Thursday, 28 July 2016

Whited Sepulchre - John Ngong Kum Ngong

I know whited sepulchre
you do not feel anymore
the touch of our done fingers
which for want of acceptance
cling to the wall of furore.
For close to sixty years
now we have lived like internees
working our fingers to the bone
for idiots to reap the harvest.

You know too well backpedaller
I have had to run rusty rings
round your compact as butter neck
in public places and at home.
You filled up the only wellspring
from which we washed off frustration
indigent and naked like air
without a pound of flesh to spare
struggling to stitch our torn lives.

You are aware snake in the grass
we have for these years eaten dust
and mopped marble floors with dry tears.
Our nakedness hits you like fart
as we sweat blood filling the holes
Phobia has burrowed in our hearts.
Neither love nor the fawning hands
of classism can reshape us.
I will not set myself ablaze
like the abused Tunisian youth
for the machete screams of freedom
to spread like dry season fire
from the harsh highlands of the north
to the soft lowlands of the south.
I will flit from hamlet to town
to tug the heartstrings of Reason
and torch my people's consciences
to knock down all old foundations.

John Ngong Kum Ngong (20th century) Cameroon
Source: Free Verse


  1. Appreciate you sharing.

  2. I really like the poem but I couldn't understand its message along with the main idea , would you be kind enough to clear that up for me ? Thanks !

    1. Hi Tesnime - thanks for your comment and question. I'm no expert, but here's my take on the poem.

      Firstly, each stanza starts with a description of the "entity" to whom this poem is addressed, so we have whited sepulchre, backpeddlar and snake in the grass. From this we can see that this "entity" is dead (sepulchre), inconstant (backpeddlar) and a camouflaged enemy (snake in the grass). So we're looking at someone or something that is BAD.

      Next we have a description of what the bad person/thing has made us do - in stanza 1 there is the imagery of having to work very, very hard (fingers to the bone) for no return (idiots to reap the harvest); in stanza 2 we see that the bad person/thing has made us feel impotent (You filled up the only wellspring from which we washed off frustration); and lastly we see that all the work we have done - literally, like sweating blood - is as nothing as far as the bad person/entity is concerned: for them it is a "fart".

      I think that there is probably a 4th stanza starting at the line "I will not set myself ablaze" but it doesn't appear so on the source page so I have left it as it appeared. Anyway, this last part is about the reaction to all this bad stuff: rather than react with violence (like the abused Tunisian youth) they will react with reason, trying to change people's hearts.

      For me this poem is about the evil of colonialism (i.e. this is the bad person or entity) and its effect on the people of Cameroon; but the poet doesn't want this to poison the future so instead of reacting violently, as has happened elsewhere, they should react with reason: instead of using fire to destroy it will be used to change people's hearts.

      So ultimately it's a poem of renewal and rebuilding despite all the evils of the past.


Please keep your comments relevant and free from abusive language. Thank you. Note that comments are moderated so it may be a day or two before your comment is posted - irrelevant or abusive comments will not be published.