A Review by Natasha Sebunya.
Title : THE SAVANNAH KNOWS NO FRIENDS (2020)
Publisher: Kitara Nation
Price: UGX 20000
On the surface:
‘The Savannah Knows No Friends’ is a collection of poems from 13 Ugandan High Schools. The end product of four of Kitara Nation’s poetry programs running across seven diverse Ugandan districts. (Kampala, Gulu, Jinja, Wakiso, Mukono, Mpigi and Hoima)
What does this book mean for Ugandan writers?
In the foreword, Kagayi Ngobi, the founding editor of the Kitara Nation Poetry Series casually runs over the founding mission of Kitara Nation, and if you haven’t been paying attention to the writing scene in East Africa, a sentence like “the poems in this anthology were collected from the various poetry programs run in/for Ugandan High Schools between 2017 and 2018 to popularize poetry as a culture of performance arts” may spill the water it is carrying through our literary desert.
I knew of Taban Lo Liyong’s infamous quote “East Africa is a literary desert” before I knew or read about the philosopher. It’s echoed in many workshops and the last words of many writers before they throw in the towel. So when I open an anthology of 13 Ugandan high schools, I know the true weight of the book that I am carrying.
What are the teenagers thinking about?
Everybody has their ideas about what poetry is, but until you have a cultural response to your claims about poetry, you have no poetry to speak of.
I have often envied Nigerians who have a culture of poetry, with poets having reputable places to think, reflect, inspire and be heard by society. For a colonial society, thinking for oneself is a revolutionary act, because as a predisposed object intended to only be acted upon, we have systematically been positioned not to relate to our environment as doers. What a gesture then, to have these children from all backgrounds, of schools of different calibers and parts of Uganda taking a moment out of class and attempting to interact as free minds with each other.
Tell us how you feel. Maybe there will be a time we are ready to hear it.
The anthology is of vast and of mature imagination. It’s split into four categories by theme:
1.I dream of Africa
2.So, this is what life is
3.My Memories &
4.Letter to the Future
The savannah knows no friends
The savannah knows prey and predator.
The savannah knows betrayal and traitor
The savannah knows corruption and malfunction
The savannah knows seduction
The Savannah knows no friends,
Taremwa Victor Andrew (St, Mary’s College, Kisubi), The Savannah Knows No Friends.
Taremwa’s poem that gives the anthology its title gives a resigned perspective on modern-day Africa. In the thick of 2021, I wonder about children that have no hope in their imagination. Taremwa is not alone in his resignation; many poets in here speak with an urgency that would make Taban Lo Liyong proud. Alex Ssembo (Busoga College, Mwiri) shares in the frustrations of what has happened to Africa, asking us;
If you were your motherland
Would you forgive you?
Evelyn Nyangoma from (Mandela Secondary School, Hoima) complains about the existential contradiction of the post-colonial identity:
You are a man haunted
Haunted by his Zenji blood
A man who will never know peace
For having a black skin
And a white tongue
Nyangoma Cherry Evelyn (Mandela SSS), Hey Black Preacher.
Karungi Suzan from Lowell Girl’s School warns of the ancestral curse that will befall a nation that forgets its past
The scorched earth
Will wear the desert like a dress
There will be an eclipse
And the moon will win…
This is no joke
These are not my words
Karungi Suzan (Lowell Girls’ School), The Ancestral Curse.
Not all are resigned, however; some sing praises that would make Senghor proud:
Can I bathe in your tears,
Those gentle fluids draining down your sky?
Can I sleep silently in your lips,
Those stretching escarpment of a rift valley?
Can I comb your hair,
That dark Afro- canopy of equatorial rainforest.
Miss Africa, Nakasi Martha
The feminist movement has a voice, in many voices that contemplate on gender roles like “cook.clean.do laundry. for my man” by the students from Lowell Girls’ School. In “I have his nudes” by Zamriah, again from Lowell, the young people show the nuance of their understanding of the movement as she writes of a girl that cruelly abuses the trust of a boy by taking a picture of him in the nude. And as has been the peculiar case of poets, the young poets concern themselves with the world burning, abortion, human rights, what is right for Africa starting their journey for future doers.
In Memories, changing the narrative on beauty standards Okello Joseph from Bishop Angelo Negri College, Gulu writes about his sister as he sees her and how the village celebrates her:
Auma the village beauty
Her cheeks have dimples
Her face is free from pimples
She is dark
Darker than night.
Her teeth are milk white
Whiter than mother’s string of pearls
Auma the village beauty is fat
Not thin like a reed
Okello Joseph Gum (Bishop Angelo Negri College, Gulu), Auma The Village Beauty.
Okello doesn’t just rescue beauty, but romance and sensuality later in “Feel Me.”
The poets are young, rich and even when their words do not carry hope, the act of putting thoughts on page is a request to be heard.
Finally I leave you with my favorite poem from the selection:
LETTER TO THE FUTURE
Dear Africa 2020
May you grow into the beautiful lady you always dreamed to be
May your heart remain beautiful even as you fight to conquer this
Male dominated world
May you scream even when they force you to remain silent
May you keep your morals and never become violent.
May you allow your cultures to grow stronger.
May your people belong and never wander no longer.
May the beauty in your diversity flourish
May those that lead you never seek to put you on a leash
May they rule with democracy alongside equality
May you walk away from the corruption that haunts you.
May each sunrise bring modesty and honesty.
May you bury your differences
May you help the fellow behind you
May your land be productive
May your land feed you
May poverty be your song no more
May your rich minerals elevate you
May your womb continue to bear fruit
May your fruit no longer live in fear of being the white man’s dustbin
May you no longer be a slave to the West
May you be liberated as time
May time heal all your wounds.
May your wounds leave scars
May the scars left behind always remind you of me,
With love and hope
Faith Lucy Kirabo, (Gayaza High School)
Buy THE SAVANNAH KNOWS NO FRIENDS from Kitara Nation at 20,000 UGX. Call 075087318 for deliveries.