A HISTORY OF AFRICAN HAIKU
Eric Akoto, September 8, 2023
Haiku in Africa is growing nowadays. And as a “new” art finding roots in Africa, credit could be given to Sono Uchida, the prominent Japanese haiku poet and diplomat, who thirty years ago in Senegal initiated a haiku contest in the French language, which in those days was the only international haiku contest on the African continent. Later, there as an ambassador, he also promoted haiku in Morocco, among other places he was posted to. Being a haikuist himself, he founded The International Association of Haiku, Japan, with his friends in 1989 to support the development of cultural and human exchanges through the works of haiku.
During his three-and-a-half-year mission as an ambassador of Japan, he had always felt that Senegal would be a fertile ground for the growth of haiku. The image of the Senegalese people adapted to nature reminded him of the traditional life of the Japanese people that the contemporary world has started to forget. According to Sono Uchida, it was the belief of haiku poets in Japan that nature does not belong to men, but rather it is men who belong to nature. In that respect, men should always revere nature and live in harmony with it.
His haiku pursuit in Senegal was supported by the first President of Senegal, His Excellency Léopold Sédar Senghor, who was also a great friend of haiku.
In 1980, during his stay in Dakar, Uchida wrote this haiku
firmament covered(TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL JAPANESE, SOURCE UNKNOWN)
of Saharan dust
white sun does not move
Haiku Activities in West African Countries
Haiku activities in West Africa in recent years have been dominated and championed for the most part by Ghanaian and Nigerian poets in international circles, primarily through regular posting on various haiku societies’ and associations’ websites, on social media platforms, and by participating in international contest and kukai, with some of their haiku taking the topmost, runner-up and honourable mention positions. Mention can be made of early African haiku poets like Nana Fredua-Agyeman (Ghana), Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah (Ghana), and Oritsegbemi Emmanuel Jakpa (Nigeria), all of whom had written and published in journals, and later Emmanuel-Abdalmasih Samson of Nigeria, who invented what he termed “mirror haiku”, a technique that would be found in many other haiku cultures around the world.
Here are few samples of their early published haiku in various journals around the world:
the swift’s home– NANA FREDUA-AGYEMAN, GHANA (SIMPLY HAIKU 4.4)
in the wall–
empty matchboxes– JACOB KOBINA AYIAH MENSAH, GHANA (AMBROSIA 4)
scattered in the mud
my new community
harmattan– ORITSEGBEMI EMMANUEL JAKPA, NIGERIA (SHAMROCK 15)
cracking green buds
from a tree
walking in the rain– EMMANUEL-ABDALMASIH SAMSON, FACEBOOK NOTES (MIRROR HAIKU SERIES),
umbrellas sing counterpoint
umbrellas sing counterpoint
walking in the rain
Among the contemporary haijin who followed these early advocates, and who remain front-runners of African haiku, are Adjei Agyei-Baah (Ghana), Celestine Nudanu (Ghana), Kwaku Feni Adow (Ghana), Kojo Turson (Ghana), Emmanuel Jessie Kalusian (Nigeria), Barnabas Ìkéolúwa Adélékè (Nigeria) and Precious Oboh (Nigeria), all of whose work appears regularly in prominent journals and among winners in international contests.
roasting sun– ADJEI AGYEI-BAAH (THE HERON’S NEST XVIII.1, THE HERON’S NEST AWARD
the egret’s measured steps
in buffalo shadow
blackout evening– KWAKU FENI ADOW (BABISHAIKU CONTEST2016, FIRST PRIZE)
the moon lights up
midday shower– BARNABAS ÌKÉOLÚWA ADÉLÉKÈ (CATTAILS MAY 2016, EDITOR’S CHOICE HAIKU)
a cow’s hoofprint quenches
the dove’s thirst
the homeless man– EMMANUEL JESSIE KALUSIAN (IAFOR VLADIMIR DEVIDÉ HAIKU CONTEST 2015, COMMENDED)
tides up his new residence
after the storm– TURKSON ADU DARKWA (5TH JAPAN-RUSSIA HAIKU CONTEST 2016, WINNER, AKITA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT’S AWARD)
of fallen leaves
ballad of the moon –– PRECIOUS OBOH (THE HERON’S NEST XVIII.3)
in primary colours
dinner with family –– JUSTICE JOSEPH PRAH (MAMBA HAIKU JOURNAL II)
thread by thread
okra slime ties our hands
Haiku Activities in East African Countries
Haiku activities in Kenya emerged strongly from around 2006, spurred by Dr Gabi Greve in Japan, the Director of the World Kigo Database, and Susumu Takiguchi, Chairperson of the World Haiku Club. Isabelle Prondzynski, a member of the World Haiku Club, founded Kenya Saijiki, an internet discussion forum collecting a kigo database (i.e. saijiki) for Kenya and similar tropical regions, in early 2006 under the direction of Dr Greve. The group began with some 100 members with six local coordinators, and it has stabilised and grown from there.
