Orality, Nostalgic Sensitivity and Cultural Nationalism in According to Sources

By Nureni Ibrahim 


  • Title: According to Sources 
  • Editors: Martin Egblewogbe and Mawuli Adjei
  • Publisher: Woeli Publishing Services
  • Number of pages: 85
  • Year of publication: 2015
  • Category: Poetry

‘For the African people, oral tradition is linked to their way of life. Most African societies place great worth in oral tradition because it is a primary means of conveying culture. It is also a mode of transmitting feelings and attitudes. For centuries, African people depended upon oral tradition to teach the listeners important traditional values and morals pertaining to how to live. Oral tradition delivers explanations to the mysteries of the universe and the meaning of life on earth’. – Sharon Wilson, ‘African Oral Tradition’

According to Sources is an anthology of poems by Ghanaian poets. It engages the reader on the themes of cultural nationalism, nostalgic sensitivity and the underlying principles of orality in postcolonial literature. The anthology is a projection of African customs and traditions. The poems are not only models of African culture, they also build a bridge between the precolonial and postcolonial African identities. ‘Libation of Blood’ and ‘Abracadabra Adabraka’ are two poems that treat precolonial and colonial African experiences and identities.

The eighty-five-page anthology contains fifty-four poems. The poems are not divided thematically. Although the anthology lends its voice to diverse themes ranging from identity and love to admonition and a host of others, the predominant ones are identity formation and oral aesthetics. In addition, in their portrayal of African oral traditions and lifestyle, some of the featured poets in the anthology demonstrate their mastery of the art of versification.

The poem, ‘Albino’, treats the theme of cultural displacement. The poet-persona points accusing fingers at the colonial administrators who are regarded as being at the the frontier of Africa’s cultural displacement:

Do not keep my greeting for too long, lonely wanderer
It will grow cold
Send it swiftly to the door of my patient mother
I left home on an untold day
Before the cock could find its voice to raise the alarm (p 26).

In ‘I Have Juju’, Kobina Ansah relates the African supernatural power and phenomenon to the creative stream of a writer. Blending oxymoron and personification in stanza one, the poet-persona confesses:

I have juju
I confess
Sanctimoniously sanctified
imperfectly perfect
Kept in my holy of holies
Cherished more than my life
preserved for the day of strife
Feared more than a sword, a knife
Its screams bellowing from it at night (p 50).

One would imagine that the poet-persona is talking about a charm, a magical weapon. However, stanza four provides a glimpse of a different, potent object by bringing up the pen, a tool for writers that is capable of twisting thoughts and purging emotions. The fourth stanza also explains that a pen retains the spiritual aura of the writer, with the ideological propensity to cause disruptive and traumatic experiences:

I have juju
I confess
I use it to twist your thoughts
And control your emotions
I use it to cast down imaginations
And destroy confusion.
I have juju and I love my voodoo
I am creative
And my pen is my juju (p 51).

‘Castrated Souls: Speaking’ addresses the general situation that black folks faced in getting rid of colonial oppression in Kenya. The poem’s temperament is highly revolutionary. It dwells on the relationship between the dominant and the subaltern classes. The poet dedicates the poem to those who fought and perished in the Mau Mau freedom struggle in Kenya. From the standpoint of postcolonialism, we see how the poem treats the fight and struggle of the subalterns in getting rid of the authority of the dominant class. The poet writes:

[T]he axe you threw at our heads
Returned. Our skulls are granite
Responding to your might
Your axe returns to you
To cut your new heartpurse
Filled with the blood of our land (p 42).

The poet-persona uses the pronoun ‘we’ to point out that Africa belongs to us and not to the colonialists, ‘[W]e are the children of the land / The land that man never skipped’ (p 42). The poet-persona speaks of the social and political decadence that pervaded Kenya during colonialism:

As justice shall not elude victims
As earth gives the strength to live
And tell the new world
The pepper you squeezed into our wounds
And the men you castrated
And the women you raped
And the souls you made ghosts (p 42).

