Francis Bebey introducing us to the Communication System of Pygmy People

Francis Bebey_1
Francis Bebey

As we saw on Monday, Francis Bebey’s poem ‘Je suis venu chercher du travail’ / ‘I Came to Look for Work’ is the story of many immigrants, living their homes, families, friends and countries, to journey to far-away lands in search of a better living.

More than a writer, Francis Bebey was also a musician. Below is a video where Francis Bebey introduces the viewer to the one-note flute, and the communication system invented by the pygmy peoples of Central Africa to converse with each other using that instrument. As I told you earlier, Francis Bebey headed the music department at the UNESCO‘s office in Paris, where he focused on researching and documenting African traditional music. Enjoy a lesson from the maestro!


‘Je suis venu chercher du travail’ / ‘I Came to Look for Work’ by Francis Bebey

Francis Bebey_1
Francis Bebey

Today, as states and countries are slowly reopening after the shelter-in-place due to the coronavirus pandemic, many have been left jobless, and are looking for a job now or in the near future. I think the poem ‘Je suis venu chercher du travail / I came to look for work‘ by the great Cameroonian writer and musician Francis Bebey is very appropriate. The poem below is the story of many immigrants traveling to a foreign land in search of a job, a better life, leaving all behind: families, friends, and country. This poem is very simple, yet so deep as it details the losses taken today, in hope for a better tomorrow. As you think about the immigrants dying in the Mediterranean sea, or those crossing the Mexico-US border, or all the countless faces in the world, take a moment to imagine families torn apart, lives in peril, and possibly no light at the end of the tunnel.

Francis Bebey_Agatha Moudio Son
‘Agatha Moudio’s Son’ by Francis Bebey (Amazon)

Francis Bebey was sort of a genius: in his early years, he studied mathematics, before going into broadcasting. He was called to Ghana by President Kwame Nkrumah, where he served as a journalist. He began his literary career as a journalist in the 1950s and worked in Ghana and other African countries for the French radio network, Société de radiodiffusion de la France d’outre-mer (SORAFOM) and Radio France International. Later, he wrote novels, poetry, plays, tales, short stories, nonfiction works, and established himself as a musician, sculptor, and writer.  His first novel, Le Fils d’Agatha Moudio (Agatha Moudio’s Son), was published in 1967 and awarded the Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire in 1968; it remains his best-known work to this day. He also headed the music department at the UNESCO‘s office in Paris, where he focused on researching and documenting African traditional music.

Enjoy Je suis venu chercher du travail‘ by Francis Bebey, published in Anthologie africaine: poésie, Jacques Chevrier, Collection Monde Noir Poche, Hatier 1988. Translated to English by Dr. Y.

Je suis venu chercher du travail

Je suis venu chercher du travail

J’espère qu’il y en aura

Je suis venu de mon lointain pays

Pour travailler chez vous

J’ai tout laissé, ma femme, mes amis

Au pays tout là-bas

J’espère les retrouver tous en vie

Le jour de mon retour

Ma pauvre mère était bien désolée

En me voyant partir

Je lui ai dit qu’un jour je reviendrai

Mettre fin à sa misère

J’ai parcouru de longs jours de voyage

Pour venir jusqu’ici

Ne m’a-t-on pas assuré d’un accueil

Qui vaudrait bien cette peine

Regardez-moi, je suis fatigué

D’aller par les chemins

Voici des jours que je n’ai rien mangé

Auriez-vous un peu de pain?

Mon pantalon est tout déchiré

Mais je n’en ai pas d’autre

Ne criez pas, ce n’est pas un scandale

Je suis seulement pauvre

Je suis venu chercher du travail

J’espère qu’il y en aura

Je suis venu de mon lointain pays

Pour travailler chez vous

I came to look for work

I came to look for work

I hope that there will be

I came from my far away country

To work for you

I left everything, my wife, my kids

In my country over there

I hope to find them all alive

On the day of my return

My poor mother was very sorry

To see me go

I told her that I will come back one day

To put an end to her misery

I had long days of travel

To get here

Was I not assured of a welcome

Which will be worth all this trouble

Look at me, I am tired

To go by the ways

It has been days since I ate anything

Do you have some bread?

My trouser is all ripped

But I don’t have another

Do not scream, it is not a scandal

I am just poor

I came to look for work

I hope there will be

I came from my far away country

To work for you


“A ma Patrie / To my Homeland” by Huda Sha’arawi

Huda Sha’arawi

Today I am sharing a poem by the great Egyptian feminist Huda Sha’arawi. As we saw earlier, Sha’arawi’s work was immense in redefining the place of the woman in Egyptian society, and led to a new dawn for Egyptian women. This woman who influenced millions of Egyptian and Arabic women was also a poet with a great love for her country and its people. She dedicated her life for the betterment of women in the Egyptian society, and immensely loved the land of her forefathers.

