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Diasporian News of Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Source: Kwesi Atta Sakyi

Celebrating the life of Maya Angelou

Part 1

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi 2nd June 2014

It was last week Saturday morning in Lusaka that I decided to call one of our Ghanaian friends to say hi. On calling him, he asked me whether I had heard of the passing on of Maya Angelou on Friday 28th May 2014, to which I said no because these days, I do not seem to be abreast with the news as I used to do some time back. I felt shattered that one of my icons in poetry had passed on. Well, such is life. I would not have heard of Maya Angelou if I had not taught at the International School of Lusaka (ISL) from 2004 to 2010.
When I heard the name for the first time from my students in 2005, I thought the name sounded like a Latino from South America, or someone from the French part of the Caribbean. There at ISL, despite being a teacher of Economics, Business Studies and Social Studies, I nosed around a lot and interacted very well with both students and faculty from different disciplines.
It was my students who told me about Maya as they had lots of assignment on her writings. Being an amateur poet myself, I started researching on her and other poets like John Baldwin, Henry Gates, Langston Hughes, Henry Longfellow, Gwendolyn Brookes, Seamus Camus, Duffy, Robert Frost, Roald Dahl, among others. I also read about African poets like Christopher Okigbo, Kwesi Brew, Atukwei Okai, Okot p’ Bithek, Wole Soyinka, Lenry Peters, Kofi Awoonor, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, among others. I have no formal training in Literature in English, as al that I know is through wide reading and self-tuition.
I knew Maya through reading her autobiography from internet sources and also from interacting with her on Facebook. I was awe struck when I first read two of her pieces, ‘Phenomenal Woman’, and ‘Still I rise’. Such exceptionally crafted and beautiful verses, loaded with passion, meaning and a powerful message with a power-packed punch can knock you over if you have a feeling soul.
Professor Kwame Okoampa Ahoofe has already written two tributes to her on ghanaweb. So also has Dr Padmore Agbemebiase on academia.edu, from where I gleaned some facts such as that when Efua Sutherland, the famed Ghanaian playwright and novelist, passed on in 1996, Maya attended her funeral church service, as Maya herself had lived and worked in Ghana at the University of Ghana from 1961 to1965, where she was lecturing at the School of Drama, Music and Performing Arts.
Her son, Guy Johnson, formerly Clyde, had attended university at Legon. Maya was said to have learnt the Fante language and spoken it fluently as she could speak six languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, Fante, English, among others. Perhaps she picked on Fante under the influence of Efua Sutherland, who hailed from Anomabo. Maya was said to have written for the Ghanaian Times as a freelancer, and done some radio shows with Radio Ghana.
She was said to have met Malcolm X in Ghana, and she had followed him to the US, where shortly after, Malcolm X met his death at the hands of assassins.
Her encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King was also tragic as he too was assassinated shortly after their meeting. She got married twice, first to a Greek called Tosh Angelos from 1951 to 1954, and second to Paul de Feu from 1973 to 1981. Maya’s life was chequered as she went through thick and thin in harsh times, noting that she was born on the cusp of the Great Depression. She was in deed a woman of steel who withstood many tragedies, vicissitudes and daunting gender inequities and challenges, but like mercury, she kept rising and rising.
She was refined by the raging infernos which were directed at her path in life by fate, but she defiantly cheated fate and refused to succumb. She was like an unsinkable man-of-war. When I think of her, I recall other African American greats like Rosa Parks, Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Rossetta Tharpe, Louis Satchmo Armstrong, Joe Louis, Ray Charles, James Meredith, W.E.B. du Bois, William Bill Cosby, Ophrah Winfrey, Collin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, among others.
Dr Maya Angelou was born Maguerite Anne Johnson on 4th April1928 at St Louis, Missouri. She wrote 7 autobiographies, many poems and was conferred with 30 doctorate degrees. She was made lifetime Reynolds Professor of American Studies, and won 3 Grammy Awards. Even though she never went to university, she taught herself many things. She was once a cook, bus conductor, dancer, actress, film producer, historian, educator, civil rights activist, poet, memoirist, entertainer, and motivational counsellor. Her book, ‘I know why the Caged Bird Sings’, was a bestseller.
In the late 60s when I was in teacher training college, I was nominated to attend the Creative Writers’ annual conferences at Achimota College, where I rubbed shoulders with writers such as Prof Kofi Anyidoho, Ellen Geer Sangster, Kwabena Asiedu, Dr Jawa Apronti, Efua Sutherland, among others. Being a teenager then in those halcyon years, I used to be bubbling with a lot of energy. I caught the attention of Efua Sutherland who used to refer to me as the gentleman with the stentorian and booming voice. I should think I had missed Maya by a few years back, since our conferences were held in 1968 and 1969 and Maya had left the shores of Ghana in 1965. I dedicate the following 3 poems from my vast unpublished collection to her evergreen memory. Dammirifa due! H3n Maame Obaa Sima, Obaatan pa, da yie Twedeampon Nyame nye wo ndu fie asomdwee mu. Kos3, kos3!
(sources: mayaangelou.com/bio; Wikipedia.com)

