Poetry

What the Witchdoctors Say: Poems by Konye Obaji Ori

Secret of the Sun

Raised by the bare bones of nature’s grace,
my home held hands with the feral forest,
where nature hid her gold.

I have heard palm trees whisper their stories
I have listened to the silent full moon quietly teach
lessons of those who had lived.
I know of the green secrets of the earth
Soft voices of searching roots that sprout forth, cluster
around my hut to tell.

I am from the bowels of Africa,
I understand the tongue of the wild.
I have swayed to the blue songs of humming birds that fill the
tree branches with their nests.
I have had breakfast plucked ripe off the tree
and lunch caught right from the river.
I have aimed a stick in the forest and secured supper.

I am from the bowels of Africa,
where nature’s breast milk flows from palm trees
and every suckle leaves a smile on wrinkled ebony faces.

I am from the bowels of Africa,
I have seen rains held up at the summons of wooden carved gods.
women foretell events of the next day, and men
hear voices of elders long dead.

I am from the bowels of Africa
I am carolled to dreamland by
crickets, frogs and fireflies
that mime nature’s song at night fall

I am from the bowels of Africa,
I am the dark secret held by the sun

============

Dance of a God

Life is beating the Ayara-Ekomo drum-
And I am dancing like the priestess of the river
possessed by the mermaid spirit of Anansa-

Even the Sun rises to applaud my passion

Fate has cooked for me- the black soup-
I lick it with the zest of a starved child

I run from the statues of my negriscent
that sing to me the songs of the spirits
and expect me to dance the dance of the dead

I run as far as I can under those hunting eyes of the night
through the thicket of the gathering spirits of the forest.

I can fall to the ground like a Yoruba man
to salute the full moon that illuminates my escape path

From time to time, the daunting drum-beats of life blends with
the crying drums and wailing flutes of my native land
and the music of  a sun-heated people fill my ears-

And like a funeral-dance in a wake-keeping
I am demanded to tap to its depressing melody
.
But I dance the dance of a god.

============

Crying “Africa”

Once the color of the night,
graced with starry skies

The full moon left little to wonder
of the morning sunrise
Then we were singing “Africa.”

Lightning flashes struck our clouds
and raging thunders burst open
the sky and let the rains pour.

We are flooded in austerity; we flow
scrambling for support,
tramping over one another for a gasp.

The current of diseases and hunger
washes us away. We slop in the
tides of corruption and war.
And as we are washed,
we flounder and we cry “Africa.”

Shivering like sparrows in winter
we are thrown from side to side
like trees, dancing unwillingly to
the music of the wind

Bruised on rocks and stunted tree roots
As we drift helplessly in the flood;
Choking, wailing, crying “Africa.”

============

African Night

I lay there on that rat-shredded raffia mat;
my thoughts running through the bush paths
to meet my dreams at the bottom of the Iroko tree.

Full moon comes and goes,
I still lay on that mat staring at agama lizards creeping
up and down the bamboo sticks that hold my mud hut up.
Hope sneaking away like smoke from the burning fire woods
through the holes in the thatch roof of mother’s kitchen

I am like a tilapia fish roasting
on the woods of time, In the heat of harmattan

I am deaf to the sounds of
talking drums and crying wooden flutes
that play me to our ancestors
in high notes on traditional clefs.
Sightless to the heart melting site of
naked pot-bellied children
laughing and playing in the mud

I push the burning fire wood together under the steel tripod stand
and splints of fire, fly to the air like in a performance to cheer me up

my dreams have uprooted the Iroko tree
but my reflection in the eyes of reality hasn’t changed,

I have learnt to chew with content
when boiled yam, dipped in palm oil meets with my watering tongue,

The man drinking palm wine and breaking kola nuts with
my father in his thatch roof hut after a long day in the yam farm
lights a picture of me painted on the walls of tomorrow

At mid night when the moon smiles down
And when we gather to sing and dance;

I dance until my hope is tired
and until my dreams lay down to sleep;
to sleep through that long and vibrant African night.

