CULTURE childhood days and compares those days with



Theres Philip

College of science and management


 The spread of colonization in West Africa
destroyed the traditional African culture. The colonized people forced the
natives to leave the cultural practices they followed from ancient times. This
change caused the Africans to lose their identity. Gabriel Okrawas an
influential post-colonial poet ofNigeria. His poem ‘Once upon a time’ is a
masterpiece of post-colonial poetry which shows the homeland diaspora, one of
the taxonomy of diaphonic concept. In this poem he mentions about the diaphonic
conflicts. This poem reflects the aboriginal people who have lost their
identity, culture because of the European colonization. Once upon a time
mentions about the cultural contamination of one culture because of the
influence of other one. In his work we can see the pain and the desire to get
back the originality and real identity of his culture and his own.This paper
talks about the hardness of having two personalities, double culture which
confuses the people about their true beliefs.











Gabriel Okra in his poem ‘Once Upon a Time’ compares the old and
new values of life. The poem is written in the form of a conversation between a
father and his son. The father recalls his childhood days and compares those
days with his present experiences. His son’s innocent smile triggers his memory
and he is forced to acknowledge the change which has taken place in him.

The title of the poem ‘once upon a time’ itself shows the
situation of the contaminated culture. He proves here about the gap that
happened between the historical past and historical present became of the
interruption of western culture. The unacceptable changes that happen to the
ancient African center and the culture practices reflects the term, once upon a
time. In this poem a father is writing to his son.

In the first stanza he is
tells to his son that earlier people used to laugh from their heart and
theirhappiness used to reflect in their eyes but it is no more the same, now they
only laugh for namesake. They have become fake and emotionless people who are
not even truthful to them and he has also become one of them. This behavior can
also be considered as a kind of hiding and perhaps sneaking around. He uses the
words’laugh with heart’ and ‘laugh with teeth’to show the cultural
difference and represents the change in values. ‘While there ice-block-cold eyes search behind my shadow’ is a
metaphor which is used for the unhappiness which cannot be hidden behind the
laugh. He summed up the first stanza by saying about the ‘fake laugh’ while their cold eyes would be dead with grief.

They used to shake hands
with their heart love and care. Then father said to his son that it is gone and
no one is shaking hands with pleasure but their left hand is searching the
empty pocket of the poet which means they all have hidden intentions behind
their handshakes also. Here poet is mentioning that people become more self-centered
and they focused in personal gain. ‘They
used to shake hands with their hearts’ implies the genuine and delightful
cultural practice of the ancient Africans, which symbolize the good intentions
rather than focusing on personal gain. He is sadly saying to his son that these
people are coming from materialistic world and they only look after for

Third stanza starts with ‘feel home!’, ‘come again’. He is
mentioning about the warm exception To guest, he says that once or twice we
will get the warm welcoming if you visit again the doorsWill shut on you. ‘There
will be no trice’ he is stressing this to show the mentality difference thatHappen
because of the conflict of western culture and the African culture. He
mentioned ‘feelhome’ here because the
people who say feel home and come again are not actually glad or they Are not
feeling any kind of happiness with the presence of their guest. He is surprised
by the veil they were on their faces to show the world they are happy. He is
mentioning about the cultural Practices that is adopted from western culture
which is used to show off, which is forcefully adopted by the Africans. Father
said to his son that because of all these he learned many things. He learned to
be like the one who can wear many faces. ‘Many
faces’ not only show that he Learned to wear many faces but also he lost
his originality. ‘Learned to wear faces
like dresses’shows that there is no value for emotions and feelings in
life, people change their feelings like they change dresses. Then he said that
he learned to wear many faces like home face, office face, Streetface, host
face and cocktail face along with a fake smile. ‘Like a fixed portrait smile!’Indicate that all these faces never
change and the smile will remain on their face like a still photograph. The
introduction of western civilization have destroyed the cultural and social practices
followed by the African tribes and locals by its influence on the African culture.
Thisstanza reflects how the natives lost their own identity in their own place.
Even if he someone wants to be their real self, they cannot because then they
will become strangers to their own people. They are becoming a homeland diaspora.He
is struggling between the fabricated behaviorswith other people having
counterfeit behavior.Here, the father who is the representative of the whole
African society,who forced to behave despotically in his own land.

