Kofi Awoonor (1935–2013)
Here is one of the poet’s works.
This Earth, My Brother
The dawn crack of sounds known
rending our air
shattering our temples toppling
raising earthwards our cathedrals of hope,
in demand of lives offered on those altars
for the cleansing that was done long ago.
Within the airwaves we carry
our hutted entrails; and we pray;
shrieks abandoned by lonely road-sides
as the gunmen’s boots tramp.
I lift up the chalice of hyssop and tears
to touch the lips of the thirsty
sky-wailing in a million spires
of hate and death; we pray
bearing the single hope to shine
burnishing in the destiny of my race
that glinting sword of salvation.
In time my orchestra plays my music
from potted herbs of anemone and nim
pour upon the festering wounds of my race,
to wash forever my absorbent radiance
as we search our granary for new corn.
There was that miracle we hoped for
that salvation we longed for
for which we said many prayers
offered many offerings.
In the seasons of burning feet
of bad harvest and disastrous marriages
there burns upon the glint edge of that sword
the replica of the paschal knife.
The sounds rounded our lonely skies
among the nims the dancers gather their cloths
stretching their new-shorn hides off offered cows
to build themselves new drums.
Sky-wailing from afar the distant tramp
of those feet in rhythm
miming underneath them violence.
Along the roads lined with mimosas
the mangled and manacled are dragged
to the cheers of us all.
We strew flowers at the feet of the conquerors
beg for remission of our sins…
…He will come out of the grave
His clothes thrown around him;
worms shall not have done their work.
His face shall beam the radiance of many suns.
His gait the bearing of a victor,
On his forehead shall shine a thousand stars
he will kneel after the revelation
and die on this same earth.
And I pray
That my hills shall be exalted
And he who washes me,
They led them across the vastness
As they walked they tottered
and rose again. They walked
across the grassland to the edge of the mound
and knelt down in silent prayer;
they rose again led to the mound,
like worshippers of Muhammed.
Suddenly they rose again
stretching their hands to the crowd
in wasteful gestures of identity
Boos and shrieks greeted them
as they smiled and waved
as those on a big boat journey.
A sudden silence fell
as the crowd pushed and yelled
into the bright sharp morning of a shooting.
They led them unto the mound
In a game of blindman’s bluff
they tottered to lean on the sandbags
Their backs to the ocean
that will bear them away.
The crackling report of brens
and the falling down;
a shout greeted them
tossing them into the darkness.
and my mountains reel and roll
to the world’s end.
Kofi Awoonor (1935–2013)
Awoonor is author of novels such as This Earth, My Brother… (1971) and Comes the Voyager at Last: A Tale of Return to Africa (1992). He died in the Westgate shopping mall attack in Kenya in September 2013.
Awoonor was born George Awoonor-Williams in Wheta, Ghana, to Ewe parents. He was a poet, literary critic, professor of comparative literature and served as an ambassador for Ghana.
Awoonor earned a BA from University College of Ghana, an MA from University College, London, and a PhD in comparative literature from SUNY Stony Brook. He is the author of novels, plays, political essays, literary criticism, and several volumes of poetry, including Rediscovery and Other Poems (1964); Night of My Blood (1971); Ride Me, Memory (1973); The House by the Sea (1978); The Latin American and Caribbean Notebook (1992); and a volume of collected poems, Until the Morning After (1987).
Awoonor’s grandmother was an Ewe dirge singer, and the form of his early poetry draws from the Ewe oral tradition. He translated Ewe poetry in his critical study Guardians of the Sacred Word and Ewe Poetry (1974).Other works of literary criticism include The Breast of the Earth: A Survey of the History, Culture, and Literature of Africa South of the Sahara (1975).
In the early 1970s, Awoonor served as chairman of the Department of Comparative Literature at SUNY Stony Book. He returned to Ghana in 1975 to teach at University College of Cape Coast. In Ghana, he was arrested and tried for suspected involvement in a coup. He was imprisoned without trial and was later released; he wrote about his time in jail in The House by the Sea. Awoonor resumed teaching after his sentence was remitted. In the 1980s, he was the Ghanaian ambassador to Brazil and Cuba and served as ambassador to the United Nations from 1990 to 1994; in 1990 he published Ghana: A Political History from Pre-European to Modern Times.