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October 2013

African Women, Indigenous Languages

This month we present work by women writing in indigenous African languages. In these stories and poems translated from Gun, Hausa, Luganda, Runyankole-Rukiga, Tigrinya, and Wolof, writers depict characters struggling with poverty, isolation, the oppression of women, the devastation of war, and the long tradition of political corruption. Haregu Keleta's teenage girl flees an arranged marriage to join the Eritrean People's Liberation Front in the war against Ethiopia. In two tales from Uganda, Glaydah Namukasa explores three generations of a family ravaged by alcoholism, while Hilda Twongyeirwe's disaffected bureaucrat finds his loyalty at odds with his ambition. In an excerpt from her sprawling novel, Nigeria's Rahma Abdul Majid tracks the harsh lives of women in the remote villages. And Marame Gueye reveals the slyly subversive lyrics of traditional wedding songs in Senegal. In our special feature, Pablo Neruda's biographer Adam Feinstein introduces five odes by the great poet, appearing in English for the first time in Ilan Stavans's lovely translations. 

Ode to the Andean Cordillera
By Pablo Neruda
Once again, from up high,flying over the sky,you appeared, white and obscure cordillera of my homeland.Before then, the great airplane crossed great seas,jungles, deserts.Everything was…
Translated from Spanish by Ilan Stavans
Ode to Ángel Cruchaga
By Pablo Neruda
Ángel, I rememberin my childhood,southern and shakenby rain and wind,suddenlyyour wings,the flightof your sparkling poetry,the starrytunicfilling the night, the roads,with phosphoric resplendence,you…
Translated from Spanish by Ilan Stavans
Ode to the Flowers of Datitla
By Pablo Neruda
Under the pines, the earth concoctssmall unsullied things:slim grassesfrom whose threadsminuscule lanterns hang,mysterious capsulesplump with lost air,and shadowsare different there,filtered and…
Translated from Spanish by Ilan Stavans
Making the Ordinary Extraordinary: Pablo Neruda’s Odes
By Adam Feinstein
When Pablo Neruda published his first of three collections of odes—the Odas elementales (Elementary Odes)—in 1954, he was probably unaware that his Russian hero, Pushkin, had written 130 years…
My New Home
By Glaydah Namukasa
“I started drinking alcohol the day I fell into Maama’s womb. Maama died of alcohol. She started drinking young and died young. She drank too much alcohol until she could no longer drink;…
Translated from Luganda by Merit Ronald Kabugo
Baking the National Cake
By Hilda Twongyeirwe
He feels like opening the door and stuffing the VP into one of the old closets.
Translated from Runyankole-Rukiga by Juliet Kushaba
The Girl Who Carried a Gun
By Haregu Keleta
When we were children, my older cousin Solomon hopped like a rabbit.  After failing the eighth grade, he started selling animal hides from the country, which he would carry himself or load onto a…
Translated from Tigrinya by Charles Cantalupo & Rahel Asgedom Zere
Breaking the Taboo of Sex through Songs: The Laabaan Ceremony
By Marame Gueye
Sex education is one of the most important, and most often neglected, subjects in the preparation of children for adulthood, and, a topic that seems to preoccupy parents in cultures around the world.…
Ode to Juan Tarrea
By Pablo Neruda
Yes, you know America,Tarrea.You know it.In the helplessPeru, you looted the tombs.To the small villager,to the Andean Indian,Tarrea, protector, gave his hand,but retreated it with its rings.He destroyed…
Translated from Spanish by Ilan Stavans
From Mace Mutum
By Rahma Abdul Majid
1Yes my little child, I have many stories to tell you, stories of my life, our life, and the lives of all women around the world. They are tales I have known forever; they are as much…
Translated from Hausa by Ibrahim Malumfashi
Ode to Jean Arthur Rimbaud
By Pablo Neruda
Now,this Octoberyou will turna hundred,harrowing friend.May I speakto you?I’m alone,through my windowthe Pacific breaksits eternal threatening thunder.It is night.The burning firewood throwsover…
Translated from Spanish by Ilan Stavans