We Must Apologse for Slavery (Preface to Ife…!(Poems Apologising for Slavery), My Forthcoming Collection of Poemsg

By Uduma Kalu


It has become very important for me to en-centre Africa in a 21st Century, which will unarguably host the beginning of the largest expansion of the idea and practise of globalisation.
It is essential that I do this bearing in mind that one of the signs of the new age appeared in the twilight of the last century with the creeping into the media and elsewhere the question: Does Africa still matter to the world?
Proponents of this question argue that having looked at sad indices of Africa- debt, poverty, hunger, deserts, corruption, war, violence, bad governance, diseases, illiteracy, poor technology- they have come to the conclusion that Africa cannot compete with other regions of the world in the 21st Century, which I have dubbed the Age of the Internet or Information Technology Age.
This arrogant assumption, in my opinion, appropriates the global village. To most citizens of the world, this is a negation of what we thought was a marriage and/of understanding of different cultures of the world; with each culture contributing to the global pool of culture and tradition so that in the end every individual, not minding his continent, country, clime, creed or culture, can claim a portion and build his home.
The purpose of this collection is therefore to set the records straight, through poetry, by showing how Africa first laid the foundation for globalisation; how it globalised freedom and development in all spheres of human endeavour.
One of the was to straighten the records has been illustrated by the novelist, Chinua Achebe, in his book of essays, Home and Exile. According to Achebe, Africa should be allowed to tell its own stories, as opposed to the practice where outsiders tell our stories as if we were dumb.
Africans should therefore face up the challenge of telling their continent’s stories and so reclaim their Fatherland to the global village, which is already under hostage.
In my humble way, therefore, I have chosen the African globalisation of the world from the way and life of my people, the Igbo people of the world.
I use the phrase Igbo people of the world bearing in mind that the Igbo race is found mainly in their ancestral homes in South East and South South regions of Nigeria. But their roots extend to such countries as Haiti, St. Louis, Martinique Dominican Republic, Belize, USA, UK St. Louis, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, and other Caribbean countries, among others.
One of the ways the Igbo have charted a global village for the world is rooted in their culture of ezi and ulo and ikwu na ibe. However while ezi na ulo is paternal with all siblings and in-laws of that paternal root forming part of the family, ikwu na ibe is the maternal and extended roots of that mother family. Used beyond the physical meaning of a house and extended homes of the family members the two concepts mean extended relations of these families.
The families therefore stretch into many generations, countries and cultures. It is like the sea waves whose tumble reverberate around the world. Ezi and ulo and ikwu ibe are therefore, for me, a right metaphor for the global village.
Extended relations may be separate from their original root but they are, however, part of that root and inheritors of its culture and tradition. In a world of migrations and mutations, a diffusion of the Igbo culture is inevitable making the inheritors of these cultures in whatever shade they may appear as extended relations of the initial culture. It is, therefore, for me, inevitable to argue that the Igbo culture has impacted on every region of the world. It is the celebration of this marriage of cultures and peoples that this collection aims to recapture for Africa.
In his book, World Struggle for a Just World—Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu—70th Birthday Anniversary lecture, encapsulates the Igbo impact in globalising the world. The Igbo activities to free African slaves in the New World are yet to be fully documented. In fact, their leading anti slavery roles in the US made the Alabama Governor George Wallace accuse them in 1968 of causing the American Civil War of 1861-1865. He, therefore, opposed any relief to the war ravaged Biafra during his 1968 presidential campaigns. The Biafran War, as noted by former South African President, was the first post independence African struggle for self determination.
However, before the US war of freedom, the Igbo of Haiti after winning freedom during the Haitian Revolution of August 22, 1791, under the command of François Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture, who was half Igbo, went ahead to defeat Napoleon Bonarparte’s best army under the personal command of his brother in law, Leclerc. They defeated that army at the great battle of Vertier on November 18, 1803. Haiti was important to France, being its most productive slave colony in the world then. Napoleaon’s effort to recapture the colony suffered more devastating defeats. After the 1803 defeat at Vertier, Napoleon sold his French Empire to the United States for $15 million in the historic Louisana Purchase. The Napoleon the British defeated at Waterloo was therefore a ghost of the dictator in Europe.
