Professor Kofi Awoonor, former chairman of Kenya’s Council of State and a poet of African decolonization, was among those killed in the attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi on Saturday. A son of Awoonor was also injured.
After learning of Awoonor’s death, a retired Welsh journalist who watched the man’s life wrote in an email to me:
To have lived 78 years of such a good, courageous and meaningful life, only to die in such a savagely banal, senseless and meaningless way…
For those unfamiliar with the life and work of this Ghanaian poet, author, political activist and UN representative (Better known to us in Britain as George Awoonor-Williams), [he was] not just a fine poet, with all his work being based on the oral traditions of his native Ewe people’s traditional songs and stories, but a brave anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist conscience for the whole of Africa.
Awoonor said of his poetry: “I have sat at the feet of ancient poets whose medium is the voice and whose forum is the village square and the market place.” See the complete version of his poem “This Earth, My Brother,” from his novel of the same name, after reading the opening words here:
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;
shrieks abandoned by lonely road-sides
as the gunmen’s boots tramp.
I lift up the chalice of hyssop and tears
to touch the lips of the thirsty
sky-wailing in a million spires
of hate and death; we pray
bearing the single hope to shine
burnishing in the destiny of my race
that glinting sword of salvation.
Also, hear a tribute to Awoonor by the BBC World Service Radio:
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
A well wisher signs the condolence book for Ghanaian poet, professor and former ambassador Kofi Awoonor, seen in the framed photograph, at Awoonor’s residence in Accra, Ghana, on Monday.