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Writers, Others Pay Slain Ghanaian Poet, Awoonor, Tributes

Writers, Others Pay Slain Ghanaian Poet, Awoonor, Tributes


NIGERIAN writers Monday morning joined their colleagues all over the world in mourning the untimely passing on of Ghanaian writer and diplomat, Prof. Kofi Awoonor,   who was killed in a terrorist attack on the WestGate Shopping Mall in Nairobi Kenya, at the weekend.

Late Prof. Koffi Awoonor

Awoonor and other writers from across the world, including United States-based Nigerian writer, Teju Cole, author of Everyday for the Thief and Open City, were attending a literary festival, Storymoja Hay Festival, when Somali terrorists, Al-Shabab, struck at Westgate shopping centre, killing dozens of people and holding several others  hostage.


The writers also condemned Al-Shabab terrorist group for its senseless attack on innocent civilians and the death of several other people, saying that it was time the international community rose to the challenge posed by such terror groups all over the world.


Multiple award-winning writer and publisher, Dr. Ogochukwu Promise, said it was time to fight ignorance that terrorism represents, noting: “We need to find ways to fight ignorance, violence... They’ve taken so much from us. Now, they’ve snatched away Prof. Awoonor!”


While praising Awoonor for his poetic vision, the Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan and President, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Prof. Remi Raji, said his death was indicative of the rise of urban barbarism that had gained prominence in recent years. 


He noted: “Kofi Awoonor was a great poetic prose stylist. He belonged to the illustrious generation of Ghanaian writers whose names arrived at our learning doors as young students of modern African literature. We were introduced to both his poetry and poetic prose uniquely and forcefully expressed in his classic, This Earth, My Brother, a novel which had great impact on our understanding of the postcolonial African condition.


“He would be remembered for contributing to the deployment of the indigenous Ewe folk stylistics in his poetry; beyond its cultural aesthetics, his Songs of Sorrow now seems to be too prophetic to be forgettable.  The manner of Awoonor’s death is unfortunate, really indicative of the new phase of urban barbarism that has taken hold of our space in recent times.”


In his tribute, Professor Ahmed Yerima, playwright and former Director General of the National Theatre, who was visibly shocked by Awoonor’s demise, said his death was a great loss to African literature.


“He was one of the first generation writers that guided the African literature. He inspired the next generation of writers, people like me.  His works in the African writers series and his poems are what opened our consciousness towards the existence of African literature. He would be greatly missed,” Yerima said.


Professor Femi Osofisan, poet, playwright, essayist and former General  Manager of the National Theatre, also said he was saddened by Awoonor’s death.


“It’s tooo sad for, as you know, he was already an old man deserving a dignified and glorious exit. But he was in Kenya for a literary event and we take that as a consolation that he fell in the line of action. May his soul rest in peace,” he said.


Former President, Association of Nigerian Authors and former member, House of Representatives, Dr. Wale Okediran, also joined in mourning Awoonor. He said: “Like many important writers, I had met Kofi Awoonor through his works several years before I actually met him in person. And when I finally did, it was in 2008 in Accra, Ghana, during one of the activities of the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA). I was captivated by his literary dexterity and humility. For more than 30 minutes, he held the audience spellbound with his elegant poetic rendition.


“That same year, we were to meet again at the Garden City Literary Festival in Port Harcourt where he again gave good account of himself. Now that he has left us even though in a very tragic circumstance, our solace is that his work will continue to live after him. My heartfelt condolences go to his family, his associates and the literary family at large. May his gentle soul continue to rest in peace, amen!”


In his tribute, poet and President, PEN Centre, Nigeria, Tade Ipadeola, expressed shock at the attack and condemned all Islamic fundamentalists, noting:  “I’m still in shock about Awoonor. This fundamentalist madness must stop. It is time we faced Islamic fundamentalists properly. Enough is enough!”


