Wednesday, December 10, 2008
To my first white hairs
Hirsute hell chimney-spouts, black thunderthroes
confluence of coarse cloudfleeces – my head sir! - scourbrush
in bitumen, past fossil beyond fingers of light – until ...!
Sudden sprung as corn stalk after rain, watered milk weak;
as lightning shrunk to ant's antenna, shrivelled
off the febrile sight of crickets in the sun -
THREE WHITE HAIRS! frail invaders of the undergrowth
interpret time. I view them, wired wisps, vibrant coiled
beneath a magnifying glass, milk-thread presages
Of the hoary phase. Weave then, weave o quickly weave
your sham veneration. Knit me webs of winter sagehood,
nightcap, and the fungoid sequins of a crown.
- Wole Soyinka
Poet is aghast at how dreadful his hair has become (hirsute hell) having left it to lie dirty and uncombed. How does he go about combing it now, since it must have dandruff (in bitumen) and even his light fingers find it difficult to unravel.
He takes the decision, goes to wash his hair (sprung as corn stalk after rain, watered) and shampoes it (milk weak;). After the washing, his hair becomes untangled and in the mood of the time, he blow-dries it, imagining the noise the blow-dryer makes as crickets in the sun. He makes us believe he blow-dries it indoors (off the febrile sight of crickets in the sun); that's what everyone does, methinks.
After the washing, Soyinka makes a discovery: hidden amongst his hair are three white hairs that foretell what he will be in the future (interpret time). These hairs look weird, different (wired wisps) but seem to tell him that when he's growing old, he'll not be as weak as now (vibrant), no, he'd be ready for what was to come rather than caught unawares (shrivelled), caught sleeping when it's time for the judgment day (beneath a magnifying glass).
Soyinka is quite humorous too. In line 1 of the last verse, he wants us to believe he's not vainglorious? Hmm! He drives a monologue that tells the hairs that he already knows what the future will be, he already knows all that. What would Shakespeare's three witches have said? There is so much energy in his challenge to the prophetic hairs: weave then, weave o quickly weave / your sham veneration, for their prophecy might not come true else if he already knows, then how would that be a prophecy of his future?
And what would Soyinka be in the future? Three things. One, he'll be wise at his old age (winter sagehood); the second, he'll live a life full of trouble, a life of frustration and depression (nightcap); lastly, he'll be a thorn to the authorities, as an elite who's supposed to join them in their rapacious bloodsucking and dirty affairs on the non-elite, or the poor and disadvantaged of the society, he'll expose their evil and they'll call him a rebel, an iconoclast, an outlaw, in his own country (fungoid sequins of a crown).
A careful self-examination of oneself is often prophetic. Take Soyinka's history. They came to pass. I read The man died and knew what he went through at the hands of the authorities in the seventies. I had the opportunity of listening to Radio Kudirat during my campus days; Soyinka and his peers did not only make Abacha run away, he ran away before he died.
Can anyone interpret time, and tell what the future will be from three strands of hair? I looked in the mirror at my hair and didn't find one white spot. Thank God! I think I'll still be reading poetry in the moonlight till tomorrow comes.
Funso Ayejina's poem is a poem of deliberate deceit and destruction of the people by would-be saviors, the political class. .
And so it came to pass...
And so it came to pass
many seasons after the death of one Saviour
that a new crop of saviours, armed with party programmes
came cascading down our rivers of hope;
poised for the poisoning of our atlantic reservoir
they sought out the foxes in the family
to whom they gave their thirty pieces of silver
in local and foreign exchange
for the secrets of the passage -
way into the castle of our skins...
men we had taken for fearless warriors
as protectors of our secret recipes
suddenly turned crabs, carapace and all
shedding shame like water from duck-backs
seeing sideways beyond the good of all
to the comfort of the selves;
and with their divination bags of tricks
slung over arrogant shoulders
they crawl over our dreams
under the cover of moonless nights
sidestepping traps, destroying hope
they turn our green august of rains,
of showers with which to persuade crops
around whose fire we would have exchanged
happy tales of toil
into an orgy of furious flames...
and so it came to pass
that our saviours gave us a gift of tragedy
for which we are too dumb-struck to find a melody.
- Funsho Ayejina
First verse: As one savior leaves, (s)he is followed by another who believe they have a solution to our problems. First, were our founding fathers, then military officers who took office with the believe that they can do better than politicians. Instead of solving our problems, they ended up destroying our means of livelihood in so many ramifications: agriculture, petroleum, tourism etc.
According to Funso, this destruction was a deliberate and purposeful action as these said saviors went after the Judas' amongst us, the foxes in our family of a nation who were ready to sell our pride and our economic, political and social protective walls or castles, so to speak, for thirty pieces of silver.
Second verse: Funso ironically calls these deceivers, our fearless warriors. Yes, indeed, because that was how the society perceived them before they turned crabs, before they became self-seeking crabs rather than purported loyal and faithful persons who wanted to serve their country and countrymen.
Our savior-crabs do not work at night, that is, where we can clearly observe how they insidiously and deliberately trampled on the dream of a whole nation of people, where we can quickly discover their mission of dashing our post-independence optimistic expectations against the rocks of greed, egotism and hunger for power. As expected, the nation revolted, our savior-crabs struck fast, turning the country into a place of bloodshed, they gave us an orgy of furious flames rather than a full and complete harvest of crops (italics mine).
Our savior-crabs left us a gift of tragedy and misfortune from which the nation did not recover for a very long time. Even a legend like King Sony Ade would have lost his voice if not his balance.
