Title: Safari Pants
Publisher: Kraft Books
Author: Gimba Kakanda
The craving for man’s emancipation from all forms of ills; the world over often gives rise to agitation and the formation of social groups, poised towards championing the course of freedom. Activism is therefore birthed forthwith, with the inclination of furthering the noble cause of man’s upliftment, thereby incurring the enormous responsibility of seeking redress and equality for all. This noble activity very often takes shape in form of protest rallies, legal battle, and criticisms through radio/T.V shows, theatre, music and literature, e.t.c.
This act of selfless pursuit for justice and equality is however in most cases considered a rare vocation left to few fearless indulgers self-willed enough to charge the honest course, committing both physical, intellectual and financial backing to the actualization of set objectives. These activities are targeted at oppressors, bad government, corrupt or bad political leaders, bad societal practices e.t.c. and any such organization with tendencies of abusing or mismanaging position to the detriment of the general well being of the populace.
It is also no doubt the belief of socialists that all human beings are equal and have equal right to communal wealth or assets. Therefore, why should a few privileged ones keep to themselves what is meant for everybody? It is this thought and belief that fuels socialism. It is also this same belief that gives impetus to Gimba Kakanda’s writings.
The society is devoured by ills, the people are marginalized and oppressed, the masses gnash in incurable pains amidst quandary yields harvested from communal land and are silenced by the enunciating groans of hunger. This aptly describes the greater part of Gimba kakanda’s debut book.
“Safari pants” is a collection of fifty two poems written in verse with noticeable musicality. The poems are sheathed with striking and scary images, nabbing diction and engraving language. The cover page is not an ignorable sight; its depiction of a traveler humpbacked by the travails of life and at the verge of collapsing beneath a broken bridge and is also being awaited by a hungry looking crocodile. The traveler is stalled between reality and uncertainty. To retreat doesn’t seem a favourable option neither does moving on. This artistically brilliant work done by Mr. Francis Sokomba and conceptualized by Gimba Kakanda is naked reflection of the lives of the ordinary masses. Who are often times faced with difficulties of surviving in a society that is devoid of a lifeline or future for them.
The poems are separated into five sections with themes of love, loneliness, pains, death, divorce, revolt, lamentation and anger. In the opening poem the personae bemoans the conditions of existence in a world he calls a “sad jungle”, the poem is both graphic and emotion-driven; though tenderly presented, the poem invokes feelings that touch the core places in the reader’s mind; “knifed soles wade/through the tears of this sad jungle/tunes of a sinking lily/that begs the prickly bath of ripples/wit of a nodding tree/ that frowns over the crack of their fringes” p.12. “Knife”, “tears”, “sad”, “jungle” are images that represent negativity in the poem while “tunes”, “ripples”, “bath” and “lily” provide the poem’s tender feel and positivity.
In the ‘Ode on Minna’ the persona romanticizes though with regret the loss of the innocence of a city that once stood as a symbol of joy; he mournfully recalls with great nostalgia memories of childhood years: “gone were the seasons of hopscotch/when rain and I played hide and seek/teasing the fertile ripples of the earth/the grass too woke in amusement/ on the gentle caresses of our elastic sweat/yes mother/you pushed out comely harvest/ fed through the placenta of innocence” p.15. The bond between the personae and the city is like that of a mother and her child.
In the poem “my love” the personae seems crazily obsessed with love and his lover as he, through what is like a courting song, draws allusion to Christianity and Islam. ‘Vatican’ and ‘Arabia’ there however seems to be a problem somewhere, hence the allusion to Christianity and Islam; “the sun stagers at the threshold of your heart/when in a minaret you’re a belfry/ when in turban you’re the fleece of numery/I swim into the Nile of my Arabia/ to salaam the kiblah of my dreams/ carols of Vatican grumblers/mimes the chorister” p.59.
The pains of losing a dear friend can only be fully understood by someone who has truly experienced it. If not, someone’s show of emotion could be misjudged, the personae in the poem “farewell” agonize the loss of a dear one but the most hardest of all is to say “farewell” to a departed lover or friend: “before you couldn’t/for that tang of tangerine/that springs from solar you/sweetens my lips not/ to make this say/farewell/I’m tied in your soul/I’m that canary scented eave/ for this twirl in suicide/to make this say/farewell” p.74. The loss is so devastating that the persona contemplates suicide: “for I twirl in suicide”.
A greater percent of poems in this collection attest to the garbage realities of Nigerian life characterized by pains, hunger, poverty, bad governance, hopelessness, frustration and greed, crisis and failed leadership. The poems assert what is and has always been the life of poor Nigerians; the poet doesn’t pretend about this anomalies but believes in chanting it till it is known all around the nooks and crannies, the shame that Nigeria is and he does not only ramble but is very much aware of his target – the politicians. He speaks without fear of grave consequences; he describes them as; “overfed crocodiles who dope poor sardines” tele; 33
The persona sometimes assumes the spectator role, watching with keen interest the happenings around him in ‘atro-city’; he laments the falsehood of Nigeria’s election and how very little votes really count: “I observed every sunrise the dollar-clad status sit/haggling our twilight./in grammars beyond our school/souls slip down the hamlet’s Iroko/God! I observed/conspiracy of contempt flung on us/to dwarf our basket-held polls/donkeys of unrecompensed sweat/that streams confides eaten by others” p.29, sometimes the persona considers his challenges very personally, hence the use of ‘I’ but the commonness of these challenges overshadows him, then he uses ‘we’, ‘us’ or ‘our’ to indicate the universality of the struggle; an instance is in the above quoted poem.
