AUTHOR: Ndagi Abdullahi
THINKER: Su’eddie Agema
Ndagi Abdullahi’s ‘Zhenti’ is a compressed story that takes us across continents on an adventure with the (nameless) central character, who is also the narrator. There is a strong stating of dates which the narrator meticulously notes. It is told in a slow casual conversational form. The story opens with a description of the article of the title:
Zhenti is the worst practice in Nupe culture. It is used to transform a normal person into a zombie. The person is given a potion to drink, then the person is taken round a tree seven times. I didn’t know about Zhenti until it was performed on someone so dear to me.
In the casual style of the story, ‘By the way…’ continues the next line and begins the narration of the experience that leads to the observation and description of Zhenti. The narrator is a Nupe Prince whose people are not so strong or relevant due to their overthrow by the dominance of the Goyi Fulanis. He has an unidentical twin brother, Ndakoba who is his direct opposite in every aspect: physical, mental and all. He is peaceful and accepting while his brother is a revolutionist. Ndakoba gets ‘supremacist theory’ oriented and aspires to revolt against the more powerful Goyis and despite disapproval from his brother goes ahead with an unsuccessful revolt. Ndakoba, his rebels and the narrator are arrested and tried. The narrator is shown to be innocent, acquitted and wins the favour of the ruler of the Goyis (Etsu Masaba). He is made ‘Sokyara’ (an important officer in the Kingdom that is not explained) by the Etsu and gets the envy of the erstwhile Sokyara who ensures that he makes hell for the narrator. Sokyara (as the erstwhile Sokyara is called throughout the story) moves for ‘Zhenti’ to be done on Ndakoba. The narrator secretly arranges for the temporary ‘Zhenti’ to be done on his brother. This is found out later (all thanks to Sokyara) and he is to be punished by banishing.
It was around that time that Sir William Baikie, the White man, came to visit Etsu Masaba. Baikie was the British Empire consul at Lokoja. Etsu Masaba appointed me the ambassador of KinNupe to Europe and the Americas. It was Etsu Masaba’s dexterous way of banishing me from KinNupe honourably. Sokyara celebrated. But I was happier; it is an opportunity for me to search for Ndakoba in the Americas. I took the Zhenti antidote potion with me to use in reversing Ndakoba’s senses whenever I meet him in America.
The narrator is cultured to be a well-educated and well-informed English diplomat. He then undergoes a lot of adventure that sees him become Ambassador in the United Kingdom and later United States of America. He is attended to with much respect and regard. Of course, he does not stop looking for his brother and becomes a member of the slave abolitionist movement. He has to head a team of negotiators to repress a bloody slave revolution, headed by a Louverture d’Palmereslater, at the request of the United States government. It turns out that Louverture d’Palmeres is a familiar face from his past. It is Sokyara! His brother, Ndakoba, also comes into the picture. The narrator is captured and gives his brother the antidote. They somehow defeat Sokyara and become National heroes. But then, the story simply seems to begin there as a need for Zhenti comes again. This time, it is the narrator trying to do it on Ndakoba and you can well click here to view the story’s end.
One notices at the end that in the story there is no direct dialogue as everything is narrated. There is also the absence of detailed description of places or characters except for the one place at the beginning where the narrator compares himself with his twin brother.
The major strength of ‘Zhenti’ is the attention to dates (as shown in years) that the writer uses as markers for different points of the tale. Such presentation makes a tale look like a true account of an old man in a journal or something of the like. They might have made a stronger impact if they had been harnessed well. The year statements in addition to a strong sense of ascending chronology serve the writer well in shaping the tale into the historical narrative form.
‘Zhenti’ has a number of weaknesses. It is not so convincing and looks like the kind of tale that a drunk would tell in a bar to get sympathies. However, it must be said that Ndagi Abdullahi’s insertion of dates and straight chronology gives the story some credence.
Another weakness of the story can be seen in the mixture of tenses at some points that go from perfect past tense to present continuous. There are also grammatical errors that could safely have been left out e.g. “He have heard all about me as the leading Black diplomat in the USA.” “The violent, fearless and militant Ndakoba immediately overpowered Sokyara’s guards, killed them and organise the prisoners into a militia against Sokyara.” These mistakes which should ordinarily have been dealt with before submissions or at the editing stage do not tell well. They also add a sour taste to the work and Editor of the publisher (Sentinel). Any way, these are simply mechanical errors that can be reworked for a better appreciation of the tale.
The work might also work better if certain parts are reworked properly and made longer. This would add some credibility to the story as there seem to be many parts that do not join properly. If some suspense and fastness can also be twitched properly into some areas of the story, it would do wonders.
On the whole, the beauty of the story, ‘Zhenti’ by Ndagi Abdullahi lies hidden under the current format but might just be an award winner if it is properly reworked and a refined creditable version offered for our reading pleasure.