1.

Angry African Woman

You came round to eat my yam
Then you came again to eat my nshima (maize pasta)
But today, you must prostrate
And pay homage
I have daubed my body with sweet-scented cocoa cream
I have smeared some parts with natural shea butter
And I have also dusted my pudendum with
Bint-el-Sudan talcum powder
For Friday evening special effect
On Saturday, I prefer scintillating aroma
Of Town Hall or Saturday Night talcum vintage,
Yes, I am ready for those who pay,
They get the password to the secret gate
They obtain discounts and a good bargain,
Good customer, call again


You came to suck succulent breasts
You came to steal sweet kisses
But today you must pay
Or else you will eat cold nshima
With maggot-infested bearded meat,
Not even cold matoke leftovers for you
If you want fresh hot sadza (nshima)
Or hot yummy pounded yam with
Ogbono or Egusi soup and bitter leaf
Stuffed with chunks of Isi Ewu (goat meat),
Or do you prefer Ugali, Joloff rice, Jambalaya or Couscous?
Then you must go on all fours
And pay really big,
Nshima and sadza are not for free
Nor is pounded yam or any of the African dishes,
In a credit crunch period
The naira is expensive to mint
Yet I’m reasonable enough to know
You don’t vomit cash
But understand, I have endless needs to
Keep the good sexy looks and be dapper,
Besides, I need insurance for old age
I run risk of female diseases
Like cervical cancer, obstetric
Fistula and cancer of the breast,
Just as you men suffer prostate cancer
And urinary retention,
I detest men with stingy arms
I abhor mean men with stony hearts,
If you come again without a loaded purse
I shall incant on you a secret curse
I will crush your nostrils in bed
With my helluva surplus breasts
To cause asphyxia,
I will yank your silly willy from between your legs
I will dump your tuxedo, shoes and pants
In the dirty running kitchen sink,
Or into the dirty dish water in the nearby ditch,
I’ll act like a proper witch and bitch
Then give you a forensic frisk over
When I’ve crooned you to a deep sleep
In your dead drunken stupor
Then you will trudge home half awake
Through the village
In your bare birthday suit
In the wee hours of a cold Monday morning

Indeed, I hate yam eaters who don’t pay
Or who pay skimpily
I scorn nshima swallowers who don’t stay
These are the Casanova candidates for castration
They behave like hit-and-run minibuses
That ply in the streets of Lusaka,
Or like the Okada and Molue mad drivers of Lagos,
Or like the Trotro drivers in Kokomlemle in Accra,
Or like the Matatus in Kampala or Nairobi,
They are all the same everywhere in Africa,
They are greedy money prostitutes,
They cram the buses to the brim,
What a grim experience for commuters,
Hmm, life for prostitutes, commuters and bus
Drivers is always on a knife edge – slim

Hey fella, yam and nshima are staple foods,
They must be eaten always fresh and hot,
If you come again and you don’t pay,
I will chase you with a fufu pounding pestle
To inflict on you a mortal wound
I will slosh you with a stinking week-old
Urine of mine, specially brewed for the purpose
I will pepper-bomb your eyes with alligator chilli
I will put sand in your gari
I will hang a bell around your neck
To alert the village womenfolk,
Remember, sex doesn’t come cheap these days

Its price is directly proportional to inflation,
The economic crunch and the intensity
Of the sex drive waxing hot between your thighs and groin,
In this age and time, stick to one woman,
One man, one nshima,
Multiple sex partners is costly and a nightmare,
It breeds wahala,
Sex maniacs and serial sexists,
Go home to roost,
One woman is more than enough for life,
Is that your bona-fide wedded wife?

(From the book Mosi O Tunya Sounds 2009 by the author with a few modifications)







2.




