Title:Promises on Sand
Author: Amina Aboje
Publisher: Kraft Books
Year of Publication: 2017
Numberof Pages: 87
Reviewer: Paul Sawa
Although I write the occasional poem, I do not see myself as a poet. Avid reader that I am, however, I consider myself competent enough to review any form of literature. After all, I am the end user. The myth that only a poet can review poetry has long since been debunked. When all the lights in your house go out, you do not need to be an electrical engineer to realise that something is wrong.
I’ve always appreciated poetry, but have a tendency to be overly censorious of lyrical fluency and the depth thereof in much of what is expected to pass for verse today. The book which I am about to review, not only dependably delivers on both of these criteria, but goes further to embolden the believer, tickle the lover, and reignite any dying embers in the heart of the disillusioned patriot into a blaze.
The anthology, Promises on Sand, is Amina Aboje’s first published work. It is subdivided into four parts.
The first section, “The Glow,” is my favourite. It affords the reader a glimpse into the primary essence of the mime behind the rhyme. The reckless abandon of an unfettered childhood expressed in “Voice of the Wind,” which gives way to the first gentle tugs of young love on the heart strings in “Fusion” and “Never Enough,” is tempered by the idealistic purity of “Stay with me.” As a theist with a deep love and appreciation for nature, I am struck by Amina’s liberal use of natural imagery with occasional glimpses of the Divine revealed in and through the natural world.
The second section, “Of Loss and Hope,” takes on a more sombre note, yet in its entire sobriety, hope is never lost. Amina juxtaposes the reality of death and consequent effusions of grief with the hope of rebirth and reunion. In the six lines of “Except I die,” I see physical rebirth subsequent to death, like the seed in nature; I see spiritual death and rebirth as the hope and joy of the theist; and I see the daily process of dying to self and thereby awakening to another life. Then, of course, Amina has not neglected to highlight the miracle of birth, disappointments, betrayals and the perplexing paradoxes in this pilgrimage of life, for which she asks for direction in “Guiding Rod” – pragmatism garnished with idealism. Did I mention that this section is my favourite?
Section three, “Time Transience and Nature,” takes the cake! The brevity in style (each poem consists of only three lines) goes to reinforce the transience of time. Like a butterfly from flower to flower, Amina flits from one thought to another … universality, diversity, beauty, nature … as if to remind the reader, “Life is brief. Make the most of it.” It is amazing what three lines of poesy can do. This is, without question, my favourite section.
The fourth section, “Pangs of Nationhood,” strikes to the very soul of Nigeria. Despair translates to despondency which then begins to nudge at a realization that births defiance, as in the closing stanza of “Promises in Sand,” where the citizenry rhetorically inquire of the political class, “…how can you think there’ll ever be you without me?” “The Accomplice” sheds light on the dynamics of the corrupt class while “Musings” gives voice to the common man who laments, “How did I become so common?” The senselessness of internal conflict, the gaping chasm between the haves and the have nots, and the shamelessness of treasury looters as expressed in “Mindless Battles” and “Guiltless Shame” is still unable to quench the undercurrent of hope in “Still Green” and “Centennial Bliss.” Patriot that I am, this section is my favorite.
If I were asked to do the impossible by describing this book in two words, I would say … Unalloyed and Revitalizing. Amina Aboje has, in this book – Promises on Sand, somehow connected the profane with the profound and the sacred with the sagacious. It is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.
(Paul Sawa writes from Abuja, Nigeria. Inquiries on the book as well as requests for interviews and reviews can be got from the author by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Amina Aboje is the winner of the Mandela Day Poetry Prize 2016 and lives in Abuja)
I once learnt that the title to a piece of work is like an abstract, letting the consumer in on what the work is about. My head is still dancing around how the idea was begat that the title of this documentary should have anything to do with ‘dancing mask.’ Whoever thought up the idea it doesn’t matter, even if it is adapted from the words of the master himself, C. Achebe, in ‘The world is a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.’ But what can I say? The documentary is about an association with the name ‘Nigeria’ in it; a name itself that has been on a journey like that of a ‘dancing mask’ trying to understand itself. Either way, ANA – Association of Nigerian Authors – in its long years has decided to tell its story, and Dancing Mask: The ANA Story, a 54 minutes documentary straight out of Box Office Studios, directed by Tee Jay Dan (Mr Tukura), helps us see it, not standing in one place at all, thankfully.
Few seconds after 0:00 the story begins. Prof. Olu Obafemi starts it. The storytelling is batoned to Kole Omotoso, then to Mabel Segun, first generation writer, and then to Wale Okediran. The passing of the baton by the quartet is accomplished with such charm that the story flows, as if premeditated, from one narrator, or interviewee, to another. A technique the director will rely on for the rest of the documentary. It is perfect. The quartet handle the storytelling taking up to a quarter of the 54 minutes before other players, counting up to twenty-one (not specific), come in, prominent amongst them, Denja Abdullahi (ANA President 2015 – 17). Quite a number to tell ANA’s story in all its 30 years of existence; yet it is done leaving out almost nothing, apparently, if you ask. But this task – getting the story, putting the backstage work together, editing and all, to show that JohnBull is a speller of his name, relies largely on the intelligence of the director, to pull it off.
