At the Cairo book fair in the second hand tent there are a number of tables selling assorted books for 2 or 3 EGP. People spend hours (well I spent hours) getting their hands dusty by flicking through old Arabic paperbacks. This year one of the things I found was 1950s edition of al-Fayturi’s Songs of Africa.
As a book it is not rare or valuable (it is a second edition that is basically falling apart) but it is nice. The cover and drawing’s throughout the book are done by a Sudanese artist called Hassan Hakim.
Al-Fayturi is an interesting poet. His mother was Egyptian and his father was Sudanese. He had a grandfather from Bahr al-Ghazal, which is now in South Sudan. He is most well know for writing poems about Black-ness, African unity and anti-colonialism.
Part of the reason that this book is interesting is its date. It was published in Cairo in 1956 (though l-Maaref in Beirut seem to have been involved in the publication somehow too). The first edition was in 1953. Al-Maaref in Beirut seem to have been involved in the publication somehow too. The poems often have dates underneath them and were written between 1948 and 1953. This is interesting as it shows that pan-African ideas and African colonial politics were being talked about in Arabic in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In my mind the 1960s had been the start of an Arabic pan-African movement, but al-Fayturi came a while before that.
So you can get an idea of the contents of his poetry, I will translate his poem “Ana Zanji”. The word Zanji is translated by others as Negro. It is a pejorative word in Arabic. The translation is quick so apologies for that.
I am Zanji
Say it. Don’t be a coward … Don’t be a coward!
Say it in the face of humanity…
I am Zanji…
By father is Zanji, back to his grandfather…
My mother is Zanji…
I am black.
I am black but I am free. I own my freedom.
My land is African.
Long live my land.
And let it be African!
It is my land … and the white man is its pollution
He is its occupying, invading pollution.
So, may I die a martyr.
And may my children die martyrs like me.
Behind death … behind the land
echo the screams of my ancestors…
You are not our sons unless the wind scatters the dust of the battlefield.
You are not our sons unless the indignant man, expelled from the land, stands triumphant,
Unless the shroud of darkness if removed,
Unless the land explodes with light,
Unless the black flag is raised
above its hills … victorious,
Unless proud, jubilant history encircles your brow.
Dawn levels the wall of darkness
Listen to the songs of victory
See how the forces of darkness are challenged
and fall … they are toppled in fear.
See the forces of the people rise from their slumber
See the black flood
as it crosses the rocky dam
shines in the light of the Dawn.