Friday, October 29, 2010

Marjorie Oludhe-Macgoye on those Relas…

A Freedom Song


Atieno washes dishes,

Atieno plucks the chicken,

Atieno gets up early,

Beds her sacks down in the kitchen,

Atieno eight years old,

Atieno yo.


Since she is my sister's child

Atieno needs no pay.

While she works my wife can sit

Sewing every sunny day:

With he earnings I support

Atieno yo.


Atieno' sly and jealous,

Bad example to the kids

Since she minds them, like a schoolgirl

Wants their dresses, shoes and beads,

Atieno ten years old,

Atieno yo.


Now my wife has gone to study

Atieno is less free.

Don't I keep her, school my own ones,

Pay the party, union fee,

All for progress! Aren’t you grateful

Atieno yo?


Visitors need much attention,

All the more when I work night.

That girl spends too long at market.

Who will teach her what is right?

Atieno rising fourteen,

Atieno yo.


Atieno's had a baby

So we know that she is bad.

Fifty fifty it may live

And repeat the life she had

Ending in post-partum bleeding,

Atieno yo.


Atieno's soon replaced;

Meat and sugar more than all

She ate in such a narrow life

Were lavished at her funeral.

Atieno's gone to glory,

Atineo yo.


Marjorie Oludhe-Macgoye


This poem is a throw back to way back when. It reminds me of those hideous English lessons in scorching January afternoons. A Freedom Song has always been a favourite of mine, childhood memories notwithstanding and this does not detract from the important issue at hand. Thematically it is a common story told with a bizarre detachment of one who has seen this happen all to many times. Atieno didn’t meet her prince charming in real life, societal and familial obligations took care of that, robbed her of innocence and shrouded her in shame, malice and disillusion. Like all parables, Atieno is a cautionary tale but Macgoye cleverly (and ironically) turns her wagging finger not at the poor orphan girl but at us, we who did not save the girl from her perverse prison. We who killed her in her childbed whilst she fought to give birth to Vain Hope. Atieno the hapless victim/ Atieno yo!


Marjorie Oludhe-Macgoye went on to tank the high school careers of many a Kenyan Youth when she published Coming to Birth. She lives in Nairobi.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

somebody please explicate this poem!

Anonymous said...

A metaphor of a young AFRICAN NATION.

Gift Nkosi said...

this poem encompasses a very profound but realistic every day view of modernity...it suggests that a child is no longer raised by a village, and a person is o longer a person by other people...how was a mere child supposed to survive when she was made into a slave by her own blood and ostracised by society for being an orphan?

Jackie Katanga said...

Atieno is over 50% of us young Africans. Atieno is me

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain why the phrase "Atieno yo" is repeated?

Elfreda Tetteh said...

It's a freedom song. Atieno yo is a kind of chorus.

Sylvia said...

This poem points out at the adult people who do not want to take the responsibility of the young regardless of whether you are the biological parents or not.a parent is always a parent and they should behave like one.what happened to the parental warmth and care?

Aileen Leon said...

the poem reflects what happensin our society today...there are many atienos out there.

Balole said...

Best African poem ever

Anonymous said...

Should be compulsory reading and analysis for all human rights courses.

laurender aluoch said...

the poem clearly teaches the society to take control in every child in such prison out there..... Atieno has been robbed very many opportunities in life by the society which has dissolutionaly led to her miserable death...a lesson to the public

REUBEN MATHUVI said...

the oeuvre presents a clear image of the predicaments that women undergo due to patriarchy...my opinion is that the poem is all about global feminism.

Ishiombo said...

Rest in Peace Marjorie. I loved this poem. May you rest with the angels. 1928 to 2015

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