As it runs through the pages of Nigerian literature about the earlier times that a story cannot be told without the interruption of the military and their accompanying martial music so is ANA’s, formerly SONA (Society of Nigerian Authors), rattled at its birth by the coup of 1966. And martial music, too, interrupts the documentary’s soundtrack just when the narration of ANA’s story begins. This soundtrack effect is repeated at 10:25 as the story of Ken Saro Wiwa is told, and heightened at 11:49 towards a short rendition of the Ogoni struggle and demonstrations. Many things begin to come to light as the minutes read.
No minute wasted, The ANA Story (I decide to use only the subtitle of the documentary for our convenience) is unfolded. Those who have been in the Association long enough – your quartet – take the viewers (or now, listeners) to the history, the motivations, the spirit and the come about of ANA. They share their experiences too, which like a memoir, arrest the viewer, so that even only at the eighteenth minute before the introduction of new narrators the documentary will seem to have lasted for hours because of the weight of story covered, an element of compression deftly handled by the directing. (This is maintained throughout.) As this goes on, pictures, which narrate faster, lend subtextual and complementary consolidation to the documentary like some sort of album art, playing on the screen at intervals. For instance, a good number of book cover images are used to back-up where a narrator mentions the works of writers who had written out of ‘psychological distress,’ about dictatorship in their time, civil unrest, the Biafra War, and such. Same thing with the introduction of Mamman Vatsa, military General, whose literary history has almost been annihilated from our memory, an image displays beautiful lines of poetry (his’) hardly found today.
But with every good thing there are spoilers. The ANA Story begins to lose its mirth when it kindly left its more inspiring history of the eighties up to early 2000s and begins to brag about achievements in the years 2011 upfront. About its Teen Authorship Scheme at about 31:00; NWS (Nigerian Writers’ Series); Denja Abdullahi, becoming too sell-speak in his remarks about the strides of ANA, talking about how ANA ‘touched the grassroots’ and ‘carried the whole country along,’ reminding you of the pain of listening to our politicians speak. As if to continue with the spoiling an interviewee tells us about when she won the Best Literature Award in Africa (38:00) and you begin to think of coloured Sergeant Bombay.
In The ANA Story like its proverbial mother, Nigeria, it comes to light or officially known that it has bore the woes of experiment, sharing the pains of the limbo its mother is in. It has been suffering from lack of funds; ANA has no staff and no asset, per se; it has no secretariat; sometime in its past one of its president with a ‘sober’ hand had to curtail its excesses and ‘amorphous activities’; it has to tackle the atrophying culture of reading. But ANA has better days ahead. Someone should call Teju Cole because history is about to be contested: a Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village is going to be built to immortalise the pen-comrade who fell by the hands of evil men.
Before the ‘shooting-devil’ at 45:35 (when the person behind the camera starts to be careless) the director, too, begins his own kind of creative carelessness: 38:00 to 45:00 and so on. the ANA story here is about the bewailing of the reading culture, the debate of the death or life of the book or libraries and about funding. The soundtrack seems out of sync, sounding more apposite for a clip where a scientist is studying the progress of a specimen in a lab, or reminding you of the underwater soundtracks in Nat Geo Wild, or even something to take you to the site of some ancient shrine. At 44:21, too otherworldly eliciting the wrong effect from the viewer. Not even when Mabel Segun gives the description of a piece of land property owned by ANA in Abuja as resembling paradise, the soundtrack again, too intense, relegates her rendition to the background causing an internecine effect. But the viewer is saved some minutes later.
Done in memory of Chinua Achebe, it features clips from Dike Chukwumerije’s Made In Nigeria (2017) show, courtesy of Box Office Studios, with the artist of the same name doing a tributary at the beginning and end – as the credits disappear at the edge of the pixels – of the documentary.
Doing just more than a cameo in the documentary includes, again, Dike Chukwumerije, Su’eddie Vershima Agema, Richard Ali, Khalid Imam, Charry Ada Onwu, Lola Bala Gbogbo and Ado Dangidan Dabino, a guy who speaks only his language. Save for a few peccadillos here and there the director, Tee Jay Dan, has done his best, so far as one can tell, earning a B with or without a plus, I leave the viewer the verdict.
After 52 minutes of screenplay Mabel Segun tells the viewer ‘ANA will live forever.’
PS: The documentary shall be premiered later this year (2017)
Carl Terver is a porer of the English sentence and a critic of pop-culture. He likes to think of himself as an imaginary grandmaster. He is a fan of contemporary writers, Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, Adam Gopnik, Hua Hsu and Teju Cole.He is a critic at Praxis. @CarlTerver on Twitter.
If you know anything about Abuja, then you know it is the new city of sin. Not so new. It has taken over from Lagos and all those other evil lands. Preachers have done their best but it seems there are a lot of people who are fighting the prophets… Have you heard about the church of Satan? There’s much happening in the capital city.
So, I came to Abuja but there are several people who know that already. I should blog about what has been happening since Sunday. The capital city is burning with activities and every day has been some day of book and book magana plus one religious this or that. Now, let’s talk about yesterday, Saturday 30th April 2016. It was the Abuja Writers’ Forum’s Guest Writer Session at Nanet Suites. The artistes of the day were Obinna Udenwe (author of Satans and Shaitans), Ishaya Bako, a film maker, and a musician, Austin Oroko. Yeah, Obinna was the Satan holder. Of course, you know that is what this piece is about, no?
