“The Sea Eats the Land at Home” by Kofi Awoonor is a contemporary poem about a tropical cyclone ravishing a town and the devastation it caused. Awoonor discusses the sea, the religious aspects of the happening, and the people the sea had harmed.
Kofi Awoonor was born in Wheta, along the Gold Coast in modern-day Ghana. He used elements of his Ewe traditions, culture, and religion in his poems. He worked at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, Stony Brook University in the USA, and the University of Ghana before becoming an ambassador to a variety of different countries. He died during a terrorist attack in 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Ewe people are polytheist and have beliefs about praying to a god and keeping the seas happy. Kofi Awoonor’s “The Sea Eats the Land at Home” takes a look at this aspect using some figurative language. Let’s dive into a summary and analysis.
“The Sea Eats the Land at Home” begins by giving us the setting using fantastic imagery. It’s a town near the sea. He gives personification to the sea, saying it is “running” around, collecting firewood, going in and out of the cooking places, and going back at night. It continues, stating that the storm began at night, the sea “eats” the land and many of the houses. The water carried away their farm animals, cooking utensils, and more. The women mourned, screamed, and prayed loudly. A woman named Aku stood outside with her children shivering. She was disgusted that she couldn’t keep her family safe. She blamed her ancestors for not protecting her. Another woman named Abena lost all of her valuables. The storm is lasting a long time. It began at night and now it’s the next day and the sea is still rising.
Title: The Sea Eats the Land at Home
Style: Free style written in 31 lines and 1 stanza. The rhythm changes throughout the poem.
Theme: Natural disaster (Tropical Cyclone)
Tone: Devastation caused by a tropical cyclone destroying a town
Rhyme scheme: None
Line-by-line Analysis and Figurative Language
- At home the sea is in the Town – After a storm, the sea-level overtook a town.
- Running in and out of the cooking places, – This is personification of the water. Basically, it is saying the water is flowing inside the cooking areas.
- Collecting the firewood from the hearths – The firewood is floating.
- And sending it back at night. – The firewood is going into the sea.
- The sea eats the land at home: / It has eaten many houses: – The land and houses are covered in water.
- It came on day at the dead of night, – The sea rose one night.
- Destroying the cement walls, / And carried away the fowls, / The cooking pots and the ladles. – The sea destroyed the homes, the farm animals, and many of the cooking tools.
- The sea eats the land at home, – He’s using repetition of the same sentence to gain uniformity.
- It is a sad thing to hear the walls, – You can hear the walls falling down.
- And the mourning shouts of the women, – The women are mourning loudly, probably crying and shouting profanities.
- Calling on all the gods the worship, / To protect them from the angry sea.- They are “calling on” the gods due to what has happened to their homes. They are likely asking the gods why they let this happened. What did they do? Why won’t the gods help them? They are desperate. They need someone or something to help them. Here we see a little more about the Ewe culture. The word “gods” gives us a hint that the people believe in multiple gods. There is likely a sea god they believe became unhappy with something they were doing.
- Aku stood outside where her cooking pot stood / With her two children shivering from the cold, / Her hands on her breast, / Weeping mournfully.- A woman is outside where her pot “stood”. He’s using past tense. The pot is no longer there. Her children are outside in the cold. Why are they outside? It is the middle of the night. Since the walls were breaking, likely they have no more home. They are outside because there is no more home to be in. Thus, she weeps.
- Her ancestors have neglected her, – This is another look at the Ewe beliefs. They believe that their ancestors look after them and care for them after their deaths. However, Aku wonders why they didn’t protect her.
- It was a cold Sunday morning, / The storm was raging, – We have another look at the setting of the poem. The storm began in the “dead of night”. But now it is morning and the storm is still going on.
- Goats and fowls were struggling in the water, / The angry water of the cruel sea: – The sea-level rose so much that the farm animals are floating away. He gives again personification of the water, stating it is angry and cruel.
- The lap-lapping of the dark water at the shore, – “lap-lapping” is an alliteration. “Dark water” is used for two reasons: 1) The water is likely dark because it is now polluted. 2) The word “dark” often has evil insinuations to it.
- And above the sobs and the deep and low moans / It has taken away their belongings – People are sobbing and moaning because they lost everything.
- Abena has lost the tinkets which. / Were her dowry and her joy, – Here is the second specific person mentioned in the poem. Abena lost everything. She lost her dowry (likely the only money she had left) and everything that made her happy.
- In the sea that eats the land at home, / Eats the whole land at home – Awoonor is again using repetition. This time he is using it to help bring about a conclusion. Sadly, it isn’t a happy one. The sea is still there, eating the land.
Poem: “The Sea Eats the Land at Home” by Kofi Awoonor
At home the sea is in the Town
Running in and out of the cooking places,
Collecting the firewood from the hearths
And sending it back at night.
The sea eats the land at home:
It has eaten many houses:
It came on day at the dead of night,
Destroying the cement walls,
And carried away the fowls,
The cooking pots and the ladles.
The sea eats the land at home,
It is a sad thing to hear the walls,
And the mourning shouts of the women,
Calling on all the gods the worship,
To protect them from the angry sea.
Aku stood outside where her cooking pot stood
With her two children shivering from the cold,
Her hands on her breast,
Her ancestors have neglected her,
It was a cold Sunday morning,
The storm was raging,
Goats and fowls were struggling in the water,
The angry water of the cruel sea:
The lap-lapping of the dark water at the shore,
And above the sobs and the deep and low moans
It has taken away their belongings
Abena has lost the tinkets which.
Were her dowry and her joy,
In the sea that eats the land at home,
Eats the whole land at home
Kofi Awoonor does a fantastic job describing the situation. Much of his poetry throughout his life were based upon his own personal experiences or those which he had believed to be true. Thus, as a non-fiction writer he is able to put his poetry into the perspective of the people. In this particular poem, Awoonor writes about the devastation a storm caused a town. He uses plain language with very little metaphors to describe the happening. Because of this, it’s easy for us to relate to and see the emotion happening before our eyes.
Despite the sadness this event likely caused the people of the town, Awoonor is able to use such beautiful language to bring about the news to us.