The poet starts fifthStanza
by indicating that he also has amended to the environment and nowhe is familiar
with thebad habits that winged around him. In the line ‘I have learned too’ then says ‘to
laugh with onlymy teeth’ that shows the person who feels weird and sad when
he faced the people who laughwith teeth, not with heart in the first stanza now
heard to laugh with teeth and learned to showfake gladness and delight, he
learned to shake hands emotionlessly and to say goodbye in a niceway even
though he is not happy. The lines ‘I have
also learned to say goodbye when I meangood riddance’ means that even
though he is not glad he learned to say glad to meet you with afake smile. Even
though the person who met him is boring, he will make a pleasant and glad face
while talking to him. In this stanza he says that there is no value for true
emotions and feelings. No more originality is left in the African culture and
the adapted behavior from the westernculture overpowers the traditional African
culture and personality. The western culture totally vanish the traditional
practices that they followed till from ancient times. The poet himself adapted
with the changing environment .moreover the poet is intertwined with the
practice of ‘ambivalence’.
Ambivalence is a psychological term used to indicate a person who is mixed with
two different personalities especially with two opposite qualities. Homi baba
has used this term in referring to post-colonial critical discourses.

The first line of the
stanza six ‘but believe me son’
highlighting with guilt. We can consider this line as a kind of confession of
the poet in frontof aninnocent child who is not aware about or affected by the
wings of the fake world around him. ‘Iwant
to be’, ‘what I used to be’ these lines shows the desire of the poet to go
back to his originality even though he is adapted with the fakeness of the
modern world. His heart is still searching originality in him. He wishes to go
back to his childhood when sees his son because these changes is not affecting
that child and his innocence cannot identified or adapt or bother him. He is
still theoriginalone. ‘Iwant to unlearn
all these muting things’. He is not satisfied and wants to have his own
identity that he learned from his African culture which he got by birth. He
wants to relearn all the good habits as well as true emotions. He says that
when he sees his smile in mirror It only reflects his teeth which I like a
snake’s bare fangs. ‘For my laugh in the mirror’,
‘shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs’.
The poet used strong metaphor here. He compered his smile with bare fangs of
snake even when snake represents evil in mythology, which indicates
disgenerosity and dishonesty. Here,he mentioned that when he smiles others see
his teeth and not the bad intentions and dishonesty hidden behind it. Here he
also uses the snake and the bare fangs to represent the bad and poisonous
things that has affected the African culture and made Africans diaporic in
their own land.

In the last stanza he is concluding
the poem by saying to his child to teach him how to laugh because the child
reflects the childhood of the poet and he is the only person who can teach it.
His poem conveys his feelings about the loss of traditional African culture.
The overall theme of the poem is about the happier times of the past and hopes
for a happy ending as well. He is hoping for the return of the original African

This poem is a comment on
society which forcefully adopted the western culture at the cost of its own
identity. Okara’s poetry reflects the cultural conflicts in metaphorical ways.
He is projecting the contemporary situation of the African culture by the
existence of western culture. The poetry works of Gabriel Okara belongs to the
modern African poetry. Once upon a time is a product of the post-colonial
culture where in the African culture was replaced by the modern culture and
which destroyed the African authenticity. Throughout the poem the poet speaks
with anger and remembers the olden days with deep regret. The focus on post-colonialhybridity
is observed in this poem. Heexpressed his thoughts and views in poem by using
many metaphors like ‘ice-block-cold
eyes’, ‘teeth like snake bare fangs’, and in the forms of idioms like ‘seeing behind my shadow’. Throughout
the poem his nostalgic feeling is expressed. The third stanza is the evidence
of the artificiality. It shows the manners, protocols and customs that came to
Africa with European colonialism. The poem reflects the pain of a person who
became a diasporic in his own land. The poet is sad and feels guilty till the
sixth stanza because he learned to be a fake man. He also forcefully adapted
the western culture but at the end of the poem the poet becomes a little
hopeful. He dreams to make his son like him when he was a child and hopes that
his son unlike his father can preserve his own identity. We can consider this
poem as a monument of the African culture which was vanished and destroyed by
the European colonization.


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aTime”,International Journal of Research (IJR)  
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Dr. Ingale ,D.G,E-NOTES Once Upon A Time
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Azuonye ,Chukwuma ,’The White Man Laughs’:
Commentary on the Satiric Dramatic Monologues of Gabriel Okara ,University of
Massachusetts Boston,2011.