Themes in Agostinho Neto’s THE GRIEVED LANDS OF AFRICA


In The Grieved Lands of Africa, there is the conveyance of issues of African sensibilities that underlie the African experience from slavery to colonialism. The poem has such themes as slavery, colonialism, grief, hope or optimism, and life.

Examined below are the above-highlighted themes in Agostinho Neto’s The Grieved Lands of Africa.

Read Also:

Content Analysis of Agostinho Neto’s THE GRIEVED LANDS OF AFRICA
Language Use and Figures of Speech in Agostinho Neto’s THE GRIEVED LANDS OF AFRICA


Theme of Slavery

Slavery is one of the important issues addressed in The Grieved Lands of Africa. The poem makes reference to the trans-atlantic slave trade that shook the African continent to its roots. Many Africans were carted away like commodities in ships to work as slaves in foreign lands beyond the Mediterranean Sea. The poet puts this wave of slavery as “ancient … slave”. This “ancient” slavery was perpetuated by European and Arab slavers with the inside help of internecine tribal conflicts.

The theme of slavery is further reinforced by tropes like “ancient slave”, “corpses thrown by the Atlantic”, “degrading sweat of impure dance/of other seas”, etcetera.

Theme of Colonialism

Colonialism is another noticeable theme in Agostinho Neto’s The Grieved Lands of Africa. It is the next evil thing that happened to the African continent after slavery. Europeans extended their tentacles to the whole of Africa to claim new colonies and lands for their respective countries. They said they brought ‘civilization’ and ‘christainity’ but what they actually did was to exploit Africa of all she had. They subtly took over Africa and partitioned it arbitrarily among themselves. They forced chiefs and kings to sign treaties conceding their lands and sovereignty to some foreign entities and where opposition arose, they “crushed” it with brutal “wickedness of iron and fire”.

A renowned African socialist writer, Ngûgî wa Thiong’o, sums up the slave trade and colonialism stages of the African history as “dismembering Africa”. Agostinho Neto describes colonialism in his poem as “modern slave(ry)”.

Tropes which establish the message of colonialism in the poem include “modern slave”, “Flower/Crushed in the forest/By the wickedness of iron and fire”, and “jailer’s keys”.

Theme of Grief

Grief is a prominent theme in the poem. The word “grieved” is repeated several times in the poem to drive home the sorrow and anguish Africa undergoes after years of being exploited of her human and natural resources. Africa is debased by years of being cheated, afflicted pain, and exploited by people “of other seas”.

Apart from stanzas four and five, there is hardly a stanza in the poem where “grieved” is not used. This underlines the pain and sorrow slavery and colonialism afflicted Africa with.

Theme of Oppression

Oppression is another noticeable feature of the poem. There is no gainsaying that Africans were oppressed: from the outset into slavery; in resistance against colonialism (“crushed in the forest”); and were imprisoned in their struggle for independence (“jailer’s keys”).

Africans who spearheaded the fight for their countries’ independence found themselves and dreams they had at the mercy of “jailer’s keys”. They were imprisoned. Agostinho Neto in particular was imprisoned. Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana were part of the long list of African nationalists that were imprisoned because they dared to say no to colonial power.

Oppression is further put in the fore by expressions like “stifled laughter”, “victorious voice of laments” which throw up the image of the affective influence of oppressive elements at work.

Theme of Hope and Life

The poet persona is optimistic about the turnaround of events. He is hopeful for a tomorrow with better living conditions. He posits that both slavery and colonialism would be extinguished by the strong blow of time. In “the conscious brilliance of hidden sensations”, the poet predicts a better future soon to unfold.

He also reiterates the continued existence of the African continent and Africans with “alive”, “living”, “live” despite the attempts to subjugate Africa and her people. Nonetheless, Africans “bubble in dream”; exist “in perpetual alliance of everything that lives”; and “shout the sound of life”. The poet also describes Africans as “imperishable particles/Of the grieved lands of Africa”. A signification of the indestructibility of Africa. Africans are scattered all over the world and remain the evidences of the African tormented history.



  1. That’s the reason why literature mirrors life. despite the fact that we were not yet borned during the period we cant still study and visualise all what happened during the colonisation period.


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