Books

THE LUST OF CAIN Gbanabom Hallowell

THE TROUBLE WITH SIERRA LEONE BEGAN WITH A PRESIDENT DARING TO

TELL HIS PEOPLE THAT HE HAD FAILED THE NATION, AND CONTINUING

TO RULE...

Set during a decade of civil unrest in Sierra Leone, The Lust of Cain presents a vivid picture of the atrocities committed against mankind in the name of freedom. These rich and well woven novellas of suspense  connect to each other to form a complete whole. Hallowell writes poignantly about the consequences of political upheaval and exile. With gut ripping descriptions, he tells the story of a homeless man who takes his society by surprise with his political ambition; the other, the story of a former politician who, after living in New York for thirty years, decides to end his exile and return to his native Sierra Leone to rediscover himself. Spiced with romance, sex, and greed, The Lust of Cain brings Gbanabom Hallowell to the forefront of his country’s contemporary major voices. Gbanabom Hallowell is a Sierra Leonean writer resident in the United States, where he teaches college and university English. He is the author of a collection of poems, Drumbeats of War, and a collection of articles and essays, Tears of the Sweet Peninsula, based on the Sierra Leone war. His second collection of poems, Alien Courage will be issued in 2006 by Foothills Publishing in New York.  

 

Drumbeats of War

 

Reviews -

1. See  review in CONTEX Tsaaior Reviews

In the continuum of history, the vocation of poetry has imposed on poets variegated and cumbersome but inalienable responsibilities. Poets are pre-eminent repositories of the individual or communal voice and (re)memory. They are also the custodians of societal fund or mores, values and cherished ideals. As such, they constitute and represent the open sore of collective conscience dutifully and religiously rankling and applying the healing herb to the weeping sore in any society’s experiential trajectories through the kinesis of history. Fundamentally too, poets, through the efficacy of the creative word, are veritable midwives of transition and revolution distilling and nourishing ideas and ideals that constitute the substratum for society’s ontological essence and existence. Thus, whether they assume the high office of the traditional griot, marabout, prophet, town-crier or that of the (post)modern poet, the burdensomeness, urgency and immediacy of these protocols cannot be diminished. And the poet must diligently apply the self to this hallowed office with penetrating vatic insights and searing vision.

2. Gbanabom Hallowell's DRUMBEATS OF WAR is a serious reflection on the nature of human behaviour and historical circumstance, and how both relate to the  pathetic human condition.  Although Sierra Leone features prominently in  this collection, through allusions and other strategies, the poems touch  everyone in every corner.

 The book is divided into two parts: 1. Pictures of Shame, and 2. Sia Leona.   Pictures of Shame carries 63 poems, and Sia Leona, conceived as a single  poem, has four long subsections with distinct poem titles.  The pages of  this collection are splashed with potent imagery; alliteration impregnates  assonance, giving birth to syllables of dreams and memories.  Sexual imagery  abounds in the book; and it is a fitting imagery as it embodies a vision of  the birth of a new "human condition" devoid of sterility and aridity. In  other words, the oasis must replace the desert, "public-ease" the  "secretpain,"  so that Sierra Leone, and for that matter, the world, may not  be "overrun by carbon dioxide."

 I find Gbanabom's choice of symbols particularly striking.  Some of the  symbols he uses are, The Calabash, The Sea/River, The Drums, The Desert, The  Oasis, The Omolankay, and The Human Body. The calabash, in African cultures  is a space for the cementing of many social and spiritual bonds. For  example, it holds the dowry during traditional weddings; it holds the rice  flour and kola during religious rituals. When it breaks, the mores, values,  etc. that hold society together are spilled, and what the poet calls  "fratricidal relationships" are born.  The broken calabash is therefore an  apt symbol in a collection that talks about broken bonds and a broken  national Mind. The Omolankay is also apt for it conveys the idea of the  weight of rogue pot-bellied politicians ferried across pot holes by the  cheap labour of poor and exploited citizens. The poet's Omolankay is broken,  pointing to the collapse of even the most rudimentary of our "scientific  inventions."

Oh no, it is not all somber, or cerebral poetry. There are hilarious poems.   One of such poems is, "In the Labyrinth of Hell."  Here, the past leaders  and the present, each present an argument as to why he should not be  punished by Sia Leona. Quite an interesting read!!  
Sheikh Umarr Kamarah
(Lunsar Krio)


 

About the Book

 

The spirit of search pervades the whole collection with recurring images of the poet looking through windows into vast expanses of landscape and seascape, into the Lion Mountains of his country, into its trees, listening to the sound of its rivers, its birds and its people.  [Gbanabom Hallowell] peers into the dark liquid of the calabash to discover clues to the way forward, but the calabash often gets broken and like the other recurring image of the mirror which looks inwards into the poet and outwards into the world, its broken fragments have to be painfully pieced together in an effort to present the whole picture of his vision.

