Mother Africa

by Ribka Sibhatu

Cradle of mankind
baobab of the soul,
in your savannahs
and sacred forests
death dances.

You hear the echo, the scream
of the mother
who delivers diamonds
and receives armoured tanks.

O dying land,
that for decades
has met the elders,
the elders who keep
the ancestral treasures.

When will dawn break
for generous
Mother Africa?

The literal translation of this poem was made by Andre Naffis-Sahely

The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop


This small poem is deceptively simple. Its succinct, almost dry, statements convey enormously rich ideas about Africa. Our task was to retain the delicate understatement of the original.

As you'll see, we followed Andre's literal version exactly for the first stanza - which made life easy! And we did little to the second stanza, other than adding the idea of mother Africa 'delivering' diamonds, which seemed rather apt. The trickiest stanza was number three as, in the original, there's a great deal of ambiguity about what exactly the land is doing with, or to, the elders. We tried to convey this ambiguity by using the verbs 'met' and then 'keep': the latter giving the sense of 'holding on to' and 'preserving'.


  1. June 8th, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Patrisia says:

    I came here looking for stmioheng to put on my first Grandson's grave. My poor daughter has lost her first child to still birth, and her heart is broken to pieces. I am trying to stay strong for her, but it's the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Reading these poems, I can't keep my eyes dry long enough to read one through. Not only the pain of loosing baby Kaden, but seeing my beautiful Daughter hurt so bad, is enough to kill me alone. I can't help her, and nothing I can do to ease her pain. I feel selfish to say I hurt so badly too. I loved him so much all ready. We buried him this morning, and it's hard to believe the hurt will ever go away. Sam, my daughter, would have been the most wonderful mommy in the world, with more love in her heart for her Son, than one Son could ever use. It's so unfair that there are people who don't deserve children, and have them no problem. My sweet heart lost her baby, and the unfair that is felt is unreal. I'm sorry, but that's how I feel. Your poems are beautiful, Thank you for letting me read them. These precious little ones are angels, and nothing less than a blessing. Bless you all who have been through this. Sending love to you all, from a Grandma who wants to love her Grandson. <3

  2. March 15th, 2012 at 12:41 am

    Anna says:

    Thank you for your beautiful translations, and for including the poems both in original and translated form!

    I don't know if this relates, but the last line reminded me of an African proverb - "However long the night, the dawn will break" - perhaps the poet was referencing this?

    Thank you again!