Book Review by Pule Lechesa
Book: Bo naka di maripa
Author: TSELISO MASOLANE
The multi-faceted Sesotho Literary Museum Curator, Tseliso Masolane has published his scintillating Sesotho poetry anthology titled; Bo naka di maripa equally translated in English as Life is rigmarole.
It is discernible that the title of the book is quite apposite and prudently chosen as Masolane’s poems chronicle many facets of life’s complexities. It can be rightly regarded as a must read, a page-turner, coherent, didactic and thought-provoking to boot.
I want to briefly draw readers’ attention to one of such thought-provoking and morally charging poems which is Kgowanatshwana, meaning in street lingo a “Coconut.” In this poem the poet laments the manner in which some blacks now raise their children, allowing them to behave like disrespectful euro-centric children. The first stanza reads thus in Sesotho:
Ka re ke dumedisa ngwana ka hlollwa,
Ngwana a mpuela se bodila sa metsing,
A re “kutmoning nika,” yaka ke a lora,
Ngwana ke enwa e se e le kgowanatshwana.
You know what, experience has taught me that the quintessence of the original message is often and inevitably lost in the translation. Nevertheless for the sake of my English speaking readers I deem it fit to attempt to translate some of these Sesotho poems and sentences that I referred to into English:
Exchange of greetings with a boy left me gaping,
Replied he disrespectfully in whites’ odd language,
He to mine chagrin said: “Good morning Nigger!”
This seemed like I was caught up in some sort of reverie,
Black outside and white inside, a typical coconut child.
After reading this poem the well-tutored reader’s mind might well go to Franz Fanon’s ideology, simply couched here as a reluctance of many Blacks to make “a constant effort to avoid their true selves, their individuality; to annihilate their identity as black.” Seemingly, the poet shares Fanon’s sentiment as his deep-seated concern is that so many blacks no longer teach their children to speak their mother tongues eloquently and love their culture.
According to the poet, his friend’s children converse in English with their nasal passages bizarrely twisted. They all have English names such as Macdonald, Marry Anne and so forth. It is didactic as it teaches us that this situation must be nipped in the bud. His worry is that our culture is fast deteriorating amidst the youth.
It is also worth mentioning that the poet’s poems have echoes of some of the great panjandrums of Sesotho literature such as Winston Mohapi, Dr KPD Maphalla, Jim Mokoena and many others. You can also see that some of his poems were influenced by prevailing socio-political aspects.
Poems such as Sekehela tsebe (Be all ears!), Tau ya leloko la Rantsho (The lion of Azania) and Mofoka (Kind of creature) are protest poems.
BAHALE BA RONA
Phororong tsa madi a bana ba batho,
Ka bona mefehelo le menyepetsi,
Ha ata dikgutsana lenyenenyene,
Bahlolohadi ba tlala ntlo,
Ba re bakela mahlomola.
Fatsheng lena la manyampetla sethala,
Ho sutha dikakapa natla tsa ho tshetjwa,
Ho ketoha dikgabane ho sala mofoka,
Bona bo nthofela, baqabanyi le mahata.
Tsenene ya lefu tjhatjhametsa nna,
Ke mpe ke ye badimong kgotso e hlahe,
Hoba ho wa dikwankwetla tsa setjhaba mofela,
Ho sala rona bohaholetho, melora.
Mmokeng wa dingangele bo okanketsang,
Moo ho setseng rona methwaela,
Bo nna ha ke tsebe ke a fihla,
Leha ditaba di le mosenekeng ho le thata,
Pelong tsa rona le ke ke la hlakoha.
Meya ya bora ya hwasa ya tlala lefatshe,
Moo ho setseng rona methwaela,
Bo nna ha ke tsebe ke a fihla,
Leha ditaba di le mosenekeng ho le thata,
Pelong tsa rona le ke ke la hlakoha
Lona batshireletsi ba setjhaba boreng,
Maphelong a rona le tla dula le phela,
Eyang ka kgotso Moreneng,
Lona bahale ba rona.
The English version reads thus:
Torrential blood of Azania’s sons and daughters!
I witnessed melancholy and the shedding of tears,
Unprecedented escalation of orphaned children,
Respective households teeming with hapless widows,
They brought about excruciating agony in our lives.
This earth is abounding with escalated mystification,
Trustworthy gallant men continually pass on like flies,
They die, paradoxically, leaving behind simpletons,
The typical nonentities, evokers of war and liars.
Pain inflicted on me by claws of death is unfathomable,
Let me die so that mine death can let peace prevail!
Gallant men are becoming few, snatched by death,
It is only the useless ones who are left, ashes.
In the courtyard of pig-headed people, quasi-brave men,
The marvelous wisdom of the wise men is divulged,
In the abyss of the murderers’ heart oozes abhorrence,
The abhorrence capable of killing the quintessential heroes.
The wicked souls are gangling to imbue the whole earth,
Courtyard left with few fatuous men with coward’s proclivity,
Those refusing to be drawn into the status quo,
When the pawpaw hit the fan – in the middle of warfare,
Your names shall for keeps be engraved in our hearts.
To you who protect our nation against the enemies!
In our respective lives you will remain alive eternally,
Fare thee well! Go in peace to the Living Lord,
You our gallant martyrs!
This poem adumbrates the words of Winston Churchill: “I see the damage done by the enemy’s attacks but I also see… the spirit of unconquered people.”
Churchill uttered these words during the Blitz of May 1941, 681 German planes dropped 870 tones of high explosives and 112, 000 incendiaries on the city of Liverpool. Some 1,700 Liverpoolians died in the bombardment of May 1-7 and 76,000 were made homeless, and this was only one week raids which lasted from 1940 to January 1942 and killed around 4,000 people of Liverpool, Bootle and Worrall, injured 3,500 and destroyed 10,000 homes.