The session started with a musical interlude – okay, maybe an opening – by Austin Oroko. Next, Obinna Udenwe read some pieces from his engaging thriller, Satans and Shaitans, which was joint prize winner for the Association of Nigerian Authors’ Prose Prize 2015. The book is about terrorism in Nigeria and shows a backstory of what might be happening – of collaborations between the most powerful and wealthy people in the country; Christians, Muslims and everyone else. All of them working to ensure that they maintain power and get stronger in their caprices. This book if looked at critically might be confused as the testament behind what has become Boko Haram today. Remember it is fiction though. Obinna hinted that when he wrote the book, people had mentioned that he would be killed. Well, he published the book in the United Kingdom in 2014 and Nigeria in 2015. Still, he was still alive.
Ishaya Bako took the next turn showing his twenty-minute movie, Henna. The movie is set in a typical Northern Nigerian environment. It is centred around Reina, a girl of puberty age who is meant to be given out in marriage to a Mallam, just a few days after seeing her first menses. Now, we are shown Reina is a very brilliant student. It becomes disturbing that her dreams would be cut short because tradition dictates she must submit to the whims of a husband. I was touched because when I served in Bantaje, a community in Taraba state, some years ago, I had some of my finest and most beautiful students just disappear from class. It is like, you just don’t see them again. Much later, you might find them in town or get the memo from someone – they are married. The end. Somewhere else, her friend Amina, dies after being married at a very early age. Ishaya’s narrative is engaging and he puts a twist to the tale that defies what would ordinarily happen in society. This was the second time AWF was hosting Ishaya. I was there at the first when he screened Fuelling Poverty, which I hear has been – or was – banned.
During the screening, Ishaya moved around, getting comments from members of the audience even as NTA interviewed him. Luckily, we didn’t say anything wrong or he would have caught us! Hee hee hee. Anyway, it was time for questions and answers.
Several questions were asked. Notably, Paul Liam challenged the love angle of Obinna’s narrative and said that the character, Donaldo, had not been properly developed and there weren’t pointers to what he eventually became – a murderer or so. Then, we were whispering, and the idea mainly from Paul Liam that there was a link between Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Obinna’s Satans and Shaitans was raised. There is this thing about the wicked Christian father who deals with the daughter in the two novels. In the case of the Obinna’s novel, the father is an Evangelist. Nana Sule, who sat beside me, was the one whose mouth we chewed the question into. The question was if it was possible that the author would have made a different person the wicked one, say the mother, or made his narrative markedly different from Chimamanda’s. Obinna replied that there was no way he could have done so because in Igboland, where he comes from, ‘fathers especially Christians like that are known to be the callous and wicked ones.’ Mothers are caring so there is no way he could have written it differently. Oh well. Now, we know that Igbo renowned Evangelists are all abusive and vicious. Thanks Obinna.
There were other questions thrown the way of Ishaya Bako the film maker and Austin Oroko – the Otong Kong smooth sounding musician. Oh, I should add that Nana Sule after asking Obinna the question above threw some words towards Austin: ‘I like – scratch that – I love your voice!’ Hmm, no be small blush o! Before the event started, he had passed by us in the restaurant and the girl had complimented his hat with a twinkle to her eye. We noticed the blush then, though I tried to cover up for my guy. So, the house went all rowdy at her ‘I love your voice’ compliment o. Dr Emman Shehu, our AWF President had to hold Austin’s head down so that it wouldn’t swell too much and blow.
There was a raffle draw for books to be won. Almost all of my people from Aidee Erhime to TJ Benson [who was shortlisted for the Saraba Manuscript Prize, Fiction Category], Nurudeen Temitayo [publisher of AMAB books who published the Nigerian version of Satans and Shaitans] Nana Sule…won. Halima Aliyu was the only one who didn’t win o. Halima is the Lead Editor at AMAB, the author of Fire on the Tip of Ice (a collection of short stories) and a brilliant mind. We sat together through the event – did I say that before? I was touched when a father brought his son, Favour, to me to sign Home Equals Holes for. I pray more parents would expose their children to such forums early enough.
It was soon time to head out after taking pictures and all those good stuff of chatting, yabbing and all. I tried to convince two new acquaintances, Aisha and Hadiza Obi to follow their thoughts to join AWF. I hope they will.
Did I mention some of the other guests that attended the event? Okay, there was Abubakar Adam Ibrahim [award winning author of Whispering Trees and A Season of Crimson Blossoms], Emma Shercliff, the fine critic Mike Ekunno, Dr. Abigail, Amina Aboje, the Galadima of Lokoja, Hajo Isa…amongst others. The AWF Guest Writer Session holds every last Saturday of the month at Nanet Suites, Central Area, Abuja while they have critique sessions every
other Sunday in the month but the last at Terazzo Lounge, Port Harcourt Crescent, off Gimbiya Street in Area 11, Garki Abuja. 4pm prompt for all events. Hola if you need any more info or if you want to register into the forum. Anyways… back to that Saturday night…yesterday.
I got my stuff and took a walk with three friends – Laolu was one. The literary discussion had only begun. But let me not bore you too much. There’s so much to be discussed on the literary scene and new narratives to be written with others meant to be rewritten. I only hope we are courageous enough and get the platform to engage meaningfully.
