Culture

CULTURE: Gcina Mhlophe – The Dancer

UnknownMy daughter studies African literature and in this week, she’s looking at how modern poets have adopted African traditional poetry and modernised it in their work. She chose Gcina Mhlophe’s The Dancer, among others, as an example of how she took traditional praise poetry and used it as a means to question what she has never known about her mother. It’s not straight forward praising, she wants to know about the mother she has never known – the dancer.

THE DANCER
Mama,
they tell me you were a dancer
they tell me you had long
beautiful legs to carry your graceful body
they tell me you were a dancer

Mama,
they tell me you sang beautiful solos
they tell me you closed your eyes
always when the feeling of the song
was right, and lifted your face up to the sky
they tell me you were an enchanting dancer

Mama,
they tell me you were always so gentle
they talk of a willow tree
swaying lovingly over clear running water
in early Spring when they talk of you
they tell me you were a slow dancer

Mama,
they tell me you were a wedding dancer
they tell me you smiled and closed your eyes
your arms curving outward just a little
and your feet shuffling in the sand;
tshi tshi tshitshitshitha, tshitshi tshishitshitha
O hee! How I wish I was there to see you
they tell me you were a pleasure to watch

Mama,
they tell me I am a dancer too
but I don’t know . . .
I don’t know for sure what a wedding dancer is
there are no more weddings
but many, many funerals
where we sing and dance
running fast with the coffin
of a would-be bride or a would-be groom
strange smiles have replaced our tears
our eyes are full of vengeance, Mama

Dear, dear Mama,
they tell me I am a funeral dancer

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5 Comments

    1. That line is said isn’t it Saint? But doesn’t it say something about where our social lives are these days?

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