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Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

Literary Analysis (Summary)

The Dining Table is a metaphorical depiction of a feast of bloodbath and violence occasioned by the long years of the destructive civil war in Sierra Leone which left about 2.5 million people displaced and 300,000 killed.

The decade-long civil war was between the Sierra Leone Army and the Revolution United Front (RUF), a rebel group that wanted to take control of the government. This snowballed into a bizarre civil war from 1991-2002 around the tablelands of the eastern and southern districts which were rich in alluvial diamonds. The war witnessed brothers decimating one another for the control of power.

In 1961, Sierra Leone gained independence from the United Kingdom. Three years later after the demise of the first Prime Minister, Sir Milton Margai in 1964, the country was enmeshed in unchecked large-scale corruption, mismanagement, abuse of power and maladministration of subsequent leaders. All state institutions and infrastructures, including educational, judicial and economic institutions collapsed. Children were out of school and majority of the youths were unemployed, roaming the streets aimlessly. This degenerated into violence and turmoil among the restive citizens. The dissatisfied youths joined the RUF rebellion to oust the corrupt government. By 1991 when the war began, Sierra Leone was rated as one of the poorest countries in the world.

The dining table referred to in this poem is not the usual one where people eat and drink with merriment. The dining table connotes the battle field, a tableland where combatants feed on each other’s flesh and blood. The poem glorifies violence. 

The poem begins with the gory imagery of a dinner that is attended by wounded soldiers in a battle of horror. Their hot and thirst tongues lick blood instead of water. Due to the lengthy and devastating war, the land has become a “desert”. The raging resentment that pervades the atmosphere of that time is “strong enough to push” more bitterness into their heads. Even onlookers and international observers in the war could not help issues seeing the oceans of blood shed on the battlefield. This evening banquet is attended with “gun wounds” and served with unusual delicacies like “vegetable blood”, “scorpion” and “oceans” of blood”.

The tableland or plateau which has been tainted with one of the most monumental carnage in the history of post-independence Africa is the symbolic dining table. This table is where the horrifying dinner is taking place between the guerrilla rebels of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the government army represented by crocodiles. They walk unrestrained across the land plundering, killing and sacking indigenes from their homes. Children who are supposed to be in school reciting alphabets were conscripted into the army. While educational institutions were closed due to unrest, the innocence of these little children was easily exploited with the promise of food and shelter and they were converted to child soldiers. Instead of books, their guiltless “empty palms” that had witnessed starvation were adorned with destructive weapons and effortlessly dipped into the monstrous dinner “reserved for lovers of fire”.

Left with no choice, the helpless children participated in the unholy massacre in silence while their eyes beamed resentment.  Due to the starvation, they are forced out of the playground as their toys are replaced with guns. The poet further asserts that the roadblocks that are set up to reduce hostilities and restrict the movement of arms and insurgents are useless and needless with the involvement of children in the war. If the children who are coerced into the war are not properly rehabilitated and returned to the classrooms, there will be resurgence of hostilities at any little spark of anger. This paints a dreadful picture of an endless war where combatants would always find an avenue to converge and feast on each other, rather than laying down their arms and embracing peace.

Towards the end of the second stanza, the poet speaks of doom when the time comes for the people to quench their thirst. Water is known as the source of life from which one douses thirst. It is from this cup of life one must drink to replenish one’s soul. In a situation where it is contaminated by the activities of war, and the people still draw from this water for daily use, cholera breaks out and the people battle with all manners of health challenges. The water that is meant to provide relief to their malnourished “cracked lips” has become the bane of their lives. The combatants who strive to outlive the war by avoiding the polluted water survive on the “vegetable blood” of the slain.

The last stanza reveals the poet-speaker as a fighter on the side of the Revolutionary United Front as he pledges to be a revolutionist and fight for change in its country, but his lack of resolve and willpower to continue with the revolution has hindered his effort to effect a change in his war-torn country. Through the poet-speaker’s allusion to the Nile river in Egypt which the poet says is no longer served by tributaries which empowers it to become larger and active, it becomes crystal clear that the speaker has become “lazy” and weary of the decade-long battle.

He has come to the realization that the revolution no longer serves its originally designed purpose. It is no longer producing the desired effect as most of the combatants, the “lovers of fire”, are no longer working in unity to effect a positive change in the country, but have become selfish waging the war for personal aggrandizement.  That gives credence to the popular belief that the eleven-year war was propelled by greed for the resource control of the diamond-rich country.

The poet-persona, as a revolutionary fighter, has been fatally wounded and his “boots have suddenly become too reluctant” to proceed with the macabre banquet of bloodshed. He seems to have realized that waging war is futile. Violent change breeds more violence. His reluctance to continue with the revolution signifies an urgent call for peace.


Futility of war
Violence and bloodshed
The deserted land
The need for peace
Famine and economic devastation
The mysterious fate of children
The fall of education

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  1. God bless you for this work

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  3. bless you for this brief analysis