Posts Tagged ‘West Africa’ 

In this essay, I will be reviewing one of his most successful poems, Freetown which is taken from Concerto For Exile.



” Africa I have long away from you

wandering like a Fulani cow

but every night

amidst the horrors of highway deaths

and the menace of neon-eyed gods

I feel the warmth of your arms

centrifugal mother reaching out to your sons

but all calling you mother womb of the earth

liking your image but hating our differences

because we have become the shame of your race

and now on this third anniversary of my flight

my heart becomes a citadel of disgust

and I am unable to write the poem of your life

my creation haunts me behind the mythical dream

my river dammed by the poisonous weeds in its bed

and I think of my brothers with ”black skin and white masks”

( I myself am one heh heh heh)

my sisters who plaster their skins with white cosmetics

to look whiter than the snows of Europe

but listen to the sufferings of our hearts

there are those who when they come to plead

say make us Black Englishmen decorated Afro-Saxons

but we African wandering urchins

who will return one day

say oh listen Africa

the tomtoms of the revolution

beat in our hearts at night

make us the seven hundred parts of your race

stretching from the east to the west

but united inside your womb

because I have dreamt in the shadows of Freetown

crashing under the yoke of its ferocious civilization”

we with our different designs innumerable facets

Title: Freetown. It is the capital of his home country Sierra Leone.

Lines 1-3: The persona states his longing for Africa. He captured this as ‘Fulani cow wandering about’. Fulani is nomadic tribe in the Sahel region of Africa. Like the Fulani cow, the persona wanders in search for greener pastures yet he remembers and longs for home.

Lines 4-6: ‘horrors of highway deaths’ refer to the senseless carnage on the highways in the west. ‘Neon-eyed gods’ – headlights made from the element, neon. The persona paints an imagery of fear in these lines. Is it not interesting that the persona continues to live there ‘amidst the horrors’ and ‘menace’? Subtly, the persona contrasts Africa with the West: Africa is a natural environment and the West is the opposite. Notice what the persona uses as symbolism for both places. ‘Fulani cow’ for Africa and he used ‘highway’ and ‘neon-eyed’ for the West.

Lines 7-9: The persona continues to tell of his affection for his motherland. In these lines, the persona makes a claim that Africa is the home of the human race.

Lines 10-14: People are ashamed to call Africa home because Africa is in a sorry state. The persona’s ‘citadel of disgust” has grown with years (third anniversary)

Lines 15-24: Line 15 for me is very ambiguous. ‘my creation’ could be what the persona has really done or what he has conceived in his mind that he sees as a reality. In either way, the persona is involved in something that he is ashamed of. Could the ‘‘mystical dream’’ be the much talked about ‘‘African Dream’’? In line 16, the persona says his imagination (‘rivers’) has been curtailed by possibly political elements. (‘Poisonous weeds in the bed’). “Black skin and white masks’’ is the doctoral thesis of Frantz Fanon in 1952 under the original title “Peau noire, masques blancs”. Permit me to quote Wikipedia’s description of the study,’ . . . is a sociological study of psychology of racism and the dehumanization of inherent to colonial domination.” The next 3 lines build on this premise. Look at his swipe at his ‘sisters’

‘‘my sisters who plaster their skins with white cosmetics

To look whiter than the snows of Europe’’

Rightly so, he acknowledges that he is part of this group of Africans

Lines 22-23: These lines are significant for me. The persona says some Africans plead to be ‘Black Englishmen decorated Afro-Saxons’. In effect, they see themselves as whites who are ‘devotees’ of African culture. What a paradox!

Line 24: Creole (Krio) people are descendants of freed slaves who were resettled in Sierra Leone in the 1770s and 1800s. It is interesting to know that the Poet is a Creole yet he assumes spokesman-ship of the natives. Impressive!

Line 25-35: Here, the persona expresses his willingness and hope the one day he will come back with the others (urchins). Line – tomtoms are drums of American-Indian or Asian origin .The persona hopes their return will be a wind of change (revolution).


1. A Selection Of African Poetry, (1992), Introduced and Annotated by K.E. Senanu and T.Vincent, The Longman Group UK, pp 280-281.

2. Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, (1999), Steven R. Serafin, ed, Volume A-D, St. James Press, pp. 479-480

3. Wikipedia profile Syl Cheney-Coker