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Mutabaruka - Jamaican Rastafari Dub Poet

My Poetry Corner August 2017 features the poem “Eyes of Liberty” by Mutabaruka, a Jamaican Rastafarian dub poet, musician, actor, educator, and talk-show host. Born Allan Hope in December 1952, he grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, where he trained as an electrician at the Kingston Technical High School. Marcus Garvey’s son, a teacher at the trade school, influenced his world view and awakened his Black awareness.

As an adolescent, Mutabaruka identified with the Black Power Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s that swept across the Caribbean. His poems became a means to changing the political system in Jamaica.

“Because they say that the pen is mightier than the sword, in that case it was a gun! So we used the pen instead of turning toward this what dem call revolution that was in we that was fashioned and shaped in us,” Mutabaruka told his audience at a book signing in San Francisco in April 2005.

In “Dis Poem,” after calling attention to the African slave trade and naming African leaders in the struggle for freedom from oppression, the poet attacks racism and fascism.

dis poem is vexed about apartheid rascism fascism
the ku klux klan riots in brixton atlanta jim jones
dis poem is revoltin against 1st world 2nd world
3rd world division man made decision

Raised as a Roman Catholic, the young poet converted to Rastafarianism in the 1970s. He took the name Mutabaruka, a phrase from the Rwandan language which translates to “one who is always victorious.” To pursue his writing full-time, he quit his job at the Jamaican Telephone Company in 1971 and moved to the Potosi Hills where, as a vegetarian, he could grow his own food.

In his first poetry collection, Outcry (1973), the opening poem “Call me No Poet or Nothin Like That” (written in Jamaican patois), Mutabaruka emphasizes that his poetry is not for lovers or dream makers when Black folks face police beatings, whores in new Kingston, babies dying, food shortage, tax increase… Rastas wantin’ to be free. Then, he denigrates junk food consumed by Jamaicans living the American Dream.

…corn dumplin’ and ackee
from big fat Mattie
stewed peas and rice
use to really taste nice
now ice cream stand
teckin’ ova de land
junk food fullin’ up de place
this is annada disgrace
junk food fullin’ up de place
a now good food a guh guh
to waste
[…]
Strawberry ice cream
Raspberry ice cream
Dem a bury wi
You no si?
Ice cream ice cream
Hot dog ice cream
Livin’ de american dream
 

In the featured poem, “Eyes of Liberty” from his 2005 collection The First Poems/The Next Poems, Mutabaruka questions America’s understanding of liberty, justice, and equality embodied in the Statue of Liberty.

On that bridge I look and see
The symbol of your justice and equality
Standing tall with her torch of flame
Now I ask what is your aim
[…]
But the eyes of liberty is watching you
Watching all the things you do
The eyes of justice is crying out
What is your democracy all about
[…]
Now I see you in my land
Making all kinds of plans
Spending billions of dollars every year
To keep us all living in fear
Economical pressure is your game
Liberty reaching with her torch of flame
[…]

To read the complete featured poem and learn more about Mutabaruka and his work, go to my Poetry Corner August 2017.

SOURCES FOR POETRY
“Dis Poem,” So Much Things To Say: 100 Calabash Poets, edited by Kwame Daves & Colin Channer, Akashic Books, New York, USA, 2010.
“Call me No Poet or Nothin Like That” & “Eyes of Liberty” from Presentation during Book Tour, San Francisco, USA, April 12, 2005.
PHOTO CREDIT: 1000 Voices of Dissent Blog, Interview with Mutabaruka, November 2, 2010.

 

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