A poet from Sierra Leone writes about the decade-old war


Photo ©Teun Voeten


He did not die that day


When the tale of the toll

Of the war was told

In the warmth of our room

My husband folded the sleeves of his Ronko

Sharpened his spear

Smeared mafoi on his body

Beat his chest

Spewed honey bees

The lion growled;

“I will die for your honor”

When the renegade came

Violence galore;

Looting my honor

Raping my dignity

Entombing my womb

He did not die that day

His heart pounds

Stomach of beehive rumbles

His Ronko and spear

Behind the door

Next to the bottle of Mafoi

Remained untouched

He shriek under the bed

As the renegades killed my honor

But he did not die that day

Yet he is dying everyday

For not dying that day


The Cry






Congealed in the chambers of her soul

As she writhes in the holes of Bunce Island

From the torment of her soul

To the pain of her ovaries

A cry of anguish was born

The cry sucks strength

From the gall of her despair

Ebbs through the tides

Strikes her vocal cords

And explodes into the air

Drenching the cacophony of groans

The Girl slave pants

Like a mother in labor

In the slave house

Where the rape of her humanity

Gave birth to the cry

Her cry mingles

With cries of yesterday

Conspires with sand storm

To torment desert Arabs 

The cry drifts in the wind

Unleashing storms

Across oceans

Lashing volcanoes

Takes a sigh in play grounds

Before charging to the Ruffian killing fields

The girl perished

The cry survives her mortality

Hers the Eve of cries

The cry of a century

Drilled though the ears of a poet

The poet packages:

The torment, the pain, and the cry

The cry a verse

The verse a poem

A poem of pain

The girl who cried

Died long ago

In the Middle Passage

Survived by a cry

Perhaps she was born

For just this cry

And the poet

For just this poem



Poem of things and other things


A littered mind                                                 

A disused thought

A muffled song

A caged bird

A pregnant mind

A failed state

A confluence of pulse

A metaphor of martyrs

An angry poet

An unwritten poem

A poet unborn

A blind bat

A rotten mango

A tethered cow

A fossilized dream

A roaming ghost

A dead hero

A hacked limb

A chopped spirit

A stumped monument

A fading memory

An embalm body

A mummified soul

A tortured child

An abused woman

A dead rat

A wagging tale

A stunted metaphor

A broken pencil

A torn paper

A maimed muse

A stupid poet

A lame reader

A dead country


Stone Breakers


A stone on a rock

A hammer sinewed on her trunk

Dreams wedged between rocks

Discordant melody of crushed rocks

Make an orchestra of agony

For the soul of the stone breaker


Piles of broken stones

Rubbles of shattered hopes

Debris of differed dreams

Piled at her feet

Every crushed stone

Is a mile without a milestone

She sits on a rock

Crushing stones with a hammer

As the sun drench away

The morning years of her life


Her stones build castles

But she sleeps with cattle

Dreaming of those castle

Built with her toil


A Bird


A bird whispers a song into my soul

Singing of bygone days

Of men come and gone

And a choir of foliage and bird

Now Decommissioned

The soulful song brings memories

Of days when the birds had a choir

But a forest of concrete

Shrubs of steel

And foliage of zinc

Evicts the choir of birds

Today a bird sings a solo song

In bald forest with a solitary tree

To men sowing solitude in their souls


Oumar Farouk Sesay is the son of Alhaji Alhusine Sesay and Haja Oumou Kultum Sesay. He was born in Masingbi in the Tonkolili district. He attended Magburaka Government Secondary School for boys and later did his sixth form in Ahmadiyya School in Freetown. He studied political science and philosophy at Fourah Bay College. Sesay was resident playwright of Bai Bureh Theatre in the eighties. He has written several plays and serves as a columnist for multiple newspapers. He has been published in many anthologies of Sierra Leonean poets, including Lice in the Lion's Mane, Songs That Pour the Heart and Kalashnikov In The Sun. His first volume of poems, Salute To The Remains of a Peasant was published in 2007 in the US by PublishAmerica. He was Cadbury Visiting Fellow in 2009 at the Centre for West African Studies in the University of Birmingham. He is currently working in the private sector-general manager of his own company. He also runs a publishing company called Karatha Publishers which focuses on publishing Sierra Leonean writers. Sesay's latest work is excerpted here and the landscape of Sierra Leone's decade old war seems to drape most of the poems. 
Teun Voeten is a cultural anthropologist, writer and photojournalist. The photo featured here is of three-year old Memuna Mansarah, who was shot by rebels when they withdrew from Freetown, Sierra Leone, early 1999. Her arm had to be amputated. The photo appears in his book How de Body? One Man's Terrifying Journey through an African War. He has covered the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Sierra Leone and Colombia among others.