Funso Ayejina pens a poem of irony, of expectations dashed and optimism turned into pessimism. During the sixties and a little after, the nation wanted successive governments to improve their lives, to free them from the dehumanizing shackles of poverty, build good roads rather than what was delivered: a bad economy that is dependent on foreigners, unemployment, a nation with mass reserves of crude oil going abegging. Our natural resources have become poisonous, according to Funsho and I do raise a “yeah” to that.
As much as I do relish crabs, Funsho thinks crabs should not be allowed into Aso-Rock villa, as they were during the sixties. These crabs who work slowly, destroy our dreams with their bags of tricks. Since a major percentage of the country then were illiterate, their bags of tricks had the aid of supernatural powers, maybe babalawos, spiritualists, seers etc. Although slow at getting past our secure walls, the castle of our skin, so to say, they were fast in not being caught but ended up being hailed as saviors.
Funso seems to be shedding tears into the poem. How much of our young men and women were destroyed in the civil war. Those furious flames are being ignited daily: the odi fire disaster and the numerous religious conflicts in the country, Jos being a notorious example. Those furious flames are lit against our rest from our toil, which harvest we never get to reap, our crops never completing the circle to harvest time rather political trickery, violence and orgies eat up the crops of our labor.
This is the gift Funso Ayegina saw; I wish it wasn't ours.
Gabriel Okara pens a poem which is a symbolical personification of the struggle for world domination and power.
The snow flakes sail gently down
The snow flakes sail gently
down from the misty eye of the sky
and fall lightly lightly on the
winter-weary elms. And the branches,
winter-striped and nude, slowly
with the weight of the weightless snow
bow like grief-stricken mourners
as white funeral cloth is slowly
unrolled over deathless earth.
And dead sleep stealthily from the
heater rose and closed my eyes with
the touch of silk cotton of water falling.
Then I dreamed a dream
in my dead sleep. But I dreamed
not of earth dying and elms a vigil
keeping. 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. And I dreamed the
uprooters tired and limp, leaning on my roots -
their abandoned roots -
and the oil palms gave them each a sun.
But on their palms
they balanced the blinding orbs
and frowned with schisms on their
brows – for the suns reached not
the brightness of gold!
Then I awoke. I awoke
to the silently falling snow
and bent-backed elms bowing and
swaying to the winter wind like
white-robed Moslems salaaming at evening
prayer, and the earth lying inscrutable
like the face of a god in a shrine.
- Gabriel Okara
In verse 1, Okara writes of the defeat of one superpower by another, the sky, representing America bears children as snow flakes and the elm tree, opponents America has defeated, bears winter-stripped and nude offspring. Okara was in America when this poem was written. This defeat is carried out slowly and gently. The defeated elms and their offshoots or branches (a long list including Hitlere's nazi Germany, Communist Soviet Union) bow in defeat, like grief-stricken mourners, for what they have lost: their children killed in battle, economy destroyed etc. Okara makes us believe that after defeat, America makes sure they do not rise again. He gives us an image of the earth, or the gods of these countries, their leading lights, (America's is democracy and capitalism, Hitler's was nazism; Soviet's was atheism and communism) as never dying, that is, their philosophies and teachings will never die completely but after defeat by America, a funeral cloth is placed over their history, they are forgotten.
His use and deliberation on the word slowly makes the reader realize that he is perturbed and astonished at the skill of the American powers in ensuring they maintain their supremacy in world affairs.
But then, why the use of snow flakes? Because they are white as snow; they maintain a posture of chastity and innocence, whether in diplomacy or politics, and believe they have a right to serve as the world's police.
Towards the end of the verse, Okara tells us that Africans are not in contention for super power status or for military and scientific leadership, so they are protected somewhat from the winter-cold of the snow flakes. They have the protection of a heater. These heater places Africa on a military and scientific slumber, dead sleep, an action that is diplomatically carried out like the touch of silk cotton (the brain drain on Africa) and this is done repeatedly, again and again, like water falling.
The poet reflects on African future (a dream) in the second verse. Black birds, or african-americans, help africans to profit and earn foreign exchange from their natural resources; these african-americans also do benefit from their efforts of nesting and hatching on oil palms. The oil palm was a source of foreign exchange for Nigeria before the petroleum was discovered. Okara makes us sad here as he dreams and prophecies that these natural blessings would one day be a cause for trouble. Trouble makers or uprooters will want to destroy and use up our resources but because they are plentiful, in much supply, they keep denting the / uprooter's spades or their efforts to destroy or use them up quickly.
These natural resources are also blessings to africans, providing them with educated or enlightened offsprings, suns. These suns frustrate the efforts of the uprooter who is already tired and limp by scorching them in their tired state (the oil palms gave them each a sun), tiring them out more quickly in their evil ambition. It is a sad fact and prophetic that these uprooters or those against african progress, will be africans themselves: uprooters...leaning on my roots - / their abandoned root -.
These africans will corrupt the educated ones who make up the ruling class as they balanced the blinding orbs. Blinding orbs looks like a direct allusion to Jesus Christ's accosting Paul on the road to Damascus. The strategy used is divide and rule (schisms), turning one against the other. How ironic that when these derailers thought the educated elite were worth the fight, they frown to discover that they were not bright enough to realize what was happening; the suns reached not / the brightness of gold!
After the dream, in the last verse, Okara believes generation will come and go and these state of affairs will continue: the elms will keep on bowing to America, submissive to the end. One thing he would never know. How did America achieve this feat? How was this silent and slow domination of the world carried out? The gods, whether American, that of the defeated elms or African, gives him an answer; they are inscrutable.
One recurring word image in Okara's poem is that of personified objects giving birth or issuing forth something: the sky to snow flakes, elms to dead leaves and fruits, the heater to sleep, black birds to young on oil palms, oil palms to suns and roots to uprooters. It gives one the impression that the scene described here will go on from generation to generation, passed on to the children of these players.