A darker part of the worldChristoph Meckel
Lengwil: Libelle, 2012
In poetic notes, the poet and illustrator Christoph Meckel remembers his journey to Africa in the mid-1960s. It is moreover a homage to Ulli Beier who died in 2011 and who recognized the complex and picturesque Yoruba culture as a great cultural heritage in a period where Germany’s knowledge of Africa was still limited to Albert Schweitzer and a few jungle clichés. Beier was a mentor for the young Meckel who travelled to Nigeria as a hitchhiker and would become a lifelong friend. This volume therefore forms part of Meckel’s series of memoirs.
The Africa in which Meckel travelled no longer exists. It was a “time for drawing a deep breath, the new states were a few years old and not yet troubled by corruption, racial hatred and all kinds of misery”. Without any thought of danger, the young poet allowed himself to be driven: to Kano and Ibadan, Lagos and Oshogbo, Dakar and Gorée. Everywhere he found overflowing creativity, the shrines to old gods still intact, the palaces in which traditional kings had lived not yet dilapidated.
Meckel observed scenes from everyday life and met with the great artists of this first African emergence: Amos Tutuola, Christofer Okigbo, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. In Dakar, he participated in Leopold Senghor’s great “Black Arts Festival” (Festival des arts nègres). “Dancing and drumming through the night, for weeks Dakar lay under luminous veils of sand”. It is the zenith and, as Meckel remarks melancholically, already the decline of the Negritude movement. He meets Léon Damas and Aimé Césaire and some Western travellers: Carl Orff, Ilse Aichinger and Günter Eich.
A few years later, the Biafra war would destroy everything. The palaces, the art, the life of kings, painters, sculptors, poets and a whole period of art about which we in Germany know far too little. Meckel’s book ends with a copy of his poem, The Savannas .
Ten etchings complete the text and clearly illustrate how strongly the impressions of his journey to Africa influenced his graphic work.