I was recently admitted into the new age spirit of an e-reader, a Kobo specifically. It took reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini to remind me that I still love that traditional smell of a fresh book that reaches to you like the smell of fresh fries on a hungry stomach.
In The Kite Runner, we are introduced to a certain present time by the lead character narrator. He talks of a phone call in 2001 that has changed him. Then by the next page, he takes us on a ride through his memory lane talking of his entire life from childhood to the time when he got married and that very time – 2001. It took some 150 or so pages to get there so you can imagine that with the excitement of Hosseini’s narrative and flowery diction, I had to trace my way back to Page 1. Now, the e-reader wasn’t fast enough to get me there – or I didn’t want to waste time – so I jumped to one of my bookshelves and picked the paperback. I read the two pages in seconds and was back on speed with my book (Page 175).
Oh! Did I mention that I am still reading the book? It is one you should. I think Khaled Hosseini is worthy of every praise he is getting. His story as I have read so far traces how we make decisions that haunt us. Our lead character out of childhood jealousy and a hope to impress his father betrays his best friend (Hassan) and does not stand up for his friend in a time of danger. This is despite Hassan being in that position because he had stuck to his ground
retrieving a kite for the honour of our lead character (Amir). Hassan forgives Amir and begs him to play but guilt strangles any joy that Amir might have had. In the end, he sets Hassan up and makes him to be driven away.
Okay, you don’t get the picture. There’s this caste system and Hassan is the son of the servant of Amir’s father. So, despite being born at the same time with Amir and sharing the breasts of a woman brought to suckle them (Hassan’s mother ran away and Amir’s mother died after childbirth), Hassan is to be Amir’s servant too. They become friends and Hassan is OVERTLY loyal. He is a strong boy who stands up for Amir always. Now, eventually Amir gets envious of his own father liking Hassan. He also wants to win the love of his father who doesn’t think much of children who prefer reading to playing soccer! Anyways, so, that is the point where this and that happens, Hassan still sacrifices a million times more for Amir and has to leave with his father breaking a relationship of many years.
War and instability comes to Afghanistan. Amir leaves his native Afghanistan and migrates to America with his father (his mother is dead, by the way). Time rolls on itself and a lot happens; his father dies, he gets married etc etc. He hopes to have fresh starts but he discovers; the past never really leaves us. It cannot be really buried. Perhaps ignored sometimes but never buried in entirety. Like our shadows, this past clings to us and when day shines we find it walking beside us. Well, that’s most of what I have made of his position.
As I read on, I think empathically of what Hassan’s life would be like at that point. How the pranks and nonchalance of the young Amir changed the destiny of Hassan and his father. I am thinking of how our acts of commissions and omissions end up being the decider on the making or breaking of people. I am thinking of my own childhood, decisions I have made and wondering if there aren’t holes to the past that I need to fill in whatever way. In some cases we have little or nothing to do but if we think deep we will discover that though we can’t right all wrongs, there are certain things we can do to make amends and be better.
As Hosseini says, there is a way to be good again.
Yes, there is a way to be good again. May the times give us the grace to be better each moment and work to right whatever wrong we can. We only live once, why don’t we make it worth it?
Hi, my name is Su’eddie Vershima Agema and yes, except working with a publishing house and holding some literary administrative positions, I LOVE BOOKS, WRITING AND PEOPLE! I also like bringing books to people’s attention and finding a way to share works I love and works of people I come across…
Oh well, too much talk. We need reviewers! Have you been reading any good book and would love to share your thoughts on it? Thoughts on literature… We welcome them all. Please send an email at email@example.com with the title: ‘REVIEW’ and we will take it from there. Do you think that you can’t really review professionally? Oh, come on! That isn’t a problem… I am not sure I can… and I prefer the ones that only show what you feel. So, if you can, simply write your thoughts and let’s see how we can make all of it fun…
Trust me, you will be connecting to a great community and who knows where it will take you to tomorrow? I offer you my friendship too and let’s see where it will take us to.
There are different views to understanding poetry. You can look at that which you find facing you directly – look at what is written on the surface and leave what is beneath. Some other times you have to look at what lies beneath. Think, why did such a writer write such lines? In what time was such a piece written? What was the condition of the writer? It helps to also read the poetry of contemporaries of such a writer in the person’s place. The contemporaries (poets) of Mandlenkosi Langa are the likes of Dennis Brutus, Oswald Mtshali, Stanley Mogoba, and Sydney Sepamla. Let’s look at the poem in full so that we will go along together in understanding this:
You languished patiently
for months on end
in dungeon darkness
in intestinal convolutions
and indefinable chaos
You had neither shadow
You had every right
to riot and complain
or raise your voice
in protest or defiance
I could feel your lust
to join the dead
Your muted attempts
to burst like Christmas chicken
It is not my fault
that you did not live
to be a brother or sister
or lover of some black child
that you did not experience pain
pleasure voluptuousness and salt
in the wound
that your head did not stop
a police truncheon
that you are not a permanent resident
of a prison island.
