TAMING THE GOD OF THE STOMACH: A POETIC ANALYSIS OF OSHAFI ABDULRASAK’S “MOVING ALTAR” BY EBUBECHUKWU BRUNO NWAGBO
MOVING ALTAR | Oshafi Abdulrasak
My body is a moving altar;
An angry god lives therein.
It’s endless crave for sacrifice,
Denies me the pleasure of slumber
Spurs me to beat the sun to its game.
Hunger has continually rejected;
my offer of friendship
So, when the host of angels rumble from within (worms);
Know the alter yearns
For nothing other than
Assorted goat meat
and pounded yam
to keep them pacified but for a while.
Food is the most basic need of man. When we prefer to cuddle up on bed, hunger forces us out of it. We hit the street under rain and sun to make ends meet. This is shown in stanza one of Abdulrasak’s “Moving Altar”:
My body is a moving altar;
An angry god lives therein.
It’s endless crave for sacrifice
Denies me the pleasure of slumber,
Spurs me to beat the sun to its
From the plaintive tone of the poet persona, he is not happy with the insatiably “angry god” living in his body. He is grumpy denying himself of sleep in order to “pacify” the worms eating up his tummy.
In stanza two, his tone further develops into that of frustration. He is frustrated for two reasons:
1. Hunger has refused to reason with him – “Hunger has continually rejected; my offer of friendship”. This reminds me of the lines “hunger is no friend of the belly” from a food poem “Betrothed Friendship” by Asudemade Habeebullah who wrote in the Food Poetry, Issue 8 PIN Quarterly Journal in 2017.
The second accusation against hunger is that:
2. Hunger is rude and does not have respect for people’s privacy:
Asudemade Habeebullah in “Betrothed Friendship” seems to provide answers to these two complaints. On the first, he says “food is the only confidante of a raging belly”. On the second, he submits that food is “the only satisfaction of a plaintive throat”. So, have you tried to extend a hand of friendship to hunger to no avail, extend some plates of food instead. If you are tired of complaining about the embarrassing things hunger does to you, food will always attend to your complaints.
The poet Oshafi Abdulrasak describes hunger as an angry god that continually asks for sacrifices and gets “pacified just for a while” after eating some food, only to resume his assault again “without prior notice”. This explains why we spend most of our earnings on food over other things. According to an information uploaded on World Economic Forum website in 2016, “Nigeria spends over half of household income on food.” The percentage is put at 56.4%. If you are a Nigerian, you are likely to agree with that, if you take time to calculate how much you have spent on food. You will realize how much your stomach has consumed and cannot but agree with the poet that it is indeed an insatiable “god”.
However, I find debatable the assertion in this poem that hunger comes “without prior notice”. This is not always the case. For most people who understand their body food requirements, they can predict how many hours it would take them before they get hungry again after eating. Factors such as the type of food, the amount eaten, the amount of energy exerted at work, etc. helps them to arrive at this prediction. For instance, it is common knowledge that fatty foods take more time to digest, as such stay longer in the stomach than say, fruits and vegetables. Also, a manual labourer whose work demands a lot of physical energy is likely to choose meals like beans mixed with garri or taken with bread or “swallow” over tea and bread. This is because the later will certainly not last long enough before hunger calls again. However, the affordability of meals is another thing one may not be able to meet up with, thus leading to the embarrassing moment experienced by the poet personae.
The food poem “Moving Altar” is dosed with personifications. Animate ideas of movement, habitation and cravings are used to personify hunger which is an abstract idea. This is found in lines 1,2,3 of the poem respectively. In stanza two, the poet tries to extend human idea of friendship to hunger whom he says continues to “reject” it. Similarly, in the last stanza, worms are referred to as “host of angels” who need to be pacified.
Having read Oshafi Abdulrasak’s “Moving Altar” these are some of the lessons that one can take to heart:
(1) There is no food for the lazy man who does not wants to be “denied the pleasure of slumber”. As a proverb has it, a mouth that wants to grease oil, must first grease its hands with sand. As we say in Nigerian parlance “Life na work-chop, if you no go work, you no go chop”
(2) Humans must endeavour to eat to remain healthy. Poor eating habit could lead to many health challenges. The poet refers subtly to ulcer in his reference to stomach worms in the last stanza.
(3) Human need is insatiable. This is perhaps the most cogent theme in the poem. This is portrayed by the continuous cravings of the stomach for food. The poem can indeed pass for a symbolism for human needs in general. Since every day comes with new needs and the satisfaction to one need only opens the door to another need, we must learn to live with this reality. One must as such try his/her best to attend to these needs by all legitimate means. If you go out of your way to do it the wrong way, you will still not find perpetual satisfaction. So, in conclusion, while we work hard to satisfy the god that moves our bodies as its altar, we must endeavour to put our appetite in check, else we descend into drunkenness, gluttony, debauchery, greed, avarice and all sorts of vices that alter both the body and the spirit of the man who does not manage his “moving altar” wisely.
RECOMMENDED: Read Asudemade Habeebullah’s “Betrothed Friendship”