He is always conscious of his responsibility as a poet to his country.  He seeks to write “…the centrifugal poem that would outlive/the rogue politicians of my country.”  The process is not without pain.  Asked to write a poem for his country, his response is forty-two repetitions of the phrase “secretpains”.  Fortunately, the poet is able to work his intense feelings with greater articulateness in the rest of the collection!  Even in his young life, however, he sees comrades, fellow artists or young soldiers caught up in the war, fall in their prime.  He himself often feels the despair of being the “Poet Unwanted”.

Emeritus Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones, author of Othello’s Countrymen and editor, Africa Literature Today


 

About the Author

 

Gbanabom Hallowell born Elvis Jacob Hallowell in Sierra Leone in 1965 was educated at Birch Memorial Secondary School, Makeni and Milton Margai Teachers College (now Milton Margai College of Education), where he studied English.  As a teacher, librarian, journalist and a human rights activist he endured his country’s ten year civil war whose experiences have shaped his poetry.  Hallowell is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing at Vermont College of The Union Institute & University in the USA.  He is the Founder/Executive Director of North America Center for African Writers (NACAW); and he is working on a novel about the war.  He lives and works full time in Maryland for MVM, Inc., a security firm.


 

Sample poems

 

A LONG WALK HOME

Hill hunch hill
Steps of yesterday’s exile sobbing
and weeping
fast forward and weeping
against their backs and
talking muscles; with

weighty corpses
in their eyes which refuse
to melt into tears even
when tear-dried eyes brim; with

shadows pressing on them
from behind; unreflecting thorn
scars, white palms
of dark blood and flesh.  Exile
supporting exile like bouncing
balls; and the big toes
of their bare soles weigh

the narrow path home; wet
ground and compact soil,
wanting the pressure hum hum
the quiet breath of the dead;
withered air of agony; more

corpses keep arriving for God
to house.  On this path sandwiched
by bleeding graves dissident angels
come in the night to fuck yellow
prostitutes who walk the road as nuns.

SINGING AS A POET

I creep into the alcove
of woes, guarded by firefly of hunger
and torment listening to the whispering
wind on the dry leaves
swaying back and forth with a genesis
for my song.  I have become a ubiquitous
poet, smashing the interplanetary
mirror, carving each jointed bit like
a cartographer with a colonialist’s
mind, a snail in my eaves or a chameleon
or a hunter dog or a sniffing dog
breaking the mouths of radios
whose unwritten odes I sing.  I hide
in the king’s courts with little interest
in the courtiers’ executive voices
or in the hypocrisy of poetless
bards, but like the glass of wine I cling
until the clincher; then I discover
songs to write and sing,
metaphors mixed or unmixed
in my possession;
history save for posterity;
more significantly an executive
voice to say aloud
after comparing the gold of kings
to the silver in the surface of the sea, “Damn
to royal highnesses!” 

 



 

 

Reviews

[Drumbeats of War] is a powerful collection of poems.  The effortless merger
of public and private spaces, feelings, thoughts and lives, and the visceral
evocation of “lived” lives and “living” selves is refreshing.  [The poet]
branches an aesthetic consciousness that is innovative in both the
syncretistic blend of traditional, personalized and allusive poetic imagery
and a strong individual poetic vision couched in “social eyes”.
                   
                    Patrick K. Muana, Ph.D
                    Department of English
                    Texas A&M University


Gbanabom Hallowell's Drumbeats of War is a serious reflection on the nature
of human behaviour and historical circumstance, and how both relate to the
pathetic human condition.  Although Sierra Leone features prominently in
this collection, through allusions and other strategies, the poems touch
everyone in every corner.

The pages of this collection are splashed with potent imagery; alliteration
impregnates assonance, giving birth to syllables of dreams and memories. 
Sexual imagery abounds in the book; and it is a fitting imagery as it
embodies a vision of the birth of a new "human condition" devoid of
sterility and aridity. In other words, the oasis must replace the desert,
"public-ease" the "secretpain," so that Sierra Leone, and for that matter,
the world, may not be "overrun by carbon dioxide."

I find Gbanabom's choice of symbols particularly striking.  Some of the
symbols he uses are, The Calabash, The Sea/River, The Drums, The Desert, The
Oasis, The Omolankay, and The Human Body. The calabash, in African cultures
is a space for the cementing of many social and spiritual bonds. For
example, it holds the dowry during traditional weddings; it holds the rice
flour and kola during religious rituals. When it breaks, the mores, values,
etc. that hold society together are spilled, and what the poet calls
"fratricidal relationships" are born.  The broken calabash is therefore an
apt symbol in a collection that talks about broken bonds and a broken
national Mind. The Omolankay is also apt for it conveys the idea of the
weight of rogue pot-bellied politicians ferried across pot holes by the
cheap labour of poor and exploited citizens. The poet's Omolankay is broken,
pointing to the collapse of even the most rudimentary of our "scientific
inventions."

Oh no, it is not all sombre, or cerebral poetry. There are hilarious poems. 
One of such poems is, "In the Labyrinth of Hell."  Here, the past leaders
and the present, each present an argument as to why he should not be
punished by Sia Leona. Quite an interesting read!!

                Sheikh Umar Kamara, Ph.D
                Department of Languages & Linguistics
                Virginia State University