European colonization in Africa affected the lives of all individuals involved, many of whom lost their homes, culture, and religion, as well as their general freedom. Although Europeans believed they were “saving” Africa, Africans have a different picture of colonization and have often expressed their opinions through stories or poems.
The notion of home is connected to an understanding of the self and identity; it provides one with a sense of safety and belonging. Thus, when our home is invaded and our sense of belonging shattered, we are left feeling alienated, disorientated, and lost. As a result of colonialism, many individuals were forcefully separated from the places they called home. They were relocated and dispossessed, sometimes more than once. This was and still is a stressful and traumatic experience for many; and has become linked to the literary genre of post-coloniality. Many writers and authors describe it as part of their post-colonial existence.
Although Europeans may have believed they were “saving” Africa, Africans have a different picture of colonization and have often expressed their opinions through stories or poems. Both “The Weaver Bird” by Kofi Awoonor and “Postcard from Kashmir” written by Shahid Alie portray the speaker’s point of view of European colonization. They express their opinions through speaker tone, content and imagery, and finally, the message. Even though these two authors display their impressions of colonialism in different ways, there are similarities. Both poems deal with themes of alienation, disorientation, and loss.
The Weaver Bird:
By Kofi Awoonor
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.
The Weaver Bird:
In his poem, "The Weaver Bird," Awoonor explores themes of colonialism and invasion through an extended metaphor. He uses zoomorphism and links the circumstances and experience surrounding colonialism to a weaver bird building a nest. The bird is a reference to the colonialists. We know this because of the line, “it came from the west," and because the bird is described returning “in the guise of the owner”. The bird is a symbol from plunder and ingratitude on the colonialist’s part. Despite being provided with a place to stay by the indigenous population, who did not want to send the ‘bird’ away, the colonists took advantage of this hospitality and claim ownership of the land for themselves.
The “we” and “our” refers to the Indigenous Africans who originally owned the land. The poem speaks of “our house” and “our only tree”, meaning that the land belonged to them and that they had nowhere else to go after it had been taken. This ties the poem to themes of dispossession and dislocation, which is further reinforced by the line, “we look for new homes every day”.
Throughout The Weaver Bird, Awoonor made use of alliteration. In the first line, he uses “bird built”, this is a harsh, blunt sound, and the wear’s actions are characterised by these words, which describe them in a hard tone. The rest of the alliteration uses ‘o’ and ‘w’, which are long and drawn-out sounds. These sounds characterise the experience of being invaded. The line “on our only”, emphasis “only” and shows how cruel and unfair the colonists were. They removed African people from their home when they had nowhere else to go.
Similarly, “we watched” is used to describe the building of the nest and points to feelings of helplessness when being removed. The long, drawn-out sound makes this line painstaking and slow, accurately describing what such a circumstance probably felt like. Awoonor also uses sibilance in the line “The storms at sea “, and like the foreshadowing of a storm, this sound, which is sharp and harsh, suggests impending danger.
Postcard from Kashmir:
By Shahid Ali
Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,
My home a neat four by six inches.
I always loved neatness.
Now I hold the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.
This is home. And this is the closest
I’ll ever be to home. When I return,
The colours won’t be so brilliant,
The Jhelum’s waters so clean,
So ultramarine, my love
And my memory will be a little out of focus, in it
A giant negative, black
And white, still undeveloped.
Like Awoonor, Ali also makes use of an extended metaphor in his poem “Postcard from Kashmir”. The postcard is used to represent Kashmir, a region in the Himalayan mountains in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. Kashmir is split mainly between Indian and Pakistani administrations; the area has a long history of ideological and religious divide, which continues today. However, the poem does not explicitly refer to the region’s history; instead, this is indicated indirectly through context.
This poem focuses on feelings of longing and loss and ties this to the experience of being away from home. The postcard is used to represent Kashmir and symbolises distance and travel. Throughout, the actual region of Kashmir is compared to its photographic representation. The poet uses the concept of a photograph repeatedly seen through words such as “overexposed”, “out of focus,” and “undeveloped”, which evokes ideas of memory and loss of memory. The sense of longing and loss are felt because memory and the representation of Kashmir are all the speaker has left of home.
The poem also mentions size, particularly in the first two stanzas, which emphasises the idea of smallness and shrinking, “Kasmir shrinks”, “my home a neat four by six inches”, “half-inch Himalayas”. These two stanzas describe Kashmir physically as a postcard and represents the literal shrinking of the region due to conflict. However, this is also a metaphor for the shrinking of memory, the speaker is starting to forget their home.
"Postcard from Kashmir" differs from "The Weaver Bird" thematically. Ali explores elements of temporality and national pride, and Awoonor does not. Postcard from Kashmir delves into the temporality of past, present, and future. The past is evoked through the memories elicited by the postcard and describes how things once were. The speaker uses the past tense, “I always loved neatness,” and then jumps to the present, “Now I hold the half-inch Himalayas”, to describe how things have changed; the circumstances of being away from home and Kashmir itself. The future is then invoked through the line, “When I return,” at which point Kashmir is described as having lost something as the speaker says, “the colours won’t be so brilliant,” as if home will never be the same again.
The poem also briefly explores the idea of national pride as the speaker expresses love for Kashmir in the line, “My love so overexposed”. This again introduces the notion of loss, as the word overexposed refers to an image that is difficult to make out. It is as if the speaker is experiencing a loss of love or losing sight of the love they once had for Kashmir.
On the other hand, The Weaver Bird differs in that it deals with the loss of culture. The Weaver Bird uses religious motifs: “such as “sermon”, “divination”, “prayers,” and “communicants”, to describe the ideological take over that occurred through the introduction of Christianity in Africa. Colonialists built schools to teach and preach Christianity while denouncing and disparaging native religion and culture by replacing this with their own culture and religion. The tree and old shrines represent African culture and religion, and we see in the last line of the poem that the old shrines were “defiled by the weaver’s excrement,” which suggests disrespect for African ideology and tradition as well as showing Awoonor’s disdain for the colonist’s actions.
These two poems demonstrate the emotions tied up with notions of home identity and belonging. They describe the experience of losing one’s home and the essence of what that means. They express the feelings of loss brilliantly, as well as feelings of longing, alienation, and disorientation, which many individuals under colonialism would have most likely experienced. In doing, so both The Weaver Bird and Postcard from Kashmir capture the post-colonial experience. They draw attention to issues from our past and those which continue on today. Through this, they comment criticise those who have displaced others from their homes by calling attention to the pain they have caused. However, their poems also offer comfort to those who have had similar experiences. This perhaps is the dual purpose of post-colonial literature, to confront and to heal.
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