The existence of Kenya Saijiki provided a foundation for the country’s poets to grasp the aesthetics of haiku art and thus to be able to write about their local seasons, their immediate environment and their culture, which they shared on the world stage through participation in competitions and contributions to journals, blogs and magazines. Haiku is even included as part of the national curriculum for Kenyan secondary schools.
Isabelle Prondzynski also initiated the Haiku Clubs of Nairobi, with Patrick Wafula, a Kenyan teacher, as coordinator of these clubs. Wafula (the 2010 Shiki Kukai runner-up awardee and a professional teacher at Bahati Community Centre as well as a member of Kenya Saijiki) and Caleb Mutua (a gifted Kenyan haijin and journalist, who became the first Kenyan to be published in Shamrock Haiku Journal in 2011) are among the leading lights of Kenyan haiku.
full moon –– PATRICK WAFULA (SHIKI KUKAI 2010)
slowly form a wolf
on the campus lawn,– CALEB MUTUA (SHAMROCK 18)
fresh anthills surrounded
by fresh mushrooms
The Haiku Clubs of Nairobi regularly invite new haijin to join, and have thus passed on their love of haiku to ever-new populations over the past ten years. They meet at least twice yearly in an all-day kukai. They now have active members in several regions of Kenya, as well as writing haiku when travelling to neighbouring countries.
The Japan Information and Culture Centre attended the very first meeting of Kenya Saijiki in 2006, and in recent years has been supportive in inviting members of Kenya Saijiki to cultural events providing information about Japan.
sunny savanna– MERCY IKURI, KENYA (5TH JAPAN-RUSSIA HAIKU CONTEST 2016, HONOURABLE MENTION)
the lion starts to yawn
Maasai village– MERCY IKURI, KENYA (ASAHI HAIKUIST NETWORK, JANUARY 6, 2017)
cattle bells awakening
Though not much is known about haiku activities in other East African countries, some individual poets have emerged on the international scene:
a committee– NSHAI WALUZIMBA, ZAMBIA (THE 17TH HIA HAIKU CONTEST 2015, HONORABLE MENTION)
gathers in celebration
rinse the beggar’s eyes
clearer petitions– ROUNDSQUARE CHOMULET, SOMALIA (MAMBA HAIKU JOURNAL 1)
the bully walks slow– JUDY MCINTOSH, TANZANIA (“OUR DAILY ONLINE HAIKU,” USTODAY.COM
to the principal’s office
second time this week
Recent haiku activity from the East African region includes the founding of the Babishaiku Contest, organized in 2016 by Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, a Ugandan-based NGO dedicated to the promotion of African poetry, founded by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva. The Foundation organized the second international haiku contest solely for Africans to promote haiku. Its first contest was judged by Adjei Agyei-Baah, a Ghanaian poet with an international reputation who is also a co-founder of Africa Haiku Network.
Haiku Activities in South African Countries
Haiku emergence is the southern part of Africa might similarly have been inspired by the activities of Japanese ambassadors and visiting Western teachers and academics.
Dennis Brutus, for instance, during an early visit to China in 1973, was influenced by haiku. And as a political racial advocate, he employed this terse poetic genre to communicate intimate moments of his memories of a lost, fleeting love, and a wish for reclamation:
That gentle touch on(SOURCE: DENNIS BRUTUS COLLECTION AT WORCESTER STATE COLLEGE, WORCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS, PUBLICATIONS AND PRINTING SERVICES WORCESTER STATE COLLEGE PRESS THIRD EDITION 2010)
your cheek many years from now:
ashes from my urn.
