A Poem from Igboland

From my friend in Nsukka, Ikeogu Oke, comes this new poem. I am also pleased to mention the release of his new book, complete with an endorsement from Nadine Gordimer.

What does it mean to be African, or black?In the Wings of Waiting_Amazon_
To be ever threatened with drowning in a sea of lack?

Does it mean to wake poor, and sleep in squalor,
And live as if you’re drained of strength and valour?

Does it mean to doubt the power of your own mind,
And be the wagging tail of humankind?

Does it mean to have leaders riddled with maggots of shame –
Mostly, that is – and yet unmindful of their putrid fame?

Does being African or black
Mean carrying the burden of your past like a hunchback?

Does it mean to forge your own chains even after you were freed –
Chains of strife, misrule, of sloth and wanton greed?

Does it mean to declare, “I’m black and proud”
Even as your mind whispers, “Shh! Don’t say it loud?”

Does it mean to rule the place of slumber,
And lay oblivious of your strength of number?

Does it mean – I ask –
Not to know your task
Is to rise like the sun you ought to be,
And shine your bright light on humanity?

February 2, 2013 · Dr. Carl · 5 Comments
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5 Responses

  1. Chiedu Ezeanah - February 3, 2013

    I have actually called the poet to tell him my mind about this.
    It’s a well-written work that misses the point almost by a century.

    Race bashing is as execrable as race baiting.Sorry, just like NEGRITUDE,
    it simply is either patronizing or condescending-simplistic, blinkered and generalizing both ways.

    When poetry does this , it fails to reach to the higher ideals of recognizing that human foibles are
    never defined by racial affiliations.Perhaps, the poet should alter the title. Just a suggestion.


  2. Ikeogu Oke - February 3, 2013


    I anticipated the charge of “race bashing” against “Being Black”. But I didn’t write it with such an intention. I rather hope the poem stimulates serious reflections by we Africans, and black people generally, about the other possible causes of our plight, the ones that could be attributed to us, besides the well-known historical
    causes due to alien interventions, which, as you know, I have written about in several other poems, like “A Savage Writes Back” in the collection “Salutes Without Guns” (2009). So the poem asks us hard, vexing questions to which I believe, and expect, all the answers to be “no”, regardless of who provides them. And with the answers as “no”, I also expect us to us to ask: So why isn’t our lot better, as it should be? As a poet, I believe raising
    such questions could amount to a genuine contribution to stimulating the “resurgence” of Africans, of black people generally, if only we’ll answer them honestly and follow up with the hard work we need to change our destiny. Of course you wouldn’t read the last stanza between the lines – what with my reference to us as “the sun” that ought to shine our bright light on humanity, etc – and not see that my ultimate goal is to stimulate progress.


  3. R. Kiki Edozie - February 4, 2013

    Great poem, Ikeogu – and even greater response to Chiedu!
    The poem appropriately posits ‘race’ (a universal construct, of course, Chiedu) as the factor explaining global inequality that positions Africans and African descendants as the most excluded from the ‘wealth of nations’ everywhere! To consider the veracity of such an assertion, we should begin with the 14th C European-Africa encounter that launched the Slave Trade, Imperialism, Colonialism, and Neo-colonialism today. While these events in history were political-economic (note, Chiedu); they had cultural and social consequences, including the racialization of the African identity as ‘inferior’! The most important consequence however of this racial encounter has been the structuring of the modern world system (today’s international political economy) to the advantage and interests of the West and the disadvantage of Africans and its descendants. Conscious revolutionary leadership regimes who try to reverse this status – Nkrumah, Lumumba, Sankara, Malcolm X, King – are killed off by Western forces who will protect their interests and privileges in the global economy! We are told instead to ‘reform’ our corruption, ‘sell our bananas, and raw materials on the cheap’ and all will be well! Ikeogu’s poem demonstrates that he knows the truth!

  4. Prof. Princewill Alozie - February 14, 2013

    THE POET’S RESPONSE TO P-J EZEH is worthy of being publicized.The poem “Being Black” is not necessarily a negritude type of poem. The poem shares features with Franz Fanon’s Black Skin White mask & The Wretched of the Earth.The poem is telling us to get into a positive action that will change our situation for the better.If we affirm that change is the only permanent aspect of reality,then we have ourselves to blame for “carrying our past lie hunchback”.Latin Americans ;Europeans;Asians;Arabs are all reacting in their own ways against the unjust socio-economic system that is controlled by a parasitic , and ruthless one percent of humankind. What is the response of the Africans?Some of our great writers like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka have had swipes on racism. We are aware that there were periods when Europeans looked down on both Japan and China. You ignore these powers today at your own peril.The writer should help arouse these sleeping Africans with black skin.If we examine what is happening in the far East—North Korea;South Korea; China;Japan–The middle East; Mali;Chad; Niger; and Nigeria over the years;we could see the poem “Being Black” as a call for the emancipation of humankind from the iron grip of the multinational corporations and their owners. I hereby congratulate Ikeogu Oke for that excellent poem.I have sent the poem to a few University Departments interested in developmental studies

  5. Chielozona Eze - March 10, 2013

    The wisdom in Chiedu Ezeanah’s observation is simply this: any poem that exits the bounds of particularities easily loses steam; it adds nothing to our world, for it merely rearranges (and rehashes) what we have already heard somewhere, what we know already. Ikeogu Oke has written beautiful poems. This, I’m sure he knows, doesn’t count as one of them. And by the way, I judge his poetry by the standard he articulated in his insightful essay, “A CHILD AND THE ORIGIN OF THE POET.”

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