CULTUREIN OKARA’S ONCE UPON A TIMECelesteneTheres PhilipChristCollege of science and managementABSTRACT The spread of colonization in West Africadestroyed the traditional African culture. The colonized people forced thenatives to leave the cultural practices they followed from ancient times.
Thischange caused the Africans to lose their identity. Gabriel Okrawas aninfluential post-colonial poet ofNigeria. His poem ‘Once upon a time’ is amasterpiece of post-colonial poetry which shows the homeland diaspora, one ofthe taxonomy of diaphonic concept. In this poem he mentions about the diaphonicconflicts. This poem reflects the aboriginal people who have lost theiridentity, culture because of the European colonization.
Once upon a timementions about the cultural contamination of one culture because of theinfluence of other one. In his work we can see the pain and the desire to getback the originality and real identity of his culture and his own.This papertalks about the hardness of having two personalities, double culture whichconfuses the people about their true beliefs. DIASPORIC CONFLICTS INONCE UPON A TIMEGabriel Okra in his poem ‘Once Upon a Time’ compares the old andnew values of life. The poem is written in the form of a conversation between afather and his son. The father recalls his childhood days and compares thosedays with his present experiences. His son’s innocent smile triggers his memoryand he is forced to acknowledge the change which has taken place in him.
The title of the poem ‘once upon a time’ itself shows thesituation of the contaminated culture. He proves here about the gap thathappened between the historical past and historical present became of theinterruption of western culture. The unacceptable changes that happen to theancient African center and the culture practices reflects the term, once upon atime. In this poem a father is writing to his son. In the first stanza he istells to his son that earlier people used to laugh from their heart andtheirhappiness used to reflect in their eyes but it is no more the same, now theyonly laugh for namesake. They have become fake and emotionless people who arenot even truthful to them and he has also become one of them. This behavior canalso be considered as a kind of hiding and perhaps sneaking around. He uses thewords’laugh with heart’ and ‘laugh with teeth’to show the culturaldifference and represents the change in values.
‘While there ice-block-cold eyes search behind my shadow’ is ametaphor which is used for the unhappiness which cannot be hidden behind thelaugh. 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 handswith their heart love and care. Then father said to his son that it is gone andno one is shaking hands with pleasure but their left hand is searching theempty pocket of the poet which means they all have hidden intentions behindtheir handshakes also. Here poet is mentioning that people become more self-centeredand they focused in personal gain. ‘Theyused to shake hands with their hearts’ implies the genuine and delightfulcultural practice of the ancient Africans, which symbolize the good intentionsrather than focusing on personal gain.
He is sadly saying to his son that thesepeople are coming from materialistic world and they only look after formaterials. Third stanza starts with ‘feel home!’, ‘come again’. He ismentioning about the warm exception To guest, he says that once or twice wewill get the warm welcoming if you visit again the doorsWill shut on you.
‘Therewill be no trice’ he is stressing this to show the mentality difference thatHappenbecause of the conflict of western culture and the African culture. Hementioned ‘feelhome’ here because thepeople who say feel home and come again are not actually glad or they Are notfeeling any kind of happiness with the presence of their guest. He is surprisedby the veil they were on their faces to show the world they are happy. He ismentioning about the cultural Practices that is adopted from western culturewhich is used to show off, which is forcefully adopted by the Africans. Fathersaid to his son that because of all these he learned many things. He learned tobe like the one who can wear many faces. ‘Manyfaces’ not only show that he Learned to wear many faces but also he losthis originality.
‘Learned to wear faceslike dresses’shows that there is no value for emotions and feelings inlife, people change their feelings like they change dresses. Then he said thathe learned to wear many faces like home face, office face, Streetface, hostface and cocktail face along with a fake smile. ‘Like a fixed portrait smile!’Indicate that all these faces neverchange and the smile will remain on their face like a still photograph. Theintroduction of western civilization have destroyed the cultural and social practicesfollowed 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 theywill become strangers to their own people. They are becoming a homeland diaspora.Heis struggling between the fabricated behaviorswith other people havingcounterfeit behavior.