Then the Haitians set themselves the task of implementing their resolve to free African slaves all over the world. First, they invaded what is now the Dominican Republic, defeated the Spanish slave owners and freed the slaves. Then they made a deal with Simon Bolivar, called the Liberator of Latin America. They rebuilt Bolivar’s army that the Spanish destroyed, gave him a printing press for propaganda on condition that he free the slaves wherever he conquered. This action set the stage for the freedom of Latin America and the slaves.
The chain reactions of events ultimately freed African slaves world wide with another Igbo, Olaudah Equiano, this time in Europe fighting for the freedom of slaves world wide.
The 1968 Haitian President Francois Duvalier acknowleged the Igbo role in the Haiti Revolution in his letter to the United Nations Secretary General, U. Thant on why his country had to recognise the Republic of Biafra.
“To free the African from bondage of ages,” Nnamdi Azikiwe observed last Century, “is Igbo man’s manifest destiny.”
Equiano is attributed the first man to have articulated the concept of Pan Africanism. Edward Blyden, another man of Igbo extraction whose descendants became the first orator of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is reputed to be the first man to use the term, Pan Africansim. The concept of Pan African activated the roles played by the Martinique Negritudian, Aime César and his fellow countryman intellectual, Franz Fanon. Their country is Igbo dominated.
The roles played by such figures as Jaja of Opobo against colonialism is another example of Igbo heroism.
The Igbo anti colonial activities are perhaps more documented than the Diaspora ones. In 1929 when the Aba Women Revolt broke out, it resulted in commissioning of intelligence about anthropological studies on colonial peoples world wide by European colonialists. The findings taught Europe that these colonial peoples had authentic native civilisations, contrary to the presumptions of Imperial Europe to be on a world wide civilising mission. The 1929 Aba Women Revolution undermined the basis of that European ideology.
Before the war by the women would settle down, Azikiwe appeared in the horizon along with the militant Zikist Movement. The peoples he touched, including Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, are those that have made the difference in the decolonisation of the African continent.
But then the explosive reactions of the Biafra War still reverberate world wide, making it difficult to ignore the role Ndigbo have played and continue to play in world civilisation.
Africa matters is therefore the kernel of this narration. It is an arch participant of the global village village. It is not the Igbo culture alone that has impacted on the world. Other African cultures have also done the same, making it is essentially difficult to isolate Africa’s contribution to the global village.
The super computer, Philip Emeagwali, in a speech delivered in the US entitled Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed noted contributions of black Americans to America. Emeagwali also noted that “Our history books are full of erroneous statements,” and that we need to challenge the erroneous statements in our history books. “A period for us to teach our children the truth.”
Then he explained that contrary to what history books said, Euclid, perhaps, the world’s greatest mathematician of all time, is African, and that science is the gift of ancient Africa to the modern world. He said that 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to paint his masterpiece “The Lord’s Supper.” Before the Renaissance period, many paintings of the Madonna depicted a black woman. The infant God or Christ-child was depicted as black. But Leonardo da Vinci was searching for himself in Jesus Christ. He re-depicted Jesus Christ as white, Emeagwali wrote. But Jesus, he argued, was dark-skinned.
He also said that Africans are the pioneers in many other fields of study which is agreed by Isaac Asimov, the most prolific science writer, that mathematics, science and technology are the gift of ancient Africans to our modern world. Also the Encyclopedia of Science acknowledges that an African named Imhotep is the Father of Medicine; that an African is the Father of Architecture; that an African is the first scientist in recorded history. The book agrees that the earliest Greek scientists were educated in Africa by Africans. That they lived and worked in Africa. That they were even born in Africa.
The scientist also said that the ancient papyri are our primary source of information about the mathematics of Nile Valley civilisation. A page from Ahmes papyrus which is about one foot tall and 18 feet long. This book was renamed Rhind Papyrus. But this Rhind Papyrus was not written by Alexander Rhind, the Scottish traveller that purchased it. It was written 4,000 years ago by an African named Ahmes. But it was renamed after a non-mathematician that purchased it.
