Jamaica Gleaner / Ka’Bu Ma’at Kheru has a good chuckle as she recounts some young people being asked if blue drawers are worn or eaten, the youngsters guessing that it is a garment rather than a meal.
There is no joking around in the title of her new poetry collection, Making Kenke From Memory: A Sankofic Journey (SenYAcum Publishing). Kheru explained that kenke is what is called ‘tie leaf’ or ‘dokoonu’ – or ‘blue drawers’ – in Jamaica. Kenke is an African word, so Kheru asks how a meal that is made in Africa is also done in Jamaica, without a recipe. It is this ingrained memory which is the focus of Making Kenke From Memory . Although there are four sections, Kheru said it can be considered one long poem.
“In writing, I am recognising how we remember,” Kheru told The Gleaner . “Here is a dish that is straight from Africa. We came and saw everyone doing it and we do not ask how they came to know it. Our ancestors brought it with them.”
So, Kheru asks, “If we remember how to make kenke from memory, what else might we have remembered – or forgotten? The idea of how to make kenke is used as a metaphor throughout the book.
“Memory lies in language. If we remember the language, we will remember who we are.”
To facilitate that recall, there is a glossary in Making Kenke From Memory , which is done in four sections, namely, Scattered Into Flight, Ancestral Memories, Children of the Mist and making Kenke. The glossary is especially important to the last, where Kheru says, “I reclaim the language.” She uses over seven different languages, reflecting a view of Africa as a whole, without physical or tribal boundaries, saying that if we are to reclaim Africa it must be as a whole.
Kheru also reclaims her own name in Making Kenke and her family history is part of the book, with stories from her Taino and Maroon heritage having a strong influence, many of those tales told while her hair was being combed. And there is another influence, Kheru saying that her mother said the daughter can’t help being a writer, as she got it from her mother.
This is Kheru’s third poetry book. The first, A Hint of Blue , was published when she was a student at St Mary High School, and the second is Jungle Me . Thematically, she has remained consistent, writing initially about coming of age and infatuation, Pan-Africanism and political issues, later adding social justice. Of course, her sphere has broadened (“I was looking at Africa through narrow lenses, now I have more critical eyes”) and her writing has matured. However, the motivation remains the same.
“I can’t remember not wanting to represent what was around me,” Kheru said. She tried art, but said “since I can’t paint it on paper, I did that using words”.
There are plans to tour parts of Europe reading from Making Kenke From Memory: A Sankofic Journey , and Kheru is already well advanced in writing another book, which she describes as a romance novel – and a steamy one, too.