Friday, April 28, 2017

Rashid Pelpuo


Njingum, an African
Sits at the other end of the world
Briefing the winds of passing times
Disagreeing that African labour is fashioned
In the like of the Greek god Atlas;
Dutifully obeying cursed instructions,
Bearing the heavens
On his brave shoulders in Eternity
And like the god Sisyphus,
Cursed in vain labour,
Keeps rolling a heavy boulder up a hill
And, in rebellious disorder,
The boulder tumbles
Rolling down to the foot of the hill
At the pleasure of the gods

Njingum plays against the times,
He contradicts the image
Carved out for him,
Challenging his world
To death's end,
Believing that the spirit behind Africa
Is wiser than the Greek
Plodders and hankering gods
Condemned in the unknown void.

In the African forest,
In lip-cracking harmattan winds,
Njingum gathers firewood
Among woods gutted by fire;
Who in life
Never saw a season without the pain
Of brute raw bushfires
Raging through their homes;
With panting rodents, escaping nowhere,
And lions, even lions in hot pursuit of game
Now in ignominious flight from fires
In unchallenged discordance with nature.

In this unlucky forest of Africa
Sisyphus means much more than a myth
It is order and a comforting arena 
Of vain labour, applauded
And trapped in mindsets;
Glorifying poverty and its attributes
And Njingum matches against this odd order
In spiritual self-redemption.

In this place, in the deep alcove of thought
Coming out of the cold
Njingum finds space to repair his vision
In the new thinking
Of a lush new world of Africa
Bearing and eating of its own fruits
In a crunch between life and death.

Image result for atlas and sisyphusImage result for atlas and sisyphus


  1. An ancient depiction represented Sisyphus rolling a huge stone up Acrocorinthus, symbolic of the labour and skill involved in the building of the Sisypheum. The founder of Ephyra (Corinth) and the Isthmian games in honour of Melicertes, whose body he found lying on the shore of the Isthmus of Corinth, he was revered for his cleverness. When Zeus abducted Aesopus' daughter, Sisyphus offered to tell the grieving father the truth of the situation in exchange for Aesopus providing water to Corinth's citadel, bringing about divine disfavor for revealing their secrets. In the "Odyssey" (in some late sources Sisypus was actually the father of Odysseus by Anticlea, before she married her later husband, Laertes), Homeros recounted the story of Sisyphus beng condemned to roll a large rock perpetually up a steep hill as punishment, but before he reached the top the stone always rolled down and he had to begin all over again (thus, pointless or interminable activities are "Sisyphean"). According to the solar theory of myth, Sisyphus was the disk of the sun that rises every day and then sinks below the horizon. Others see in him a personification of the waves rising to a height and then suddenly falling, or of the treacherous sea. For Albert Camus, he was the epitome of the "absurd hero..., as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.... A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock. If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious.... Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.... When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy rises in man's heart: this is the rock's victory, this is the rock itself.... Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd discovery. It happens as well that the feeling of the absurd springs from happiness.... All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols.... He knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that silent pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling."

  2. Sisyphus was the husband of Merope, a daughter of Atlas. Atlas, the son of Uranus and Gaia, air and earth, sided with his felllow Titans in their war against Zeus and the Olympians and was condemned to stand at the western edge of the Earth and hold the sky on his shoulders in order to prevent his parents from resuming their primordial embrace, just as his brother Koios ("query, questioning") was imprisoned in Tartaros until, overcome by madness, broke free from his bonds and attempted to escape his imprisonment, but was doomed to become the embodiment of the celestial axis around which the heavens revolve. Koios was the father of Leto, who bore Artemis and Apollo when she mated with Zeus. Atlas' sister, "shining" Phoebe, symbolized prophetic wisdom, and she and Koios thus represented the primal font of all knowledge.


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