Unsung Heroes

The palmwine tapper scales the heights of the palm tree,
Despite the threat of the green mamba,
To bring intoxicating joy to the community at large,
He serves his frothing stuff
Of pure delicious palmwine delight,
A whitish sensation down the thirsty
Gullets of connoisseurs, acolytes and proselytes,
To these seemingly unsung simpletons, we kowtow

The hard-muscled fisherman mounts
The boisterous mare in inclement weather
To put fresh fish on our tables
For our culinary delights; what dainty delicacies we cultivate,
Out of his netted species, we salivate on
Our palates and plates
To you, we pay obeisance
The rugged farmer braves the rains,
Endures the scorching sun
Mindless of the early morning dew
And the ferocious frightening soldier ants,
To populate our dining tables
With succulent fruits, gracious grains and fresh vegetables,
Our hunger pangs assuaged by
His sweat streaming down his torso
Like torrential tropical rain
Dripping down an iroko tree,
His sacrifices, phew!
His rewards far-fetched and few
To these rustic peasants, our hats doffed off

The fat Makola market mammies
Shout out their wares to passers-by,
Rivaling the roaring trade of Americas Wal-Mart
They shout till their vocal chords
Are hoary hoarse and taut,
Like the cat’s gut strings on a thrumming banjo,
They earn their fare
To put enough food on the family table
Or see the kids through high school and college
Sweat mummies, sweet mammies, our family
Mainstay, our accolades resonate

The perpetually broke teachers in public schools
Brave the odds, burning the candle both ends
To ennoble our minds
And equip us with sane knowledge and skills
To ensure we can live and ennobled with
Life-long learning,
To live and to be lived with in a globalised world,
To you indefatigable mind minders, soldier on
We resolutely salute

The underfed, underpaid and overworked civil servant,
Rushes the pen and papers
For donkeys years to ensure you and I are governed
Or misgoverned in local and central governance,
He’s bedeviled by proto-bureaucracy,
Amidst mounting charges of corruption;
At the end of his tenure,
He has nothing to show for his loyalty
But his utter grey hair and emaciated frame,
Tales of woes and monumental poverty
Consign him to the archives of forgotten things,
To such, we recognize as ballast to the stability
Of our ship of state,
Permanence, continuity, anonymity and neutrality,
Their hallmark

The brave soldiers go to boot camp,
Be it at West Point or Achiase-Kotoku
Or Sandhurst,
Amid excruciating torture and dehumanizing drills,
They and the security wings
Pursue dangerous criminals and saboteurs
They endanger lives and limb to defend nation
They take high risks dying a little every day
And yet dying all the time in collateral damage
To safeguard our territorial integrity and motherland,
Yet, when they retire as war veterans,
Beggars and paupers they become in our streets,
Consigned to the archives of forgotten things,
To such darling patriots, we commend national honours

I say, how una you dey?
How far?
I throw way salute oh!
Nna you be oga heroes
Not the high profile failed zeroes –
The greedy politicians and thieving bureaucrats,
They feast fat on national coffers with hands
And feet,
On our national cake they feed,
Thinking they have done a feat,
All of us have a stake,
Alas, they leave our coffers looted,
Leaving unbearable external and internal debts
Cum unmanageable budget deficits,
For generations yet unborn to pay generation debt
Judgement debt has become our Damocle’s sword,
Oga, these are no heroes; they are failed
Counterfeit zeroes!


3.

Let me sit my somewhere
I see people go
I see people come
Is there anything happening hereabouts or thereabouts?
Oh, let me sit my somewhere
It’s no business of mine
To nose-poke into fires in the hearth
In other people’s homes
That’s bad manners, bad manners
So we’ve been told
From good habits of old
Which we mustn’t put on hold,
Rather enjoined steadfastly to uphold,
They could be roasting a toad
Or they could be smoking a roach
But then, none of my business to encroach,
They could be dancing to the kakaracha,
Oh, let me sit my somewhere
I’m not a cockroach,
But then the scent from a smoking toad,
Wafting on the air just across the road
Could be sickening and it gives cold comfort
Oh, my belly bottom is retching
And ready to implode
I fear my belly will cave in if I throw

