I wrote Jibbi he Pulaar, (Poems in Fula, 2017) at the height of a turbulent socio-linguistic climate characterised by a seemingly unready world at war with its local dialect and cultural chauvinism. Take a walk along the streets what do we hear? Sonorous accented local dialect at best seen by these speakers as having arrived, while for the elites; a linguistic crime. Why do I hesitate to make this absurd claim that ours is a convoluted system where we have for a very long time abandoned our local dialect in lieu of new ways of living? When we start to think and refuse to recognise the beauty and artistic aura of our language, when we have accepted to be assimilated and proudly prefer being described as best in writing and speaking foreign languages.
Out of the need to salvage us from the decadence of sophisticated ideas forcibly imposed on us by the coloniser, on one hand by education and on the other hand, intuition. Over the past years, I have read with sated vigor, well-written books, classics and articles that talk about mundane as well as extraordinary concepts almost about everything under the sun. I decided to invoke some of my cherished memories growing up in the village, running around attending musical programmes and the fear of the jinn of (Mansa Nappi) lurking around the bushes of Sare Bala and Fula Bantang. In Jibbi he Pulaar, I’m humbly trying to regurgitate and lend credence to the way of life of a society, where from the cockcrow, farmers go out to till the soil, and others prepare the food, whilst others take care of other chores. I saw my grandparents tiptoe to the nearby and distant farmlands without even putting a morsel of food in their mouths or even water to drink. As a child, I have often been told that this is a way of life. My grandparents used to tell me that their forbearers had bequeathed to them hoes and farmlands. I grew admiring the beauty of words, ideas and the logic of reasoning and speaking, especially poetry and artistic concepts. For example on page 34 of the book, Caaynisaabe (the Chinese) my motivation to write this piece is partly inspired by the laborious work done by our rice growers in Jahally Patcharr in the Central River Region, thanks to the China technical aid people were trained in the art of growing and harvesting rice. As a child, I have heard my people differentiate the ricefields with special names whenever I was sent to take lunch or water for labourers. I know there are challenges when it comes to situating characters in a book from our surroundings at a time when most writers or playwrights prefer elite Western cities or names to appeal to an international audience.
Several years after the colonialists left our continent, we are still reeling from the psychological effects of the colonial invasion. When the award-winning Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o decided that he was no longer going to write books in English, it drew widespread criticisms from people who thought the veteran writer will lose his appeal if he writes in his native tongue. The matter, for me was simple: creating a niche is better than following centuries old ideas or styles that are hardly challenged or contested.
While there are inherent challenges here and there when it comes to communicating in one’s native language, it is imperative to note that we owe it to our people who helped us to systematically transform ourselves into the new world some of us find ourselves in. Therefore, I have decided to act, to appease my people with a tiny book such as the one I launched at the tail end of the year, to whet their appetite with poems I captured love, farming, music and everyday nuances. The writing of the poem entitled: Mansa Nappi on page 38 forms part of my childhood recollections of the big trees near the border between Fula Bantang and Sare Bala where it was said a jinn lived. The jinn was commonly known as Mansa Nappi, mansa in Mandinka means king whilst nappi means beautiful in Fula. So you can imagine growing up learning two or more local languages because in Fulladu, the lingua francas are Fula, Mandinka, Wolof and Serahule. Another poem also worthy of reflection is Laamu (government) on page 41, which calls for unity when it comes to strengthening government structures. The poet says:
Our government is about holding each other
Government is about helping
It is combined effort that create a government
It is unity that forms a government
There are sacrifices involved when it comes to forming a government
Government should be assisted
I have put it for the sake of the records the indefatigable efforts role played by my editor and publisher, Fodeh Baldeh of Fulladu publishers, veteran politician MC Cham and my biological father, Momodou Meta Baldeh, who helped me shape and polish my skills in Fula.
Ebrima Baldeh is the author of Jibbi he Pulaar (Poems in Fula). He works at GRTS-TV.