Gladys Mbilla Allasid is a Pan African woman that has scribbled many poems on different themes. I have followed her pieces with keen interest but that particular piece "the hypnotized" touches my heart.
The title alone, in my own view, is a canopy of the reality of the numerous happenings in the African continent. Literally, Merriam Webster Dictionary defined "hypnotize" as "to hold the attention of (someone): to attract (someone) in a powerful or mysterious way."
My attention however is on "to attract some one in a powerful or mysterious way."
Those who have power and authority, economic and political power, are the people who control this world directly and indirectly. This has a historic background that continues to give history students nostalgia of the past. The African continent was torn into controllable pieces or units called ‘colonies’ by some powerful western countries and eventually colonized us. The ensuing agony is more of history now but remains fresh in our minds. The heading of the poem is a cloud of the sociopolitical and economic happenings in Africa. Such happenings are traceable to colonization. The poem raises fundamental questions of whether or not the African man was too gullible, timid or ignorant. In my own perspective, the continent is found on the web of gullibility, ignorance and timidity.
This synopsis which centers on colonization and its negative repercussions is a frame work or foundation upon which I will use to dissect and nosedive and conclude on understandable themes of this captivating poem authored by a proud African lady. Such an infectious piece would be rhetoric of a regurgitated lamentable subject if we do not break it down as an education to contemporary leaders whose actions and inactions remain a catalyst of poverty and underdevelopment.
I want to state again, that critical analysis of such piece is dependent on objectivity and is not devoid of further critique. The counter arguments of such would throw more lights and informs many Pan Africans and the younger generations in particular, to decipher between the aspect of our history that is relevant in contemporary times and the aspects that has become virtually irrelevant to national development.
The first stanza of the poem reads:
"They came from many directions with iron boats,
Landed on OUR fields endowed with milk and with honey”
The first line is a statement of fact, alluding to how the Europeans came to Africa. The narrative tells us that "they" impliedly referring to the Europeans, came to Africa from various "directions". History tells us that many of the Europeans came by sea and the poet corroborates that with “with iron boats..."
Indeed, the Danish, British, Germans, Spanish and others came to Africa with similar motives. They cunningly, through missionary works and subsequently trade, plundered our rich land, naturally endowed with abundant natural resources. These natural resources are what the poet metaphorically refers to as "milk and honey."
Gold, bauxite, manganese, diamond among other rich minerals were abundantly available. These commodities were scarce in the world market and the developed countries were badly in need of these minerals to propel their industrialization drive of economic development at the time. When they realized that Africa had these resources in abundant proportions, it became what the European historians referred to as "discovered land". Certainly, the European countries would deploy every strategy possibly to siphon these resources. That was the motivation behind the scramble and subsequently plundering of the African continent.
Again, though Africans were very rich, their economies depended largely on snuff, cola, cowries and subsistence farming as their sources of wealth. Our forefathers had no or little knowledge on the wealth they were sitting on. They were, to a larger extend, ignorant on how such mineral resources could be tapped and used to capture a global economic height. The second stanza renders it quiet apparently.
"Snuff, cola and cowries were OUR sources of wealth,
Knowing not, WE have the future of life sitting on OUR shelves..."
The poet again, metaphorically renders that the rich mineral resources is the future and again personified "future" as "sitting in our shelves." Thus, the mineral resources endowed in our land, could be used to create a brighter future for our continent. The poet considers the future of the continent very paramount and hence chooses to personify future to create an effect for all of us to keep in mind.
The stanza three drums home how the Europeans took advantage of our ignorance by deceiving us with petty things that gave us pleasure so as to plunder our own. They cunningly used missionary work as a mission of destruction and succeeded by convincing us to throw away our rich culture. This is because our own culture was described as devilish, dirty and uncivilized.
Again, they implored different strategies like barter trade to exploit our people. They cheated the locals using fake and less important commodities like gunpowder, cotton wool, alcohol, mirrors and other items in exchange of previous commodities.
The poet makes us know that we got to know of the exploitation of the whites and started agitation quiet late. The colonial master swayed us by changing their modi operandi but we believe that we have gained absolute freedom. Indeed, the white man only changed from an obvious strategy to a more convoluted and sophisticated one that continues to keep us in bondage and mental slavery. They have manipulated our thinking through their formal education systems so much that we are unable to think on our own. We are really hypnotized. I do agree with the poet. The formal education system we inherited from the west is a conduit of indoctrination that has enslaved our conscience. That is the sad reality.
