Niyi Osundare (B. 1947) 
From Yoruba speaking region of Western Nigeria.
Son of the land, as his father was a cocoa farmer and mother a weaver. 
First literature from father--the songs father sang to the music of traditional drums.
British education. University of Ibadan (where both Chinua Achebe and nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka attended); University of Leeds in England (Soyinka took courses there as well); and University of York in Toronto.
Fled Nigeria after his poetry came to the attention of the regime it criticized (by the way, don't say "critique" as a verb. His poems formed a critique. They criticized the corrupt regime). Landed at The University of New Orleans, where he still is, despite being evacuated during hurricaine Katrina.

His poems are earthy, deeply human, connected to the land and people in a spirtual and inventively lingistic way.

nigeria tribes

"Our Earth Will Not Die"
The deeply performative (oral) quality of Yoruba culture empahsized in the "reading directions" for the poem. The elegy followed by the festival/ death by life. It must have to be a blind faith that the change of the the earth, the "new rain" that will come. (One imagines that this is by necessity accompanied by a "new human" in some way, to be able to reverse the damage.
The anthopomorphic images of the land in a sick state, from the urinating factories in line 12, the staggering coughing stream just afterwards. and the homonyns side by side--the wailing whale--gives us a vivid depiction.

"Ambiguous Legacy"
Primary address to the "gift" of the English tongue, with a recognition that this same tongue has been "the destoyer."
Note the playfully ironic use of iambic pentameter in the last two lines--(read them to yourself with their rythym):
"Oh the agony it does sometimes take
To borrow the tongue that Shakespeare spake."
I like lines 9-10 that contrast a rural AFrica with England very subtley--"Here/ roads wriggle underfoot, ever so conscious/ of the complexion of the sole." Of course sole is a homonym of soul, but even more striking is the idea that a foot that strikes African soil is often barefoot, and in English places, the road has to read the complexion of the walker through this intermediary of a sole of a shoe.
There is another writer in our anthology, Derek Walcott, who faces the same kind of ambiguity in his poem "A Far Cry from Africa." At the end, he writes:

I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?

cracked egg The Word is an Egg"
What a startlingly good but simple idea. When you speak (or write) it is like cracking an egg--it cannot be undone. But, with essays on literature, you can always revise. And of course, it is the only way to get an omelet.


"People are My Clothes"
Expresses one of the notions of much of African ideology and philosophy that I cherish. The community is the entity to which one owes everything, and the sense of ego is less hightened (at least in traditional societies). The We priviledged over the I. My favorite lines in the poem show the paltry power of "one," as with the idea "One finger cannot retireve a fallen needle."

"A Modest Question"
If we know about tribal religions such as Yoruba, we know how indebted they are to nature and to animism (the idea that the things in nature have a living being). This poem begins with one of the more beautiful evocations of nature I have read, and ends with teh "modest" question, which is a rather harrowing question for all of its modesty.

"Berlin 1884/5"
OK, the year of the Berlin conference is now fixed with certainty. One thing that I re-emphasize, is that there was no such thing as "Kenya" or "Nigeria" before this time. Maybe Hausaland, Iboland, Yorubaland, etc. (with a host of other tribal lands), and on the other side, "lands controlled by the British, the French, the Dutch, the Italians," etc.
This poem superbly evokes the violence that accompanies the cutting into pieces of a land that is perceived as a body. The last three lines are a concise history of modern Africa.
berlin conference cartoon


"Some Days"
are good days. Imagine the response of Akawu, to have had such a positive and joyful poem dedicated to her/him. Some days are not allergic to softness. Some days are not afraid of being human.


Chinua Achebe
(b. 1930)  Born Albert Achebe (for Prince Albert)
Most famous for writing Things Fall Apart, the leading novel of Africa—a classic in a new kind of literature. Writes Africa “from the inside” against what he took to be the distortions of the English writers’ depiction of Africa.
Like Ngugi, the child of a divided family—intermixture of Christianity (his father a teacher for the Church Missionary Society) and African customs (his mother and sisters telling the traditional Igbo stories).
As adult graduate from the U. of Ibadan, he begins to work for Nierian radio, one of whose tasks is to instill a sense of national identity in a previously un-united region.  Kind of a fail, here, as civil war breaks out in the late 60s/early 70s as Biafra tries to break away from Nigeria to form its own country. 
Involved in controversy over the African writer writing in English.  Achebe on one side, Ngugi on the other.

“Chike’s School Days”
the name Chike shows how venerated the male child is in the Igbo culture (not the only culture with that distinction).
We learn in the story of the Osu caste—one of the practices outlawed by the Christian Churches who enter Nigeria.  This act caused his newly converted mother to renounce her own conversion to Christianity.
How to articulate the point of the story.  That education opened a world of wonders to the child?  How is this connected to the conflict with the tribal practices and the missionary zeal of the father? 

Ngugi wa Thiong’o
(b. 1938)  Born James Ngugi.
Family direly affected by the reprisals against the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule.  Kenya gains independence in 1963.
Studied in Africa, then England, (again, Leeds University). 
Around the time of independence, begins to write in Kikuyu (aka Gikuyu).  He is detained in prison, partially because of his choice of literary languages.  While in Prison, wrote on toilet paper, a memoir Detained and the majority of his novel Devil on the Cross

“Wedding at the Cross”
A story of divided identity.  The youthful identity seems more natural; it is for this man, Wariuki, that Miriamu risked dispossession by her family. 
He becomes Dodge W. Livingstone, in a sense, as a staged identity for his internal judge, the image of the Father of Miriamu, Douglas Jones.