Who is or was David Diop?
Mr Diop was a poet. He was born in Bordeaux, France, in 1927. His father was Senegalese, his mother was Cameroonian. He was an African not in Africa, which is usually painful. Most of his work talked against colonialism and oppression. He died in a plane crash in 1960, going from France to Senegal. Apparently the bulk of his work died with him in that plane crash (Good God!). What we know, the 22 poems that we keep reading over and over, was published before his death. Here are two:
Africa my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins
Your beautiful black blood that irrigates the fields
The blood of your sweat
The sweat of your work
The work of your slavery
Africa, tell me Africa
Is this your back that is bent
This back that breaks under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying yes to the whip under the midday sun
But a grave voice answers me
Impetuous child that tree, young and strong
That tree over there
Splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers
That is your Africa springing up anew
Springing up patiently, obstinately
Whose fruit bit by bit acquires
The bitter taste of liberty.
I read and re-read this poem in high school in Lesotho (Peka High School). My friends and I had it memorised (Japan, Mlozi, do you remember?) We had apartheid South-Africa right next door, and words like those of Mr Diop meant a great deal. This poem is marvellous in English, although it was written in French. I don't know if the fact that I knew it first in English has made me think that it is better in English. The whole point of this entry, in any case, is to thank Mr Diop and lament his early death and the loss of his written but unpublished words.
Ntate Diop, mantsoe a hao a re hlabile joalo ka marumo a Makoanyane, mantsoe a hao a re hlomotse joalo ka sello sa mosali t'sotlehong, lefu la hao le re bolaile le ho o feta. Robala ka khotso.
Here is the second gem:
In your presence I rediscovered my name;
My name that was hidden under the pain of separation;
I rediscovered the eyes no longer veiled with fever;
And your laughter like a flame piercing the shadows,
Has revealed Africa to me beyond the snow of yesterday;
Ten years my love.
With days of illusions and shattered ideas;
And sleep made restless with alcohol;
The suffering that burdens today with the taste of tomorrow;
And that turns love into a boundless river;
In your presence I have rediscovered the memory of my blood;
And necklaces of laughter hung around our days;
Days sparkling with ever new joys.