Dear Mama Africa

by Daria-Ann Martineau

“Dear Mama Africa” [i]

I was seven when I first heard the Click Song.
In dance class my feet first grazed World
music. Xhosa steps where I could not bend my tongue.
Qongqothwane—tonal, older than verse. Mother
language knocking. My limbs stretched far as African
drums, the voice of our first home.

Your syllables a knocking beetle, chant a homing
bird exiled, returned only in song
to evolving and ancient South Africa,
birthing hips of the world.
Your lullaby in our first mother’s
tongue.

Each diphthong tongued
healing, until you could return.
You only wished to bury your mother—
lost a whole country. Song
moving you on through the world.
What it means to have a voice that carries Africa.

Miriam, healer’s daughter, the West’s whole African
vision in your elusive tongue.
Did they know you hummed of witch doctors? This world
you turned toward your home?
Medicine music at once singing
to free your people, your mother

country. Voice so vast they called you Mama
Africa,
witch-doctor beetle, striking continents in song.
Though I may never lift my tongue
like yours, my steps point me home
to a beginning across a fractured world,

Most languages of the world
draw on the root, Mama,
to name the woman who is our first home.
Woman, what would I ever know of Africa
but pain if not for the dance of your tongue,
the hard road beaten in your song?
Your beetle steps knocking at the world’s past and future, at Africa,
mother who chanted it, clicking your healing tongue,
melody beating a nation’s triumph, the road home in your song.


[i] The “Click Song” is a Xhosa folk song popularized by Miriam “Mama Africa” Makeba. It is sung at weddings and tells of a knocking beetle, which is supposed to bring the couple good fortune. Children also use this beetle to point the way home.


Daria-Ann Martineau was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. She is a Pushcart-nominated poet with an MFA in Poetry from New York University. She is an alumna of several writing conferences including Bread Loaf and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Her poems have appeared in Anomaly, Narrative, and The Collagist, among others. She is the founder of PRINT- Poets Reclaiming Immigrant Narratives & Texts.

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