The rapt reader is also likely to be somewhat confused when the poet apparently starts wishing himself dead! I do not know how the poet’s death will bring about peace in the world.
Tswere Mohlakeng (Serinus Canicollia) poem has an aphoristic crispness which co-exists with the remarkable metaphors (Yare di kopane dihlopha kwana Kapa, Nthabiseng ntswe la makatsa ditjhaba, Makgowa a ema matlotlosiya a makala, Bo-Aunoi ba hlollwa yaka ba a lora Stanza 13 The nations had gathered in Cape Town, When Nthabiseng’s melodious voice hypnotized people, Whites assembled in disbelief, Old whites marveled at this dream like scenery.)
I must confess that some of the poems appear to be weakened and attenuated by the poet’s choice of titles. Let us study another of the poems, Toka e kae which somewhat lacks lucidity.
The poet recounts his complaint and his humiliation in court by the magistrate and the court orderly.
TOKA E KAE
Ka kena la pele kgotla ka hlollwa,
Kgabane purapera ke tse ntsho ka nkane,
Meriri e bosweu ba lehlwa,
Ruri mona ke sa tla bona disala.
Motho a kena ra kgahlapetswa,
Ha thwe: ‘‘Kaofela raohang bo!’’
Athe disono ha re na le lebe, le kgotso,
Re mpa re panyapanya ka kgotso.
Enwa ke ya jwang motho,
Ya hlonetjhwang hakale ke ditjhaba?
Bohale ba hae bona ke ba tau,
O kgaruma hang kahlolo ya be e dihilwe,
Banna bonang meleko e a latela,
Motho o ikana a ba a hlapanya,
A kopa ho ba hae badimo ba mo thuse,
Hoba mona ho batlwa nnete feela.
Eseng jwale ke fihlile lehodimong,
Ke moo batho ba phahamisa a matona matshoho,
Ba re Modimo a ba thuse ba bue nnete,
Ena nnete ke e jwang e tshweu ka mmala.
Thakamphato kahlolo ke e boima,
Ho thwe o tla shwella tjhankaneng lefifing,
Hoba o ile a sheba aunoi hampe,
Ke re na toka e kae?
WHERE IS JUSTICE?
Mine first appearance in a court of law mystified me,
Legal luminary was clad in his must wear black cassock,
His hair was evidently as white as the snow,
Gosh! There is no doubt I am yet to see miracles.
The legal luminary entered and we were ill-treated,
The court orderly callously shouts: ‘‘All rise in court!’’
We feeble ones worried not as we had done nothing bad, cruel;
We just twinkled our eyes with a peace of mind.
What kind of creature is this one,
Creature respected by the whole nations?
He is as fierce as the wounded lion,
He roars and in a jiffy the judgment is passed,
Brethren, look the worst are still haunting us,
One swears to speak the truth by heaven and earth
Begging his ancestors to come to his aid
As this place confession of nothing but the truth matters
Maybe I am in God’s heaven,
People are raising their right hand to take an oath,
They ask God to help them speak” nothing, nothing but the truth,”
What kind of truth is this fabricated one.
Our beloved fellow got a heavy sentence,
He has been condemned to die in prison
For just ogling at a white woman with Cain’s eye,
Where is justice?
The core of this poem is the imprisonment of a black man who was tried for looking at a white woman in a “suspicious” way. This act warrants a bout of acute injustice. How can a person be given the death penalty for such a petty crime? The reader would have appreciated more light being shed on the real injustice.
To expect any change in the status quo would be to infringe the legal principle or court procedures. The poet spent much time talking about the court procedures instead on dwelling on the injustice that the accused faced.
Many purists will maintain that it is not right for us to borrow from other languages. Whenever the writer does that he/she must make sure that the pertinent word or phrase is put in inverted commas, or italicized. This is evidence of some laxity on the part of the author here.
The following words, to mention but a few, were in inverted commas: talente – talent,Diwarante- Warrant, Sapina – subpoena, areste – arrest, Akhuse - accused and so forth.
The words such as Bikishoto (Big Shot), and Saemane (Summon letter) are unfortunately not italicized nor put in inverted comas, and that makes these words Sesotho words. Arguably the poet intermittently loses concentration which is a stylistic infelicity committed by many Sesotho writers who beef up their poems with street colloquy.
The first black woman to publish a Sesotho poetry book called Bolebadi (forgetfulness) (Morija Printers 1951) Emily Selemeng Mokorosi made the same mistake of borrowing from other languages. This did not augur well with one of the pioneers of Sesotho literature; B.M Khaketla, and he does not mince his words in the preface of his book Dipshamathe (Educum Publishers 1952).
Mr Khaketla expressed his disapproval of poets borrowing from the other foreign languages:“…dithothokiso di senngwa ke bohlaswa ba mongodi ka ho kenya mantswe a mangata a senyesemane, a sa hlokahaleng empa a Sesotho a ka hlalosang hantle seo mongodi a se bolelang a ntse a le teng.”
(…the poems are spoilt by the poet’s recklessness in borrowing many unnecessary words from the English language, borrowing words even though we have pertinent, more descriptive Sesotho words that could be used.)
He went further to say “hona ho emisa mmadi hlooho, hoo a beng a makale hore na ha e le hore o bala reneketso ya Sesotho kapa ya Fanakalo, hoo e leng hona ke hofe.” (This baffles the reader and he or she winds up not knowing whether he is reading a Sesotho, English or Fanagalo poetry book or not.)
As general writers or critics, we have to be careful not to confuse or perturb our readers in this wise. On the whole, there is no denying the fact that the poet is linguistically gifted with complementary impressive diction. He brilliantly employs a wide range of literary devices in his pungent poetry.