With all this Emeagwali argued that if the earliest Greek scientists lived in Africa, then it leads to the profound conclusion that Greece is not the birthplace of Western civilisation. It leads to more logical conclusion that Africa is the birthplace of civilisation.
Indeed, a digital facial reconstruction of a mummy believed to be Queen Nefertiti astonished British forensic experts that performed this reconstruction when the image of a black woman emerged on their computer screen.
“We know that Africa is the birthplace of humanity. It is the Motherland of all people: black or white. We should teach our children that: Science is the gift of ancient Africa to our modern world. Finally, and most importantly, we should remind them that Africans were the carriers of light. Africans were not waiting in darkness for others to bring light to them.”
Perhaps, those trying to subtract Africa from the global village are not mindful of the global village of human relationships and the universality of human emotions, hopes and aspirations. It is to reclaim this portion and force it on consciences of the world that has propelled me to write this book.
Therefore, most of the poems readers will encounter here are a journey into memory, that stabilising factor that reconnects the present with the past to unravel the future. Much of that memory goes back to the Uli concept, which is very central to the Igbo worldview. That endless memory resonates with the image of a folk hero journeying into the invisible world. His trials and triumphs are what the personage in this collection encounters both as contemporary reality and as magical existence. The poems are therefore a re-memory of lived experience; a reconstruction of one’s rites of passage; an attainment of wisdom from innocence. They celebrate life as an unflinching faith in the ultimate triumph of the human spirit over the rampaging clouds of our reality.
After writing these poems and I look back today at my days at Nsukka, I realise that Nsukka was the nucleus of this collection. That University was for me both a pilgrimage and workshop. The four years I spent there was a constant struggle to enmesh myself in its great and rich flourishing literary tradition whose influence transcends what has become known as Modern African Literature.
It was a constant struggle to extricate myself from the pervading grips of the great names that bestride the literary landscape there. Through it I came to realise that art is a private thing. So in the privacy of my halls of residence, classrooms, libraries and other places, I began to fashion styles and philosophies, which though still Nsukka, deviated from other writers’ stylistic influences. The freedoms Nsukka offered built in me not just the boldness and confidence to etch my own unique voice out of that drowning tradition that invaded our literary landscape, but encouraged the congenial atmosphere that existed between the creative writers and the aspiring critics with their literature and language lecturers. This relationship was such that it was difficult for a committed artist to leave that institution without becoming one of the voices to remember in time to come.
And if one could take away anything one cannot easily take away the influence of the Nsukka Literary School. Apart from instilling in the young writers a sense of art as a strive towards perfection, whether in the abstract or plain form— a continuous struggle of how words can best be used as a tool for art first before what it can achieve; the recourse to oral tradition- to utilise its form and language to create musical or sweet poetry in English which could be sung and therefore touch the soft layers of the heart; to defeat sadness by building a conquering personage that triumphs over the tyranny and injustice in the land; the use of spirits seen as in the lines of Uli which flows forever in their tiny slides; the constant criticism that existed; the struggle to partake in the University tradition; harmonising the different theories taught in that University to agree with the superior African ideologues for our works to become African- are some of those I cannot get over with.
And for me this has made all the difference. For that tradition has seen me through many troubled rivers in this rough literary voyage. Whenever any monster raises its head, it is this tradition that appears to deliver me, when I recall my past. Nsukka has in part become the creative spirit that hovers over my art.
However, there was one thing that I took out of Nsukka with me when I left it in 1995. This was the value of freedom and the responsibility that comes with that freedom. I think it is on this value that my creative growth and all my other growths reside. The freedom I received from Nsukka was what I came to realise through my associations and studies as one cardinal principle of an ideal university because it is only in an atmosphere of freedom that one can study, recreate and penetrate the mysteries of existence. At Nsukka then one could not but cherish freedom.
