What is the central idea of Gabriel Okara's poem "The Mystic Drum"?

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The central idea of Gabriel Okara's poem "The Mystic Drum" is the damaging effect of colonialism on the spiritual pulse of African life, as represented by the eponymous drum.

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Gabriel Okara has described "The Mystic Drum" as a love poem in which the antagonist is a woman he once loved who turned out not to be what she seemed. However, others have argued that the poem is a kind of allegory on colonialism and its damaging impact on African culture.

On this reading, the eponymous drum represents the traditional spiritual pulse of Africa. Its rhythm beats inside the speaker as it does with every African man and woman, making them dance.

But the happy scene depicted by the speaker is suddenly threatened by the appearance of an interloper, a strange woman standing behind a tree, smiling with the shake of her head. On a postcolonial reading, the woman represents Western colonialists looking with condescension upon an ancient African ritual whose immense cultural value they neither appreciate nor understand.

Initially, however, the drum continues to beat, just as traditional African life was still able to carry on for some time after the first wave of Western colonization. Over time, this situation changes, and we can see these changes in figurative terms through the leaves and roots that begin sprouting from the woman standing behind the tree.

This represents the process by which white colonialists became increasingly embedded within African life; they became part of the scenery, as it were, as they tightened and extended their control over the continent. So much so, in fact, that the speaker's drum, the pulse of traditional African life, will never beat so loud again.

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