The Origin of Modern African Poetry

Have you ever wondered how modern African poetry evolved into what it is today: revealing, engaging, and impactful? So, here’s a rundown of how it all began.

modern african poetry

The Beginning of Contemporary African Poetry

The experience of slavery and colonialism gave birth to modern African poetry. Poets moved away from the influences of colonialism, nature, and lyricism and used their voices to raise awareness of the prevailing conditions of the masses, who suffered neglect at the hands of the continent’s ruling government.

They also made certain that their poems reflected our belief system’s African rhythms, beats, and lyrics. Different factors influenced African poetry as well. These are some of the factors that have influenced the growth and development of modern African poetry:

  • Cultural Nationalism
  • Language
  • Oral Tradition
  • Colonialism
  • Negritude
  • Gender Issues

Cultural Nationalism

“Cultural nationalism can be defined as movements of group allegiance based on a shared heritage such as language, history, literature, songs, religion, ideology, symbols, lands, or monuments,” according to the Encyclopedia.

Through this movement, poets were able to convey their vision of a better community while also reclaiming their cultural identity. They were successful in inspiring people to create a new image of themselves that was not tainted by colonialism.


Language also had an impact on the development of modern African poetry. African poets inherited the English language as a result of colonialism, and some learned it as a second language. Because it was easier to understand and read, it was even accepted as an official language in Africa.

As a result, the literary circle accepted it as a tool for communication, and they used it effectively to express their opinions, observations, and thoughts.

This had an impact on modern poets’ works, and because it was a language used by ancient poets, they imitated it and were able to create an identity for themselves, i.e., write their stories in their own distinct voice and style.

Chinua Achebe also discussed the difficulties that modern poets face when writing in English, and he offered some advice:

“The African writer should aim to use English that brings out his message without altering the language to the extent that it’s value as a media of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once unusual and able to carry his peculiar experience”.

The Influence of Oral Tradition

Oral traditions influenced the works of modern African poets as well. Because oral traditional poets and storytellers were known to infuse cultures, beliefs, values, and norms into their works, modern poets were able to interact with that fact and effectively use it in their works.

However, some of these modern poets’ writings were mere imitations and were ineffective in connecting with the people.

There were some writers, such as Nigerian Amos Tutuola, whose works had shifting effects and a growing literary tradition.


Colonialism is widely regarded as the most significant influence on African poetry. It shaped our beliefs, traditions, cultures, norms, and standards, as well as our languages. Africans were forced to adopt Western traditions, cultures, and languages, which influenced our thinking and belief system.

So poets used it effectively to express their frustration, plight, and emotion about colonialism and slavery. It also had an impact on their visions and dreams, and they were able to channel their pain and hurt into motivating society to create a valued identity for themselves.

The Impact of Negritude

According to Senegalese poet Leopold Sedar Senghor:

“Negritude is the sum of the cultural values of the black world as they expressed in the life, the institutions and the works of black men”

It was a literary movement that emerged from the intellectual milieu of Paris in the 1930s and 1940s. It was the result of black writers banding together through the French language to assert their cultural identity, as well as a response to colonialism.

This movement influenced modern writers’ ideologies about being able to create an identity and how they saw themselves.

Gender Issues

Gender issues influenced modern African poetry, and it is an obvious theme in many poets’ works these days.

They created a medium to express their displeasure with gender-related issues as well as to celebrate gender victories or wins.

Themes in Contemporary African Poetry

The following are the main messages found in poets’ literary works:

  • Tributes
  • Hope And Faith
  • Nature
  • Political Issues
  • Anger
  • Love
  • Self recovery
  • Mental health
  • Gender
  • Love
  • Religion
  • Social and Moral Decadence
  • Motherhood
  • The beauty of emotions

Contemporary African Poets

Some of the contemporary African poets who have made significant contributions to our societies and continents include:

  • Ijeoma Umebinyuo (Nigeria)
  • Michael Onsando
  • Yrsa Daley- Ward ( Writer of Jamaican and Nigerian origins)
  • Liyou Libsekal ( Ethiopia)
  • Lebogeng Mashile ( South Africa)
  • Saddiq D Zukiyi (Nigeria)
  • Harnet Amena (Uganda)
  • Warsan Shire (Kenyan born Somalia Poet)
  • Safie Elhilo (Sudan)
  • Togera Muzanenhamo (Zimbabwe)
  • Ernest Ogunyemi ( Nigeria)
  • Titilope Sonuga (Nigeria)
  • among others.

Modern African Poetry Characteristics

These themes have influenced the basic characteristics of modern African poetry:

  • Upheaval in culture
  • Violence
  • Post Imperialism.

The key feature here is that each modern poet’s piece is inspired or influenced by hope for the future, opposition to imperialism, African pride, and beliefs.

Modern African Poetry is here to stay, and I believe poets of this post-colonial era, as some critics refer to it, have been able to incorporate our indigenous voices into their works and share them across the continent and around the world.

Comments (1)

  1. Your article gave me a lot of inspiration, thank you.

    September 14, 2023 at 8:19 am

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