe. Many of the poets spent much time in Europe and their poetry tells of the African’s experience in Europe, sometimes as protests sometimes as satires sometimes as lyrically.

Gabriel Okara in his poem “The snow flakes sail gently down” by using the technique of dream portrays the conflict of values between Africa and Europe. In the second stanza of the poem contains the burden meaning of it and poet uses the symbol of palm trees, gold and roots. The word ‘inside’ symbolically refers the inside of human beings and his essence. In contrast of the European concept of ‘inside’ Okara use it as the human essence and insight. Through these symbols the poet preferences his African values rather than the European values:

            I dreamed of birds, black
birds flying in my inside, nesting
and hatching on oil palms bearing suns
for fruits and with roots denting the
uprooter’s spades. [A selection of African poetry, page 45, L: 16-20]

In the poem “You laughed and laughed and laughed” Okara directly criticizes the European cultural values. Mentioning it as artificial and glorifying the African cultural values. This portrays the conflict of values between Africa and Europe rather than humiliate the European values.

In the sense of post colonialism [2] there are inner conflicts among the poets of Africa. African poets not only portray the essence of loss and nature of Africa but also focus on the conflict of every subject matter. The conflict created by colonialism is an uprising issue of every African poet. Such as language is one of the vital conflicts of writing the African poetry. There was a conflict between the Anglophone [3] and Francophone [4] writers. Whether, the matter is language; some poets think that writing African poetry hampers the motive and purity of African poetry and to express the pure African expression the foreign language should not use. Some writer of Francophone like Senghor thought that the mixing of language does not hamper the writings. It is possible to portray a true African nature by foreign language.

On the perspectives of other issues there are some conflicts. These conflicts are trying to solve by optimism, glorifying the past, encouraging the young generation with hope and aspiration. Poet like Gabriel Okara became optimistic in “Once Upon a Time” to the young generation to resolve the generation conflict. Under colonialism Africa is in essence of loss and after the post independence the disillusionment come to the Africans. In the poem “Africa” by David Diop this conflict has presented vaguely by using the statement:

 “The bitter taste of liberty” [A selection of African poetry, page 69, L: 24]

 The African poets have the conflict on the basis of double consciousness. Most of them were educated in Europe so it is difficult write something beyond the concepts. In contrast, they are African by nature so it is hard to up root their roots. This double consciousness benefices African poetry, it can identify the construction of European and sketch the true Africa.   

History of Africa is brilliantly focuses on David Diop’s “Africa”. The first seven lines present the beautiful Africa before being colonized. Thy have the power to resistance which indicates that they are organized community therefore they were not savage. This poem provides us with information. They were very much active people and make the soil to yield grains. Next nine lines focus on the history of colonized Africa. Their bitter experience under colonialism expresses here. The last eight lines portray the unguided, fainted picture of post independent Africa. Whether, the poet hopes for Africa to recover the bitterness of Africa through new aspiration. This inner conflict and doubt has developed through the true history of Africa. Where, the constructed history of Africa was trying to misguide the Africans and this poem faces the direct conflict with the constructed history.

Their grandmothers sing. They had their voice and they had the language. They also have a history. The treatment of the poem is post colonial. The blood is black. This blood has a connected with irrigation. From here it starts the colonial period. Land is a vital object for business and colonialism. In this poem the first two lines are repeated twice. The last line of the first stanza is repeated, it suggests their humiliation. There are not question marks. This repetition is the chief element of African song and the part of African history.

Before/ after the independence “but” suggest it is not a continuous process. It suggests a new era. It is the spirit of independence or the spirit of reconstruction. Here we find an optimism ‘tree’. A tree is growing and the white is fading. The bitter taste of liberty: the coast we had to pay for liberty. The nation which I get is no way better than previous state as the ruler is rude. This new fainted nation is now the nation of independent of Africa. The “grave voice” refers the ‘Nationalism’ [5] of Africans. Their optimism and bitter experience would be able to spread out the nationalism among the Africans. Here poet can not be sure about a strong African nation because of conflict. These conflicts are created by the oppression and construction of Europeans but the hope, enthusiasm, aspiration, optimism and the uprising tone of nationalism will resolve this conflict.

Like some other conflicts there is religious conflict between Africa and Europeans. This religious difference becomes the conflict by Europeans oppression. Their indiscriminate attitudes to African religions make this conflict. This conflict presents in the poem “The Vultures” by David Diop and it is associated with some one who waits for the destruction of others. It is associated with colonialism/colonial power. This is about colonial experience and the psychology of colonizers. European civilization tried to colonize them through violence, religion and education. Converting into Christianity-make one to think according western school of thought- violence. Holy water slapped: in place of forgiveness, love it is slap. They tried to inject Christianity. But the way was no way civilized or religious one. Hypocrisy of colonized mission here we find violence in general. Here we find the violence in a specific form. These people are singing the song without any passion. And this monotonous rhythm/ this history of oppression are dominated buy the religious song. The European malice attitudes to African religions make the conflict. Despite of being calm the Europeans get violence on Africans. Diop lyrically portrays this conflict of religions in “The Vultures” and focused the bitterness of European missionaries. 

A racism [6] concern of the Europeans oppresses the Africans and it became a bitter taste to them. Firstly this conflict broke out through ‘negritude’ [7] movement which tends towards portraying a Utopian projection of ‘African ness’ as ‘good’ and ‘full of life’. While Europe was in contrast, for example Senghor showed Africa through women feathers as ‘beauty’ while colonialist discourses has similarly represented Africa with female characteristics, so that the process of ravishing Africa could have been justified. So, the conflict between Africa and colonial discourses can be said as a result of ‘inherent tendency’ of any African. This racism was trying to resolve by the African poets. Such as Senghor doesn’t believe the line of deviations between Europe and African. Being an African he does not believe that he will not mix with Europe and he also believes that mixing with Europe does not threat his identity. This philosophy is controversial. How African is different from European logical imagination is a western system of thought. He is highly objectified through the binary opposition through asserting racism. African poets try to demolish the discrimination of racism actively rather than ideologically.

In conclusion it can be said that, there are many conflicts in African poetry. Some of these are ideological and some are rational. Inwardly and outwardly the African poets focuses these conflicts and try to resolve these. Here conflict is created by colonialism and it continues by oppression of the colonizer’s power and discourse application. The one-eyed construction and representation of the Europeans are conflicted by the resistance [9] of Africans. The resistance of deconstruction and counter discourse and African poetry is the good example of it. Whether, African poets did their responsible well by creating conflict with the western notion and make mileage to develop their native heritage of identity, culture, tradition, nature and history.

End Note
1.      ‘Counter Discourse’ refers the way to challenge the colonial discourse through representing the issues of canonical texts and their inevitable reinscription in the process of subversion. This term is coined by Richard Terdimann. 2.      ‘Post colonialism’ is a term which signifies which signifies the cultural, social. Linguistics experiences of former European colonies. It deals with the effects of colonization, examines the colonial process and reaction of colonialism. 3.      ‘Anglophone’ means the writer who originates from British and use to write in pure British English. 4.      ‘Francophone’ means the writer who belongs from the French and writes in English by avoiding the French tunes. 5.       ‘Nationalism’ is something forced and made. The basic is imagination and it can be constructed or fabricated. The sense of belonging, rituals, history, language etc. are the elements of nationalism 6.      ‘Racism’ stands for the idea of differentiating races with their aspects and linked with the same characteristics. 7.      ‘Negritude’ is the name of a movement. In short, a theory of distinctiveness of African personality and culture.

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