The Paradox by Francesca Yétúndé Pereira

 

The inside of The Paradox by Francesca Yétúndé Pereira as seen by Oloju Guest

I have never been a fan of politics but artistic things have always caught my fancy, having had my own fair share of wanna-be-Maya Angelou days. So when I came across this poem by a Nigerian born daughter of Brazilian repatriates; The Paradox, I knew I had to share it. I thought to share it in it's crudeness but the realization that not everyone would care to try to decipher a poem reared its oblong head. After all, of what use is speaking in tongues if no one is available to interpret? I chose to share my interpretation of the poem instead.  The Paradox addresses the imposition of the customs of the whites during the colonization of Nigeria by using paradoxical phenomena to tackle certain aspects of the events that occured in that time period.

Disclaimer: This is borne out of someone else's work, The Paradox.

"The Paradox" takes the form of a crucifix, indicating that the poem has a religious, very likely Christian, pattern to it. To reiterate this, the first stanza reads: "The cross, the icon / The disciples fought" (lines 1-2). The cross, just like the crucifix form the poem has, symbolizes the Christian faith. The icon symbolizes an idol god or deity. Placing these two on the same line indicates that the author may be attempting to compare the Christian faith and a non-Christian faith. The second line talks about some disciples fighting. Who are these disciples? It's obvious that the author is referring to a group of Christians against a group of non-Christians. The concluding lines of this stanza shed more light into what the author may be trying to say: "The whiteman claims / His god supreme / And blackman muses" (lines 4-6). It is clear, at this point, that the Christians referred to are a group of white men and that the idolaters are a group of black men. The last conclusion that can be drawn from this stanza is that the white men are not just stating but trying to impose on the black men their belief that their god is superior to theirs; hence, the black men contemplate worshipping the white men's  god.

The fourth stanza supports the notion that Pereira's speaker is convinced that neither group's god exists. She writes:

            …. The world is constant in its chaos.

            The world is crumbling and all gods are silent. Evil begets

            Good begets evil. Watching. Wenching Eves, empty headed apes

            Demanding, exacting. Their folly drowning in spirits flowing. (lines 16-19)

In the first line of this stanza, Pereira's speaker expresses the view that continuous war is a national disturbance.  She went ahead to qualify members of both groups in terms that clearly suggests that she thought very low of them. She expresses the opinion that they are mean, greedy, and forceful with ingrained idiocy. In her view, they are lower than the earthly worms.

            The fifth stanza plays with concepts from the holy book of the Christendom: the Bible. Pereira uses words such as Infant, crying, stream, stream of life (this is closely related to the fountain of life used in the Bible), manger, sawdust, straw, hope, and prophecy. She concludes with Empty. Obviously, she is referring to the birth of something new that was hoped for. This indicates that there was a promise made at some point that had led to hopes being raised and to suspense. One can also conclude that, in the same stanza, Pereira's speaker is also referring to the innocent people of the society who have been promised some unseen manna and, like infants, anticipated the fall of the manna. They patiently awaited the prophecy to come to pass. But naught came out of the promises: empty promises. The question is, who made what promise(s) and to whom? I think the answer is obvious. Although prophecy is found in non-Christian religions, used with manger gives a sense that the Bible, a book for Christians, is being referred to. Up to this point, Pereira has described the white men as the Christians. This means that the white men made empty promises to the black men and infers that the white men were in a position to oppress the black men.

