We Have Found a New Land by Kofi Awoonor
The smart professionals in three piece
Sweating away their humanity in dribblets
And wiping the blood from their brow
We have found a new land
This side of eternity
Where our blackness does not matter
And our songs are dying on our lips.
Standing at hell-gate you those who seek admission
Still the familiar faces that watched and gave you up
As the one who had let the side down,
“Come on, old boy, you cannot dress like that”
And tears well in my eyes for them
Those who want to be seen in the best company
Have abjured the magic of being themselves
And In the new land we have found
The water is drying from the towel
Our songs are dead and we sell then dead to the other side
Reaching for the Stars we stop at the house of the Moon
And pause to relearn the wisdom of our fathers.
Ghanaian poet and statesman Dr. Kofi Awoonor was killed in the mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya by al-Shabab Islamist rebels. Awoonor (formerly George Awoonor-Williams) was born in Wheta, Ghana to Ewe parents. His grandmother was a dirge-singer, and much of his early work is modeled on this type of Ewe oral poetry.
According to critic Derek Wright, the poetry “both drew on a personal family heirloom and opened up a channel into a broader African heritage.” In Rediscovery (1964) and Petals of Blood (1971), Awoonor uses the common dirge motif of the “thwarted or painful return” to describe the experience of the Western-educated African looking back at his indigenous culture. His most famous poem from the first collection is “the Weaverbird.” In it he uses the weaverbird, a notorious colonizer who destroys its host tree, as a metaphor for Western imperialism in Africa. He describes the bird’s droppings as defiling the sacred places and homesteads. He also blames the Africans for indulging the creature.
Dr. Awoonor was 78.
Read more about Dr. Awoonor’s legacy and read more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation Ghana.
*****In a previous version of this post, we incorrectly had a photo of Ghana’s President John Mahama erroneously identified as Dr. Awoonor. We regret the error.*****