His fellow Ghanaian and poet, Kwame Dawes, said: “I received news that Kofi Awoonor, the Ghanaian poet, diplomat and academic had been shot to death by terrorists in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. I got the news in my hotel, which is about five minutes from the mall. The news came through diplomatic channels in Ghana. ‘Barring a miracle, we have lost him. Get some sleep; we have a long wake ahead.’ This was the note his protégé and fellow Ghanaian poet, Kofi Anyidoho, sent to me. Kofi Awoonor’s death is a sad moment here in Nairobi. We have lost one of the greatest African poets and diplomats. I’ve lost my uncle.”


Ghana’s president, John Dramani Mahama, said in a statement: “I am shocked to hear the death of Prof. Kofi Awoonor in the Nairobi mall terrorist attack. Such a sad twist of fate.”


A statement from Storymoja Hay Festival, which Awonoor had been attending when he was killed, said: “We were honored … by his appearance at Storymoja Hay Festival, and deeply humbled by his desire to impart knowledge to the young festival audience. Prof. Awoonor was one of Africa’s greatest voices and poets and will forever remain a beacon of knowledge and strength and hope.”


The Vice Chancellor of Kwara State University (KWASU), Prof. AbdulRasheed Na’Allah, described the killing of Awonoor as senseless.  The late Awonoor delivered the first convocation lecture of KWASU in May this year.  Na’Allah spoke yesterday in Malete, Moro Local Council of the state, while opening the African-American and Black in Diaspora Week organised by the university.


He announced a three-day mourning for the late poet. He said: “A man that represented Ghana at the United Nations for several years; he was the first convocation lecturer of Kwara State University. He was no other person than Prof. Kofi Awonoor. He was killed as some terrorists attacked the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, two days ago. It is painful. The attack was senseless.


“This man was in Nairobi to participate in a poetry exercise and these people who could not even create an ant decided to take him away. I have declared three days mourning from today. Our flag will fly at half mast on behalf of the chancellor who was a personal friend of the late poet.”


He described Awoonor as “an academic whose work combined the poetic traditions of his native Ewe people and contemporary and religious symbolism to depict Africa during and after colonisation.”  The vice chancellor added that the late professor would not only be missed for his works but for his contributions as a diplomat who saw to the end of apartheid in South Africa.


Adewale Maja-Pearce, who was at a loss about what to say, said Awoonor’s death was a big loss to the literary world.  “We are going to miss him,” he said.


Mr. Tunde Fagbenle, essayist and columnist for The Punch said the circumstances of the late writer’s death make it the demise of a big chunk of humanity.  “The poet sought a better world in his verses only to be so cruelly silenced,” he said.


Maxim Uzoatu, poet and essayist, said Awoonor can never be written about in the past tense.

“He is an ever present ancestor. His immortal poem, ”Songs of Sorrow” is a classic in excelsis. His novel, ”This Earth, My Brother”, is an existential tour de force. Not even death can kill Kofi Awoonor, let alone the moronic mullahs of terror,” he said.


Wale Okediran, novelist and former president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, said he had met Awoonor through his works several years before he actually met him in person in 2008 during one of the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA) meeting in Accra, Ghana.


“I was captivated by his literary dexterity and humility. For more than 30 minutes he held the audience spellbound with his elegant poetic rendition. That same year, we were to meet again at the Garden Literary Festival in Port Harcourt where he again gave a good account of himself. Now that he has left us even though in a very tragic circumstances, our solace is that his work wll continue to live after him,” said Okediran.


Professor Adebayo Lamikanra, essayist and poet, said in his tribute: “The violent death of one of Africa’s leading poets, Kofi Awoonor, brings to mind the saying that whilst a leper is not able to milk a cow, he retains the ability to make milk produced by another’s labour through a petulant kick at a vessel containing milk or simply by washing his stump in the milk.


“There is no doubt that the loss of Awoonor has engendered feelings of great silence, frustration and rage in the hearts of those who have had the privilege of partaking of the rich milk of poetry which flowed from the pen of this man of letters. Those responsible for his death must be regarded as lepers who, as was the case in antiquity, should be denied the fellowsip of other human beings. Awoonor is dead but his works live on in the hearts of all lovers of the word.”


