Mapping “Greatness”

“Greatness” In a Time of Covid is the title of a poem inspired by the bungling responses of the British and American governments to the Coronavirus pandemic, with the tragic loss of tens of thousands of lives. The arrogance of the governments, based on their colonialist histories, contrasted markedly with the extraordinary bravery and sacrifice of essential workers, and the fact that the majority of those who became ill and/or sadly died, were immigrants, or descendants of immigrants from former colonies.

Written and first performed by Tayo Aluko, “Greatness” contains themes which suggest that the poem would benefit from translation into, and performance in languages of the European states that colonised the world – Africa, Asia, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and territories in between.

The idea of Mapping “Greatness” is to gather audiovisual performances of the poem from people around the world, in the languages of the former colonisers, or in the local creoles that developed from the colonisation and migration processes. Those who wish to also translate and record versions in their indigenous languages are also welcome to do so (in addition to the coloniser language version). These performances will be uploaded onto a digital map of the world, and in each case, information on the performer and whatever personal and/or family history, including migration stories, they are willing to share will be available. Also available would be relevant information and links to resources on the colonial histories associated with that person’s or family’s journey.

This is an open call for the following:

  1. Translator/performers, or performers working with performers of their choice, or vice versa.
  2. Volunteer “language checkers”
  3. Performer recruiters
  4. Historians of colonisation, economics, politics, pandemics, etc.
  5. Web developers
  6. People with ideas

Please note: For the foreseeable future, all contributions will have to be made on a voluntary basis. I am however happy to participate in a Poetry Exchange. Any poets who perform this poem can have their own poem on the same themes (no longer than “Greatness”), recorded by me and/or any other participating performers. These will go on the website and facebook page. More details to follow.

Please contact Tayo at

My recording of the poem can be seen by clicking this image  .

Before the mapping project goes live, other recordings will be added to this page, and the facebook page.


The text can be downloaded here, and is reproduced below in full:


We made our homes in the belly of The Beast

The Beast that devoured our ancestors

and spat them out on the other side of the globe

that stole our gold and rubber

our skills and knowledge

our art and music,

our history


It gorged, and fattened itself,

dressed in unmissable finery

and declared itself proudly

The Empire.

It saw its greatness in our puzzled eyes

as we stared up the barrel of a gun

from every corner of the earth.


Its guns were needed still (we were told)

to protect us from the socialists and communists

Capitalism, our enslaver for centuries

would liberate us

one day.


It bought our rulers

and continued the quiet theft

of our humanity and our dignity

as it planted poison and bombs

where once there was rice and diamonds.


And then the virus came

silent, swift and deadly

we answered the call to the frontline

to confront this invisible enemy

we asked simply for gloves, masks, visors and gowns.


As we fell, one by one

we finally began to see

that what the gentle ones had been whispering loudly

had been true all along:

We’d been feeding

on The Beast’s excrement

unmindful of the fact

that The Empire


no clothes

© Tayo Aluko  23 April 2020


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