“If You Want to Know Me” by Noémia de Sousa

Noemia de Sousa
Noemia de Sousa (Source: Estudos Lusofonos)

Today I give you a poem by the world-renowned Mozambican author Noémia de Sousa. This poem gives vivid pictures: from the empty eye sockets which have lost hope, the mouth torn open in an anguished wound, a body tattooed with wounds unseen and seen… etc. Just reading it, one can feel the pain, see it, and touch it; it is so profound! Yet, she claims that this body is magnificent, that through the pain, it is beautiful. So what body is she talking about? Why, Africa, of course! She wrote this at a time when African countries were still under colonialism, and through this she introduces us to a beautiful Africa, which has gone through so much pain, but yet is still beautiful, and still rises. In general, I will take it a step further, and say that no matter what pain we go through today, we are still beautiful, and we will still rise! (* Maconde — uma das etnias de Moçambique.) Enjoy!



Se Me Quiseres Conhecer
By Noémia de Sousa

Se me quiseres conhecer,
estuda com olhos de bem ver
esse pedaço de pau preto
que um desconhecido irmão maconde*
de mãos inspiradas
talhou e trabalhou
em terras distantes lá do Norte.

Ah, essa sou eu:
órbitas vazias no desespero de possuir a vida.
boca rasgada em feridas de angústia,
mãos enormes espalmadas,
erguendo-se em jeito de quem implora e ameaça,
corpo tatuado de feridas visíveis e invisíveis
pelos chicotes da escravatura…
Torturada e magnífica.
Altiva e mística.
Africa da cabeça aos pés
— Ah, essa sou eu!

Se quiseres compreender-me
vem debruçar-te sobre minha alma de Africa,
nos gemidos dos negros no cais
nos batuques frenéticos dos muchopes
na rebeldia dos machanganas
na estranha melancolia se evolando…
duma canção nativa, noite dentro…

E nada mais me perguntes,
se é que me queres conhecer…
Que eu não sou mais que um búzio de carne
onde a revolta de África congelou
seu grito inchado de esperança.

If You Want to Know Me
By Noémia de Sousa

If you want to know who I am,
Examine with careful eyes
That piece of black wood
Which an unknown Maconde brother
With inspired hands
Carved and worked
In distant lands to the North.

Ah, she is who I am:
Empty eye sockets despairing of possessing life.
A mouth slashed with wounds of anguish, huge flattened hands,
Raised as though to implore and threaten,
Body tattooed with visible and invisible scars
By the hard whips of slavery…
Tortured and magnificent.
Proud and mystical.
Africa from head to toe
-ah, she is who I am!

If you want to understand me
Come and bend over my African soul,
In the groans of the Negroes on the docks
In the frenzied dances of the Chopes
In the rebelliousness of the Shaganas
In the strange melancholy evaporating…
From a native song, into the night …

And ask me nothing more,
If you really wish to know me…
For I am no more than a shell of flesh
In which the revolt of Africa congealed
Its cry swollen with hope.

Celebrating a Strong Writer: Buchi Emecheta or the Joys of Motherhood

Buchi Emecheta
Buchi Emecheta

Today I would like to talk about a strong woman… a determined woman… an independent African female writer: Buchi Emecheta.  Dr. Buchi Emecheta is an established Nigerian author who has published over 20 books.  She wrote such books as Slave Girl, The Joys of Motherhood, Second Class Citizen, The Bride Price, and more recently KehindeHer themes have always revolved around motherhood, child slavery, and women independenceBuchi got married at the tender age of 16, and by the age of 22 was the mother of five children (they had moved to London after the birth of the first child for her husband to pursue higher education).  Her marriage was unhappy and oftentimes violent.  She used writing as an escape, to keep her sanity.  The day her husband burnt her first manuscript marked Buchi’s rebirth.  As she watched him burn her novel, she said ‘I am going to leave this marriage‘ and the man replied ‘what for? that stupid book?‘, and she told him, ‘I just feel you just burn my child.‘ (Source: Buchi Emecheta BBC).  That was really her turning point.  At the age of 22, she left her husband, raised her 5 children by herself, got a degree in sociology studying at night, and wrote 4 novels in the space of 5 years.  She would often rise at dawn to pursue her dream of becoming a writer.  She wore several hats: mother, student, writer, and worker.

The Joys of Motherhood
'The Joys of Motherhood' by Buchi Emecheta

Like her Nigerian ancestors, she uses storytelling to teach morals, to entertain and to instruct.  She brings to her writing the Igbo qualities of vividness, economy and directness.  She speaks for the marginalized woman.  Some of her first novels, such as In the Ditch and Second Class Citizen, were quite autobiographical.  She views her writing as the “release for all my anger, all my bitterness, my disappointments, my questions and my joy.” Please help me acclaim Buchi Emecheta, a powerful woman, a powerful writer, and a proud daughter of Africa. In her own words, Buchi advises ‘whatever you want to do with your life. “Just keep trying and trying. If you have the determination and commitment you will succeed.” (Source: ‘Just’ an Igbo Woman Interview by Julie Holmes in The Voice July 9, 1996.) Check out some of Buchi’s quotes on GoodReads.com.

Mariama Bâ: the First African Feminist Writer

Mariama Bâ
Mariama Bâ

I have wanted to write about Mariama Bâ for the longest time. She is a writer from Senegal… she is the author of “Une Si Longue Lettre” [So Long a Letter], and “Chant Ecarlate[Scarlet Song]. Her book “Une si Longue Lettre” [So Long a Letter] is considered by many as being the first truly African feminist book, as it describes the woman’s condition in an African and Muslim society. It talks about the place of the woman in society, the effect on polygamy on women and society, and the clash between modernism and traditions. It is written as a letter from a widow Ramatoulaye to her best friend Aissatou who left her husband when he decided to marry a second wife. This book really describes the feminine condition in Africa, and was truly the first to address so overtly the woman’s hurdle in African society. Six months after the publication of “Une Si Longue Lettre,” Mariama Ba passed away… and her novel “Chant Ecarlate” was published posthumously.

Une Si Longue lettre
Une Si Longue lettre

Chant Ecarlate [Scarlet Song] also deals with feminine conditions, but addresses more the clash between two different cultures the European (of the protagonist Mireille), and the African (of Mireille’s husband), and again polygamy. I always felt deeply connected to Bâ’s first book, and always wondered what a great loss African literature suffered when she left. She will always be an inspiration for many: orphan from her mother, raised by her father and grand-parents, mother of nine children, divorcée, professor, highly educated woman, she embodied the strength and determination that can so clearly be seen in African women. Today, “Une Si Longue Lettre” is an African classic, read in all schools across the continent, and translated in numerous languages. We are forever grateful for her work… she opened the door to many bold young African female writers.

Scarlet Song
Scarlet Song

The following is an interview that Mariama Bâ gave to Alioune Toure Dia for the magazine Amina in November 1979: Interview de Mariama Bâ à Amina. Relax and enjoy!