In his tribute,  Festus Iyayi, the author of ”Heroes” said: “It’s tragic and sad. The terrorists have crudely torn a most valuable and an illuminating page from Africa’s unfolding book of promise and disappointment. His cruel murder in the Kenyan tragedy is one more reminder about the danger of surrendering our independence to the new slave traders spawning the neo-liberal market of greed, profit, clash of civilisations and Africom among others. Kofi Awoonor stood against these base values in his life and his writings.


“It is ironic that he and others should lose their lives to the authors and practitioners of these base values. His family has lost a son, a father, a brother, an uncle, a husband and will miss him sorely but Africa and her writers have lost as much, if not more. We will miss his warm and his re-assuring laughter.”


Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka simply said, “Rage, rage, and rage is all I feel”.  A very good friend of Awoonor, he could easily have been with Kofi at the time since he was also invited to the Storymoja Hay Festival by Peter Florence. Soyinka couldn’t go to Nairobi because he had to give a lecture in Tunis.


Awoonor, a poet whose works combine the poetic traditions of his native Ewe people and contemporary and religious symbolism to depict Africa during the process of decolonisation, was born in 1935 and became known for his poetry, early collections of which were heavily inspired by the dirge singing and oral poetry of his native Ewe tribe. He published his first collection, Rediscovery and Other Poems, in 1964.  


Awoonor gained a masters degree in literature at University College, London in 1970. His second collection, Night of My Blood, was released in 1971. It was a series of poems that explore Awoonor’s roots and the impact of colonialism and foreign rule in Africa.


Awoonor was a diplomat as well as a poet. He served as Ghana’s Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) between 1990 and 1994, where he was the head of the Committee Against Apartheid. In 1975, Awoonor was imprisoned without trial for several months. He was later brought to court on charges of helping ‘political criminal’, ex-Brigadier Kattah, to flee the country. Awoonor denied aiding Kattah’s escape, but admitted to hosting him. His imprisonment was met with protest from International PEN, Amnesty International and writers, including poet Allen Ginsberg. His third collection, The House by the Sea, was inspired by his incarceration and was published in 1978.


Songs of Sorrow

(Fitting epitaph for the man)

Kofi Awoonor’s classic

Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus

It has led me among the sharps of the forest

Returning is not possible

And going forward is a great difficulty

The affairs of this world are like the chameleon faeces

Into which I have stepped

When I clean it cannot go.

I am on the world’s extreme corner,

I am not sitting in the row with the eminent

But those who are lucky

Sit in the middle and forget

I am on the world’s extreme corner

I can only go beyond and forget.

My people, I have been somewhere

If I turn here, the rain beats me

If I turn there the sun burns me

The firewood of this world

Is for only those who can take heart

That is why not all can gather it.

The world is not good for anybody

But you are so happy with your fate;

Alas! the travelers are back

All covered with debt.

Something has happened to me

The things so great that I cannot weep;

I have no sons to fire the gun when I die

And no daughter to wail when I close my mouth

I have wandered on the wilderness

The great wilderness men call life

The rain has beaten me,

And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives

I shall go beyond and rest.

I have no kin and no brother,

Death has made war upon our house;

And Kpeti’s great household is no more,

Only the broken fence stands;

And those who dared not look in his face

Have come out as men.

How well their pride is with them.

Let those gone before take note

They have treated their offspring badly.

What is the wailing for?

Somebody is dead. Agosu himself

Alas! a snake has bitten me

My right arm is broken,

And the tree on which I lean is fallen.

Agosi if you go tell them,

Tell Nyidevu, Kpeti, and Kove

That they have done us evil;

Tell them their house is falling

And the trees in the fence

Have been eaten by termites;

That the martels curse them.

Ask them why they idle there

While we suffer, and eat sand.

And the crow and the vulture

Hover always above our broken fences

And strangers walk over our portion.


The Guardian, PM News