Your death has taken me by surprise
What were your wares that they sold out so quickly?
When I meet my father, he will hardly recognize me:
He’ll find me carrying all I have:
A torn sleeping mat and a horde of flies
The night is fast approaching.
The orphan is dying to see its mother.

— A Traditional Akan Poem of Lament.

About a month ago, I began to look for and re-read books by African writers that I had not read since secondary school,

when such texts had been required reading. It just so happens that the one I’m currently reading is “This Earth, My Brother,” by Kofi Awoonor.

Dr. Kofi Awoonor, poet, novelist, teacher and diplomat, was in Kenya to take part in the celebration of storytelling at the Storymoja Hay Festival. He was also one of those who lost their lives in the Westgate shopping mall attack on Saturday, September 21st, 2013.

Like many others, I have been reading, watching and listening to the news with great sadness as this continues to play out. I don’t understand. I just don’t understand the rational for indiscriminate attacks like this. I don’t understand. I don’t understand it.

Kofi Awooner, and all who perished in this attack, even as we lament, may your souls rest in peace.

A broken pot among the rocks
Credits: John Atherton via flickr.

The fire is out,
The pot is broken.
All around are broken rocks,
Jutting out and unforgotten,
Damirifa Due!
Damirifa Due! Due! Due!

Funeral Dirge on the Atenteben (talking bamboo flute)
Written by Prof. J. H. Nketia and performed by Kudjo Twum.


With his own words, a lament for Kofi Awoonor

Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus
It has led me among the sharps of the forest
Returning is not possible
And going forward is a great difficulty
The affairs of this world are like the chameleon faeces
Into which I have stepped
When I clean, it cannot go.

What is the wailing for?
Somebody is dead. Agosu himself
Alas! A snake has bitten me
My right arm is broken,
And the tree on which I lean is fallen.
Agosu if you go tell them,
Tell Nyidevu, Kpeti and Kove
That they have done us evil;
Tell them their house is falling
And the trees in the fence
Have been eaten by termites.

Excerpt from Songs of Sorrow, by Kofi Awoonor. The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry, edited by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier.

Cold cooking fires and empty pots
Credits: John Atherton via flickr.