Similar mention can be made of the enormous contribution of Ted Goossen, a professor from York University with a specialty in Modern and Contemporary Japanese Literature, who brought Japan’s culture to Zimbabwe through public and academic lectures, on subjects as diverse as the tea ceremony and ancestor worship to writing haiku. Goossen’s lectures yielded results, as he returned to his country with some delectable Africa haiku written by his students as a memoir:
In the middle of the night– CYNTHIA CHIGIYA, ZIMBABWE
Two frogs are croaking
At least I have some company
A pool of water(1)
Covered with wings
Where did the flying termites go?
– TAKVRA WHANDE, ZIMBABWE
Falling raindrops– ANONYMOUS
Companions on a chameleon’s tongue
In South Africa at least six haijin have published work. Once prominent on the scene in the late ’90s was Wilhelm Haupt, who wrote in Afrikaans and published in the Netherlands. One of his early haiku published in a Dutch journal is:
Daddy, come quick and look:– WILHELM HAUPT (VUURSTEEN 1998/3)
The sky is so full of
Moira Richards (George, Eastern Cape) writes mostly tanka and linked verse. She once served as renku editor for Simply Haiku, and a co-convenor of the annual online festival of women’s poetry in South Africa. Some of her pieces among other renku participants can be found here:
a crusted pier– MOIRA RICHARDS (A HUNDRED GOURDS 4:2)
points to where
the moon just was
Gus Ferguson is an African cartoonist, editor and pharmacist from Cape Town, South Africa. He edited the poetry journal, Carapace. A typical example of his verse is found below:
Gus Ferguson should be martyred(HTTPS://EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG/WIKI/GUS_FERGUSON)
But not with wood and nails
he should be wrapped in lettuce leaves
and thrown amongst his snails.
Steve Shapiro writes lovely haiku as well as haiga, and has published two haiku books, In a Borrowed Tent (1994) and Of Little Consequence (2007):
Through a hole
in a borrowed tent
the Milky Way(IN A BORROWED TENT)
my knife blade reflecting mist
swirling through the pines(OF LITTLE CONSEQUENCE)
Dr. Marié Heese published Haiku for Africa in 2014 (Unisa Press, South Africa) and excerpts the collection can be read below:
small beetle, huge ball of dung
he rolls it, thrusting it with the finest sand
nobody told her, she will carry the child
for the rest of her life
long live the king
vultures are circling just to frustrate them
I shall survive one more day
Daniel Hugo, an Afrikaans poet, occasionally writes haiku in Afrikaans. He was a specialist announcer/producer for Radiosondergrense, the national Afrikaans radio, and was also responsible for the literary programmes “Leeskring” and “Vers en Klank”. He was also an editor at the publishing house Protea Boekhuis. Below are sample pieces of his random written haiku:
o haiku without
nature and the seasons:
frog without pool
o haiku without
spring without swallows
only seventeen steps to
the top of Fuji
the rooster has a daily
break notch in his throat, he crows
get dawn color
A poet from South Africa whose haiku began appearing in journals in 2015 or so is Clifford W Lindemann of Broederstroom. Among his most recent publications are:
Dusk and the moon(ASAHI HAUKUIST NETWORK, DECEMBER 30, 2016)
smiles at the evening star
My grandson(ASAHI HAUKUIST NETWORK, JANUARY 6 ISSUE, 2017)
greets the fridge first
last night’s chicken
Other haikuists from Southern African countries recorded in contests and journals include:
a committee– NSHAI WALUZIMBA, ZAMBIA (THE 17TH HIA HAIKU CONTEST 2015, HONOURABLE MENTION)
gathers in celebration
I looked around me– JACOB NTHOIWA, BOTSWANA (UNIVERSITY OF BOTSWANA ENGLISH DEPARTMENT, 2003)
In the middle of the street
Suddenly I am lost
African summer– RAKOTOMAHEFA DIAMONDRA, MADAGASCAR (THE HERON’S NEST XVII.3)
in the dusty plains
they roam hand in hand– LIZE BARD, NAMIBIA (HAIKU OUT OF AFRICA, HTTPS://WANDERERHAIKU.WORDPRESS.COM/ NOVEMBER 29, 2016)
in their deep connectedness
our thoughts and our minds
The above haiku and books demonstrate the presence of haiku in South/Southern African countries but no significant activities had been recorded yet in countries such as Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, and Swaziland.
