A poem that migrates through tongues | Femi Nylander | TEDxSkoll


Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I write from the safety
of a nation built on slavery and this poem will migrate
through tongues The wrongs of our forefathers place us in a world
our fathers would escape The movement of my father
through [the sea] set me here with the children
of fathers who believed they were best My father was allowed
through their barriers because he was educated and did medicine so came from the dark
continent to the West, so a boy was born Many are not so lucky,
they cannot speak to you, they don’t grow up
surrounded by words you’d understand My tongue is like a weapon in my hand,
I manipulate it, I make noise, I try to make you understand The world extends beyond your borders,
the mind extends beyond your words, your lives, your sons, your daughters,
are one in a billion it’s true but the remaining 999 million
are just as beautiful I speak to you
(Arabic) but not only to you Yes, the children of Syria,
also one in a million Barred from your land,
blocked from your language I want to talk to you
through your language, yes, your language Maybe my words appear
on the beaches, and drowned Maybe they appear on the sun After all, (English) the sun deals
in words and in fear (Arabic) Easy visa for us (English) We do not (Arabic: wait)
to enter there But you flee from war
or the (Arabic: crisis) we created and you cannot enter here (Spanish) A language that is in the fault
line of colonizer and colonized Spanish, today the language
of immigrants the gardener, but once the language of the conqueror Apparently all of South America is Mexican There is no internal immigration
to the continent Knowledge lost When in English you Google
migration in South America the first result, it’s South American
immigration in … United States Really, it’s almost a joke. (English) Guatemala?
Is that a type of cheese? Bro man? (Spanish) Assimilate, learn the language
But the name of your country? (English) Too much to know man,
you’re a Mexican Show us some respect again
because we’re American! We’ll build a wall to keep you out
and then deport the rest of them (Spanish) Do you think we care
if you run away from cartels and war? Or that it’s natural
to move across the earth? No, we do not care;
(English) We do not care The world ends in Texas
(English) and we are the best (Spanish) And although I went
to Brazil for the Olympics, and did not think
of those displaced so I could (English) Through this the Englishman
is chilling, the American is grinning (French) The Parisian is that,
strong are their passports And the weak are their consciences
Men who demonize the other, who give their support
to Theresa May and Marine le Pen Messengers of hate We are here because you were there
You never had a visa The Arab, the Asian, the Black We who represent the damned of the earth
in the words of Fanon The (Arabic: blood) of the earth,
(Arabic: blood) in Arabic It represents the blood of the earth,
the blood on the earth (English) And blood on the water And it was written young men detained
and sent to Jamaica When you spent your whole life in Britain Defaced by the state, allegations
of sexual assault, no media debate Campsfield is minutes away
from the Sheldonian, migration, detention, disgrace The waves cannot be ruled The waves they wash away and start anew The graves remain, one cannot wash a tomb The ways we whitewash history
cannot stop the waves from breaking The waves of colour grew
The floodgates of Calais cannot remain We pave another route to you You paved railroad so you can take
our loot and use them as excuse We watch you act unwise in little England
setting ground for your demise You doing an economic block
then act as though you’re colonised Your fear betrays you
We cannot now allay your fears You set the table of your fate
and now the plate is almost here You fed and feed upon our states
until our plates were empty yet we were and are always here Like the language in this song
our news is skewed We only hear of refugees
we fear may break our borders soon 26% of refugees in Africa Sub-Sahara (Swahili) They don’t speak Swahili
in Cameroon, Africa is not a country (Laughs) Those in Lagos look down on the villager Those in the land of the white man
lose their language (Yoruba) If I try to speak Yoruba
my mum teaches me small small but (English) English rolls of my tongue (French) French rolls across the Sahara Uranium from Niger
power for the Eiffel Tower (Hausa) For the Hausa people no water
or electricity, (French) it’s not Regal (English) Of African refugees 3% in Europe Maybe a man just wants
to find a way to safety Europe is a cultural creation, separated from the other peninsula
of the Asian continent we know Nothing geographical to separate,
not large outside Mercator No plate like the subcontinent
of India though Africa is a geographical entity,
meant to be huge, mostly water on each side
with 3,000 languages, more linguistic diversity than 30 Europes Languages die or are they murdered? Displaced words like bodies displaced, migrate, immigrate, immigrant,
dirty, negro native, ‘Go back to the colonies’,
the princess says. So there we go. Where to start and where to end? (Arabic, Chinese) Lebanon to Bejing,
all night they are tired (Chinese) No Rohinga, No Kachin This side, that side,
(English) Partition, partition the stage (Hindi) Who’s Raj? Who’s rage?
Hindu Muslim move to today A different time, today’s issues The word loot was stolen from Hindi The word ‘aryan’ came
from Sanskrit, Brahmin and white (English) Foundation of fear and (Hindi) both built on lies and (English) Kashmir tears and Bangladesh boundary taut
(Hindi) line of fire, Felani Khatun’s (Hindi) death Alan Kurdi’s (Arabic) death (English) Peter Sallaby, dead Others can live if the boundaries will die Let’s start again (Poem ends) The British passport gets you
into 157 countries in this world. The American passport gets you
into 157 countries in this world. The French passport gets you
into 157 countries in this world. The Somali passport gets you
into 31 countries in this world. And the Afghan passport gets you into 25. This is the legacy of colonialism. Now, when I was composing this poem,
it was actually very difficult. You see, I have actually got a fairly decent level of comprehension
in a lot of these languages. But the distinction between passive
and active vocabulary – a passive vocabulary
is where you understand when it comes, but you don’t really have the ability
to bring it to your head yourself. Active is when you can write,
and you can do everything like that. Now, why do I say that? Because obviously it made a difference
in writing the poem. But also because for me,
words like ‘visa’ and ‘migration’, etc., when you have countries in the world
which can go and cause refugees through their aggressive,
war-like policies, or have economic migration because of a history
of economic exploitation, where people from poor parts of the world
come to places in rich parts of the world, and the national dialogue around visas
and migration is so skewed, I don’t believe these words even lie
in the passive vocabularies of some people
in the so-called developed world. And so what we find is that people don’t even know
the true meaning of a word like ‘visa’, queuing up for hours,
just to be rejected, or a word like ‘migrant’
in their own language, as they traverse the world, carefree, famously,
at least in the British case, refusing, despite their golden ticket,
their passport, to learn any other, and so I hope this poem at least
makes you think about some of that today. Thank you. (Cheers) (Applause)

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