            I find the paradoxical form of the sixth stanza intriguing. It reads:

                        The age old tree without, magnificent, proudly stands

                        Its yellowing leaves waft to and fro against the deep

                        Blue sky. The mind persists in calmness, and frenzy

                        Beats a wild resounding drum within the tortured heart. (lines 29-  32)

Here the speaker refers to a tree that had developed several years back, and a tree grows from seed till the end of its lifespan. Could the tree be referring to an aged human life that has grown beyond innocence? The prior stanza did make reference to the infant, so this idea is plausible. Pereira states that this tree is without, meaning, in this context, that it lacks something essential. This indicates that the human life in question is of the oppressed group. The prior stanza did create a sense of the whites being in a position to oppress the blacks, hence the promises and the emptiness thereof. So, we now know that she is referring to a person or group of persons that is black, old and poor. But she contradicts the idea of old and poor by referring to the person or group of persons as being magnificent and proudly standing, indicating that the person or group of persons is  strong, suggesting that she is referring to a young group.  The next line further erases the thought by making reference to a yellowing leaf. This implies that Pereira is, indeed, referring to old black men who are strengthened by wisdom and experience. Members of this group are poor but strong at heart. They can not be caught up in the chaos of whose god is supreme. They see through the promises. The author continues with her paradox by referring to a tortured heart and a calm mind in one body. How can the mind be still if or when the heart continually beat like a wild persistent drum?

            To the end, the Pereira insists that neither god exists. Either that or they, both gods, are dumb. However, she suggests that the whole battle is politically driven. The last stanza reads:

                        The fevered  drum still blind beats wildly fiercely on.

                        No crumbs fall from the orgies of the rich. Eves and apes

                        With licentious smell trampling the earth.

                        Under their feet the bones of infants. Disciples still

                       Fighting. Each god is mighty. The world is crumbling. And gods are silent.(48-53)

We see the word drum again. A drum is an instrument that produces sounds or pulses. The sounds produced by this instrument are also referred to as drums. What does the poet mean when she uses the word drum? The first place she used drum is on line 32, which reads: "Beats a wild resounding drum within the tortured heart" (line 32). In this context, she is referring to the sound made by the instrument. She calls it "wild resounding drum" (line 32) and implies that it is trapped within a "tortured heart" (line 32). It is safe to conclude that the "tortured heart" is the nation, Nigeria, and that the "wild resounding drum" are the pulses of the two groups; the white and the black. Each group's sentiment that their god is supreme to the other group's. In the concluding stanza, drum here refers to the instrument making the sound. "The fevered  drum still blind beats wildly fiercely on" (line 48). Pereira reports that the drum is confused and still ignorant, suggesting that she is not referring to a typical drum. The poem has expressed the argument of the two groups as disturbing, ignorant and even chaotic, suggesting that the drum in this stanza indicates fighters of the black and white groups. From line 48, it is obvious that the poet is trying to say that the white men advocating Christianity and the Nigerian traditionalists striving to uphold the image of their god, after empty promises and wasted time, still ignorantly maintain that their god is superior to the other. She adds, in this one line, that fanatical violence has been introduced by each party to further the group's course. 

 

           In line 49, she uses the term orgies with the rich. This indicates that there is some sort of secrecy behind the whole religious fight. The rites associated with their god profits the innocent Nigerian nothing. They trample over the hapless:  "Under their feet the bones of infants…"(line 51). They pursued their political ambition at the expense of innocent Nigerians. I can relate this to the invasion of the non-heroic, albeit historical, Lord Lugard, the British colonial master of Nigeria (1914-1960) and his vicious Nigerian allies that sold their birth rights to Lord Lugard upon being promised crumbs.

With this invasion came their enforced Christianity, the same religion that preached love, but their hate knew no bounds. Pereira was born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1933 while Lugard was lording it over Nigerians, with the help of his Nigerian accomplices, and also forcing Christianity on them. This may have instructed her opinion of the religious war and the gods being fought over.

            With a brilliant infusion of paradox in her poem, "The Paradox", Francesca Yétúndé Pereira reveals the cross of living in a colony controlled by apes and, if I may add, their often black counterparts: chimpanzees. She ends by stating that "The world is crumbling. And gods are silent"(line 53). The innocent citizens perish at the mercy of greedy self-imposed leaders pursuing their own political ambition, but neither of their politicking has been able to result in a policy that has benefited the nation.

             

 

 

 



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