The Sierra Leone Web

  Osman Sankoh, better known by his pen name "Mallam O," is a scholar and a writer, based in Accra, Ghana. He grew up in Warima, Koya Chiefdom, 58 miles outside of Freetown. His previous literary work includes two books: Hybrid Eyes - An African in Europe, and Beautiful Colours.  


"The day of March 8 was declared as the International Women’s Day. So, on March 8, 1995, I wrote the following poem for our mother. - Mallam O."

My Mother Does Not Know...

Does she know what day today is?
Does she know when it was agreed on?
Does she know who took the decision and why?
Does she know what to do today?
Does she know that some women are fighting for her rights?
Does she know that today is a day for women’s voices to be heard?
What does ‘general awareness for women’ mean to her?

Yes, my mother in the village has accepted it that long.
To her, it is quite normal.
Was there, is there and will there be an
alternative to male control of female?
She has never tried to answer this question.
She does not have time to think about it.
Suppression or oppression of women, what does it mean?
Her children must be fed, daily.
That’s important.

In the morning.
As I was in my mother’s womb in Africa,
I saw my mother hold a hoe;
I saw a bowl on her head;
I heard her talking to my brother on her back,
As she galloped us a mile barefooted to the farm.
She made a bed for him and gave him something to eat.
My brother did not see my smile as we were leaving him.
I prayed to God to protect him.
As my mother bent down to sow some seeds,
I saw an ant take away the first.
I told my mother but she was humming a song.

In the afternoon.
She gathered a few sticks to make fire.
It was very hot.
She went to the hut,
Where my brother was asleep, tired of crying.
She made food, hurriedly.
I didn’t know why.
She ran with me around to gather some wood;
She picked up my brother,
Put the bunch of firewood on her head,
And galloped us quickly home.

In the evening.
It became clear to me why she was in a hurry.
My father was attending a meeting somewhere,
In a village close by.
He should find food at home on his return.
Oh men of Africa!
Why not be a bit more reasonable,
To my mother who is carrying me all the way?

It is true that my father also did some work,
But he always had it easy to walk to the farm.
He would hold a machete and that’s all,
He would stop on the way to discuss the politics
of the village with friends.
My mother had me, my brother and a bowl or something else.
In the morning,
In the afternoon,
And in the evening.

On this day,
I think about my mothers, my sisters, my aunts and all women,
Especially in Africa and elsewhere in the ‘Muslim’ world;
Especially those who still have it like my mother;
Those who spend all day looking after their children;
Those who must stay in backyards when decisions are to be taken;
Those whose office is ‘destined’ to be the kitchen;
Those who have just accepted things that way;
But also those who want things to change.

On this day,
As you ‘enlightened’ women try to make your voices heard,
I stand up to give you my support.
You may not hear or see what I do,
But you surely will!
My wife and daughters will join you in your fight,
"One day is one day".

But equally on this day,
I still ask myself a number of questions:
Why do you ‘enlightened’ women allow your
dress to fall down easily,
In stupid scenes in films, on TV, etc.?
Why do you ask the authorities to accept
prostitution as an occupation?
Because of some of these things,
It is a difficult fight you have ahead of you.
So please start right here in the West.


When a Creeping Potato Responds to a Standing Cassava

Cassava, grown in Warima

I know that I'm thin but I can grow tall
I stand and let all of you see where I am
Look at my body and see the wonderful shape I am
My head is made up of magnificent hands of leaves
My feet have toes that you can only marvel at
And what I give to the world?
Pluck my leaves, and ask a Sierra Leonean
How delicious a sauce you can get out of them!
Uproot my toes and ask around
How you can eat me raw, get foofoo, gari and
A lot more of out of them...
Even their cloth is good for animals to feed
And you?

Potato, grown in Warima

My friend my friend, why are so conceited?
We can grow together, can't we?
Yes, I lie down but can creep from place to place
But you? You can stand, but can you walk?
Talking about leaves?
Ask the same Sierra Leonean about me
How delicious my leaves are!
About toes?
Haven't you heard about sweet potatoes?
My cloth performs the same as yours to animals
In fact, humans eat my cloth as well. But yours?
I will leave it to all to tell you about what can be
Done with me.
My friend, let's remain friends
We all play our roles!