Tough love, wouldn’t you say? It makes one to think deep again beyond the analysis of whatever might have come down. Let’s look at this from the surface first. We find a mother [yes, let’s give the woman this accord] here who is addressing her stillborn. A lot of mothers will be happy to have a child and when something happens wrong to the child, they are saddened. In this poem though, you find a near nonchalant mother talking to her baby and saying: ‘Oh well, you are better dead’. This is a deep poem on whatever level you decide to look at it. Poetry, like art, is an expression of one’s innermost feeling. It leaves you thinking of what might have gone through the mind of the poet. Like experiences, and other forms of art too, poetry is subject to many interpretations even as it speaks to each reader differently.
To have an idea of a poet’s mind though, sometimes you have to ‘visit’ the person, by understanding the circumstances and situation of the timing and writing of such a poem. This is understanding the poet’s reason for writing as opposed to however you might later understand the poem…for yes, each poem and work of art speaks to us and affects us differently, sometimes in ways that the poet might never have imagined.
The above poem, was written by Mandlenkosi Langa during the South African Apartheid period. The persona [we should always remember that the poet is not always the person in the poem; the person in the poem is called the poetic persona, much like the narrator in fiction etc] addresses her stillborn child. To understand this poem, you need to understand that the Apartheid period was one where blacks [the poet and the persona are black] were maltreated and subjected to a life of living on the run. It was evil to be black and one could be killed, beaten, maltreated for simply being a person of colour. It is more like the highest form of ‘racism’ and it was worse because 1) this land was originally the land of the blacks 2) They had the number in terms of population. 3) They had no access to jobs, proper schooling and a lot that the whites had… among others….
Things got so bad that some women rather than cry at a stillborn would shrug and say ‘Well, you are saved. Rest well’. That’s the spirit of the poem above.
The poem starts with the persona addressing how the baby within started off. Note the careful use of words that are not bright or cheerful: ‘languish…in dungeon darkness…in indefinable chaos’… From the outset, the persona knows that the baby had a difficult time within the walls of her body. [ASK: Could the body of the persona be a metaphor for South Africa and the troubles of the land?] The next stanza questions the essence of the humanity of the baby. The persona states that the baby had no form; no shadow, no silhouette. The baby had every right to protest… [ASK: Could the baby, from this stanza, be a personification of the suffering blacks in South Africa? Remember they had no dignity and are below humanity; therefore without shadow or silhouette… In that case, they had ‘every right/to riot and complain/or raise … voice/in protest or defiance].
The third stanza addresses the lust of the addressed to join the dead. Well, with all the troubles, it will seem that is what anyone will desire… So, in the end, at the last stanza: we find this mother without remorse at the death of the stillborn. She even thinks the stillborn is better dead! After all, ‘you are not a permanent resident of a prison island.’
So, there you go… There’s always more than meets the eye, not so? Let’s have your thoughts on this too and if you can, let’s have you put your heart to paper and scribble the spirit of your soul to show its very depths.
So much excitement as Brittle Paper, premier blog and site for African tales launch a new story series…
The story is one of fantasy and is written by the crazy writer, Eugene Odogwu, who is also a graphic artist (aside: he has done amazing covers, I know this, because he is the official cover artist at SEVHAGE Publishers – a department under my unit. Hola in the comment box if you want us to hook you up on a cool cover… but back to his tale). The new tale series is titled
In the Shadow of Iyanibi is a story about a brave and gifted girl named Ihumbi, who is swept up in a series of frightful encounters involving the search for a missing sister in a forest of deep, dark shadows.
The three-part tale follows the confrontation between young Ihumbi and Urunma—a forest-dwelling demigoddess always hungry for the souls of lost children. Urunma is a mother’s worst nightmare and a child’s greatest fear. Preying on a child’s desire for sweet and colorful things, she steals the souls of children lost in the forest and holds them in enchanted captivity.
The story vicariously transports you to the enchanting gloom of an old forest and a brave girl’s attempt to confront the ancient horror that lies deep within its shadows.
It’s a three-part story, accompanied by custom illustrations, that will run over six weeks.
Monday the 12th of January is the date to save on your calendar so you don’t miss the first story. Yup, it was published and appears here…
In a post on the blog, the curator, Ainehi Edoro talks about why they decided to put up the series:
One of the most talked-about projects we launched last year was Ayodele Olofintuade’s Adunni, an original Brittle Paper story series featuring custom images made by NYC-based Nigerian artist, Laolu Sebanjo.
Seeing that we received such positive response from readers, we have been working hard to release more series.
We are happy to announce that three story series have been slated for 2015, the first of which is Eugene Odogwu’s (see more here).
I had cause to work with Eugene on the story and I think it is nice – but that is my opinion. You have the chance to read through and get yours. If you love something African different from the usual Chimamanda Adichies, Su’eddie Agemas (ooops! Did I write that?!), Achebes, amu nnadi’s, Ekwuazis and the like, then this would make for some change.