‘The Wanderer’ is a simple, subtle poem that challenges the colonial distortion and destruction of the African oral and cultural heritage. The poet, Kofi Amankwah Asihene, accuses the coloniser. In the seven-line poem, the poet laments having to seek another way to tell his tales to those Africans who no longer value their cultural heritage:

My moon has refused to sleep
My sun has refused to wake
So I walk the surface of this Earth
With dawn
Telling my stories
To the
Dying stars (p 65).

‘The Deer Hunt’ is a folkloric presentation of the Aboakyir Deer Hunt Festival of the Efutu people. It is a lengthy, narrative poem which gives a bird eye’s view of the series of activities during the festival, with descriptions of how the hunters, women and children are part and parcel of the event. The poem begins by recounting the blissful mood that accompanies the eve of the festival:

The night before the deer hunt
There was excitement in the house
We stood upstairs looking down into the courtyard
While men and women went in and out
Sweat pouring off their brows (p 68).

Still on the eve of the Aboakyir festival, the poet-persona, a young child, reflects on the relaxed mood that prevails:

Sleep would elude us that night
We sat up eating plantain and groundnuts
White corn dough, hot pepper and shrimps
Slices of sugar cane pulled between our teeth
Drinking cold drinks while the men had their beers
And something that made them spit (p 68).

The poet-persona goes further in his reflections by presenting the costume of the hunters during the festival:

Dawn was creeping in when the hunters assembled
They gathered around in their hunting clothes
With sticks, gums, cutlasses, bows and arrows
Looking fierce and frightening
To a young child like me (p 68).

The anthology also contains poems that dwell on the ironies of the current state of postcolonial Africa. One of such poems is ‘77X7’. The poem is humorously inscribed in 70 lines – each line can be read as a monostich. It talks about the practice of calling the name ‘Jesus’ in all endeavours, whether good or bad. Using ‘Jesus’ repetitively, the poet-persona pokes fun at those who call the name of Jesus when giving birth as well as when having sex:

Jesus
The Birth mark
Jesus
On my forehead
Jesus
The nectar
Jesus
That pulls
Jesus
Fucking
Jesus
Flies
Jesus
To
Jesus
Jesus
Suck me (p 2).

When the expression ‘abracadabra’ is used, it is presumed that a mysterious power is being invoked to carry out some magic. The poem, ‘Abracadabra Adabraka’, asks the reader to think about the place of African supernatural power in the postcolonial landscape. The first stanza questions the binary state of Africa’s supernatural beliefs thus:

Abracadabra, Adabraka
you are in or you are out
you are with us or against us (p 39).

The second and third stanzas focus on the way people embrace the so-called modern religions – those that preach the doctrine of heaven and hell – whose adherents, yet, commit all forms of social atrocities:

[P]eople are not mad
in every department of their brains
last night I saw
a woman raped
at the city centre –
do habits die
with madness (p 39).

The last stanza of the poem is really comical:

Abracadabra, Adabraka
if there is a free will
I would will myself
into a coconut
or even a goat
to escape god’s judgement of men (p 40).

‘I Know Why You Came’ honours Maya Angelou for providing a literary roadmap for black writers, especially the female ones. The title of the poem is derived from Maya Angelou’s book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The poem praises Angelou, not only for her contributions to African American literature but also for committing herself to the freedom struggle of blacks in American society:

Today we gather together in your name
And marvel at the grace
Welled up in the heart of a woman.

I know why you came
And stay all these days

As we follow your rising
We need not fight to be recognised
In this land of ours
Purchased with blood, toil and faith (p 73).

According to Sources enlightens the reader in different ways. It examines how oral literature reinforces a sense of cultural pride as well as the importance of oral traditions to world literature. The anthology explores the ways through which oral literature serves as historical proof, and it discusses the aesthetics of African culture and traditions. The anthology tracks the ways in which orality, cultural nationalism and nostalgic sensitivity serve in the celebration of African identity.


Photograph: ‘Deer’ by Yuxuan Wang


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Nureni Ibrahim lives and writes from somewhere in Nigeria. As a poet and haijin, Ibrahim has published works in The Mamba Journal of the Africa Haiku Network, Kumasi, Ghana; Shamrock Haiku Journal, Dublin, Ireland; Best ‘New’ African Poets 2016 Anthology, Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon, and many more. He is a Wawa Book Review Young Literary Critics Fellow.

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