So nobody can tell me something?
Here I am sitting my somewhere
I see them go to the Airport
To and fro
They go
To and fro
They come
Just like visitations to the teaching hospital
Yet, there is no dokita (doctor) around
Nor do norses (nurses) abound
I see strange strangers
I see weird ladies in fine laces
Crime is writ 3D on their faces
They seem people who go places
I smell a rat cooking in an African cauldron
Or could it be a python simmering in
Obe nla (big soup)
In a gargantuan African cooking pot?
Strange scents evoke fanciful imaginings
Of the goings-on and the goings-under



So nobody will say me something,
Anything juicy to quench my thirsty African curiosity?
But I get krokro (20/20) eyesight oh
And I get bloodhound olfactory nerves oh
Ibe, I get pin-pricked rabbit-like ears oh,
Only way the thing my eyes don see
My mouth no fit talk oh
My mouth dey fit shut like a clam oh
To and fro
Fro and to
They play seesaw with their entrée and exit

Like the tides at the shore
Ebb and flow,
They reap but do not sow
As they say, no one defecates without stooping,
To the Airport they go to and fro
But these don’t work at Airport
Neither do they work anywhere
Yet they drive German posh cars,
Eat Russian caviar, smoke Havana cigars,
Drink French Cognac, Scotch whisky, Italian
Wine and wear vintage Spanish or Moroccan leather
Shoes, even American stiletto–heeled shoes,
Besides, munch Hungarian sausage and English fish and chips,
They strut about with lazy bone girls,
Girls who dunno how to get a life,
They fit no sane man’s criteria for a wife

He-men adorn their bodies
With satanic tattoos and ensigns
They wear expensive garbs and habiliments
Fit for kings and queens
Yet, their outfit taste is an outrageous distaste –
Chains, rings, jewellery of sorts
Adorn ears, noses, necks, fingers, ankles and toes
In the wrong and most unlikely places,
Tongues, navels and genitalia also,
Above this cacophonous riot,
The never missing high society perfumes
Suffuse and gag the air,
They have affectation for the gang rag-tag,
They shit expensive shit oh, oga
Yet they covet my simpleton style,
My brother, my sister, these 419s are true to type,
Nowhere cool at all at all oh,
I bet my bottom, they envy my unsung stool
Perhaps, it has not stunk enough oh,
To merit the media limelight,
Perhaps, I need to do a great publicity stunt,
Today is party day,
They blare funky rap music at the loudest,
The way it happens all over the city
When there are funerals the Ghanaian way,
So are they partying or holding
Their own funereal funerals,
Before d-day when the storm breaks?
They dance the dance of the uneasy rich,
They fake fake happiness,
Oh my brother, my sister,
Their inside no cool at all at all oh,
They drive on the suicidal fast lane of life
Abi, but me, I dey my corner oh,
Let me sit my somewhere oh,
Ino be cockroach oh!

One day, yes it took only a day,
Their secret leapt out of the gate
Like a freshly caught fish out of the basket,
A kid brought from up country
Spilt the beans,
He let the cat out of the bag
Yes, he spewed the beans like hot potatoes,
It was indeed a birds’ whisper,
‘You know what, they cook magic powder
Day and night
So they get dollar power here and there,
They sell to throwers and couriers
At Kotoka International Airport (KIA)
Perimeter in Accra,



We count dollars day and night
In wads, rolls and bundles,
Oh, you can smell the dough in our domicile

Blah, blah, black sheep------------------------
Oh, so magic powder is secret of their
Dollar power?
Cocaine, they call it?
My brother, my sister,
Let me sit my somewhere,
Nowhere cool oh, at all, at all oh
I no ibe cockroach oh! And Ino be
Kakaracha or nkakaraka oh!

Cocaine is cooking and brewing a storm,
When cooked,
They will eat and shit and sneeze,
The scent will create a stench,
Soon, they will swoon and ‘quench’
With BNI and FBI hot on their trail,
They will shrink and resist drinks
Their tails will shrink between their legs,
They will gnaw at their fingernails
And their faces will become crescent–shaped

But me, they think I’m a snail and a stinker,
Yet we all go reach our destination,
Oga, let me sit my somewhere oh,
Where I see them go and come,
To and fro, to and fro
In East Legon and Spintex Road

They live in majestic mansions of the Gold Coast,
But me oh, Ino be son of a smoking gun
To be constantly on the run
I run no business of illicit rum

I will sit still on my bum
Whilst they go to and fro, to and fro,
Let me sit my somewhere,
Somewhere on the fence
Where I’m risk-averse
My decision has no reverse


3.

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