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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

SIMILITUDE OF THE AFRICAN EXPERIENCE: A REVIEW OF GIVE ME ROOM TO MOVE MY FEET By Mildred Kiconco Barya

Publisher: Amalion Publishing, Senegal
Genre: Poetry
Year of Publication: 2009
Number of Pages: 119
Reviewer: Olutayo IRANTIOLA

In this era of transcultural readings, it is easy to discover that the African experience is quite similar from one region to the other. It must be mentioned that this review is based on the themes in this anthology of poetry. I also want to appreciate the publisher, Sulaiman Adebowale, who gave me a copy of this book during the Lagos Books and Arts Festival (LABAF 2013) because he has added to my repository of knowledge about contemporary East African poetry.

As poetry is usually described as cryptic but this anthology written in plain language which cannot be understood by anybody who understand the basic construction of English language. The anthology has 7 categories namely: Revolving Lives, Stormy Heart, Before the Sun Sinks, The Pain of Tenderness, Shame has a place, The Shape of Dreams and Until the Last Breath is Drawn. The poem in the anthology is a hundred poems; the shortest of the poems are three with the following titles; Is This Life, A Wish and Wish, with 6 lines each. However, I would prefer to say that A Wish is the shortest because each line has a word. While the longest of these poems is Miracle Inside, this poem has 41 lines. Regardless of the location of the poem in the anthology, there would be categorization of poems with similar themes.

There are three straight poems dispersed across the book which concurs with the title of this review, the poems are; Africa So Same, Seth Africa and Africa RemainsAfrica So Same capture the thoughts of the poet based on her exposure to the Western world, the tone of the poem is that of despair as experienced from one African country to another remains the same. Some of the features of African countries mentioned include; the poor state of transportation, poor roads infrastructure, street begging while inhabitants are warmly disposed despite the pains around them. The continent remains the same, it is a familiar terrain that is easily recognized as one touches the ground. The poem elicits the feeling of crying. Seth Africa is the story of Africans who are not accepted in the Western world and also in Africa. The poem is a reminder of the disenfranchisement of Africans who are resident out of the continent and they are not allowed into Africa because their passport has expired. It is a shameful scenario which cannot be helped.  While the last in this series, Africa Remains is a poem that describes the attachment of Africans to their homeland notwithstanding of the challenges and afflictions that abound. These poems signify that the African experience is continent-wide.

The rustic experience of the poet to her African descent is also evident in some poems that showcase her growth within an African community. These poems areI Shall Ask Grandma to Write Me a Recommendation, GrandMa & I, What is Native Can’t Harm You. I Shall Ask Grandma to Write Me a Recommendation is a recount of the request by the scholarship office that the intending student must be recommended by a tutor, mentor and someone who has seen her progress over time. The poet believes so much in the wisdom acquired from her grandma as very crucial to her success. Some of what she has learnt under Grandma’s tutelage includes, indigenous craft, genealogies, meaning of names, didactic stories all of which the poet has preserved through writing. This makes her work amuse the Professor. Grandma & I is a nostalgic poem with the typical settings of Africa. Different elements of nature, such as the sun, rain, sky, river are used to show the romantic adventure of the poet during holidays with Grandma and interestingly, the holiday would soon be over. The typical agrarian family in Africa was reflected in this poem where grandparents trade in farm produce. What is Native Can’t Harm You is a reflection of the “colonized mindset” of African elite who instruct their children not to accept whatever is indigenous. The children on holidays are made “resident-aliens” because they must stick to eating what they brought from the city alone. However, the “westernized” meals and supplements do not give the desired growth while natural supplements would waste away.
The romantic theme in the anthology can be seen in the following poems,Greeting Moon, November In Dakar, Sipi, On this Mount Elgon and Coexistence.Greeting Moon is a poem on the moon when it was at its best. November in Dakar can be likened to the experience of cold in the Northern region of Nigeria in places like Maiduguri, Borno State or Jos, Plateau State. The effect of the harmattan is described as blowing hot in our faces, skins turn into fish scales, lips chapped like crocodile hide, eyes teary from allergies and the nose rocks with sneezing spells. When the night become cool, couples get together to welcome the change in season. Sipi is a poem in which the poet queries the relationship of the fall with River Mississippi, the poet extols the greatness feature of this waterfall. The fall is described as “loud, will in your falls” line 20. In order to understand the beauty of this river, I googled and found out that it is one of the tourist sites in Uganda. On This Mount Elgon is a poem on the expedition of the mountain with a team of explorers. The beauty of nature on the hills and forests is seen in this poem. The poem Coexistence is still about the coexistence of man and different elements of nature still on the same Mt Elgon.