So, it is back to waiting for January 26th to read the new one… So, meanwhile… Back to writing something regular 🙂
Open your thought bank, and see this clearly as we think it from the dark like we are viewing it all through cat eyes: You grow up not knowing your father. You have heard so much about him and though you would naturally want to see him, to catch a glance of what your progenitor is like, you despise him. You wish him to be an old wrinkled evil thing. After all, a man who has been absent and not kept touch with his family for so long would have to be an ogre! You pray him to be a hag of a man with marks all over. He left your mother with you to go overseas for further studies and because of him at a certain stage, your mother puts a hold to your education so that you wouldn’t want to know too much book and leave her—thank God for libraries and hidden books. Well, eventually a message comes one day: your father, whom you are even named after, is coming back. He comes back and the shockers begin. Your father is the complete opposite of the dinginess you might have imagined. He is handsome, cool and lovely. Your mother betrays you and rushes into his arms like a Prince Charming that has always been there. But it doesn’t end there. Your father has come from abroad with a new wife and a daughter! Chai! Did I mention that the daughter and new wife are white—and have cat eyes? What worse betrayal can he try to bring about? Think, what would you do? Or maybe you should get Pever X’s Cat Eyes to get an understanding and see what unfolds…
Cat Eyes is a coming of age story centred around Pededoo, a headstrong chap who has lots of teen issues. He tries to have a manageable relationship with his father who has come home after a prolonged silence abroad. In his company are a white woman and a daughter, Melissa-Jane—who is a beautiful intelligent blonde. Pededoo takes an instant dislike to the trio cruelly naming Melissa-Jane Cat Eyes due to her greenish coloured eyes. She likes the name to his chagrin and repays every evil Pededoo pays her with sweetness. It is not long before the teenager is falling for his step-sister.
But this is only the beginning of the contradictions. More things unfold as Pededoo goes on many adventures that would teach him—and readers—life lessons on love, literature, beauty and so much more. The tale is set in the imaginative countryside of Boor by mountains, riversides, an orchard, barns and the like. The entire action of the novel takes place within two weeks in the summer month of August,1988.
The book is told in the first person narrative and readers see through the eyes of Pededoo. The use of this style is quite relevant and significant to the plot progression as most of the suspense and ironies seen in the book are as a result of the views of the narrator. While the author might have pulled his suspense and slow revelations in the book differently, using this style of narration makes readers to be as blind to many things as the person through whom the story is told. After all, if a blind man leads, stumbling, wouldn’t they who follow likewise do same?
Pever X writes with a great dose of Mark Twain behind his lines. If the writings were to be like one’s breath and Mark Twain like alcohol that could be smelt in that breath, there would be a roomful or more than metre long of that smell. From the particular characterisation of a teenager (Pededoo) on the countryside with his teenage companions and pranks, one can easily match the Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer footprints. The author seemingly admits to this inspiration and borrowing for his character and book in a scene in the book speaking through the book’s narrator thus:
I found books written by Mark Twain very interesting, especially The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer Detective. I admired Huckleberry Finn and felt we had a lot in common…[the comparisons between the both are shown] But there were times I wanted to be like Tom Sawyer… I was aware his knowledge came from reading books so I continued reading and resolved never to stop until I got as smart as Tom Sawyer… (47).
It is important to state here though, that despite the telling of a work in a Mark Twainian style, Pever X’s voice is original[ly African] in its own right, adding spices and a whole lot of local colouring to make his novel both entertaining, informing, absorbing and particularly, African.
Pever X brings to life a place that you might not find on any real landmass—Boor in setting, creation and all being far from what any town in Benue state is. This is easily forgivable noticing that his descriptions are apt and enough to make a native of Ushongo, the place where Boor is located as stated in the novel to think the place really exists. Thus, the author paints a picture that is easily viewable with the mind’s eyes.
In an age where most of our cultures seem to be swept away by an encroaching globalisation with bigger civilisations eating our own traditions, most writers make it a duty to try to salvage what they can through the introduction of native characters in their works, using diplomacy (use of native words), infusing local histories and the like. The scholar and poet, Hyginus Ekwuazi, states that this is our [African writers’] way of trying to clear the weed behind our backyard so that it remains attractive. Some might see this as being like the famous puppy trying to put out a fire with its fart. Whether or not, it works, is not in much contention. Pever X, in the tradition of the typical African writer, sprinkles a large dose of his tradition into his work. We notice in the first instance that the setting, despite its being in a countryside that would not be recognisable in the geographical reality of his locale, is in Tivland. This gives the author an excuse to put in a large cast of Tiv characters like Pededoo, Jimba, and Kaun.
We also come across the naming of certain objects such as adudu (a small basket made from reeds), akacha (musical instrument) and Kwaghir (Tiv puppet theatre). It would be easy to say that the use of these are because of the absence of a more appropriate way to address them such that they wouldn’t lose their proper representation to a person who is familiar with the Tiv background against which Pever X writes. However, we notice the deliberateness of his nativisation in the presence of such words as Bagu (Gorilla), Alôm (Hare), and the like. Note that in many places these names are pronounced aside their English meanings, in addition to a glossary being supported at the end of the whole work. We also find folktales in the novel with an example of ‘how Alôm the hare – the trickster and hero of Tiv folklore – came about with long ears’ (44).
The author tries to present a tale that is both locally and internationally relevant. Through the characterisation and dialogue, we notice a blend of Tiv, Igbo and Ghanaian names. The novel also takes us on a journey through Nigeria, Ghana, America, and Europe at different points through reminiscences of the narrator on his grandfather’s musical career, his father (Pededoo Senior)’s experiences, that of Melissa-Jane on her life in Boston and a few other cases.
