Minabien: Our Own Little Poet from Sierra Leone

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One Kenyan writer described him as a ‘poet who treads where adult dread’. Another wrote about him with the following headline, ‘Inhaling life, exhaling poetry’. The subject is surprisingly 11yrd-old Minabien Baraka Mwangaza Kagira-Kargbo, who started writing poems at the age of 5. He’s the youngest Sierra Leonean writer, and probably the world’s youngest poet.

His first publication is a collection of poems he wrote between the age of 7 and 9, titled “Poems for Primary School Children”; and is on the verge of finishing his second book. Apart from giving inspirational talks on writing to his peers, his books have been included in the list of prescribed textbooks for primary schools in Kenya.

His poetry work has also been very recently accepted internationally for publication in “Experimental Writing: Volume 1, Africa VS Latin America Anthology” to be published by September 2016. His poem titled “It is so painful” depicting the Westgate Terrorist attack in Kenya in 2013 will feature in the publication of poets and Fiction work from the two continents- America and Africa.

“He has shown extraordinary qualities for a boy his age,” says his father, Dr. Abu Kargbo, Operations Officer, Social Protection Specialist, World Bank Sierra Leone. “I cannot even compare him to myself when I was at his age. I haven’t even written a poem, let alone a book.”

Born in the USA in 2004, Minabien (meaning ‘our own’ in Limba- the third largest ethnic group in Sierra Leone) did his pre-nursery in Freetown until 2007 when the family moved briefly to China where he continued primary 1 and 2. Soon he was back in the US to continue primary 3 before finally moving to Kenya, the homeland of his mother.

At primary 5 in Kenya, Minabien started writing, mostly influenced by thoughts of the several cultures he has been exposed to. His interest in writing actually started in China by reading storybooks and his mother encouraging him to write down summaries of what he had learnt.
“His mother played a big role in encouraging him to write, serving as his editor,” says Dr. Kargbo.

Themes of morality, family, love, the environment, humanity, terrorism and daily life experiences run through Minabien’s poems. In one of his poems titled “Earthly Life”, he accepts that:
“God is our father.
He loves all of us so much.
If you want God to love you very much.
You must help other people.
Love each other like brothers and sisters.
Then the world will be a better place.
Then the world will be in peace.
There will be no wars.
When the world’s in peace.”

In another poem he continues his hope for a perfect world without terrorist groups like Al-Shabab:
“I do not know why Al-Shabab likes to kill people.
I do not know why Al-Shabab likes to attack Kenya.
I hope you don’t attack Nairobi again.
I also hope God changes your mind.
If you do not attack people, you teach people not to attack others.
Then the world will be in peace.
I hope this will happen.
Please let us pray for this to happen.”

A very good speaker of English, Swahili, Chinese and French, Minabien has a passion for words. Whenever he comes across a new word (or an idea) his mother would encourage him to write it down, learn its meaning and spelling, and how to use it in sentences of his own.

“That way it helps him not to forget them,” says his mother Wanjiku Kagira-Kargbo.

Writing poems can be difficult even for adults, but for Minabien the lines come easily and he says he feels comfortable expressing his thoughts in poems.

“I enjoy writing poetry because it helps me play with words. Poetry is also entertaining and can help to develop a critical mind,” says Minabien, who’s inspired by renowned writers such as Wole Soyinka, Nguigo Wathiongo and Chinua Achebe.

Apart from his prowess in writing poetry Minabien is equally as good in sports, having won medals in swimming, soccer, athletics and basketball.

“Sports is good for the health and fitness of children; they can also make a successful career out of it,” says Minabien, who’s aspiring to be a renowned world writer and athlete representing Sierra Leone, Kenya and Africa in the international scene.

“We are proud of him. We are proud to support him in his endeavor,” says Dr. Kargbo. “We pray we have the resources to keep supporting his dreams of becoming a renowned world author and athlete.”

Minabien has vivid memories of Sierra Leone and hopes that his poetry works will inspire his young compatriots to develop interest in reading and writing.

“I love Sierra Leone, and I miss my cassava leaves,” he says.

Published in NewsWatch Magazine July 2016-September 2016 Edition.

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