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HAIKU IN WEST AFRICA

African academics, poets, diplomats, and travelers surely became aware of Japanese haiku and other short-form poetry after World War II through contact with the great works of translation and haiku history published in English and French. The first organized haiku activities in West Africa took place in Senegal with the establishment of a haiku contest in Dakar in the early 1980s that is still functioning today. Activities in Anglophone West Africa began somewhat later and have been dominated by poets from Nigeria and Ghana, who started organizations to gather regional haiku poets, published a journal for African haiku and promoted haiku book publishing, submitted to international journals and websites and posted on social media, and participated in international contests and online kukai. As a result, the face of African haiku across the whole continent has a distinctly Nigerian and Ghanaian complexion.


SENEGAL

Senegal has an oral tradition of “short talk” poetry. These poems were recited at occasions such as weddings and baptisms. Apart from brevity, however, short talk poems were unlike haiku: they relied primarily on repeated rhyme, rhythmic repetition, and wordplay. There were no standards as to syllable count or seasonality as in Japanese haiku.

Credit for the introduction of true haiku in West Africa is accorded the prominent Japanese haiku poet and diplomat, Uchida Sonō (内田園生) in Senegal. During his three-and-a-half year mission as Japanese ambassador, Uchida came to believe that Senegal would be a fertile ground for the growth of haiku. The image of the Senegalese people relating to nature reminded him of the traditional life of his compatriots in Japan. Haiku poets in Japan believe that nature does not belong to mankind, Uchida said, but rather it is man who belongs to nature. Thus, humans must show reverence for nature and live in harmony with it. 

In 1980, during his stay in Dakar, Uchida wrote this haiku (probably in French):

firmament covered
of Saharan dust
white sun does not move1

Significantly, Uchida’s haiku evangelism was supported by Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first president of Senegal and himself an internationally noted poet. Senghor wrote an endorsement of the 1983 Haiku Competition report titled “La leçon poétique du Japon” (The Poetic Lesson of Japan).2

Thus, it may be said that the first organized haiku activities anywhere on the African continent took place in Senegal. The Embassy of Japan in Dakar has records of a haiku contest beginning in 1979 (although the 25thanniversary of the official Concours de Haïku was celebrated in 2006).3 Uchida was joined by Senegalese university professor Mouhamadou Kane as cofounder of the competition; Kane chaired the Jury for two decades. The first competition received about 60 submissions from various countries but mostly from Senegal and Cameroon. 

In a thank you letter to the Japanese ambassador in 2006, Amadou Ly, a literature professor at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar and member of the competition jury, revealed that the traditional haiku form was a very important consideration. He presented one example of a haiku that was not selected, a poem in which the French “e” proved troublesome: 

Sous la rose charnelle
coule un soleil vivant,
beauté éternelle. 
Under the carnal rose
flows a living sun,
eternal beauty.

“The two e’s in the first line of the verse don’t need to be counted to arrive at the 5 expected syllables.… But it is necessary to count the “e” in “coule” (which normally should be omitted since it is followed by a vowel) to obtain the 7 syllables. In the last verse, the final e is not counted.”4

The winning haiku in that year’s contest was this one (the poet’s name unknown):

Soleil en furie,
le riz doré embrace     
le cœur du paysan. 
Raging sun,
the golden rice ignites
the peasant’s heart

Though it is not widely publicized outside West Africa, this French-language contest is still taking place under the sponsorship of the Japanese Embassy, Air France, and local hotels. According to information posted in 2012, “In addition to fans from neighboring countries such as Mali and Mauritania, participants from France, Romania, Canada, Switzerland, Comoros, and Trinidad and Tobago were welcomed during the most recent competition.” Beginning in 2011, entries were accepted in the Wolof language as well as French.5 The number of participants was 387 in 20066 and topped 500 by 2017.7

Moreover, the haiku seeds that Uchida planted almost 35 years ago, have borne some remarkable fruit. When Jeanne Painchaud, a haiku poet and teacher from Québec, was invited by Senegalese novelist, dramatist, and poet Marouba Fall to visit Senegal in 2008 and lecture on haiku, she marveled that owing to Uchida’s legacy “young Senegalese … know more about haiku than young Quebecers.” In fact, haiku the contest attracts entries primarily from secondary school and college students from Francophone countries but awards “Prix Spéciale participation étrangère” to adult haikuists from abroad. First Prize in 2017 was won by this alliterative haiku by Aminata Niang, a student at the Mariama Ba House of Education on Gorée Island, Dakar:

Fines fleurs fanées      
gisent joliment jaunies            
seules, sans soleil    
Fine wilted flowers
yellowed, lying beautifully
alone, without sun8

NIGERIA

Organized activities in Anglophone West Africa began later than in French-speaking lands. Chronologically, the second haiku association in West Africa was probably the Nigeria Haiku Society, formed in 2004 by Jerry S. Adesewo. The society, formally recognized and certified by the Association of Nigerian Authors, was officially inaugurated on June 2, 2005, by Akio Tanaka, the Japanese ambassador to Nigeria, at his residence. The occasion was the awards ceremony for the 1st Haiku Poetry Contest organized in collaboration with an Abuja-based edutainment company, Arojah Concepts, for FCT Schools.