The poem “A ma Patrie” was published in  L’Égyptienne number 69, Mai 1931. Translated to English by Dr. Y.


A ma Patrie

J’ai fait voeu de t’offrir tout ce qui m’appartient

                O ma belle Patrie,

Mon bras, mon coeur, mon âme ainsi que tous mes biens

                Sans excepter ma vie.

J’ai fait voeu de peiner, de lutter, de souffrir,

                De braver l’infamie.

Sans froncer le sourcil, sans poser au martyre,

                Sans même une aide amie.

J’ai juré de franchir les frontières des mers

                Si ton honneur l’exige,

Afin de rehausser, aux yeux de l’univers,

                Ton nom et ton prestige.

J’ai juré d’oublier les affronts des déments

                Et la haine et l’insulte

Que l’envie incita, contre mon dévouement

                A ta cause et ton culte.

Peu m’importe l’exil, leur courroux, la prison,

                J’accepte la mort même.

Puisque leurs vils exploits n’auront jamais raison

                De l’humble coeur qui t’aime.

To my Homeland

I made a wish to offer you all that I have

                O my beautiful homeland,

My arm, my heart, my soul, as well as all my belongings

                Not excepting my life.

I vowed to struggle, to fight, to suffer,

                To brave infamy.

Without frowning, without asking for martyrdom,

                Without even a friend’s help.

I have sworn to cross the borders of the seas

                If your honor depends on it,

To enhance, in the eyes of the universe,

                Your name and your prestige.

I have sworn to forget the offenses of the demented

                And the hatred and insult

Which prompted envy, against my dedication

                To your cause and your worship. 

I do not care about exile, their anger, the prison,

                I will accept even death.

Because their vile deeds will never win over

                The humble heart that loves you.


‘Angoisse Quotidienne / Daily Anxiety’ by Etienne Noumé

20150624_FleurIn these uncertain times, I thought about sharing with you this poem by the Cameroonian author Etienne Noumé, ‘Angoisse quotidienne‘ or ‘Daily Anxiety.’ His poem was published in Anthologie de la poésie camerounaise, edited by Patrice Kayo, Le Flambeau. As you read Noumé’s poem, you will find the daily anxiety of the author mounting, as he wonders where he will flee to as hurricanes come and take away his roof, where he will flee to as the torrents sweep away his fields, when will the happy future come? His questions remain of actuality: the hurricanes coming is like wondering ‘where will you sleep, or live?’; the torrents sweeping his fields is like asking ‘where will your income, your food come from?’ the question about the future is like asking ‘when will the spring come? when will this anxiety go away? when will happiness come?’

The poem Angoisse quotidienneby Etienne Noumé, published in Anthologie de la poésie camerounaise, P. Kayo, Le Flambeau. The translation to English is from Dr. Y. I chose the flower above because of all the uncertainty surrounding it, and also because in the end, the light still shines on that flower!

Enjoy the poem below, and let me know what this poem brings to mind.

Angoisse quotidienne


Quand viendra la rigueur

des saisons orageuses

ébranchant les dômes

des futaies sauvages,


où fuirais-je

la chute meurtrière

des poutres sur les crânes

Quand, froissant, étirant

les cheveux de jungle

l’ouragan dans ses bras

tordra toute la terre,

où dormirai-je,

la paille de mon toit

volant à tous les vents,

où fuirais-je,

la fureur des torrents

balayant tous mes champs,

roulant des allluvions

pour fumer le vallon

germera l’Avenir

en heureuses ombelles?

Daily Anxiety


When will come the rigor

of stormy seasons

pruning the domes

of wild forests,


where would I flee

the deadly fall

of beams on skulls

When, crumpling, stretching

the jungle hairs

the hurricane in his arms

will twist the whole earth,

where would I sleep,

the straw from my roof

flying off in all winds,

where would I flee,

the fury of torrents

sweeping all my fields

rolling alluvium

to smoke the valley


will sprout the future

in happy umbels?


Nigerian Words in the English Dictionary

Flag and map of Nigeria
Flag and map of Nigeria

Oh yes… the Oxford English Dictionary has just selected 29 new Nigerian words to be part of its new edition. Allright people, make place for Chop (eat) Okada (Bend-Skin), Mama Put (eatery), Rub Minds(consult and work together), and Next tomorrow (the day after tomorrow), into the Queen’s English Dictionary…. Isn’t it marvelous how each culture adds to another? Even the conqueror at some points gets conquered (just jesting) by finding himself speaking words from the conquered. We, Africans, or those who have been colonized around the world, who have had to learn the language of the oppressor, should consider that language as part of our war trophies, because our ancestors had it pushed down their throats, and today we can speak the oppressor’s language and even understand them better than they do us, or ever wanted to, given their ‘superiority’ complex! Enjoy from the OED website.


