From Afrocentrism to Afropolitanism: Subcultural Journeys in Minna Salami’s Poetry

Dzekashu MacViban

cache-jpgCache by Minna Salami: Weedmark Publishing; 2013, ISBN-13: 978-1-291-31161-7.

When Nigerian-Swedish writer Minna Salami released a slim collection of poetry on Valentine’s day last year, I immediately recalled that I’d read her poems sometime in 2010 on the erstwhile Palapala Magazine, and the impression the poems left on me then, was of a confident poet who wasn’t afraid to experiment with language as she branded her Aforcentrism with conviction, and her poetry, in a way reminded me of the poetry of Patience Agbabi.

 
Afrocentrism is an African-American inspired ideology that manifests an affirmation of themselves in a Eurocentric-dominated society, commonly by conceptualizing a glorified heritage in terms of distinctly African and foreign origins.

 
In 2000, Molefi Kete Asante gave a lecture at the University of Liverpool entitled ‘Afrocentricity: Toward a New Understanding of African Thought in this Millennium,’ in which he presented many of his ideas, some of which are: Philosophy originated in Africa and the first philosophers in the world were Africans, Afrocentricity constitutes a new way of examining data, and a novel orientation to data, Afrocentrism is the only ideology that can liberate African people.

 
Minna Salami’s poetry on Palapala explored identity, history, gender and Africaness in an unapologetic manner, and with an abundant use of Pidgin English, which stands as both the language of the common man and a subversion of the colonial master’s language. The poem “How I Fit Kill a Good Man”, from Palapala, is a lyrical poem which raises issues of gender, sexuality and identity in a confident tone.

 

How I Fit Kill a Good Man
Anoda person ghost dun enta ma bodi
I no know iym name
But I know say na man
For de way I feel dey burn in front of my tighs for night
See e be like say…
For morning wen I wake see light shine for window
Before I go reach my work for oga compound
I look my face inside mirror
My hair wey plait like snail
My teeth wey shine with fine fine gap in middle
My breasts wey flesh soft like pomo
My ynash wey round and come brown like coconut
And I for sure, dat de person in my front is woman

Before I am misconstrued with claims that I argue that her Afrocentism stems only from her use of Pidgin English, consider the poems “Indoctrinated Minds” and “Love & Dating Potential”, still from Palapala. The former bemoans the brainwashed nature of Africans (probably due to colonial mentality) and simultaneously glorifies a new generation with a new mentality, while the latter preoccupies itself with love and history, in a senghorian manner wherein the subject constantly shifts from country to lover. The fusion of hybridity and Afrocentrism show how conscious the author is of her heritage, as she eloquently explores the notion of identity.

 

Indoctrinated Minds
Harbour the shores of this time like sunset
They have since proven to be shadows of an atrocity
Hand in hand monsters like an iron fist in velvet gloves
Some have been washed ashore, forgotten
While wonder fills those who mourned indoctrinated minds
Pastors and reverends with answers not questions, I’m a question?
Highbrow winds have washed off those affirmations
A blowing set is born
not plagued by the new mind

Love & Dating Potential
From far away you remind me of a moonlit hill.
There on its steepest angle, you possess a dreamlike beauty that glows with infinite wisdom. You smile back at me warmly, urging me to ascend you.
As I approach the horizon your mangrove roots coil around my feet keeping me coasted like slave chains. I can’t climb you this time either.
Africa, I try to desire you.
In my dreams of you I stand in front of a gold gate with a bronze key in my fist. Your people urge me to unlock you but I’m paralysed. Their faces like rejected orphans confront me. However, unlike me they don’t know that the shimmer is an illusion. Behind these gates fire awaits.
Africa, I try to trust you.

 

Minna Salami’s recent poetry collection, Cache, is a slim collection of poems which marks her change of ideology as she moves from one subculture to another. With this collection, she embraces an Afropolitan nature with which she reinvents herself, and this is evident in the image of the butterfly which is recurrent and symbolic of transformation. The butterfly also serves as a metaphor of flight, thereby symbolizing the poet’s freedom or liberation.

 
Popularized by Taiye Selasi in her article ‘Bye-Bye Barber’ in Lip magazine, the term Afropolitan is becoming increasing relevant in the description and understanding of a new generation of African emigrants who are “not citizens, but Africans of the world.” In her description of Afropolitans, Selasi says:

 
What distinguishes this lot and its like (in the West and at home) is a willingness to complicate Africa – namely, to engage with, critique, and celebrate the parts of Africa that mean most to them. Perhaps what most typifies the Afropolitan consciousness is the refusal to oversimplify; the effort to understand what is ailing in Africa alongside the desire to honor what is wonderful, unique. Rather than essentialising the geographical entity, we seek to comprehend the cultural complexity; to honor the intellectual and spiritual legacy; and to sustain our parents’ cultures.

 
The Afropolitan nature of the poet/persona is most evident in the third part of the book entitled She Journeys, in which spiritual, as well as physical journeys are explored, while the rest of the book addresses issues like freedom, love, complexity, journeys and identity.

 

Oya
In another life
The river is her pool.
Oresund, Hudson

Are too cold
She swims
The Niger
From one end

The current
Parts her
Into a reality
Of sticky hope
Of tender fear

From the other end
Deep in the fjords
Of a new damp dawn
She sails

In “Oya”, the cities which the river cuts across are symbolic of the world and the persona ‘sails’ through these rivers which become her ‘pool’ because she is a citizen of the word who constantly reinvents herself as an Afropolitan wherever she goes. In ‘Nigeria’, the poet gives us her view of a multi-faceted and complex country which is close to her heart. And she celebrates freedom in ‘Wilderness’ and ‘Dear Freedom’.
Afropolitan subculture has been challenged over the years, and recently Stephanie Bosch Santana in a blog post in Africa in Words titled ‘Exorcizing Afropolitanism: Binyavanga Wainaina explains why “I am a Pan-Africanist, not an Afropolitan” at ASAUK 2012’ bases her argument on Binyavanga Wainaina’s speech and argues that:

 
Afropolitanism has become the marker of crude cultural commodification—a phenomenon increasingly “product driven,” design focused, and “potentially funded by the West.” Through an Afropolitan lens, “travel is easy” and “people are fluid.” Certainly, magazines, designers, and business execs have seized the term for their own purposes….Overall, a spirit of Afropolitanism has led to texts that are product, rather than process focused.

 
While Salami experiments with subcultures, she remains rooted in feminism which is her compass and the outlook through which everything else is processed. Her voice is bold, original and bespeaks of her belonging and rootlessness as she comes to terms with herself and celebrates her cultural complexity and Afropolitan nature in a world matrix which is fast becoming a no-man’s land.

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