In this post, we shall examine the figures of speech in David Rubadiri’s poem, “Stanley Meets Mutesa”. The poem and the narrative therein symbolises the entry of the white man to the African continent. It narrates the journey of Henry Stanley’s exploration in East Africa and his subsequent meeting with the king of Buganda, an ancient kingdom in the present-day Uganda.
The figures of speech in “Stanley Meets Mutesa” are simile, metaphor, alliteration, personification, synecdoche, parallelism, onomatopoeia, repetition, antithesis, and symbolism.
Quite a lot, isn’t it? Now let’s cite the instances of these figures of speech in the poem.
There are examples of simile in lines 30 and 33 of the poem.
Lay like two twins (l. 30) Like young gazelles to a water-hole. (l. 33)
While the instance of simile in line 30 describes the physical closeness of the River Nile and Lake Nyanza, the one in line 33 shows that the sight of the lake soothes the travellers and calms their fatigued spirits.
In line 21, “human skeleton” is a metaphorical representation of a person so frail they have been reduced to the form of a skeleton, so weak they collapse in the course of the journey. There is another instance of metaphor in line 36 where the poet used the word “lapt” to describe the soothing of the travellers’ bruised feet by water. Line 36 runs thus: “As the cool water lapt their sore soft feet.”
There are several instances of alliteration in “Stanley Meets Mutesa”. Some of which include:
“battered bulky” (l. 9) “clung in clumps” (l. 16) “sweat-scented” (l. 16) “two twins” (l. 30) “sore soft” (l. 36) “hungry hyena” (l. 37) “behind banana” (l. 42) “rumbling ... roll” (l. 48)
There is an instance of personification in lines 29 and 30. Line 29 runs into line 30 – an enjambment of sort: “The Nile and the Nyanza/Lay like two twins”. Both Nile and Nyanza are represented as twins.
Synecdoche is instantiated in line 47 of the poem where “aged faces” is used to represent “old people”.
There are several instances of parallelism in David Rubadiri’s “Stanley Meets Mutesa”.
Each day | a weary pony | dropped (l. 19) Each afternoon | a human skeleton | collapsed (l. 21)
Left for the vultures on the plains (l. 20) Left for the Masai on the plains (l. 22)
He the spirit that inspired (l. 25) He the light of hope (l. 26)
Hearts | beat | faster (l. 34) Loads | felt | lighter (l. 35)
No more the dread of hungry hyenas (l. 37) No more the burning heat of the day (l. 40)
This can be found in line 48 where the word “rumbling” is used to imitate the sound of drumming.
There is repetition on word and phrasal levels. “Such … time” in lines 1 and 5; “hungry march” in lines 27 and 28; “chaunt” is repeated in lines 32 and 45 as slight variants; “silence” in lines 52 and 53; and “gate of reeds” in lines 51 and 60 as a symbol of how the Western World is allowed entry into the African continent.
The poet draws a contrast of things and ideas. The first instance of antithesis is in line 2 to 3 where the poet contrasts “heat of the day” (l. 2) with “chill of the night” (l. 3) to describe the opposite effects of the day and the night on the wayfarers.
There is another in line 13 to 14: “With it rose their spirits/With its fall their hopes”. Here, the poet contrasts the rise and fall of the travellers with the sun. The rising of the sun signals dawn, the beginning of a new day, while the sunset signals dusk, the end of a day. The travellers, obeying the dictates of nature, journey during the day and they rest during the night.
The poet further draws a line of comparison in line 54 to 55 where he contrasts the Buganda king with the European explorer. The black king is tall and towers over the white man who is “thin bearded” and with lean white hands. These descriptions show the power dynamics of this encounter. The king holds the cards here. In other words, the pre-colonial African man is portrayed as a man of his own, independent and strong. The aura and the physicality of the king in contrast with the poor physique of the white man is a clear case of strength versus weakness.
“Stanley” in the poem is a symbol of the Europeans and “Mutesa” is a symbol of the African royalty and power. The meeting of these two symbolises the meeting between the European colonialists and the colonised Africans. While Stanley is the “white ambassador” (l. 46), Mutesa is “the tall black king” (l. 54) and the mouthpiece of his people.
“The gate of polished reed” (l. 60) symbolises the African civilisation. The Africans are civilised before the coming of the white men. Anyone who says otherwise needs to be lectured about African history. It is this gate that is “flung open” (l. 51) to allow “the west” (l. 61) in. This symbolises the incursion of the Europeans to the African continent where they subdue Africans to their subjects, alter their culture and civilisation, and change their course of history. The use of Stanley as a symbol of the European colonialists is symbolic historically. Henry Morton Stanley is one of the very first people to advise his government, the British government, to take the plunge into territory-grabbing in Africa which the other European countries have already started doing. He would later represent the interests of King Leopold of Belgium in what becomes known as Belgian Congo. His excesses in that part of Africa can’t be easily forgiven. Therefore, the poet is deliberate about his choice of Stanley as the “white ambassador” who embarks on a journey with his African porters to visit an African king.