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Poetry,  Postcolonial

Poem: Prison by Mutabaruka

It has just been published that Mubarak has renounced. So, in honour of those who have fought for the liberty of the whole country:

Prisoner by: Mutabaruka

You ask me if I have ever been to prison
Been to Prison?
Your world of murderer’s and thieves
Of hatred and jealousy of death
And you ask me if I have ever been to prison
I answer, Yes
I am still there trying to escape.

I don’t usually like poetry, but this is one of my favourite pieces. It is simple, direct and yet it describes the struggle of many people against an oppresive power.

Mutabaruka is a Rastafarian, social poet belonging to the tradition of Postcolonial studies in Literature, more specifically he is a West Indian poet: from the Anglophone Caribbean. Because of his Rastafarian background, he pleads for a return to the African roots of the black population in the Caribbean islands since the natives were exterminated during the colonisation. A key element is music and, as a consequence, his poems are very rhythmic, an effect achieved in this one by the repetition of “been to prison.”

But I would like to focus on the message of the poem. The poetic voice is answering back to someone who has asked him “have you ever been to prison?”. This implies the addressee considers the poetic voice an inferior, someone with a dubious reputation and probably a criminal. So, in such a short sentence, there a whole system (and the consequent struggle) are described: colonialism also means slavery, a superior vs. inferior relationship and, more importantly a concept of otherness. Colonial subjects were what colonisers were not, so, to put it simply, ignorant savages. There was then, a linguistic prison containing a discourse of inferiority for the descendants of African slaves and, sadly such boundaries still exist.

There are words and behaviours that imprison people and stereotype them. But luckily, there are people out there fighting for freedom. This is why I love this poem so much: because it wrings awareness, it reminds us of invisible but powerful limits and injustices we still have to fight.

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