Adesewo (born 1976) is a prominent playwright, journalist, editor, and arts administrator who resides in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. He was one of the earliest sub-Saharan African poets to have his work accepted in international journals. For example, this haiku of his was published in World Haiku 2 (2006):

Surging waves
embracing a roaring lion—
olive branch
The field dances
When the monsoon sees you
A whiff of cool breeze

and this one in issue 11 (2015):

The Nigerian haiku contest has since ceased activity, and Nigerian Haiku, the Facebook page of the Nigeria Haiku Society, has apparently been inactive since early 2015. Nonetheless, a number of talented individual haikuists have attained international reputations.

The Mamba
Journal of Africa Haiku
Issue 9, March 2020

July 2015 saw the birth in West Africa of the Africa Haiku Network, the brainchild of Emmanuel Jessie Kalusian from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, an instructor of information and computer technologies with skills in computer programming and networking, and Adjei Agyei-Baah, a lecturer from the University of Ghana Distance Learning Center, Kumasi Campus. Their goal was the promotion and teaching haiku throughout the continent, and they have been quite successful in those pursuits. In February 2016 The Mamba Haiku Journal, Africa’s first international haiku voice, was launched by the same team, bringing the global haiku community’s attention to haiku growth in Africa.

Kalusian (born 1996) has been active in online kukai and publishing in African and North American journals. This haiku was Commended in the Vladimir Devidé Haiku Contest 2015:

the homeless man
tidies up his new residence 
approaching storm

and this one, originally appearing in A Hundred Gourds, was picked up for Kala Ramesh’Naad Anunaad: An Anthology of Contemporary World Haiku (2016):

drone attacks
my child goes to bed
with leftover stones
The Lagos Haiku Workshop was held on June 6, 2018 in Arch Deacon Adelaja Senior High School, Braga, Lagos State, Nigeria. It was organised by Michael Babajide from the Parliament of Poets and Emmanuel Kalusian, cofounder of Africa Haiku Network with live coverage by Channels TV Lagos.

Emmanuel Jakpa is an established and decorated poet, originally from Warri, Nigeria, and now residing in Ireland. He occasionally has written haiku; a sample, published in Shamrock 15 (2010): 

harmattan
cracking green buds 
from a tree
Too Small for Meat
by Barnabas I. Adeleke

Barnabas Ìkéolúwa Adélékè (born 1990), a native of Osun State, Nigeria, and now living in Ile-Ife, was a university student in 2018. This haiku was an Editor’s Choice in Cattails, the journal of the United Haiku and Tanka Society (UHTS) in May 2016:

midday shower
a cow’s hoofprint quenches 
the dove’s thirst

Precious P. Oboh, who sometimes signs his work “Presh,” is also a member of the UTHS. He specializes in short poems and Japanese-style verses. This one appeared in The Heron’s Nest 18:3 (September 2016):

ballad of the moon— 
virgins painted
in primary colours

Emmanuel Abdalmasih Samson, who publishes in The Mamba, devised what he called “mirror haiku,” a technique found in some other haiku cultures around the world. “Mirror haiku” did not catch on, however. This example, from Abdalmasih’s Facebook page, dates from 2011:

walking in the rain
umbrellas sing counterpoint
August concerto
 
August concerto 
umbrellas sing counterpoint
walking in the rain9

GHANA

Haiku Rhapsodies
(Verses from Ghana)
by Celestine Nudanu

Haiku has been studied and written in Ghana since the early years of the new millennium. Holding an advanced degree in English and theatre arts from the University of Ghana, Legon, Celestine Nudanu was the first person in Ghana to have a haiku appear in print, and she subsequently published two books, Haiku Rhapsodies (Verses from Ghana) (2016) and Whispers of Dawn: A Book of Cherita (2016). Nudanu won an Honorable Mention in the 5th Japan-Russia Haiku Contest, 2016, with this verse:

harmattan moon
a leafless tree leans on
its shadow 

Accra resident Nana Fredua-Agyeman was one of the first Africans to have work published in a Western journal; four of his haiku were accepted for Simply Haiku 4:4 (Winter 2006), including:

the swift’s home 
in the wall—
painted over 

and his haiku have since appeared in The Mamba, AcornShamrock, World Haiku, The Heron’s Nest, and other international haiku journals. Fredua-Agyeman launched a blog, “Haiku from Ghana” in 2010.

Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah, a journalist and mathematics and science teacher, is another poet who early on found success with Japanese short-form poetry. He was Ghanaian editor of Rough Sheet Tanka Journal. He has sometimes written under the nom de plume “Sitting Mountain” and has seen his work accepted in a dozen or more poetry journals on four continents. A sample of his haiku, from the American journal Ambrosia 4 (Summer 2009):

empty matchboxes
scattered in the mud
my new community

In 2016, in the wake of the founding of Africa Haiku Network, Adjei Agyei-Baah and Celestine Nudanu, poets with a special love for Japanese short-form poetry, founded the Ghana Haiku Society (GHS) with the aim of promoting haiku in that country and making it an acceptable new poetic genre for literature studies in high schools and universities. 

Haiku workshop organised by Adjei Agyei-Baah and Celestine Nudanu
with students from the Creative Writing Class of the Department of English, University of Ghana, Legon on April 17, 2017

Agyei-Baah (born 1977), a native of Kumasi, Ashanti Region, Ghana, is probably the most-published and certainly the most active haiku poet in West Africa. He publishes widely in international print and online journals and frequently wins prizes in international contests. These two haiku, for example, both won Editors’ Choice awards in The Heron’s Nest (issue 18:1, March 2016; and issue 21:3, September 2019, respectively):

roasting sun
the egret’s measured steps 
in buffalo shadow
morning jog
taking the route scented
by a bread truck
Afriku
by Adjei Agyei-Baah

In addition to his other firsts in the area of African haiku, Agyei-Baah was the first poet in sub-Saharan Africa to publish a substantial collection of work in a native language, in his case Akan, the main language of southern Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. More than 80 haiku in Agyei-Baah’s 2016 book, Afriku, were translated into Akan and published in both languages, and his other books are also in two languages. Here are two examples, the first an award-winner in the 3rd Japan-Russia Haiku Contest (2014), and the second the winner of an Honorable Mention in the European Haiku Society’s 1st European Haiku Prize (2015/2016):

leafless tree—
lifting a cup of nest
to the sky
duakwatrekwa a 
ɔde  anomabuo        
rekyerɛ soro
drought—
the farmer digs
into his breath
ɛpɛbrɛ  
okuani fɔmtuo
si ne homee mu 

Justice Joseph Prah is an Accra-based poet who also publishes in international and local journals and participates in the online kukai. Prah has written about “Afriku,” the style of haiku being written by the younger West African poets.10 In turn Agyei-Baah, the inventor of the term in 2011, has defined Afriku as a nativized and avant-garde form of the Japanese haiku poetry in Africa and other places in the world.”11 This Afriku of Prah’s is from The Mamba 2 (September 2016):

dinner with family—
thread by thread
okra slime ties our hands
Between Two Dates
by Kwaku Feni Adow

Among the other contemporary Ghanaian haijin who are active today are Kwaku Feni Adow of Akosombo, who had a haiku of his shortlisted in the 2016 Babishai Haiku Contest in Uganda:

blackout evening
the moon lights up 
outdoor conversation

Adow was named secretary of the Africa Haiku Network in May 2020 and in this same year completed his first collection, Between Two Dates, with each haiku translated into Twi by Agyei-Baah and French by Keith A. Simmonds. The title haiku:

     tombstone— 
between two dates
  the length of life

Turkson Adu Darkwa (who also publishes as Kojo Turkson), is a name that is encountered frequently in The Mamba. One of his haiku was featured among the verses celebrating the Year of the Monkey in the Asahi Haiku Network newspaper column on January 1, 2016:

Little blacksmith
a monkey hammering
kernels on the ground

Another of his haiku won the Akita International University President’s Award in the 5th Japan-Russia Haiku Contest 2016:

after the storm 
the homelessness 
of fallen leaves

This haiku of Blessmond Alebna Ayinbire, a resident of Zebilla Natinga, Upper East, Ghana, won notice in the 18th European Quarterly Kukai, Summer 2017, on the theme of “landscape”:

tête-à-tête …
the vastness
in Grandpa’s glasses

AUTHOR: Adjei Agyei-Baah

ADAPTED FROM: Adjei Agyei-Baah, “A History of African Haiku”

SOURCES / FURTHER READING (PRINT)