============

Insomnia

I lay helpless on the bare ground of our dark hut;
watching Omar bongo’s men drag my father away; six gun nozzles
staring at him without a blink

Kabila’s soldiers came-
And the last I heard of my mother, was a scream of sacred pain.

I woke up with a loud cry of dismay from my nightmare
breathing as heavily as though I had just run from
Kinshasa to Kampala; chased by bullets and machetes and clubs.

I closed my eyes to seduce the spirits of sleep;
to snooze into the African-Utopia
and draw some strength-
to run from Harare to Addis Ababa
when the sun rises.

But I couldn’t find that fat city I hoped for;
Mugabe, Mobutu and Mengistu had ordered

the massacre of everything that once made it a dreamland

I woke up again, with a squeal; panting,
panting as though I had just seen
the ghosts of Amin and Abacha

It began to rain outside,
But it’s been raining here everyday;
tears and blood dripping down roof tops
and gushing into gutters
Bullets have been lightning flashes,
And thunder cries have been the wails of a suffering people
It was still very dark outside
But it’s been dark here for very long, now
Some men have held day from breaking; strong men indeed.

I am still in that dark hut;
wondering when help will come-
wondering if it will ever come.

I thought I heard OAU and UN soldiers coming
But no, they were footsteps of Laurent Nkunda’s men,
marching towards my hut; with a commanding voice,
screaming- “Destroy everything! ”

============

Worries of an African Child

Was hope here only when the Amazon queen Nzhinga
and Nehanda, the Mbuya, of Zimbabwe fought to shield us from slave ships?

Was pride gone after Yaa Asantewa addressed the chiefs
in that secret meeting in Kumasi?

Did the warmth of home die with Queen Kahina, when she wrestled
into the swords of the camel riding men?

Was leadership only when Shaka ruled over Zulu?
When Mansa Mussa ruled over Mali? Or when Askia ruled over Songhay?

As dark as the ages were, King Khufu built the pyramids
As dark as the ages were, a University stood in Timbuktu
As dark as the ages were, Imhotep out shone the moon with wisdom

Today the ages shine like it was twin with the sun
yet we cannot see our way to a better tomorrow.

What has chased the once guiding and liberal hill-gods away?
Was it the same thing that placed these curses on us?

Kwame Nkrumah, chanted his incantations
Sacrifices were offered by Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Julius Nyerere performed his rituals, Patrice Lumumba cooked
his concoctions and the divinations of Nelson Mandela
has been great.

Oh, Indeed, our native Juju-men have tried their muscles
But the land is too sick for a few of them to heal-
Who will complement their works?

============

What the Witchdoctors Say

The witch doctors say-
the land’s fortune bag
carries a curse on the people

But the trees sway to disagree with the foretelling

The night concurs as each day carries its tales
of Elephants losing weight in Ivory Coast
and lions crying in Zimbabwe.

They tell of the thunders cry- as eagles screech from holes in Congo
because the mountain peaks are erupting

they tell of the bullets flying like birds in a migration to Darfur and
the women and children crying; Sudan! Sudan!

They say- winds of anarchy blow past Somalia
and peace falls like the water falls of Ethiopia.

Oh, how grief holds Africa by its horn.

And the witch doctors say-
Freedom bleeds in Freetown;

Even the mines tearfully concur.

They say a kettle of vultures overlook the
blood-red sheets on Zambezi river beds
and bruised mountain foots of Cameroon
and grunt with glee.

They say Mansa Mussa turns in his grave
as tears of hunger flood Mali;

And boats are made of gold

The witch doctors say- the chiefs get pregnant
but it is the people who suffer the pains of labor.

And after the final contraction,
it is the chiefs who become mothers of wealth.

“Who will question the midwives?”
I ask.

And the Witch doctors say,
“Dogs will bark the moon to fullness;
and a new month shall begin for us.

============

All poems (c) KONYE OBAJI ORI

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