They still have better control of our systems through neocolonialism yet we continue to pitifully boast of freedom.
We are not on our own; we have an endless appetite for foreign exotic foods and make mockery of our delicious local food. Today as we speak, importation in Africa continues to sour with its negative economic effects. Even though we have enough, available, to consume, we ignorantly take pride in consuming foreign goods. That "naked prestige, has contributed to: the collapse of local industries, drains our foreign reserves, and increased our economic dependency. Many of our African countries are not self-reliant. We depend so much on foreign aids but hypocritically tout our independence and freedom. Practically, we are not independent and we have not gotten independence. We have gotten into a very complex form of colonization to the extent that we can neither see nor feel it.
Additionally, we have copied their system of government called "democracy" and have left our indigenous form of governance through the chieftaincy institutions to collapse.
"Push their hands into our thoughts and our minds,
Scoop the reasons with which we can reach our full potential,
And replace it with things that with us, retrogression BIND.
We eat, we work and we govern with our might
On this social canker of a system called "speak your mind"
Through this democracy, we celebrate abundant lawlessness, indiscipline and hypocrisy. We victimize our own and celebrate a very polarized system left without harmony and absolute unity. How else would the poet describe our current situation? Aren't we really hypnotized? The answer is too obvious. We are really hypnotized. The adopted democracy has provided platforms to preach for same sex marriage and many Africans become advocate of it. Isn't it an alien act for an African Man to marry another African man? I ask again, is it not alien for an African woman to marry another African Woman? Indeed, we are hypnotized.
The hypocrisy is too loud. The very holy book they brought as a first strategy to lure us into rejecting our own culture is the very book they are shamelessly raping. Unfortunately, because of the indoctrination through formal education, some Africans see sense in that and raise funny issues of human rights. We are absolutely hypnotized.
Now we do not consider weaving, pottery, farming, curving, pottery and many others as jobs. Even when we hypocritically agree that they are, we classify them as informal. The youth have an endless appetite for non-existing white collar jobs and have less respect for what our grandfathers depended on. This indoctrination by the western formal education has left many people unemployed and many become a liability to society. This has also gone a long way to escalate many social vices like armed robbery, prostitution, fraud and other ungodly acts. But for us being hypnotized, these acts are alien to Africans.
I wish to conclude by emphasizing, that the participation of foreigners in the development of this country in good but we must know that foreigners cannot like our country more than theirs. Our advocacy for Africa beyond aid must move swiftly from the platitude to practicality. If we go round the world, capping in hand, to come and lay the foundation for African beyond aid, we would be tickling ourselves and laughing over our extreme ignorance. What we need to do, is to advocate a change of attitude to enable us feed on our own, grow the economy on our own and develop at our own pace. We cannot continue to chase our own away from lumbering and gallamseying” but find solace in creating an enabling environment for foreigners to own those resources.
In Ghana as we speak, a chunk of our oil fields are owned by foreigners, our mineral concessions are given to foreigners. We exchange almost everything for a peanut. We fail to see that giving our wealth to foreign countries as a way of developing our part of the world is a lazy man approach. It would continue to aggravate poverty as many of the people would be left unemployed even in the land of abundant natural resources. We must make a conscious effort to have a long term development plan that is locally oriented. The beginning would be very difficult but the results could be overwhelmingly enviable. Let's break that long standing bondage from the western countries by grooming our local industries and consolidating the little gains we get. We cannot compete in the global world if we continue to, wanting to be spoon-fed. It is that approach that has led us to where we are now. Right from the era of colonization till now, we should have at least, learnt something.
History should be our guide. The poem "the hypnotized" finds significance in advocating African beyond aid by first exposing to all Africans where our relationship with foreigners has led us to. The poem contains the sad reality and I must say that the intellectual communities, particularly the literature fraternity should use such historic narratives to guide policy formulation and implementation as the struggle for African liberation remains unabated. We have not won the fight of liberation. They journey, yet to walk, is very far especially when we have this glaring obstacle "the hypnotized". It is an obstacle because our minds are stocked with papers; our eyes with heavy spectacles, our mouths glued with sweet honey from our white colonial matters, and our hands, filled with largesse.