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Kofi Awoonor’s “The Sea Eats the Land at Home” – A Caricature of Coastal Areas in Africa
Kofi Awoonor’s “The Sea Eats the Land at Home” – A Caricature of Coastal Areas in Africa

By - Isaac Joseph

Posted - 20-08-2019

Of all continents in the world, Africa prides in being amongst continents closer to the sea. According to the world atlas, “Africa is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the east and southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.” While everyone would expect us to bask in the euphoria of the natural habitat that surrounds us, we are instead held up in precarious states that are pointers to imminent danger. Whether natural habitats such as the sea are blessings or curse still remains a perennial question only time can answer. At the moment, it is no gainsay that danger is looming in the coastal areas of Africa. While it is absolutely not wrong to call this a lamentation, one can only hope that it opens up more revelations about our coastal areas. Kofi Awoonor, a Ghanaian poet and author examines the tropical cyclone affecting a town and describes the adverse effects that followed.

Kofi Awoonor’s Poem – “The Sea Eats the Land at Home”

In this literary journey, Awoonor carefully painted the image of a town ‘eaten up’ by water and the devastation people are subjected to, as a result of this natural disaster. Awoonor, in his search for answers to this menace, could only but wonder just as revealed in his statement – “Where lies our salvation? You asked. We do not need any salvation. Does not our end lie on this beginning shore?” This explains the pitiful state of most coastal areas in Africa. The tides are fast changing. A landlord today wakes up to not having a house tomorrow morning. WHY? ‘The sea ate up his house over the night.’ Climate change is a huge threat to coastal areas as the sea water level rise thereby accelerating coastal erosion; which in turn leads to washing away of lives and properties. For all who care to listen, Awoonor raised an alarm:

“At home the sea is in the town,
Running in and out of the cooking places,
Collecting the firewood from the hearths
And sending it back at night;
The sea eats the land at home.”

It can only be imagined if it is not experienced how the sea could be running. Probably if the sea was crawling, we could have packed our fire woods. But one begins to wonder if there was prior announcement to the sea’s arrival in town. Awoonor revealed that:

“It came one day at the dead of night,
Destroying the cement walls,
And carried away the fowls,
The cooking-pots and the ladles”

It is crystal clear that the sea was not on a courtesy visit; it had just a purpose – taking all on its way. While flooding occurs in both urban and rural areas, the experience is more epidemic for those in the coastal areas. Many of them live close to the sea and the sea has always been a frequent visitor to their abode. While several questions can be raised about the standard of living of these people, it is also pertinent to remember we are racing against time to save the lives of the coastal areas inhabitants.

“It is a sad thing to hear the wails,
And the mourning shouts of the women,
Calling on all the gods they worship,
To protect them from the angry sea.”

Is the sea actually angry? Or are we just suffering as a result of our negligence. Several bills have been legislated as regards climate-related environmental disasters. But we seem to favour giving of relief materials to victims rather than putting in place proactive measures to counter impending dangers. Implementation of laws becomes herculean tasks; why won’t the sea be angry when our leaders prefer to embezzle funds meant to develop these coastal areas? Who has cursed us? Awoonor painted the picture of a woman in the poem:

“Aku stood outside where her cooking-pot stood,
With her two children shivering from the cold,
Her hands on her breasts,
Weeping mournfully.
Her ancestors have neglected her,
Her gods have deserted her,
It was a cold Sunday morning,
The storm was raging,
Goats and fowls were struggling in the water”

This is the largely untold hardship inhabitants of coastal areas go through. Awoonor carefully painted the picture of a woman who felt neglected and deserted as she mournfully weep. Even the children partook of the hardship as they were exposed to severe cold. Imagine the animals that got caught up in the ravishing anger of the sea. They had to struggle with the water for survival.

“The angry water of the cruel sea;
The lap-lapping of the bark water at the shore,
And above the sobs and the deep and low moans,
Was the eternal hum of the living sea.
It has taken away their belongings
Adena has lost the trinkets which
Were her dowry and her joy,
In the sea that eats the land at home,
Eats the whole land at home.”

The sea is personified in the poem and seen as cruel. Awoonor described the water as angry and further went to describe how the water was lapping against the shore and how its interior hum, its life force and power, which was stronger and louder than the sobs and deep low moans of the townspeople. Awoonor continued with emphasis on the physical loss of belongings in the poem. He talked about another woman named Adena, who had lost her trinkets which were her dowry and symbols of joy to her. Happiness gets lost when the sea is in town. This is a caricature of the devastating effects of sea encroachment on land. Many lands and towns have been wiped off or in the process of going into extinction as a result of sea encroachment. One of these towns affected by sea encroachment in Africa is Aiyetoro, an ancient settlement in the Ilaje area of Ondo State which is currently being ravaged by the sea. Several measures have been taken to call the attention of the government to checkmate the encroachment of the sea in Aiyetoro by socio-political groups such as the IAF (Ilaje Advancement Forum) who raised alarm that 3000 metres of their land had been encroached and property worth millions of naira destroyed. This is just one out of many towns and villages affected by sea encroachment in Africa.

While it is disturbing that African governments are not doing enough to checkmate flooding and sea encroachment in coastal areas, it is pertinent to note that it takes a collective effort to forestall loss of lives and properties as a result of sea encroachment. Every hand should be on deck to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to combat sea encroachment in Africa villages, towns and cities.

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Aderonke Joseph
Aderonke Joseph

Huh! So pathetic, climate change on rampage!