Biography of Kofi Awoonor
Kofi Awoonor (13 March 1935 – 21 September 2013) was a Ghanaian poet and author whose work combined the poetic traditions of his native Ewe people and contemporary and religious symbolism to depict Africa during decolonization. He started writing under the name George Awoonor-Williams. He taught African literature at the University of Ghana. Professor Awoonor was among those who were killed in the September 2013 attack at Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was a participant at the Storymoja Hay Festival.
Awoonor was born in Ghana when it was still called the Gold Coast. He was the eldest of 10 children in the family. He was educated at Achimota School and then proceeded to the University of Ghana. While at university he wrote his first poetry book, Rediscovery, published in 1964. Like the rest of his work, Rediscovery is rooted in African oral poetry. In Ghana, he managed the Ghana Film Corporation and founded the Ghana Play House. His early works were inspired by the singing and verse of his native Ewe people.
He then studied literature at University College London, and while in England he wrote several radio plays for the BBC. He spent the early 1970s in the United States, studying and teaching at Stony Brook University (then called SUNY at Stony Brook). While in the USA he wrote This Earth, My Brother, and My Blood. Awoonor returned to Ghana in 1975 as head of the English department at the University of Cape Coast. Within months he was arrested for helping a soldier accused of trying to overthrow the military government and was imprisoned without trial and was later released. The House by the Sea is about his time in jail. After imprisonment Awoonor became politically active. he continued to write mostly nonfiction. Awoonor was Ghana's ambassador to Brazil from 1984 to 1988, before serving as his country's ambassador to Cuba.From 1990 to 1994 Awoonor was Ghana's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, where he headed the committee against apartheid. He was also a former Chairman of the Council of State.
On 21 September 2013, Awoonor was among those killed in an attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. He was in Kenya as a participant in the Storymoja Hay Festival, a four-day celebration of writing, thinking and storytelling, at which he was due to perform on the evening of his death. His nephew Nii Parkes, who was attending the same literary festival, has written about meeting him for the first time that day. The Ghanaian government confirmed Awoonor's death the next day. His son Afetsi was also shot, but was later discharged from hospital.
Awoonor's remains were flown from Nairobi to Accra, Ghana, on 25 September 2013.
His body was cremated and buried at particular spot in his hometown at Weta in the Volta Region. Also there was no crying or mourning at his funeral all according to his will before death.
Kofi Awoonor Poems
When our tears are dry on the shore and the fishermen carry their nets home and the seagulls return to bird island and the laughter of the children recedes at night, there shall still linger here the communion we forged, the feast of oneness which we partook of. There shall still be the eternal gateman Who will close the cemetery doors And send the late mourners away. It cannot be the music we heard that night That still lingers in the chambers of memory. It is the new chorus of our forgotten comrades And the halleluyahs of our second selves.
The Earth, My Brother
The dawn crack of sounds known rending our air
Across A New Dawn
Sometimes, we read the lines in the green leaf
She did not call me by name Not by the name my mother gave me
On this dirty patch a tree once stood shedding incense on the infant corn; its boughs stretched across a heaven brightened by the last fires of a tribe. They sent surveyors and builders who cut that tree planting in its place a huge senseless cathedral of doom.
On The Gallows Once
I crossed quite a few of your rivers, my gods, into this plain
Songs of Sorrow
I. Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus It has led me among the sharps of the forest Returning is not possible And going forward is a great difficulty The affairs of this world are like the chameleon faeces Into which I have stepped When I clean it cannot go. I am on the world's extreme corner, I am not sitting in the row with the eminent But those who are lucky Sit in the middle and forget I am on the world's extreme corner I can only go beyond and forget. My people, I have been somewhere If I turn here, the rain beats me If I turn there the sun burns me The firewood of this world Is for only those who can take heart That is why not all can gather it. The world is not good for anybody But you are so happy with your fate; Alas! The travelers are back All covered with debt. II. Something has happened to me The things so great that I cannot weep; I have no sons to fire the gun when I die And no daughters to wail when I close my mouth I have wandered on the wilderness The great wilderness men call life The rain has beaten me, And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives I shall go beyond and rest. I have no kin and no brother, Death has made war upon our house; And Kpeti's great household is no more, Only the broken fence stands; And those who dared not look us in his face Have come out as men. How well their pride is with them. Let those gone before take note They have treated their offspring badly. What is the wailing for? Somebody is dead. Agosu himself Alas! A snake has bitten me My right arm is broken, And the tree on which I lean is fallen. Agosi if you go tell them, Tell Nyidevu, Kpeti, and Kove That they have done us evil; Tell them their house is falling And the trees in the fence Have been eaten by termites; That the martels curse them. Ask them why they idle there While we suffer, and eat sand. And the crow and the vulture Hover always above our broken fences And strangers walk over our portion.
