Okara’s invocation towards the mighty Spirit of the Land
“But standing behind a tree
With leaves around her waist
She only smiled with a shake of her head.”---
Okara recites his view of the spirit of Africa as a form of the Nature Goddess in the poem The Mystic Drum. Okara worships her to revive the spirit of Africa, and the way he seemed to be doing it is by being more and more close to the nature. This closeness can be found in most of the poems of this African poet Gabriel Okara. The Mystic Drum, The Call of The River Nun, The Snow Flakes Sail Gently Down, Moon in The Bucket, You Laughed and Laughed and Laughed are only a few of them. The nostalgic poet tries to summon and bring back the pre-colonized Africa and to bring back this lost spirit of Africa he mingles himself with the only unchanged element of the pre-colonial Africa: nature. Okara not only finds nature as a mode to revive the spirit of Africa but also a way to find one’s roots, one’s heredity, one’s true identity in the artificial world, and mostly the purpose of being a human. The poems of Okara satiate a reader’s mind with the warmth and blessing of the nature with all its beauty alongside.
Background of The Poet
Gabriel Okara was born in 1921 in Nembe in the Rivers State of Nigeria. After his secondary school education at Government College, Umuahia; he became a book-binder. From then on he developed a remarkable personality by dint of personal tuition, reflection and a deep interest in literature generally and in the language and culture of his people. Okara is one of the most significant and serious early Nigerian poets. He started writing poetry in the early fifties and is still a practicing poet. His poems contain elements of nature that are among the best of Nigerian poetry. The motifs of childhood, innocence and nostalgia also run through many of his poems. He is often concerned about the identity of his people. Throughout his poetry there is evidence of the influence of the traditional folk literature of his people. In fact some of his earliest writings were translations of this oral literature and the subdued tone and rhythm of his poetry are as much a reflection of this inheritance as they are of the poet’s withdrawn nature. But above all, his works contain the presence of nature.
Resistance through Nature
As a post-colonial African writer, Okara shares the resistance force of the other post colonial writers. The resistance made by the post colonial writers to evade the discourse of the colonizers and revive the tradition and culture of the pre-colonial state. Okara did his part by not only writing the war and violence poems but also writes poetry about culture, tradition and ways to find the real identity. Excluding the war poems, Okara’s poems are based on nature. The nature that is unchanged through the course of colonialism and the link to the pre-colonial Africa. Without the essence of pre-colonial Africa, the land will lose the spirit. The spirit which is the identity of the African people what makes them different from the so called civilized artificial world of the colonizers.
Invocation to Nature
Okara uses the natural elements of Africa as a way to the spirit of the land. Okara’s poem suggests the spirit of Africa is not completely in the heart of the people or in culture or in tradition; but it lies in the mountains, rivers, trees and in the warmth of the sun of Africa. To ensure the presence of this spirit in the hearts of every African is the main motif of Okara’s poetry, and the way to intake this spirit is being close to nature and appreciating its beauty as it is. By praising and acknowledging the nature one can gain closeness to its vastness. Okara attempts to call upon the spirit of Africa by being close to nature. In his poem The Mystic Drum he invokes the Nature goddess by beating his mystic drum:
Then the drum beat with the rhythm
Of the things of the ground