Certain readers might have a few issues with Cat Eyes. The first is the confusing voice of Pededoo. This teenager is meant to be a countryside—rural if you want—African boy who stopped going to school in his JSS 3. The reader is thus shocked to hear his rich vocabulary and his seeming adult voice. The voice of the narrator—and by extension, the narrative—is somewhat American. The author tries to explain most of this away by noting in different parts of the book that the narrator is a book aficionado. At this point, a certain scene comes to mind. It is one of Pededoo and Melissa-Jane (Cat Eyes) playing King and Queen or more appropriately, lovers. Pededoo recites a line from Shakespeare and she challenges him to go on first by saying he knows only that one line. When he quotes a few more lines, she challenges him saying that he knows only short lines. He continues and soon they are exchanging lines before they are interrupted by their gnarling stomachs (129). Earlier in the book the narrator had noted: ‘I later read fourteen original and unabridged plays by William Shakespeare… I could recite many of his one hundred and fifty four sonnets in my sleep, I’d read them all. Several times over’ (48). We read elsewhere too that reading became like food to him: ‘I never stopped reading. Each free minute found me with a book’ (50).
Most of the books Pededoo reads are American and some of his favourite characters and models are picked from there (47-50). Is it any wonder then that he loves Mark Twain and his characters—Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer—with a passion? The books devoured by this character mould his persona and fashions his voice, it broadens his view and mindscape beyond his environment. Thus, we realise the power of books and reading. In addition to this are certain movies that he watches like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America (18).
The 164 book is divided into twenty-five chapters and a glossary. Each chapter starts with a quotation that acts as a precursor and/or a summary of what to expect in the chapter. Chapter XIX, for instance, starts with ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds’ from Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXVI. It is therefore not surprising to see later on in the chapter that the minds of the people involved become somewhat married. To take it a step further, this is the chapter where Pededoo and Melissa-Jane play the Shakespearian line exchange game (as shown above). Thus, each chapter comes with that quotation from diverse sources such as Owl City, Mark Twain (not surprisingly), Leo Tolstoy, Richard Barnfield, Haruki Murakami, Euripides, Helen Keller and The Bible. Each chapter ends with the words ‘from the land beyond the seas’.
From adventures with fireflies, horse rides, mountain climbs, music, book renditions, romance, history recreated, history kept, the book deepens like the onion, layer after layer, going on various winding paths to keep you reading till the very last page. Note though that if you want a fast paced thriller, full of overt inanities and the like, if you are looking for head-over-heels sick humour, something shallow…then Cat Eyes is not for you. Like Twain’s style mentioned, it is a slow flowing endearing book that grows at a leisure pace. It is an irresistible coming of age tale that will capture the hearts of those whose spirits can still be found.
I guess it’s the water. Something must be in the water that members of Nigeria’s literary fraternity and sorority drink which makes them see a direct connection between prosperity Pentecostalism – as we experience it in Nigeria today – and their own calling in the Republic of Letters. I do not need to tell anybody that Pentecostalism of the prosperity ilk owns the copyright to the narrative and actuality of miracles in the lives of the citizens of this country. Indeed, so gripping is the national preoccupation with miracles and portions as the immediate dividend of democracy, sorry, of faith, that our Muslim brethren are determined not to be left out of the scramble of each Nigerian to claim his portion and possess his possession. A video recently went viral on social media of a Muslim cleric in full public performance of the stage rituals of a prosperity Pentecostal pastor delivering miracles of healing and material reward. Miracle workers are the new cool and I am starting to have a nagging suspicion that folks believe that literature, like prosperity Pentecostalism, is a miracle worker.
Today, I am asked to address the theme of newness. As if this wasn’t challenging enough as a theme, I’ve been saddled with the baggage of newness raised to power three: new literatures, new leaders, new nation in post-centenary Nigeria. In essence, I am asked to examine the possible ways in which our new literatures – however, defined and imagined – impact on leadership and nationhood. Let’s just hope that the organizers of the Garden City Literary Festival will not ask me to come one day and address the linkages between literature and the provision of good roads, hospitals, and sundry infrastructure!
Now, the adjective “new” has been used to qualify three nouns in our topic, but we can only confidently bear witness to the truthfulness of one as far as Nigeria is concerned. New literatures? That is true, very much true in this country. New leaders? That’s a lie, for we do not even have old leaders let alone new ones. New nation? That also is a lie, for we are more remarkable for our violations of every definition of nationhood than for a will to the emergence of a nation, new or old. These, of course, are contentious considerations that we shall return to in due course.
In essence, I am saying that those who, at the Uyo ANA Convention, in 2012, dreamed of the ability of literature to open up and probe new imaginaries of national security and those who in Minna have asked me to interrogate the ability of our new literatures to map new narratives of nationhood and leadership are writers who understand that the word and the story have been at the foundation of every human enterprise from the beginning of time. If we are inclined to go back as far as Ancient Greece and Rome, we will remind ourselves that the content, shape, nature, character, and identity of those two political expressions of civilization and human organization took their inchoate foundational steps in the narratives of the storyteller. Ancient Greece and Rome were not just imaginaries that became political realities, they were imagined and narrativized in epics, myths, legends, and even dramaturgy of the tragic ilk. Subscription to the interpellative power of these narratives is what confers on them legitimacy and hegemony. They acquire an amniotic essence of national histories and identity. The national epic is the most powerful source of identity for the modern nation and the nation-state.