“safari” equally captures a mood saddened with pains and reminiscences the riddle of life: “infant thuds/blind strikes/life is a moonlit story/birth cries/smiles of innocence/drape the day in civilian ease/calabashes of mammary cares/ wrestles suicide thought/to camouflaged heart/life is a mournful feast” p.44
Death is a painful part of existence that man has never openly recognized. When a beloved dies his families go into series of tears and mourning some which aren’t genuine most times and it is as a result of this the poet forewarns his mourners upon his death. He charges them with rhetorics that even if they know the answers, they wouldn’t be able to answer them: “where were you? / I ask/ where were you? / When I lost course/ on a canal with no coast/where were you? /when thunderstorm struck? / holding me to ransom/for a tendril of your herds/where were you? / Now that you cry?” ‘Death’, p.48.
The poet like most poets philosophises sometimes about life and the cause of existence. Like most philosophers, they are always willing to lend a hand with their wealth of experience in solving or providing notions for serious pondering as in this poem where he commands us to ‘listen!’; “life grows and withers/ throating the placked tusks/of trust strangled/mourned in the courtrooms/ where over adjourned sun/still fall in the noon” p.80
“My country weeps for martyred springs” homeland p.24.
The above line perhaps is the most powerful line poetically and its implied meanings are suicidal. It has the powers to raise mountainous debates. This is a call for revolution by the poet, who believes it is only through it that the country can move further and this could mean the loss of lives which he doesn’t seem bothered about so long as the country is redeemed from the hand of dictators in civilian garbs. The call seems to have been made at the right time with all these cases of uprising in the Arab world, the cases of Libya and Egypt are perfect examples.
Another equally pertinent feature of the collection is the use of scary imagery, one of which is the “crocodile” which seems to be a prominent image of the book.
The crocodile equally appears on the front cover of the book; this image no doubt represents danger and has appeared in more than a single poem and ironically it is used as a metaphor for corrupt political leaders and the implied meaning simply is that those who deprive their fellow human beings’ life and the basic necessity of life are not different from the ‘crocodile’ which also kills and deprives others including human beings of life: “ the crocodiles have slept/on the joy of your death/do not die/death doesn’t die” “dual-carriage life” p.21.
“Overfed crocodile who dope poor sardines” television; 33, this line is equally serious and deserves attention; the metaphor fits perfectly well. Lines like this draws to mind physical outlook of our political leaders; potbelly, posh houses and cars, businesses e.t.c while the ‘sardines’ who are the masses are physically thin and look sickly, hungry, hopeless, helpless, frail and dejected. It is equally very imperative to observe that this is one of the hardest ways of describing a person.
“let us cry/tears heal wounds sliced by the homeland status/enthusing the mercy of destined neighs” cry to laugh p.43, the poet by this imploration urges his compatriot to cry and be relieved of the pains and burden inflicted by a sore economy piloted by dozing leaders. It somehow seems like the persona realizing the enormous nature of his problems and their almost insolvable natures, resolves to weep instead perhaps to provoke the anger of God upon those who have conscripted his destiny into exile.
One wonders at the sources of the poet’s acidic inspiration, he bores too many grudges with life which is a thing to be wary of as such people are prone to the temptation of suicide. His rebellious spirit is equally something to be wary of; such brains could be very influential in leading an uprising. The poet is also conscious of his attributes as he admonishes himself thus: “”listen/tonight I will sniff your latrine/to calm this rebellious hunger that rips me/yes I will” “sheik of shekels” p.82.
Conclusion, it is very pertinent to observe that Kakanda’s awareness of literary devices is obvious; his ideological drive is a force very equally prominent and forceful; his language is quite very fresh and stirring and he also recognizes the place of imagery in poetry. However, as it is almost customary with writers there are a few issues of clichés.
A line like this one if not for dramatic effect has no much relevance to the collection more so being that it is a retarded cliché: “wetin carry una gura gura come here?”
p.27. There is the phenomenal cliché that no matter how one tries to overlook it, it still keeps attracting one’s mind: “hide and seek” this phrase has practically been ripped-off the nutrient it once had, as even a child is familiar with it and it becomes more compounding when the verb ‘play’ is used alongside with it. Also line four of the last stanza of the poem “a roving bird in cage” readily calls to mind the picture of Christopher Okigbo’s “heavens gate” it is genuinely difficult to dissociate the familiarity impulse of the two, more so that Christopher Okigbo is more synonymous with the phrase “heavens gate” the line- read as follows: “shall one day file at heaven’s gate” page.30.
In as much as there is nothing wrong in sounding like our influences, writers must strive to create fresh idioms rather than carrying on influences onto their own works because that is ingenuity. The feeling of familiarity creates chaos in the mind of the reader who struggles between mentally ascertaining the originality of the phrase or idiom at the same time striving to enjoy the poem.
Gimba kakanda is no doubt one of the torch bearers of his generation, with a collection as artistically loud as this, he needs no trumpeting. A true dancer need not see the face of the drummer before indulging.
By Paul T. Liam
Filed Under: Book Review