Poetry. African & African American Studies. Translated by Peter Thompson. THE BELLY is Tchicaya U Tam'si's ode to Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, fighter for independence and first Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo. Lumumba rose on a wave of anti-colonial and nationalist optimism only to be assassinated after two months in office. Tchicaya captures the disappointment and grief of this moment with compelling imagery and a rhythmic drive that renders the threnody unforgettable, both to us as readers and to history.
"Remaining rooted in a constant awareness of the body, Tchicaya's voice speaks with vigorous conviction of the struggles faced simultaneously on individual, social, and cultural levels. Inheriting from both Surrealism and Negritude, this vital poet from the Republic of the Congo was a major shaper of 20th century post-colonial African poetry. The Belly, originally published in 1964, reflects the intense political and social changes that followed the country's 1960 independence from 80 years of colonial occupation. Deeply committed to its homeland, Tchicaya's work resounds with resilience, determination, and ultimate triumph."—Cole Swensen
"The poignant poetry of Tchicaya U Tam'si is best understood in the context of his country's political history. The Congo offered great hopes for a better future at independence in 1960. But the assassination of its charismatic prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, plunged it into chaos. This broken promise stabbed at the poet's heart. Nearly 60 years after the first publication of THE BELLY, which has become a classic of modern African poetry, Peter Thompson's beautifully crafted translation into English has reignited its passion and relevance."—Véronique Tadjo
Tchicaya U Tam'si was born Gérald-Félix Tchicaya in Mpili (near Brazzaville, French Equitorial Africa, now the Republic of Congo) in 1931. He was the son of Jean-Félix Tchicaya, who represented Equatorial Africa in the French parliament from 1944 to 1958. Assumed in the family to be headed to a career in politics, he left school before graduating to devote himself to writing, publishing his first book (Le Mauvais sang, inspired by Rimbaud), at age 24, and was immediately hailed as one of the great African voices of his generation. In 1957 he took the pseudonym of U Tam'si (which means, in Vili, "one who speaks for his country"). In 1960 he returned from France to support the great Congolese statesman and fighter for independence, Patrice Lumumba, who rose on a wave of hopeful nationalism to be Congo's first Prime Minister but served only two months before being assassinated, becoming a martyr and symbol for anti-colonialism throughout Africa. In 1964 Tchicaya released Le Ventre (The Belly) as a song of mourning for the fallen leader. After a prolific middle and old age, Tchicaya died in Bazancourt in 1988 at the age of 56. In 1989, the Tchicaya U Tam'si Prize for African Poetry was established in his honor. U Tam'si published six collections of poetry during his lifetime: Le mauvais sang (1955), Feu de brousse (1957), À triche-coeur (1958), Epitomé (1962), Le Ventre (1964), and L'arc Musical (1970). Epitomé was awarded the 1966 Poetry Prize at the World Festival for Negro Arts. U Tam'si also wrote the play Le Zulu (1977) and edited the anthology La veste d'intérieur (1977).Author City: KINSHASA CON