This was an intriguing experience for me. For this was a young man born in the harrowing days of Biafra, in the bloodiest time of the Nigerian Civil War, where millions of lives were lost, genocide committed, hunger used as weapon of war and death. A period of fear. And savouring the post- war peace was another horrible experience. Tales of the horrors of the war, the menace of ravaging soldiers intensified that fear among a hapless and helpless people. And to see a warrior and heroic people reduced to that fearful position was a tragedy for me.
Worse still, the continuing military rule did not even help matters. This was worsened by the brutal termination of the brief democracy of the Second Republic in the land, which promised a certain freedom, and the gaiety that was in the air.
That was why the freedoms the democratic institutions offered me at Nsukka were intriguing. For me it made Nsukka a safe haven from the horrors outside its confines. In such a place creativity strives.
But this freedom had with it a responsibility which made me, like other students, realise that if I abused the freedom then I would be responsible for my action. Hence I knew my limitations. I studied to increase my knowledge and worked to fulfil the University anthem and motto- To Restore the Dignity of Man. That restoration, I came to understand later, begins with the black man first. And that is understandable looking at how our humanity has been abused by historical forces.
In literature Nsukka has a very rich and striving tradition. Journals, magazines, books and other publications dating back to the ancients, were in abundance and were available to the students. The presence of such literary associations such the Writers’ Forum which I was one of the founding members, The English Association, Anthill, on top of the Odenigbo Hills, outside the eastern gates of the University among others were there to make us partakers of this tradition.
The English Association was the most influential of these groups. Once a member, which was compulsory for English students, its publications such as The Crest, Omabe, a poetry journal, and The Muse, described as the oldest student literary journal in Africa by the eminent theorist and bibliography, Prof. Bernth Linfors, which we read, were like a register or a journey into the making of traditions, and the rise of the different generations that shaped the movements in Nigerian and African Literature. To belong to this great tradition and take a place in its growth was possible only with a constant inscription of one’s name in these journals. But this was not easy as only the best judged by a literary panel merited a place in the mostly thirty eight page- annual publications, from a crowd of enthusiastic poets and writers.
The presence of some of the makers of that tradition was very helpful. Apart from the pervading presence of other literary artists in other faculties, there were the great names in the department such as Professors Donatus I. Nwoga and Juliet Okonkwo, Ossie Enekwe, Obi Maduakor as well as the constant visitations of some established authors coupled with the return of some of those who were part of that tradition to the University.
And the invisible presence of Chinua Achebe, Romanus Egudu, Emmanuel Obiechina who had their offices in the department with their names written on the walls, as well as the hovering presence of those who had left to found literary or arts departments in other universities such as, Sam Ukala, Eni Jones and Kalu Uka mingled with those that had died, was enormous. The dead included the poet, Pol Ndu, Okogbule Wonodi, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Christopher Okigbo, who gathered, with Peter Thomas, the writers of that department to create the Literary Tradition there.


Some of these poems have appeared in 25 New Nigerian Poets, published by Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, Berkeley, California, United States, edited by Toyin Adewale; Music and Poetry in Harmony, MUSON Centre; Lagos, Association of Nigerian Authors anthology of poems, Trembling Leaves, Oracle Books Limited, Lagos, edited by Bunmi Oyisan; Association of Nigerian Authors anthology of poems, A Volcano of Voices, Kraft Books Limited, Ibadan, Anthology of Women Writers of Nigeria, (WRITA); Omabe, Department of English, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; The Muse, Department of English, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Okike, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, edited by Ossie Enekwe; The Guardian, Lagos; Daily Champion, Lagos; Daily Times, Lagos; Post Express, Lagos; Anthology of Ife Poetry Festival, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife; May Ayim Anthology, Berlin, 2004 nigeriansinamerica.com, Sentinel Poetry, an online poetry journal, edited by Nnorom Azuonye, poetry.com, nigerianarts.com; AfricanWriter.com, among several others.
Some of them have also been performed at the University of Nigeria, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Festival of Life Conventions, Ife Poetry Festival.


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