Haiku Activities in North African Countries
Haiku has not remained solely in the heartland of Africa but has travelled to North African countries as well. The aforementioned Sono Uchida served as Japanese ambassador to Morocco as well, where he initiated a haiku contest that might have been the first haiku competition to have emerged from the Arab world.
In spite of this, haiku is still a relatively “new” practice in Arabic literature. The first book of haiku translated from the Japanese appeared in 2010 by a Syrian writer, Muhammad Adimah. Though most Arab haiku poets use the three short lines structure, this has not always been considered a strict rule. Literary critics in the Arab world have not reached an agreement yet whether the haiku written by young poets can be considered a new form of poetry or merely a different name for (the already popular) flash fiction. In July 2015, Poetry Letters Magazine [“A Study on Arabic Haiku”, Poetry Letters Magazine (Arabic ed.), No. 3, 2015, p. 47–54; Poetry Letters Magazine (Arabic ed.), No. 3, July 2015, “special issue” (“The Arabic Haiku”)] acknowledged Arabic haiku as a distinct form of poetry by publishing, for the first time, haiku by eleven Arab poets from Syria, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, and Tunisia.
The 11th World Haiku Association Japan Conference and the 5th World Haiku Seminar (April 29, 2016, Itabashi Green Hall, Tokyo) included poet Abdelkader Jamoussi, an envoy of the Moroccan Embassy in Japan, who discussed the development of haiku in Morocco, and announced the 2nd Morocco Haiku Seminar. His paper “Is Arab Haiku Possible?” explains the poetic tradition of the Arab world and the wide possibility of future of haiku there.
Examples of haiku from Northern African countries include:
scorching sun…– ALI ZNAIDI, TUNISIA (THE MAMBA HAIKU JOURNAL II)
a leaf in search
of a shadow
Another lemon tree– MOHAMMED BENNIS, MOROCCO (WORLD HAIKU 2007 NO.3)
In another country
My gazes are desires
Carefully picked spot– TALIB, MOROCCO (HTTPS://TALIBHAIKU.COM/)
Cat sleeping in the garden
Caressed by the Sun
There also exist haiku poems written in Arabic (and yet to be translated into English), from Arab poets from Syria, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia, to be found in Poetry Letters Magazine (Arabic ed.), No. 3, July 2015, “special issue” (The Arabic Haiku). Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, and Western Sahara still remain a greenfield where haiku seeds have yet to drop.
Ali Znaidi is a Tunisian secondary school English teacher and Arabic translator whose haiku and other Japanese poetry forms have been prominent on the international scene recently, appearing in many international journals and placing in contests as well. Below is some of his best-known work:
full sunshine…(GRAND PRIZE, NON-JAPANESE DIVISION, 8TH YAMADERA BASHŌ MEMORIAL MUSEUM ENGLISH HAIKU CONTEST)
rainbow perishing into
sirocco…(THE INTERNATIONAL MATSUO BASHŌ AWARD 4TH EDITION 2016, HONOURABLE MENTION)
a bird bathing
in the camel’s urine
cancer survivor…(EUROPEAN KUKAI #14)
a flower sipping
full moon…(CROATIA BLOOD DONATION HAIKU CONTEST 2015, HIGH COMMENDATION)
the weight of
the blood donor’s joy
From Africa to America
Richard Wright, a black American author, discovered haiku in 1959 when the South African Beat poet Sinclair Beiles handed him R.H. Blyth’s four-volume Haiku. This new poetic genre came as a revelation to him. Wright specialist Jianqing Zheng writes, “Immediately after Beiles’s introduction, there was an enthusiastic intensity of haiku writing in Wright’s life in Paris. Wright was ‘completely incapable of stopping’ his new obsession with haiku though he was very sick at the time.” Wright seems to have had no other source of information about haiku and no one with whom to discuss his work. Still, Wright produced some 4,000 haiku, 817 of which were selected by the poet himself for publication.
