In Gabriel Okara's poem "The Mystic Drum," there are several references to post-colonialism and its aftermath. A Nigerian, Okara invested much of his creative energy in examining the tension between traditional, older African culture and that of modern Western civilization.
That tension is evident right from the start, as Okara describes a bucolic scene located in his head.
The mystic drum in my inside
and fishes danced in the rivers
and men and women danced on land
to the rhythm of my drum
Interrupting this dream, however, and threatening to upend it in its entirety is a woman with leaves around her waist—the woman is Eve, a symbol of the West. As she smiles and shakes her head, the narrator’s drum continued to beat, accompanying images of the dead “who dance and sing with their shadows.” Eve does not approve of “fished turned men/and men turned fishes” either, because this Eve does not so much represent the mythical realm of the Garden of Eden but rather the eve of Nigerian independence from colonial rule. Eve sneers at the old ways.
Despite the brutalities he suffered under colonial rule, the narrator wants to hold on to some of the older African culture, such as his mystic drum, which often symbolizes the spiritual side of traditional African life. But as Eve continues to observe with her careless smile and nonchalant shake of her head, the narrator can ignore her no more.
And then the mystic drum
in my inside stopped to beat—
and men became men,
fishes became fishes
and trees, the sun and the moon
found their places, and the dead
went to the ground and things began to grow.
What began to grow? The impact of the modern West. Her work done, Eve undergoes a change, with “smoke issuing from her nose/and her lips parted in her smile/turned cavity belching darkness.” Disillusioned and defeated, the narrator “packed my mystic drum/and turned away; never to beat so loudly anymore.” Western powers might not hold any actual power, but the drumbeat of their past rule beats much louder than that of Nigeria’s rich, ancient culture.