To make it even more of a challenge, I’m writing it in English even though the book is in Portuguese. As far as I know there are no editions in other languages, so any translations in this post are my humble ones.
Back in January I joined Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge with the intent of reading one book from each of the five Portuguese-speaking African countries. I’ve already covered Cape Verde and this one ticks the box of São Tomé and Príncipe. A country unknown to most people, today it had the honor of featuring in BBC’s “Forgotten Countries in the World”. They describe ST&P as “a slice of the Caribbean just off the African coast”, adding that “the two sleepy islands that make up Africa’s smallest nation are the antithesis of all things African”. Intriguing!
O País de Akendengué (Akendengué’s Country) by Conceição Lima is a short book, with a little over 100 pages, one poem per page, sometimes only 2 lines-long. It was a quick read and an enjoyable one. I like this kind of short, crisp poetry, almost haiku-style, where there’s even more emphasis on creating immediate and powerful images.
The book’s preface by Helder Macedo, Lima’s Professor at King’s College in London, was incredibly important because it offered a context to the poems and the way they work together. Macedo writes a short history of ST&P and then puts it within a wider pan-African perspective, pointing out how those two viewpoints are a part of the poems, from references to a ST&P popular saying (Laughing we tell of our sorrows), to homages to African heroes and myths:
If I understand it correctly, the title indicates an universally-shared African perspective and, in this way, defines an attitude opposite to that of a colonialist culture (…) Conceição Lima’s country is an island. But in the end, all continents are islands, or parts of islands, the world is made of island.
The Akendengué in the title refers to Peirre-Claver Akendengué, a famous musician, philosopher and poet from Gabon. Akendengué is generally considered a pan-African voice and it’s this universal “Africanness” that Lima wants to honor in her poetry.
The idea of a “universally-shared African perspective” of the world is especially clear in Lima’s poems when she makes references to historical figures such as Kwame Nkrumah (first president of Ghana and an influential 20th-century advocate of Pan-Africanism), Amílcar Cabral or Patrice Lumumba.
I enjoyed O País de Akendengué, but I suspect it had a lot to do with what I learned about São Tomé and Príncipe’s in particular and African history in general. To understand Lima’s references I spent some happy hours on Wikipedia, jumping from article to article.
I think my favorite poem is this one, with only two lines:
State of Siege
From the top of his tower the guardian aligns the world.
The strength of his wall isolates his fear.
Book read for the Africa Reading Challenge