[Poetic Attack] ‘Honam’ by Ghanaian spoken word artist Cynthia Amoah

Bridget Boakye January 17, 2018

Cynthia Amoah is a writer, spoken word artist, and national performance poet currently based in NYC, United States. Born in Kumasi, Ghana and raised abroad, Cynthia began writing and reciting poetry at an early age through national poetry recitation competitions. It was the experience of participating in this contest of learning the art of recitation – outside of her own journal entries – where Cynthia first learned the true essence of the spoken word art form.

Spoken word poetry has always fascinated Cynthia. She believes that there is something about the tone of one’s voice, it’s influxes and invasions until it arrives at an idea, a thought, that is beautiful. There, in that moment, is where she lives, on the boundary between what she writes on the page and how the words sound when she performs them. Her poetry is her truth. It is her resistance and her way of telling her story.

Cynthia’s work and voice often reflect the strong oral traditions, language, and resilience of her homeland, Ghana. Her poignant poems often explore themes of community, the value of culture, and a dedication to self-identity. She has come to the realization – at this point in her career – that poetry is not only her career, rather it is who she is and it is not something she can run away from.

Cynthia’s work has been featured on the stages of The Lincoln Theatre, The King Arts Complex, Applause Africa’s The African Diaspora Awards 2017, and TEDxOhioStateUniversity where she performed her most notable poem Honam.

Honam, is featured in the video below. Its evocative words are also published in full below. You can find Amoah on all social media under her name or alias, @PoetessCynthia. You may also follow her journey and check out more of her work on her website at: www.cynthiaamoah.com

Full Text

The word honam in twi
My native language from the deep of Ghana West Africa, means skin.
When the letters of honam are rearranged,
you can almost see them trying to spell the word human.
Literal translation, one’s skin makes one human.
And its funny,
how my ancestors
never knowing a word of English,
can put together a phrase,
a simple remedy,
a gentle anecdote,
for a little brown girl’s salvation tonight.
Let them tell it –
Brown girl
When they teach you about honam in the blue-eyed classrooms of your schools,
do they ever actually tell you that you are beautiful
or do they just show you what it is?
Do the pictured women in the hall of fame faces in the showcases displayed look like you?
Are the halls as deep and as wide as a woman’s spine?
Do the arms of your study halls embrace you with its femininity?
Are there words in your textbook like,
like amniotic love,
like obaa ni nantu,
watch her walk with grace.

During lunchtime,
do you hopscotch on the stretch marks of women
who bore men skinned as deep as the night?
Something in you breaks though, doesn’t it?
Because this is the first time words speak louder than actions.
You begin to crave validation
Searching for ways to define your skin
Flipping madly through magazine pages
– dipped in 1960’s America
You can almost hear the dogs barking
Smell the sharp water from hoses splitting flesh

until you see women like Lupita N’yongo
on the cover of a magazine
and only then
is everything okay
Because, because she looks like you right?
And finally
Finally, you’ve found your definition of beauty
But let them tell it –
You do not need a magazine cover to tell you that you are beautiful, brown girl
You are beautiful no matter your paper brown
Even the stars,
stolen in their infinite grace,
only show up at the darkest point of night,
showing their faces

Me and you,
We’re going to relearn what beauty really is.
Because who taught you
that the value of a woman is the ratio of her waist to her hips
And the circumference of her buttocks
And the volume of her lips?
Your math is dangerously wrong,
Her value is nothing less than infinite
Like the galaxy
Like stars
Like the night
Like your skin
Like Lupitas

Like you weren’t here before she got here
Like the only reason they look at you is because of her
Like the only reason black is beautiful is because of her
Like black been beautiful
Because of you
Like when will someone recognize you?

Don’t you see?
You exist too, brown girl
What about you?
And what about me?
And what about us?
And this war we’ve been fighting?
Brown girls hurt and bleeding
Brown girls splitting skin
Not knowing how to love themselves
And truthfully, I wish I was a poet
So I could color the pain in these words with beautiful rhythm
Cause no one will think you’re beautiful until you think you are
Until you feed it down people’s throats
I see Lupita everywhere I go
Staring at the Eiffel tower in Paris
Sitting at a small cafe in Brooklyn
On the streets of Accra
In the marketplaces in Dubai
On the playgrounds in my neighborhood
But when will we sing songs for our daughters?
Hide love poems deep within the hum of their lullabies and bedtime stories
So that when they sleep,
they won’t lose themselves in the dark
When will we believe?
And honestly,
I know you listen to these poems
but in between the lines,
deep within these words,
Look for you
Look at how your honam shines, brown girl
Look for you –

Last Edited by:Francis Akhalbey Updated: June 12, 2018


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