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Monday, 30 March 2015

Expelled by Jared Angira

Literary Analysis (Summary)

Expelled, written by Jared Angira, a Kenyan foremost poet, chronicles the negative intrusion of colonialists into the heart of Africa and its adverse effects on their economy and social being. The colonial state established in Kenya forcibly seized land, livestock and other means of livelihood from the indigenous people.

The white minority colonial government settled in the hinterland of East Africa, cultivating their land. They took control of the Kenyan economy and government and crippled the African traditional market system they met in place. In course of trading with the East Africans, the white foreigners discovered how fertile their land was. So, they started settling down and acquiring land and property until they dominated the economy and drained the natives of their resources. It was called settler colonialism.

It was in the mid-1930 that the control of land in Kenyan finally fell under the control of white settlers, creating limited African reserves for each of the Kenyan tribes. Consequently, the African natives lacked sufficient land reserves and they were left with no option than to search for work in the colonial settlers’ farms. In simple terms, East Africans were expelled from their ancestral land, became impoverished and were made to eke out a living from the land that used to be their ancestors’. Above all, things fell apart and the people became demoralised. The incursion of the strangers was no longer a blessing but a curse to the people.

The poet-persona begins the poem by reminding the white colonialists that the Kenya people have “traded in the market competitively perfect” until they intruded their land through their coastal towns “in the boat”. Before the coming of the white men, East Africans had a flourishing market where they traded without animosity or resentment. There was healthy competition among the traders. No one had a monopoly of a section of the market. They all traded perfectly with peace and tranquility. Above all, there was mutual trust and understanding among them.

But all these, according to the poet-persona, have changed with the advent of the foreigners, who wormed their way into the heart of the natives with a “polished goodwill from high order”. The “polished goodwill” may be connected with the Christian religion brought by the white missionaries to convert the people to the new faith that promise heaven after death. These British colonialists brandish their approval to the land from the Queen of England and the Christian Missionary Society (CMS).  With that, there was a transition from Africanism to Eurocentrism. The African spirit of cohesion and indigenous way of life were euthanised.

The African natives are left with no choice but to accept the new faith and the goodwill message it has promised. At the end of it all, the coming of these white foreigners becomes detrimental to the natives. They seize their land and technically force them to work in their farm. This forced labour, according to the poet-persona, has “cut our ribs”.

In order to assert their hold on the East African economy, they give the African natives vaccine to treat their livestock. But this “vaccine from the lake burst the cowshed” and “dried our cows”. As a result, there is famine among the natives and the poet-persona accuses the white settlers of intentionally introducing the drought to cause poverty among the indigenous people and hitherto subject them into servitude in their own land: “The drought you brought planted on the market place”. The poet, thus, sees the coming of white men into Africa as a curse which has become a “tree of memory”. Therefore, Africans can never forget how the white colonialists have underdeveloped Africa and plunged the continent into economic mystery.

The persona has “no safe locket” to keep his valuables. This gives us a mental picture of a society that has hitherto enjoyed unlimited safety and brotherhood now in turmoil and danger. The people have moved from affluence to abject poverty. The destruction of their economic and social life by the foreigners is likened to the biblical destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This biblical allusion talks of how Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed due to their sinful acts. The protagonist in this biblical story, Lot, lost everything, except his daughters, when God destroyed the town. He lost all his properties, relatives, wife and prized possessions.

Just like Lot, the poet-persona has lost everything he has due to the economic catastrophe brought by the foreign intruders. He is now plunged into heavy indebtedness: “the debtors’ records blarred”. As a result, the creditors parade his house tapping his “rusty doors”. The poet-speaker’s rusty door signifies the state of colossal penury affecting him.

The poem continues with the pathetic details of the tormenting travails of the poet-persona in his ancestral home. In financial anguish, the persona cries and his “tears flowed to flooded streams”. The already flooded streams indicate the widespread suffering and emotional pain of the indigenous people in their homeland in the hands of strangers. The people’s tears have formed “flooded streams” because the foreign settlers have attacked their main “sources” of living. The white settlers have dried up the rivulets (small stream) from their “human lake”. A lake is a large area of water surrounded by land. It is a source of living and income to the people living in the land surrounding it, since man cannot do without water which is a basic necessity.

The metaphor “human lake” in the poem, thus, refers to the “sources” of living of the African natives which the poet says have been taking away “from my veins, my heart, my whole”. In fact, his “last penny” has been disposed of him. The “fishing-net”, his means of survival and income as a fisherman is gone. Everything he has worked for before the coming of the colonial settlers has been lost. This goes a long way in attesting to the fact that the incursion of white men into Kenya has inflicted untold misery and total devastation in the life of the people.

Even in that state of misery, he doesn’t wish to die although everyone avoids his path. The poet-persona who used to be a successful fisherman before the coming of the foreigners is now seen as an epitome of misfortune. So, his contagious ill-luck must be avoided. There is no hope of a turn-around in his fortune as he parades “in a dark circus”. At this point, the poet-persona switches to a rejecting mood, rejecting colonialism and its negative attributes. To further show the high level of misfortune of the persona, even nature rejects him. The seawater where he earns his living as a fisherman rejects him. As “plants reject sea water”, it shows that the general atmosphere in the community is not in order with the coming of the intruders.

As it is, the bankrupt persona is alone and has “nothing to reject”. He has lost everything dear to him. He has become a beggar who cannot make choices. He has become totally traumatised and “broken lines run across” his face due to the tears he has shed.

To make matters worse, “the auctioneer will gong his hammer/ for the goods left behind”. To keep away the creditors tapping his “rusty door”, his remain valuable possessions will be auctioned to pay up his blaring debt. The once-prosperous fisherman, who “had traded in the market competitive perfect”, is now swimming in a pool of absolute misery due to the deep economic and sociopolitical affliction on his country, Kenya.

The poem is set in the East African country of Kenya, the poet’s homeland. The events in the poem can be traced to a coastal or riverine community. From the beginning of the poem, the foreign intruders are said to have come “in the boat”. Then, the persona talks of the “vaccine from the lake.”

There is also a reference to how the persona’s “tears flowed to flooded streams”. Then, the “rivulets” (a small stream) and “humanlake” is mentioned. In that same stanza, we are made to know that the persona is a fisherman with reference to his “fishing-net”. The location of the poem is also revealed in the last line of stanza five, “plants reject sea water, the sea water rejects me.”

The devastating effect of colonialism
The underdevelopment of Africa
The cultural and traditional displacement of East Africa
The value of the African traditional system
The anguish and pains of forced labour
Financial mystery among East Africans
Poverty and misfortune is contagious

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