Here, the father who is the representative of the wholeAfrican society,who forced to behave despotically in his own land.The poet starts fifthStanzaby indicating that he also has amended to the environment and nowhe is familiarwith thebad habits that winged around him. In the line ‘I have learned too’ then says ‘tolaugh with onlymy teeth’ that shows the person who feels weird and sad whenhe faced the people who laughwith teeth, not with heart in the first stanza nowheard to laugh with teeth and learned to showfake gladness and delight, helearned to shake hands emotionlessly and to say goodbye in a niceway eventhough he is not happy.
The lines ‘I havealso learned to say goodbye when I meangood riddance’ means that eventhough he is not glad he learned to say glad to meet you with afake smile. Eventhough the person who met him is boring, he will make a pleasant and glad facewhile talking to him. In this stanza he says that there is no value for trueemotions and feelings.
No more originality is left in the African culture andthe adapted behavior from the westernculture overpowers the traditional Africanculture and personality. The western culture totally vanish the traditionalpractices that they followed till from ancient times. The poet himself adaptedwith the changing environment .
moreover the poet is intertwined with thepractice of ‘ambivalence’.Ambivalence is a psychological term used to indicate a person who is mixed withtwo different personalities especially with two opposite qualities. Homi babahas used this term in referring to post-colonial critical discourses.The first line of thestanza six ‘but believe me son’highlighting with guilt. We can consider this line as a kind of confession ofthe poet in frontof aninnocent child who is not aware about or affected by thewings of the fake world around him. ‘Iwantto be’, ‘what I used to be’ these lines shows the desire of the poet to goback to his originality even though he is adapted with the fakeness of themodern world. His heart is still searching originality in him.
He wishes to goback to his childhood when sees his son because these changes is not affectingthat child and his innocence cannot identified or adapt or bother him. He isstill theoriginalone. ‘Iwant to unlearnall these muting things’. He is not satisfied and wants to have his ownidentity that he learned from his African culture which he got by birth. Hewants to relearn all the good habits as well as true emotions. He says thatwhen he sees his smile in mirror It only reflects his teeth which I like asnake’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 ofsnake even when snake represents evil in mythology, which indicatesdisgenerosity and dishonesty. Here,he mentioned that when he smiles others seehis teeth and not the bad intentions and dishonesty hidden behind it.
Here healso uses the snake and the bare fangs to represent the bad and poisonousthings that has affected the African culture and made Africans diaporic intheir own land.In the last stanza he is concludingthe poem by saying to his child to teach him how to laugh because the childreflects 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 hopesfor a happy ending as well. He is hoping for the return of the original Africanculture.
This poem is a comment onsociety which forcefully adopted the western culture at the cost of its ownidentity. Okara’s poetry reflects the cultural conflicts in metaphorical ways.He is projecting the contemporary situation of the African culture by theexistence of western culture.
The poetry works of Gabriel Okara belongs to themodern African poetry. Once upon a time is a product of the post-colonialculture where in the African culture was replaced by the modern culture andwhich destroyed the African authenticity. Throughout the poem the poet speakswith anger and remembers the olden days with deep regret. The focus on post-colonialhybridityis observed in this poem. Heexpressed his thoughts and views in poem by usingmany metaphors like ‘ice-block-coldeyes’, ‘teeth like snake bare fangs’, and in the forms of idioms like ‘seeing behind my shadow’. Throughoutthe poem his nostalgic feeling is expressed.
The third stanza is the evidenceof the artificiality. It shows the manners, protocols and customs that came toAfrica with European colonialism. The poem reflects the pain of a person whobecame a diasporic in his own land. The poet is sad and feels guilty till thesixth stanza because he learned to be a fake man. He also forcefully adaptedthe western culture but at the end of the poem the poet becomes a littlehopeful. He dreams to make his son like him when he was a child and hopes thathis son unlike his father can preserve his own identity. We can consider thispoem as a monument of the African culture which was vanished and destroyed bythe European colonization.
REFERENCES· Dr Veeramani .S,Diasporic Consciousness in the Poem of GabrielmOkara’s “OnceUponaTime”,International Journal of Research (IJR) Vol-1, Issue-7, August 2014.· Wisker, Gina, Key concepts in Postcolonial Literature.
England: Palgrove, 2007.· Dr. Ingale ,D.
G,E-NOTES Once Upon A TimeGabriel Okara Shivaji University, Kolhapur June, 2014.· Azuonye ,Chukwuma ,’The White Man Laughs’:Commentary on the Satiric Dramatic Monologues of Gabriel Okara ,University ofMassachusetts Boston,2011.