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. 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!