My English-speaking is rooted in a Nigerian experience and not in a British or American or Australian one. I have taken ownership of English.

Bend Skin
‘Bend Skin’ in Cameroon = ‘Okada’ in Nigeria

This is how acclaimed Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes her relationship with English, the language which she uses in her writing, and which millions of her fellow Nigerians use in their daily communication. By taking ownership of English and using it as their own medium of expression, Nigerians have made, and are continuing to make, a unique and distinctive contribution to English as a global language. We highlight their contributions in this month’s update of the Oxford English Dictionary, as a number of Nigerian English words make it into the dictionary for the first time.

… One particularly interesting set of such loanwords and coinages has to do with Nigerian street food. The word buka, borrowed from Hausa and Yoruba and first attested in 1972, refers to a roadside restaurant or street stall that sells local fare at low prices. Another term for such eating places first evidenced in 1980 is bukateria, which adds to buka the –teria ending from the word cafeteria. An even more creative synonym is mama put, from 1979, which comes from the way that customers usually order food in a buka: they say ‘Mama, put…’ to the woman running the stall, and indicate the dish they want. 

Grilled fish on a charcoal stove / du poisson braise sur un rechaud a charbon
Grilled fish on a charcoal stove / du poisson braise sur un rechaud a charbon

Okadaon the other hand, is first attested twenty years later, and is the term for a motorcycle that passengers can use as a taxi service. It is a reference to Okada Air, an airline that operated in Nigeria from 1983 to 1997, and its reputation as a fast yet potentially dangerous form of transport, just like the motorcycle taxi.

… The oldest of our new additions that are originally from Nigeria is  next tomorrow, which is the Nigerian way of saying ‘the day after tomorrow’. It was first used in written English as a noun in 1953, and as an adverb in 1964. The youngest of the words in this batch is  Kannywood, first used in 2002, which is the name for the Hausa-language film industry based in the city of Kano. It is a play on Hollywood, following the model of Nollywood, the more general term for the Nigerian film industry that was added to the OED in 2018.

Nigerian Pidgin is another rich source of new words for Nigerian English. Sef, first evidenced in Nigerian author Ben Okri’s novel Flowers and Shadows, published in 1980, is an adverb borrowed from Pidgin, which itself could have been an adverbial use of either the English adjective safe or the pronoun self.

… A few other expressions in this update would require some explanation for non-Nigerians: a barbing salon (earliest quotation dated 1979) is a barber’s shop; a gist (1990) is a rumour, and to gist (1992) is to gossip; when a woman is said to have  put to bed (1973), it means that she has given birth; something described as qualitative (1976) is excellent or of high quality.

Bernard Dadié on African Immigration and the Return

African tears
Dry your tears Africa
Sèche tes pleurs Afrique!
Tes enfants te reviennent
dans l’orage et la tempête des voyages infructueux.

Sèche tes pleurs, Afrique!
Tes enfants te reviennent
Les mains pleines de jouets
Et le coeur plein d’amour.
Ils reviennent te vêtir
De leurs rêves et de leurs espoirs.

Dry your tears, Afrika!
Your Children come back to you
Out of the storm and squalls of fruitless journeys.

Dry your tears, Afrika!
Your children come back to you
Their hand full of playthings
And their heart full of love
They return to clothe you
In their dreams in their hopes


With the end of the ‘year of return‘, I think parts of the poem above by Bernard Binlin Dadié are appropriate and perfect to talk about African immigration and illustrate the return. Africa’s children are coming back, and they are coming to contribute, and also to build her… this applies to those of the diaspora whose ancestors made it to the new world in ships of the Mali emperor’s (Kankan Musa‘s predecessor) or via slave ships, or simply to recent African immigration to other part of the world: Africa needs you, and together, united, we have the potential to usher in a new positive era.  Excerpts above are from the poem titled “Dry your Tears Africa” or “Sèche Tes Pleurs,” published in 1967 by Bernard Dadié“Seche Tes Pleurs” de Bernard Binlin Dadié / “Dry your Tears Afrika” by Bernard B. Dadié

‘Antsa’ by Jacques Rabemananjara

Jacques Rabemananjara (Project for Innovative Poetry – PIP)

Today, we will join the poet Jacques Rabemananjara in singing the praises of the Great Island… you know the one and only, Madagascar! Published in 1956 in Présence Africaine, Antsa is an ode to the Great island, a love song to Rabemananjara’s land of birth, Madagascar. Jacques Rabemananjara, like Léon Gontran Damas, was also part of the Negritude movement in France; he was said to be the most prolific writer of the negritude generation after Léopold Sédar Senghor, and he had the first négritude poetry published. He was a Malagasy politician, playwright and poet, who served as a government minister,  and later rose to the rank of Vice President of Madagascar under Philibert Tsiranana. He was one of the heroes of the Malagasy independence.



