Derek Walcott’s poem on Biafra

Mar 20 2017 - 6:30am
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Derek Walcott

By Ademola Adegbamigbe

Derek Walcott, the 87-year old Caribbean poet, playwright and winner of Nobel Prize in Literature, died early Friday morning at his home near Gros Islet in St. Lucia. His literary works transcends the West Indies and, like Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a freedom fighter whose battlefields went beyond his geographical location, Walcott pitched his tent with the downtrodden and the oppressed across the dizzying expanse of the Atlantic. In this case, he sympathised with the Biafrans who fought a war of secession from Nigeria between 1967 and 1970.

Walcott’s friend, Professor Wole Soyinka, another Nobel Laureate, said in his tribute: “He railed and lamented with us under our recurrent cycle of brutal and incontinent misrule of dictators, joined in activities against our seeming curse. Not many people know this, his constant bewilderment at the irony of replication of Master-Slave relationship that took his ancestors to the Caribbean, now miimicked by black overlords. Yet he never lost his interior call of the universal, and of history, as captured so magisterially in his grand oeuvre, Omeros. Derek was one of the history driven lyrical kind.”

Here is Walcott’s poem, posted on FB by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu. It is entitled:

NEGATIVES by DEREK WALCOTT

A news clip; the invasion of Biafra:
black corpses wrapped in sunlight
sprawled on the white glare entering what’s-its-name –
the central city?
Someone who’s white
illuminates the news behind the news,
his eyes flash with, perhaps, pity:
“The Ibos, you see, are like the Jews,
very much the situation in Hitler’s Germany,
I mean the Hausas’ resentment.” I try to see.

I never knew you, Christopher Okigbo,
I saw you when an actor screamed “The tribes!
The tribes!” I catch
the guttering, flare-lit
faces of Ibos,
stuttering, bug-eyed
prisoners of some drumhead tribunal.

The soldiers’ helmeted shadows
could have been white, and yours
one of those sun-wrapped bodies on the white road
entering… the tribes, the tribes, their shame –
that central city, Christ, what is its name?

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