3000 Years of Black Poetry by Alan Lomax and Raoul Abdul [Introduction]

from the introduction to 3000 Years of Black Poetry by Alan Lomax and Raoul Abdul

When the highest god, Mpungu, had set the heavenly bodies and all things living in their places, he made a man and a woman and endowed them with reason. However, these two human beings did not as yet possess mutima, or heart. Mpungu then prepared to depart to his home. He called all his children together to bid them farewell. One after another, they came– the sun, the moon, the rain and darkness. Only Mutima was late. At last Mpungu, the high god, grew tired of waiting and disappeared.

Then came little Mutima, crying out for his father. “He has gone,” said the others, “Where we do not know.” The small one, Mutima, wept and said, “I long to be with him, and, since he has gone, I will enter into man and through him, I will seek God, my father, from generation to generation.”

And so it is that in every child of man there dwells Mutima, a heart that longs for and searches after God.

The legend of Mutima is a key to the spirit and culture of black Africa. Indeed, it seems to me that “heart” rather than “soul” epitomizes African traditions and black style. “Soul” is too other-worldly, too disembodied, too fleshless, too Greek, too Presbyterian a term to characterize black creativity. All the poets and singers in this volume have “heart.” They are at home not only with themselves, but with everything they see and feel. The real world delights and enchants them. Night and women and love embrace them. The painful follies and ironies of life the totally accept. Besides they feel quite at home with death because, for them, no one has ever died; their ancestors still live, close at hand and beloved. So the quick and the dead, man and nature are made one by mutima, man’s longing for oneness with the universe. This emotion touches all these poems and poets with tenderness and unifies the varied poetry of the African peoples.