As you read Antsa, enjoy the island of syllables of flame, feel the love, the sweetness sweeter than honey, the patriotism expressed like the most ardent lover, the most faithful, feel the oneness with the homeland as no owl’s cry or burning could disturb the love the author feels for his motherland. Enjoy it, and try expressing it for the land of your birth… not the people… the land and its beauty!


Antsa par Jacques Rabemananjara


Ile !

Ile aux syllabes de flammes !

Jamais ton nom

Ne  fut plus cher à mon âme !


Ne fut plus doux à mon cœur !

Ile aux syllabes de flamme,

Madagascar !


Quelle résonnance !

Les  mots

fondent dans ma bouche :

Le miel des claires saisons

Dans le mystère de tes sylves,

Madagascar !


Je mords la chair vierge et rouge

Avec l’âpre ferveur

Du mourant aux dents de lumière

Madagascar !


Un viatique d’innocence

dans mes entrailles d’affamé,

Je m’allongerai sur ton sein avec la fouge

du plus ardent de tes amants,

du plus fidèle,

Madagascar !


Qu’importent le hululement des chouettes

le vol rasant et bas

des hiboux apeurés sous le faîtage

de la maison incendiée !oh, les renards,

qu’ils lèchent

leur peau puante du sang des poussins, du sang auréolé des flamants-roses !

Nous autres, les hallucinés de l’azur,

nous scrutons  éperdument tout l’infini de bleu de la nue,

Madagascar !


Antsa by Jacques Rabemananjara



Island with syllables of flames!

Never your name

Was so dear to my soul!


So sweet to my heart!

Island with syllables of flames,



Such resonance!

The words

Melt in my mouth:

The honey of clear seasons

In the mystery of your forests,



I bite the virgin and red flesh

With the bitter fervor

Of the dying with bright teeth



A viaticum of innocence

In my guts filled with hunger,

I will lie on your breast with the passion

Of the most ardent of your lovers,

Of the most faithful,



No matter how much the owls hoot,

The low flying and frightened owls under ridge

Or the burning house! Oh the foxes,

May they lick

Their pungent skin from the chicks’ blood, the haloed blood of pink flamingoes!

We, the hallucinated of the azure,

We madly scour the infinite of the blue from the clouds




Antsa, 1956, Présence Africaine


“Ils sont venus ce soir” / “They Came Tonight” by Leon Gontran Damas

Léon-Gontran Damas

They Came Tonight” is a poem by the celebrated French Guyanese author Léon-Gontran Damas. He is renowned as one of the founders of the Négritude movement, along Aimé Césaire and Leopold Senghor. In 1935, the three men published the first issue of the literary review L’Étudiant Noir (The Black Student), which provided the foundation for what is now known as the Négritude Movement, a literary and ideological movement of French-speaking black intellectuals, writers, and politicians of the African diaspora during the 1930s, aimed at raising and cultivating “Black consciousness” across Africa and its diaspora; this movement rejected the political, social and moral domination of the West.

Slaves on board a ship

They Came Tonight” is a poem similar to ‘Ils Sont Venus’ de François Sengat-Kuo / ‘They Came’ by François Sengat-Kuo. In this case, it talks about when the Europeans came during slavery time, one night as the drums were thundering, and after that many Africans were taken away from their homes, from their loved ones, many were captured, and the day was never the same, history was never the same, families were destroyed, kingdoms destroyed, and to this day, Africa has not recovered for 400 years of slavery. This poem was first published in Pigments 1937, and later in Présence africaine, 1962.


Ils sont venus ce soir (Pour Léopold-Sedar Senghor)

ils sont venus ce soir où le
roulait de
rythme en
la frénésie

des yeux
la frénésie des mains
la frénésie
des pieds de statues
combien de MOI MOI MOI
sont morts
depuis qu’ils sont venus ce soir où le
roulait de
rythme en
la frénésie
des yeux
la frénésie
des mains
la frénésie
des pieds de statues

They Came Tonight
for Léopold-Sedar Senghor

They came the night the
spun from
the frenzy

of eyes
the frenzy of hands
the frenzy
of the feet of statues
how many of ME ME ME
are dead
since they came that night when the
spun from
of eyes
of hands
of the feet of statues

A Gift from the African Heritage Blog

To celebrate our 10-years anniversary, one of our contributors is offering you this amazing book on Amazon . A king, a beautiful princess, and a pot of hot chili sauce… the combination is bound to make you laugh. Enjoy this book, an African Children’s book, for young and young at heart! It is on kindle e-book in both French and English.


The Hare, The Princess, and the Hot Chili Sauce