  • Adow, Kwaku Feni. Between Two Dates: Haiku & Senryu. Twi translation by Adjei Agyei-Baah; French translation by Keith A. Simmonds; foreword by Marta Chociłowska. Kumasi, Ashanti, Ghana: Mamba Africa Press, 2020.
  • Agyei-Baah, Adjei. Ghana: 21 Haiku. Kumasi, Ghana: Mamba African Press, 2018.
  • Agyei-Baah, Adjei. Afriku: Haiku & Senryu from Ghana. Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2016. In English and Akan Twi.
  • Agyei-Baah, Adjei. “A History of African Haiku.” The Mamba 3 (2017), 107–33. Also available in World of Haiku, The Haiku Foundation website: https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/files/original/d64ced7e83a987247341b28c3a812102.pdf; posted February 2017.
  • Agyei-Baah, Adjei. “The Interview March 2018.” Interviewed by Tendai Rinos Mwanaka and Kevin McLaughlin. Better Than Starbucks 3:3 (March 2018).
  • Agyei-Baah, Adjei. Piece of My Fart: Senryu Poems. Introduction by Michael Rehling; translations into AkanTwi by the poet. Kumasi, Ashanti, Ghana: Mamba Africa Press, 2018.
  • Agyei-Baah, Adjei, Maki Starfield, and Ikuyo Yoshimura. Trio of Windows. Tokyo: JUNPA, 2018.
  • Descôteaux, Diane, and Gervais De Collins Noumsi Bouopda. La luciole attend la nuit pour briller: Haïku: Lettres camerounaises (The Firefly Waits for Night to Shine: Haïku; Cameroun Letters). Yaounde, Cameroun, and Paris: Éditions L’Harmattan, 2013.
  • Embassy of Japan in Senegal. Le Haïku au Sénégal, un regard sur deux civilisations: 1979–2007 (The Haiku in Senegal, a Look at Two Civilizations: 1979–2007). Dakar, Senegal: Imprimerie Saint-Paul Sénégal, 2007. Winning haiku in the Haiku Competition 1979–2007.
  • Mensah, Prince Kwasi. Haiku for Awuku. No place: Create Space/Mensa Press, 1st edition, 2010.
  • Nudanu, Celestine. Haiku Rhapsodies (Verses from Ghana). Accra, Ghana: Boblindsmedia Enterprise, 2016.
  • Okoh, Emmanuel Uweru. Gardens and Caves: Poetry Collection. Sunbird African Media, 2012.
  • Nudanu, Celestine. Whispers of Dawn: A Book of Cherita: Accra: Ghana: self-published, 2018.
  • Stevenson, Richard. Hot Flashes: Maiduguri Haiku, Senryu, & Tanka. Ekstasis Editions, 2001. More than 300 poems from about 1980 by a Canadian teacher in Nigeria.

SOURCES / FURTHER READING (ONLINE)

Haiku in East Africa

Haiku in North Africa

Haiku in Southern Africa

NOTES

  1. Translated by Adjei Agyei-Baah, The Mamba 3 (March 2017). []
  2. Review by Oumar Ndiaye, Le Soleil (Dakar) of Le Haïku au Sénégal, un regard sur deux civilisations: 1979–2007 (2007). The review was reprinted on Le Haïku au Sénégal website, January 2008: http://www.senegalou.com/forum/le-haiku-au-senegal-t1377.0.html;wap2=. []
  3. Amadou Ly, “Le haïku au Sénégal, une experience exaltante.” Ambassade du Japon au Sénégal website (2006). []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. “Qu’est-ce que c’est le Concours de Haïku?“ Website of the Embassy of Japan in Gambia, undated [2011]: https://www.sn.emb-japan.go.jp/en/culture/haiku1.html. []
  6. Ly, op. cit. []
  7. “La 30ème Edition du Concours de Haïku,” Ambassade du Japon au Sénégal website, posted December 12, 2017: https://www.sn.emb-japan.go.jp/itpr_fr/haiku2017.html. []
  8. “1er Prix, 29ème Concours de Haïku s/c Ambassade du Japon au Sénégal”: https://www.sn.emb-japan.go.jp/itpr_fr/haiku2017.html. []
  9. E S Abdalmasih, in Facebook Notes (Mirror Haiku Series), September 2, 2011: https://www.facebook.com/notes/emmanuel-abdalmasih-samson/mirror-haiku/264826316875980/?_rdc=1&_rdr []
  10. For example, Justice Joseph Prah, “Afriku and its Transition Through 2016.” The Mamba 3 (2017), 71–106 []
  11. Adjei Agyei-Baah, “The Interview March 2018.” Interview by Tendai Rinos Mwanaka and Kevin McLaughlin. Better Than Starbucks 3:3 (March 2018). []
Updated on September 5, 2020