GRAINS AND TEARS
.... Go and tell them I paid the price I stood by the truth I fought anger and hatred on behalf of the people. I ate their meagre meals in the barracks shared their footsteps and tears in freedom's name I promised once in a slave house in Ussher to postpone dying until the morning after freedom. I promise.
OF HOME AND SEA I ALREADY SANG
A calm settles at the beckon of sweet age… Joy and hope soar for the ultimate task ahead written about, already promised in the trajectories of jail, in absence and exile… That we will perform our duty by the people depose the recalcitrant brutes and march ahead of our beloved masses to a coming kingdom… Let the dream not die, master; Let the dove coo at dawn again, Let the masthead rear its head out of the storm and share the night with me on this sea. Let me sing the song you gave me. Before death comes, master, Let me dance to the drums you gave me. Let me sit in the warmth of the fire Of the only native land you gave me.
Lament of the Silent Sisters
For Chris Okigbo, the well-known poet, killed in 1967 in the Nigerian civil war. That night he came home, he came unto me at the cold hour of the night Smelling of corn wine in the dawn dew. He stretched his hand and covered my forehead. There was a moon beam sparking rays in particles. The drummer boys had got themselves a goat. The din was high in the wail of the harvest moon. The flood was up gurgling through the fields Birth waters swimming in floods of new blood. He whispered my name in far echo Sky-wailing into a million sounds across my shores. His voice still bore the sadness of the wanderer To wail and die in a soft lonely echo That echo I heard long ago In the fall of night over my river, In the distant rustle of reeds At growth in the strength of my river. Once upon an evening I heard it Strung clear as the gong of the drummer boys Bright burnished like the glint edge of the paschal knife, ready anxious to cut My cords and enter into my fields. I was still a dream then Carried by the flimsy whiffs Of sweet scents borne aloft on the vision Of my coming flood That will bear me slowly and gently Into his world of smiles and smells. He was not very gentle with me But I did not complain. The thrust was hard and angry, severing the tiny cord Shattering the closed gates of raffia Gathering at its eye the reeds to feed my fishes. My flood had not risen. The canoe carried on the strength Of his man rowed steep down my river into a tumultuous eternity Of green hills and mountains That reeled and rolled to the river shore To clasp and bear me away. Then the floodgates opened for justice to cleanse to purify My evening of awakening In the turbulence of his triumph Into the bright evening of my rebirth. The birth was tedious The pangs were bitter Into the bright evening I rushed Crying I have found him I have found him. He stood there rustling in the wind The desire to go was written large upon his forehead. I was not ready for his coming I was not ready for his loneliness, for his sad solitude against the rustling wind. I was not ready for his entrance Into my fields and shores of my river. The entrance of raffia was closed closed against his lonely solitude. He stood beneath my entrance In his approach I knew the steps he took Like the departing Lazarus Marching toward his grave. I was not ready. The flood was gurgling at his estuary swimming within me birth waters warmed by his coming. He was silent mute against the rushing of the wind to cry and die for his homeland. My flood had not risen then. Across my vastness he marched into the wind his arms folded upon his chest, his eyes searching for the gates that will open his amulets to snatch and wear his talisman of hope. He marched into the wind howling through door posts to catch the boatman at the dawn point. to ferry him across my river. But I was not ready. My hands stretched to cover his in the darkness, to cover his eyes in the agony of his solitude to call him names I knew to put the dressing from my womb upon his cudgel scars, to hold his hand in the clasp of nightfall. He was mute; the wind had stopped rustling He was erect like the totem pole of his household He burned and blazed for an ending Then I was ready. As he pierced my agony with his cry, my river burst into flood. My shores reeled and rolled to the world's end, where they say at the world's end the graves are green.