There are themes that pungently reflect the African experience such as HIV/AIDS which is in the poem, At the River’s Edge. This phenomenon has wiped out many people of African descent. The poem opens with a feeling of neutrality by 2 groups of people: Africans who are not affected and the International community. The scourge has turned many children into bread winners. The port implores that Africans should reach out and share love with those affected. Africans care for one another till death. The poem Dear Trevor is about the untimely death of Trevor, a jolly good fellow who had a willing heart to help. However, it is gratifying to know that his life was short but purposeful. Trevor is one of the many victims of election violence and other heinous crimes that are in abundance in Africa. Ears is a poem on internally displaced people’s camp like we currently have it in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria. The people in the camp had to keep mum regardless of the experience in the camp notwithstanding the bombing around the camp.

As typical to Africans who constantly call for revolution, a poem taggedRevolutionaries, is about the efforts of the youths to save Africa after the Darfur crisis and the Rwandan genocide. After a while, factions came up, some leaders died and some were “settled”. This has made the continent to waste on because of lies and betrayal by those that lead and were trusted. Also, the poem, Thief, is the revolution that is expected in the liberation of the language of Africans. The colonialists substituted the language at their advent. Every African nation has been systematically colonized linguistically since their advent. Some school of thought might argue that it is for global intelligibility but the truth remains that many beautiful thoughts in our languages that cannot be contextualized in English and French languages are gradually fading off. The poet vehemently requested for the restoration of language so as to convey her thoughts in her own mother-tongue.

Another group of poems that I want to sum up is can be grounded under the theme of Urbanized Africa. Living Out of a Suitcase is a description of the lifestyle of a lady who lived with 8 families in 3 months. The lady is quite helpless because she does not have a steady job. Unfortunately, she loses more than expected because her originality, her creativity and freewill is being traded in an attempt to eke a living. The poet summed it up that it is the way of people who keep walking the streets of life. Skipping is a way of correcting the assumption of youngster about generations that have gone ahead. She made it known that the prevalent challenges of today, namely, marriage, injustice, joblessness, was also experienced by the previous generation. However, at the demise of the older generation, the current generation thinks the past was favoured. Monday Morning is a poem that describes the aftermath of Sunday’s fun. Monday is never easy because it comes with a lot of bodily weaknesses which include indigestion, constipation, exhaustion, hang-ups and hangovers. The joy of an average man is full when it is a public holiday, where there is rainstorm, the roads are impassable and normal routine disrupted. People see it as a gift and they remain in bed on a Monday morning. A Wish is a poem that speaks of one of the issues of urbanized Africa which is depression. The poet wishes that depression has a cure. Many people are suffering from depression. The poet as a female might have suffered a heart-break that lead to depression and other socio-economic problems.

I would want to end this review by showing a myth and proverb that is closely related to that of Yoruba culture in the anthology. In the poem titled, Grandma and I, it was raining and there was sunshine simultaneously, in the poet’s culture, it means the hyena is getting wedded but in Yoruba culture, it is called, “Ekun n bimo” which means the Tiger is giving birth. Also in Ears, the mother cautioned her children making them know that walls have ears and this is similar to a Yoruba adage of the same meaning “Ogiri leti”. The thought pattern of Africans is identical.

The anthology Give Me Room To Move My Feet has a very rich content both that shows that the themes that unify the African cosmology. Barya has shown that it is possible to write in simple English and still give profound description of happenings around Africa. Barya has got a larger room by writing these poems in her own unique way.
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