Derek Walcott, a poet and Dramatist, was born in 1930 in Saint Lucia. As he was belong to both African and European roots he identifies himself as a mongrel. This mixed heritage makes him able to identify the post colonial situation more effectively and successfully. He was awarded for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. In the poem A Far Cry from Africa the poet ironically describes how he rejects the British culture and the colonial ideology.
The poem A Far Cry from Africa belongs to post colonial poetry. Mainly the poem discusses the events of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the early 1950s. It was a bloody battle during the 1950 between the European settlers and the native Kikuyu tribes in Kenya. Kikuyu was the largest and most educated tribe in Kenya. As the British people invaded more and more their land they outrageously reacted. The Kenyan tribes rebelled against the British who stole the motherland of them. The rebellion was under a secret organization called Mau Mau. It is estimated a large number of Kikuyu as well as whites were slaughtered during the process.
The poem starts with the painful jarring harsh experience of the rebellion that changed the tranquil peaceful setting of the country. The nation itself compared to an animal, as it indicates it is an animal like a lion. “tawny pelt” And how Kikuyu started the bloody battle. The Kikuyu are compared to flies who are feeding on blood. Next we are informed the aftermath of the rebellion. The poet describes that the country before the conflict was a ‘paradise’ and with an ironical comment he indicates the death, inhumanity and destruction occurred in the land. There is the juxtaposition of the conflict against something divine with the image of corpses scattered through a paradise. The worms that can be seen as the ultimate emblem of stagnation and decay, cries at the worthless death. Sarcastically poet indicates how the humans are reduced to statistics. And at the same time though scholars justify the presence of white men in Africa and the process of civilizing the natives, the poet indicates the fact that it was a failure with the brutal death of the small white child and his family. People behave like animals ‘savages’ hints and remind us the persecution endured by the Jews. Jews were killed in millions due to their ethnicity during the time of Hitler. Though the time and the place is different the same kind of situations repeat in the world time to time. Next the poet creates a picture of white men in searching for natives who are hiding behind the bushes. The sound of ‘ibises’ hints a bad omen. Again the repetition is shown through the word ‘wheeled’. The civilized men thrived on conquering others. This process of violence and conquering each other indicates the law of the jungle. The violence of ‘beast on beast’ can justify according to the law of nature, the law of jungle. Yet it cannot be applied to the ‘upright man’ who are stretching out themselves to reach the ‘divinity’.
Apart from the task of stretching themselves to reach ‘divinity’ they end up with ‘inflicting pain’ which is killing and which is the law of jungle; killing for prey. They call for the massacre they create by killing as war. Ironically, wars between people are described as following the beat of a drum — an instrument made of an animal hide stretched over a cylinder. Though the natives think the act of killing white men brings them ‘courage’ it ends up with fear. Moreover the poet emphasizes the fact that though the natives justify their task mentioning it as a ‘brutish necessity’ and considering it as a national cause they just clean their hands with ‘the napkin of dirty cause’. So the poet suggests the fact that the natives’ cause is dirty and ugly though they consider it as right and nationwide. He sees a comparison with the West Indians who had their share of harsh experiences with Spain. The fight is just as the gorilla wrestles with superman. The gorilla in this context is compared to natives and superman is compared to white men. The last two lines indicate the situation of the poet, as he belongs to both cultures how he feels inferiority regarding the situation. The mixed heritage of the poet makes him unable to decide to which he should be partial. The title itself too indicates the state of mind conflict of the poet, a cry from a great distance away and moreover it shows the alienation and the inferiority of the poet. The poem ends with a picture of violence and cruelty and with the idea of searching for identity.
A Far Cry from Africa
A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
Of Africa, Kikuyu, quick as flies,
Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.
Corpses are scattered through a paradise.
Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:
‘Waste no compassion on these separate dead!’
Statistics justify and scholars seize
The salients of colonial policy.
What is that to the white child hacked in bed?
To savages, expendable as Jews?
Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries
Have wheeled since civilizations dawn
>From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.
Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars
Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,
While he calls courage still that native dread
Of the white peace contracted by the dead.
Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman.
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?