The Weaver Bird
The weaver bird built in our house And laid its eggs on our only tree. We did not want to send it away. We watched the building of the nest And supervised the egg-laying. And the weaver returned in the guise of the owner. Preaching salvation to us that owned the house. They say it came from the west Where the storms at sea had felled the gulls And the fishers dried their nets by lantern light. Its sermon is the divination of ourselves And our new horizon limits at its nest. But we cannot join the prayers and answers of the communicants. We look for new homes every day, For new altars we strive to rebuild The old shrines defiled by the weaver's excrement.
Had Death Not Had Me in Tears
Had death not had me in tears I would have seen the barges on life's stream sail. I would have heard sorrow songs in groves where the road was lost long where men foot prints mix with other men foot prints By the road I wait 'death is better, death is better' came the song I am by the roadside looking for the road death is better, death is much better Had death not had me in tears I would have seen the barges I would have found the road and heard the sorrow songs. The land wreathes in rhythm with your soul, caressed by history and cruel geography landscape ineffable yet screaming eloquent resonant like the drums of after harvests. We pile rocks on terracing love Carry the pithy cloth to cover the hearths of our mother. Come now, you lucky ones come to the festival of corn and lamb to the finest feast of this land come, now, your lovers have unfurled their cloths their thighs glistening like golden knives ready for the plunging, for the plentiful loving time. To whom shall I turn to what shall I tell my woes ? My kinsmen, the desert tree denied us sustenance long before the drought. To whom shall I turn to whom shall I tell my woes? Some say tell the mother goat she too is my kinswoman elemental sister of your clan But I cannot tell the mother goat for she is not here.
In the east, the day breaks; do not say we have started too early; For we shall cross many hills yet Before we grow old; here the land is surpassing in beauty. Mao Tse Tung 1934 I look out the bars upon the Castle the crust caked row of age in a corner my friendly spider crouches for the unwary gnats of my days. So much there is we must atone. There are spires of faith in the invisible claws of spiders in the flight and curve of gulls. These know, I swear, the contours of the rolling Saharas and the destitute oceans of our history. We sit, debating the charity of our captors. At night lights come on the shoreline bends into a broad bay near the Castle the sea is gray Yesterday it rained on the eve of my forty-first year and left all my defeats intact Let me lead you into the country It is only as half clansman of the ritual goat that I bring my song to the place of sacrifice here in the pain fields asphalt and smoke of a large hearth I lead my rope is short. I shall soon arrive under the tree. I will stage a hundred fights in honor of our Gods and our beloved leader Here, I could care less for the toiling masses I retreated here before Lent to my own stretch of sea front (I cannot see the damned sea because of old caked walls built by Dutchmen) But the shore falls into a deep gulf there are no cliffs. They found a week-old baby buried in a shallow grave on the front lawn of the fort. I want my grave to be deeper. They are sawing through our firewood Today is cassava day The flutist is silent Perhaps his troops have arrived in Georgia Not to arrive upsets me And for the path that I have trod I have no regrets
The First Circle
1. the flat end of sorrow here two crows fighting over New Year's Party leftovers. From my cell, I see a cold hard world. 2. So this is the abscess that hurts the nation— jails, torture, blood and hunger. One day it will burst; it must burst. 3. When I heard you were taken we speculated, those of us at large where you would be in what nightmare will you star? That night I heard the moans wondering whose child could now be lost in the cellars of oppression. Then you emerged, tall, and bloody-eyed. It was the first time I wept. 4. The long nights I dread most the voices from behind the bars the early glow of dawn before the guard's steps wake me up, the desire to leap and stretch and yawn in anticipation of another dark home-coming day only to find that I cannot. riding the car into town, hemmed in between them their guns poking me in the ribs, I never had known that my people wore such sad faces, so sad they were, on New Year's Eve, so very sad.
The Earth, My Brother
The dawn crack of sounds known
rending our air
shattering our temples toppling
raising earthwards our cathedrals of hope,
in demand of lives offered on those altars
for the cleansing that was done long ago.
Within the airwaves we carry
our hutted entrails; and we pray;