His watershed collection, Haiku: This Other World, appeared in print, however, only in 1998.
Formation of Haiku Societies and Associations in Africa
Haiku’s spread in Africa can be observed not only in publications but through the formation of societies and associations as well. Haiku activities seem to have spread faster in West Africa compared to the other sub-regions. Senegal most likely formed the first haiku society in Africa, since the Embassy of Japan in Senegal has records of a haiku contest dating back to 1979. This contest is widely recognized as a Senegalese cultural events, and 2017 marks the thirtieth year it has been held. Participants from previous contests had been from various countries, but a greater representation came from Senegal and Cameroon.
Senegal has a tradition of “short talk” poetry, with no rule relating to syllable count as in haiku, but with rhyme and rhythm repeated, and engaging in much wordplay. Such poems were recited at occasions such as weddings and baptisms. The Japanese Embassy saw an opportunity to connect traditional Japanese and Senegalese cultures by encouraging the creation of haiku in relation to the traditional oral poetry of West Africa.
The second such association was perhaps the Nigeria Haiku Society, formed in 2004 by Jerry S. Adesewo. The society, recognized and duly certified by the Association of Nigerian Authors, was officially inaugurated on June 2, 2005 by the then-Japanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Akio Tanaka, at his residence, during the prize-giving ceremony of the 1st Haiku Poetry Contest organized in collaboration with an Abuja-based edutainment outfit, Arojah Concepts, for FCT Schools. It has since ceased activity.
A third such organization is the Ghana Haiku Society (GHS), founded by Adjei Agyei-Baah and Celestine Nudanu in 2016 with the sole aim of promoting haiku in Ghana and making it an acceptable new poetic genre in literature studies in both high schools and universities.
July 2015 saw the birth of “African Haiku Network” by two young Africans, Emmanuel Jessie Kalusian, a Nigerian ICT instructor with specialties in computer programming and networking, and Adjei Agyei-Baah, a Ghanaian lecturer from the University of Ghana Distance Learning Centre, Kumasi Campus, with the purpose of promoting and teaching haiku in Africa. In February 2016, The Mamba Haiku Journal, Africa’s first international haiku voice, was launched, bringing the global haiku community’s attention to haiku growth in Africa. Even before that, mention must be made of Nana Fredua-Agyeman’s blog, “Haiku from Ghana.” Fredua-Agyeman was one of the first Africans to be published in a Western journal (Simply Haiku 4.4, in 2006). Mention should also be made of Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah, Ghanaian editor of Rough Sheet Tanka Journal, who had written and published under the pseudonym “Sitting Mountain”, who was published shortly thereafter (Simply Haiku 7.4, 2009).
Haiku Books / E-Books from Africa / Reviews
African haiku poets have not only achieved journal publication and winning contest awards and mentions, but have also put their poems into collections and anthologies either in e-print or hardcopy books. Below are a list of haiku books written by Africans or haiku about Africa written by foreigners:
Haiku for Awuku. Prince K. Mensah (Mensah Press, 2010)
Haiku Rhapsody. Celestine Nudanu (Nudanu Press, 2016)
AFRIKU. Adjei Agyei-Baah (Red Moon Press, 2016)
Bye, Donna Summer! Ali Znaidi (Fowlpox Press, 2014)
Moroccan Haiku. Sally Kendall (Blurb Books, 2010)
Of Little Consequence: Haiku. Steve Shapiro (Snail P. 2007)
Haiku for Africa. Marié Heese (Unisa Press, South Africa, 1997)
In A Borrowed Tent: Ninety-Nine Haiku. Steve Shapiro (Firfield Pamphlet Press; 1st Edition, 1994)
Africa Haiku Journals and Reviews
The Mamba Haiku Journal (February 2016–present)
Review of Mamba Journal I by Akwu Sunday Victor (2016)
Review of Haiku Activities in Ghana, 2016 by Justice Joseph Prah, UHTS Ambassador
Review of Adjei Agyei-Baah’s AFRIKU (Red Moon Press, 2016) by Akwu Sunday Victor