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Monday, July 15, 2024

For Henry Chakava, by Niyi Osundare

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Vokoli’s veteran Bookman who illuminated the world with the rainbow of African letters

If this tribute took so long to arrive, it is because your death left me speechless, with a slow and indescribable pain….

The hills left no clue The grass at the roadside made no rustle The rain never told the roof

About your silent, reluctant goodbye before we woke up that March morning and discovered you’d pulled the ponytail.

And he danced to the other side of the Great Mountain. Alas, Vokoli’s veteran Bookman is gone. Unfinished chapters shake the pages of our memory.

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“See you again in Kenya, very soon,” you promised the last time we met. “It’s been a long time since you came our way+

And the Kenyan rain has watered many new seeds: new songs, new stories, new sciences in our busy laboratories, new ways in our methods of being.

Go back and collect more petals of your “Rift Valley Flowers”. Multiply your wonder at the impressive majesty.

Of the flamingos, pink and proud. Plow through the fabulously fertile soil of Limuru, birthplace of our famous Storyteller

Whose stories cross the world. She shares another song with Chavakali High, where the budding stars prepare their wings for the future skies.”


“Come again,” you said, Your face shining with that generous smile Your voice that semi-baritone whose music

He embraced the ears of the world. There was a fragrant lyricism in your laughter. An adorably mischievous wit in your humor.

You took me back to that day in Nigeria when I called you “Prince Henry” and assured you that We, your hosts, had sent someone to bring your crown.

I remember the way you looked at the Nigerian sky through the editor’s window, laughing out loud; then this unforgettable response:

“First, give me a kingdom, then a palace populated with restless books and a multitude of willing readers.

Fill a room with lots of laughter, a symphony of soft whispers and bubbling wine from your rarest palms. . . .”

We laughed so hard that afternoon that the sun envied our sport from the top of its tropical grass.

The book was your life, now your legacy. You read it, you wrote it, you lived it, you pressed every page of it for sincerely human service.

And built a temple in your spacious mind. Candor met courage and loyalty found a niche in the pantheon of your virtues.

You who opened your pages to our forgotten languages ​​and to the eloquent power of their hidden beauty.

Sleep well, brother. Tell Marjorie we’re still trying to make it sing.++Even as we count the stanzas of Micere’s mother’s poem+++.

Tell Rubadiri that the people still “look behind the banana plantations”++++As the Imperial Stanley meets the welcoming MutesaOur past still watches our present from its long and inscrutable mask

Rest well, Miyinzi the Bookman. The future lives in the pages of your hope. We embrace him with literate aplomb.

+ Reference to my visit to Kenya in 1996 at the invitation of East Africa Educational Publishers, for the presentation and launch of their new edition of Poems from East Africa, the famous anthology edited by David Cook and David Rubadiri. My visit took me through the stunning beauty of western Kenya, inspiring a set of poems titled “Flowers of the Rift Valley” dedicated to Henry Chakava, and later published in If Only the Road Could Tak, Poetic Peregrinations in Africa, Asia, And Europe. .

+ a ++++ Reference to “Make It Sing” by Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye; “My Mother’s Poem” by Micere Githae Mugo; “Stanley meets Mutesa” by David Rubadiri.

Niyi Osundare, one of Africa’s leading poets and scholars, is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Orleans.

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