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Monday, 22 February 2016

The Anvil and the Hammer by Kofi Awoonor

Literary Analysis (Summary)

Just like Piano and Drums and Vanity, this poem also captures the overwhelming influence of westernization on Africans during the colonial period. The coming of the white men to Africa has produced a telling effect on its culture and beliefs. The poet-speaker’s contact with the western culture infused with his deeply entrenched African root, according to Kofi Awoonor, is like being caught between the anvil and the hammer. Hence, he is cornered to a tight spot in which going either ways produces unpalatable effects. The poet-speaker finds himself in a serious dilemma in which he is indecisive whether to subscribe to his newly-found western ideals or the old African tradition that defines his humanity. The anvil stands for the African culture while the hammer stands for the western culture.

In other to forge a meaningful identity, the poet-speaker is likened to a piece of hot steel casted by a hammer on an anvil. Both the anvil and the hammer are instrumental in forging him “a new life”. He endures the painful “pangs” of the transformation that is set to deliver him “into the joy of new songs’. The rebirth, or perhaps the image rebranding, of the poet-speaker has subjected him to a new life which most African elites had imbibed after their contact with western civilization. Still, “the trappings of the past” haunts him. The reminiscence of his African ancestry and its traditional fetish rituals often collide with “the flimsy glories of paved streets” fashioned in European modern style. As he tries to forge ahead and balance his new life between these two cultures, there is a cultural clash.

He abandons his African dialects for the “jargon of a new dialectic”. Having forged a new identity, conversing in the local vernacular becomes uncivilized. So, they go in “perpetual search on the outlaw’s hill”, the imperialists’ habitations, for western attractions that are full of “flimsy glories”. While African traditional languages, cultures and beliefs face extinction, educated Africans have gone in wild pursuit of the western ideal world. To them, the African traditional religion is diabolical while foreign religions seem more appealing. African attires are primitive; the non-formal education system that teaches ancient wisdom seems retrogressive while western education fosters development. Hence, the poet infers that the African system may be “tenuous”, yet “tender”. Nevertheless, western culture is not perfect after all. It is also “flimsy” even in its modernity.

Faced with such enormous dilemma of identity crisis, the poet-speaker resorts to his ancestors for help. By so doing, he acknowledges the fact that “we’ African elites have gone astray. They have clothed themselves with the superficial garb of westernization leaving behind the precious robe of long-lasting heritage their ancestors had bequeathed on them. Therefore, he calls on their forefathers to “sew the old days” for them so that “we can wear them under our new garment”. The “new garment” represents the “new life” that has been forged in-between the anvil and the hammer. The poet-speaker’s bid to sew the old garment and wear it under the new garment is aimed at uniting the two cultures, living them simultaneously without clashes. He wants to blend the past with the present.

Due to the in-depth exposure “after we have washed ourselves in the whirlpool of the many rivers’ estuary” of foreign countries, he has realized that they cannot totally discard the beauties of the advanced world in as much they “hear their songs and rumours every day” and this has gone a long way in influencing their new lives. They cannot live in obvious denial of the positive role of western education and civilization in developing the African world. The need to merge the old and the new together appears more profitable. So, he has determined to “ignore” the idea that he has been made whole or complete with his foreign intellectual and material acquisition, but he seeks to take “snatches from their tones” and mix them with the “trappings of the past” to forge a new nation.

From the ideas that the African nationalists, who were trained in foreign universities, snatch from the western culture, they forge “new flags and anthems” to create new African nations and “lift high the banner of the land”. In the course of forging a formidable nation-building process, African elites had garnered ideas from western democratic institutions. When the new nation is eventually birthed and thoroughly shaped into perfection on an anvil with a hammer, the people “listen to the reverberation of our songs in the splash and moan of the sea”.


The demanding process of nation building
The all-inclusive influence of colonialism in Africa
The dilemma of African elites
The unification of the past and the present
The hope for Africa
The wisdom of African elders

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