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An African Elegy by Ben Okri

We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth.
There are things that burn me now
Which turn golden when I am happy.
Do you see the mystery of our pain?
That we bear poverty
And are able to sing and dream sweet things
And that we never curse the air when it is warm
Or the fruit when it tastes so good
Or the lights that bounce gently on the waters?
We bless things even in our pain.
We bless them in silence.
That is why our music is so sweet.
It makes the air remember.
There are secret miracles at work
That only Time will bring forth.
I too have heard the dead singing.
And they tell me that
This life is good
They tell me to live it gently
With fire, and always with hope.
There is wonder here
And there is surprise
In everything the unseen moves.
The ocean is full of songs.
The sky is not an enemy.
Destiny is our friend.
The song of Africa, the Dark Continent, the drumbeats of it, ethnic communities and societies in love or at war with their native cultures, traditions and beliefs, myth and mythology of own, how to take them for a narration and narratology? How will it be the folk songs? The song of Africa, the drumbeat of it? Who to tell it about? How was it Africa then? How is it now? How the tales of the people? How was the history of Africa? How were we? When did we come into contact? There is many a thing to know. There is many a thing to understand.

How was Africa before colonization when the European settlers came it not? How was Africa when the outsiders disturbed it not the ethos of it with their faith thrust upon? Something has come up as for out of that intermixing. Had the Europeans been not, societies too could not have developed. This is also a fact which, but we cannot deny it. One would not have been modern had access to, and availability been not.

Ben Okri the African poet here sings the song of Africa with the drums beating into the hamlets and forests of Nigeria, the Nigerian drummers and folk artistes giving the background music. To read the poem is to map the history of human progress and development; to charter the course of history. How the old tale of Africa? It has both the sides of anecdote and narration. Both the colonizers and the colonized have their own versions of history as time is not the sole prerogative of anyone.

How the drummers drumming? How the folk singers singing? Folk artistes and performers performing? Into which forests and hamlets? How the sound echoing, reverberating in Okri?

How the bands, musical troupes, traditional singers and drummers? How the ethnic, racial, archetypal tribes, the primitive and aboriginal people, their attire, costume, traditional dress-system, food-habit, manner, custom, behaviour, gesture, speech, hutment, dwelling? How the legacy, heritage, convention and practices, rites and rituals, myth and mysticism, faith and belief? To understand Africa is to understand the heartbeat of Africa; is to feel the pulse of Africa.

How was it our reading history? How was it writing history? Where did we read? How were our schools? How was our educational system? The modern facilities, science and technology and development of human thought and idea too have contributed for the growth of human society.

A singer of Africa, the African folk song, catching the heartbeat, the flame of the forest, going by the nuances and vibes of the communities and societies interspersing it all, he is Ben Okri going in the stride of his.

We are but God’s children. We are but precious. We have just been put to test. One day our suffering will mitigate it. When will it? He cannot say it now. But his suffering is so famed in the history of the earth.

What it seems to be eating into is the present of things. How to grapple with hardcore realities? Something it is there in burning, something in enduring it all. But those turn into memoirs and reminiscences when he is happy. The mystery of pain is as such. It is pain which but makes one suffer but one experiences too from it.

If the air we breathe is fresh, why to worry about? If the things appear to be gentler and warm, why to be pensive and laden with and grim? Nature is there to freshen. The good earth is there to embrace and cuddle us.

If Nature is bountiful and the basket of it laden with fresh fruits and vegetables, what pain to do to us?  It is a fact that Nature is so replete with holistic healing and healthy air. Why to be worried and laden? The orchards and gardens of Nature have always given to.

Under the skies live we, on the good earth dwell we, breathing fresh air, Nature is soothing, dark and deep. The forestlands and the farmlands keep dotting and flourishing. The lands are so diverse and so variegated the populace. The beat of music, what to say it about the exotic tones and tunings breaking from the woodlands and hamlets of the indigenous people? The music of Africa is wood fresh, is the music of the indigenous bands and groups. The heartbeat of it is one of the folk beats. The music of it is so sweet that even the dead seem to be singing.

They ask us to live with the same spirit and joy, hilarity and pastoral mentality. This life is good to live. We should cultivate the same, carry on the same healthy spirit and joviality of living. It is but wonderful to enjoy the warmth of pastoral life and living, in the midst of natural greenery and vegetation.

An African Elegy is not an elegy exactly but is all about the loss of innocence and simplicity. As a poem, it is not Grayan, but Blakian and Wordsworthian too. As Blake discusses it in The Little Black Boy so is the case hereunder with and here Blake not, the little black boy is telling the story. Ben Okri is telling about the plight of the Nigerian lands; he is telling about the conflict and the truce too. How have the lands been utilized? And how did they remain unused too bereft of development, progress and public welfare?

It is a surprise to be with the unknown moves. The ocean is full of songs. The sky is not an enemy. Destiny is our friend.

Who are the Nigerians? How the history of it? How the races, communities and fables of it? Who made it Nigeria? Why the people sun-burnt, somewhat dark-faced? Why did it remain poor and undeveloped? Who is it responsible for? Even if it is free, why does strife and feud rake it? How to stick to roots and traditions on the one hand while on the other how to be modern and up to date? Can it lag behind in the age of globalism?

The psyche of Mother Africa, who has taken pains to understand? How the ethos and myths of it? How the fables of the Dark Continent? How were it the hutments and dwellings and how did the people live by the centuries? Where the photographs of? The missionaries’ version of history, we do not want to hear it exactly. The conservatives cannot dictate it the history of Nigeria. The spirit of Nigeria is indigenous, aboriginal, ethnic and so exotic, wild and varied.


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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