An African thunderstorm

20 Mar

An African Thunderstorm

David Rubadiri (Malawian poet)

(A group of friends requested me to present some African poem and this was my pick, and my thoughts regarding the same)

From the west
Clouds come hurrying with the wind
Turning
Sharply
Here and there
Like a plague of locusts
Whirling
Tossing up things on its tail
Like a madman chasing nothing.

Pregnant clouds
Ride stately on its back
Gathering to perch on hills
Like dark sinister wings;
The Wind whistles by
And trees bend to let it pass.

In the village
Screams of delighted children
Toss and turn
In the din of whirling wind,
Women–
Babies clinging on their backs–
Dart about
In and out
Madly
The Wind whistles by
Whilst trees bend to let it pass.
Clothes wave like tattered flags
Flying off
To expose dangling breasts
As jaggered blinding flashes
Rumble, tremble, and crack
Amidst the smell of fired smoke
And the pelting march of the storm.

About the poet: David Rubadiri was born in 1930. He studied literature inMakerereUniversityand later on in the University of Bristol where he graduated with an M.A. in English literature.  In 1964, he becameMalawi’s first ambassador to the United Statesand the United Nations.

The poem describes a typical African thunderstorm, with all its intensity. In African society, rain is a blessing; everything loves the approach of rain, not just children. It is good for the crops and the animals, as it increases the harvest. However, when we read this poem, we don’t get the feeling that the author is happy; he concentrates on telling us about the damage that the rain and wind do. For example a plague of locusts is never a good thing, at least for the crops. It calls attention because the poet uses this simile while referring to the wind that brings rain, a good thing.

It is possible to interpret the poem as the effect of colonial domination on the native land. The time that the poet has lived- his country got independent in the early 1960’s- can be convincing.  At least he was familiar with that part of the history of his country. It also alludes to domination by such words as “trees bend to let the wind pass”, “clouds ride stately on the back of the wind”. The tattered flags have a nationalistic connotation.

The interpretation provided could be making a mountain out of a mole- hill but also, there can be more than meets the eye. That is why it is important to know as much as possible about the historical context in which the poet lived. Rubadiri fell out with his president a year after his appointment as ambassador. It would be interesting to find out when he actually wrote the poem and what he did afterwards, a challenge I launch out to you!

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