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Swahili love poem

Swahili love poem

Swahili love poem

In researching Burning Embers, I read a lot of books on aspects of African culture.  I was particularly fascinated by the stark honesty of many folk tales and proverbs of this area of the world – no euphemism and delicate delivery; often, the message is loud and clear. For example, many of the stories related in the book A Treasury of African Folklore by Harold Courlander have dark endings. Take the tale of ‘The Donkey Who Sinned’. A poor ass listens to his friends, a lion, a leopard and a hyena, confess their sins, which are grisly and violent, and decides to join in by admitting that he too has sinned. His sin? Nibbling grass. No sin at all, but the donkey’s friends find this unforgiveable. And the story ends: “And so the lion, the leopard, and the hyena turned on the donkey and devoured him.”

Yes, African stories may be dark and stark and brave in their approach, but a certain truth carries forth. While researching the book my attention was caught by a Swahili love poem in the fascinating African Proverbs and Wisdom by Julia Stewart. The poem is called ‘Love Does Not Know Secrets’, and the opening verse reads:

Love knows no secrets,
when it is hidden it will be discovered.
Love has no choice;
When it seizes a man,
he will confess everything.
everything that was not done.

There is such wisdom in these words, and the verse echoed in my mind as I wrote Burning Embers. The man Coral loves, Rafe, is carrying a dark and painful secret, and it is this that ultimately blocks the development of their love. Only when Rafe surrenders to the love he feels and unburdens himself of the weight of his secret does love shine through.

Interestingly, the very last line of the poem is this: ‘Love is a disease, / a malignant incurable disease’. Of course, disease, malignant and incurable are terms that have negative connotations for us, but need this be the case? Love can, of course, be a disease, but in a good way. Who wants to be cured of love?

Rafe and Coral are brought together by physical disease; and it is the surrendering of himself to love and the truth that allows Rafe to finally let go of that illness. If he has merely substituted his physical malady with another illness, that of love, no matter – for this is a disease that will see him happy and fulfilled and honoured for ever more.

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