Recently, a number of us have begun assembling works, notably poetry, written in African languages on a blog titled “The African Poetry Anthology”. In one sense this endeavour is trivial. As a molecular biologist, I recognise how many African countries are rife with demonstrations of the Red Queen hypothesis. In fact, just in my experience of a little over two decades in various cities in Africa, there are many ways in which poetry in indigenous poetry, at least in my admittedly limited purview, does little to scratch the surface.
However, I have always been partial to the arts. At best, I’ve got an artistic persona but very little of the talent. Kind, otherwise unoccupied people think my work ‘interesting’, whatever that means. Most people are unlikely to bother with it. In my experience of the Arts in various cultures and contexts, I have become convinced that the necessity for artistry is primordial. If I were ever to agree with anthropologists that argue that culture is a uniquely human attribute, I would agree with those who make this argument on the basis of human artistry.
I believe that for every culture, its art, as expressed through music, language or ceremony is fundamental to identity. In fact, the research of many linguists, psychologists and anthropologists has not only brought to light the complex ways in which language interacts with culture but has also demonstrated that the intricacies of that interaction enables culture to evolve language and language to evolve culture. I have read many works of African poets but they have all been in the languages of colonisers. As a speaker of five African languages, I think this is a tragedy. Granted, most of my exposure has been in academic or otherwise formal contexts and this might account for this. But even in my own forays into African oeuvres the overwhelming prevalence of French, English and Portuguese is alarming. For a continent with over 2000 (by some counts 3000) languages, the scarcity of poetry written in our own mother tongues and dialects is something that begs attention. If we compel ourselves and the generations before us to express our thoughts and sentiments in tongues that are not really ours, I am convinced that we lose a tremendous deal of who we are.
A future where African children growing up in the many cities of the world, can grow up reading stories, essays and poetry in their mother tongues is anything but trivial. In my experience, it makes quite a bit of difference to the appreciation of my identity that I can express the intricacies of sentiment and experience in my mother tongue. Indeed, I think it ironic that when one purchases an ‘African Poetry Anthology’ (not in translation) one reads poems in European languages. How can we be intimate with our cultural and historical identities when we describe them in languages that are inherently foreign to them?
I hope that the African Poetry Anthology project is only the beginning. In fact, I hope that the need that my colleagues and I have identified is unique rather than widespread. Most importantly however, I hope that you will join us in addressing this purported gap in our literary experiences. If you have the means to contact established poets, if you know that you possess talent, please consider submitting. Whatever our different cultures, ethnicities or tribes, we all possess a capacity to produce poetry in our own languages.
If you have any questions, submissions, comments or would like to join the team, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out our blog: http://africanpoetryanthology.wordpress.com/
Kaa ba kɛɛmi
Shi ole noko,
kaa ba tsɔɔmi.
Nyɛ iŋtashi nimiiŋdwɛ ohe
Iŋjole, kaa ba fee noko