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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 May 2007, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Sierra Leone's poems of war
By Penny Boreham
BBC African Performance, Freetown

Oumar Farouk Sesay
When I die
Don't bury my poetry
In the prison of your
Shelves under your beds.
In your cockroach
Infested boxes for mice
And cockroaches to dine.
Don't pluck the pages of
My poetry to wrap crumbs.
An important document of the tragic 10-year-long war in Sierra Leone exists and yet, until now, has had no international recognition.

It is a collection of poems produced by a group of Sierra Leonean writers who met regularly throughout the war.

They came together, wherever and whenever they could, to share their writing and also for companionship in the direst of circumstances.

One, Oumar Farouk Sesay, recalls that at the time, every individual in Sierra Leone was confronted with his or her own mortality.

"No-one escaped," he says.

"Status did not matter. I began to realise that soon we all would exit and then I began to consider what would be left behind. This is why I wrote My Will."

Dark days

The 10-year war was marked by horror difficult to comprehend.

Some of the atrocities included mass rape, brutal amputations, and the widespread use of child soldiers - many of whom were abducted and forced to commit these atrocities against their own families.

I hear your plea but now I'm losing
The spirit to forgive,
Just when it moves through me
And enters right into my thinking lobe.
I sense it fail to instruct the bits in me
Which respond to acts of love,
And keep me trying to forgive.
In the early stages of the long war, the physical fighting was one stage removed from these writers, as the capital Freetown was not affected.

But in the latter stages of the war Freetown was invaded and ransacked by the rebels.

This put the war on these writers' own doorsteps.

Dark days followed. All of the writers encountered violence.

One, Tom Cauuray, remembers being stripped naked by a group of rebels in the centre of town.

He says they were ready to kill him, accusing him of being Nigerian; the rebels had a particular hatred of the Nigerians, who made up the West African peacekeeping force, Ecomog.

Mr Cauuray describes how a group of evangelists, who happened to be passing, called on the rebels to pray and as the rebels were distracted, and some of them prayed, he escaped.

Aftermath of war

Five years after the war ended, Sierra Leoneans are trying to move on - but are still reeling from the war's dire effects.

Kosonike Kosso Thomas sums up the tension of the war's aftermath in the poem Trying To Forgive.

The bed
Is workbenchwide
The room twice that
And my woman pregnant
Where will our child lie?
In their poetry, the writers all contemplate the way that poverty in the aftermath of war is restricting the lives of the population.

Mohammed Gibril Sesay's short poem Where Will Our Child Lie deals with this.

He says that a poem is "a rainbow," and about "controlled emotion."

"You can tell the individual has experienced pain but right now it is not overwhelming him," he adds.

"The poet is in the driving seat of his emotions."

Oumar Farouk Sesay believes that most Sierra Leonean writers feel an immense responsibility to their country, and want to use their words and their voices to tackle fundamental and ethical issues and problems in their country.

"We are the voice of the people," he says.

"We try to articulate what the illiterate in our society would like to say if they had our access to the written word."

Country profile: Sierra Leone
16 May 07 |  Country profiles

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