Think of what Homer’s Iliad means for Ancient Greece. Think of what Virgil’s Aeneid means for Ancient Rome. Think of The Tale of Genji for Japan; of La Chanson de Roland for France; of the Epic of Gilgameshfor Iraq; of Ramayana for India; Beowulf to Anglo-Saxons and Britain; think of all these national epics and you come to an understanding of the fact that literature, indeed, has the miraculous power to forge the essence and the spirit of a nation – and of a nation-state depending on the level of legitimacy and hegemony it acquires across time. From Ernest Renan to Benedict Anderson, no scholar of nation, nation-state, and nationalism has ever made short shrift of the centrality of the creative imagination, of stories, of myths and legends to the emergence and enabling of the lineage of nation and nation-state.
That is why Benedict Anderson defined nation as an imagined community. “Literature is Fire”, screams the Peruvian Nobel Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa, in a 1967 lecture he presented on being awarded the Romulo Gallegos Literary Prize in Venezuela. Vargas Llosa agrees on the centrality of literature to the soul of nation and nation state in the said essay. Literature is fire! If literature is fire, what does this mean for those of us who are writers and workers in the field of creativity and imagination? It reminds us that literature is promethean. You will recall that the first time man is said to have stolen from the Gods – I would have called it man’s first act of corruption but, luckily for us, stealing is not corruption in this country – what he stole was fire! Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave man the miracle of creation and creativity. Literature is fire! Literature is miracle. Literature makes miracles!
Long before ANA National thought of the prophylactic powers of literary imagination, long before the conveners of this edition of the MBA International Literary Colloquium thought of a theme which connects literature to imaginaries of leadership and nationhood, generations of writers before us have imagined the connections between literature and project nationhood. It could not have been otherwise. At the political level, Nigeria may have been a product of colonial will, violence, and desire. She may have been an economic contraption cobbled together by Lord Lugard and named by Flora Shaw for the benefit of Great Britain. Nigeria’s first generation of writers in the English language – the producers of what we now conventionally call modern African literatures – were not going to allow the original injury of our foundation – colonial dehumanization – to become the basis of postcolonial project nationhood.
Two factors aided the task of this generation in terms of imagining a postcolonial becoming for Nigeria. First is the fact that they were coming from an oral tradition in which art was indissociable from politics. The verbal arts, all our oral genres, served a utilitarian function in traditional society. Thus, the transition to a modern aesthetic of protest and resistance was not such a huge leap for our foundational writers in English. Second is the fact that these writers came of age in the climate of 20thcentury grand narratives of freedom. This was the age of Negritude, of pan-Africanism, of the African nationalist struggle, of decolonization. This was the age of the radical liberator which gave us such figures as Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Amilcar Cabral, Eduardo Mondlane, Patrice Lumumba, Agostinho Neto. This was the age of the grand dreams and ambitions of Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and all their contemporaries for the continent. Literature slipped into a predictable role as the cultural wing of this struggle.
Achebe served what I consider to be the most direct notice of his generation’s mission to deploy art in the service of society and nation in his essayistic career. You are certainly familiar with essays such as “The Novelist as Teacher”, and “The African Writer and His Society”. You will recall his clear and oft-reiterated point in some of these essays that the writer cannot be expected to be excused from the task of nation building and other socio-political debts to his society. More than any transcendental commonality of themes, motifs, and textual strategies in their creative enterprise, I believe that this sense of a socio-political mission, of the need to press art into the service of new imaginaries of nationhood in which a culturally-empowered and psychologically-decolonized citizenry shall embrace the possibilities of postcolonial nationhood is what came to give these writers the first sense of a generational identity in the annals of Nigerian writing.
Wole Soyinka, for instance, often alludes to a “foundational quartet” of Nigerian letters comprising himself, Chinua Achebe, J.P.Clark, and Christopher Okigbo. We must bear it in mind that the imagination of this foundational quartet was present at the birthing of Nigeria’s postcolonial moment. Their creative contribution to emergence of a new nation in those heady years came in the shape of visions and intimations of the roads to be taken, of roads to avoid, of pitfalls that could lead to anomie and errors of the rendering. Indeed, Soyinka heralded the birth of his new nation with a prophetic play, A Dance of the Forests; Achebe predicted corruption and coups in A Man of the People; Okigbo foretold wars and rumbles of war in Limits. By the time we arrive at J.P. Clark’s lamentations of inertia, corruption, and the myriad dysfunctions of Nigerian statehood in his 1980s poetry collection, State of the Union, it was clear that Nigeria had made Cassandra of this generation of writers at prohibitive national costs.
Perhaps this is why Soyinka looked at his generation in the arts and beyond and famously or infamously described her as a wasted generation? He is not alone. The next set of writers to gain a loose collective consciousness as a generation also had a grandiose ambition and belief in the ability of literature to imagine and will into being a Nigerian nation that would work for a Nigerian people. These writers shook off post-independence disillusionment and disappointment to embark on a radical journey to regain the personal and the national selves. They had no patience with the eclectic theoretical and aesthetic sensibilities of the Soyinkas and the Achebes of this world. Theirs was going to be hotheaded and fire-spitting Marxism or Marx-influenced discursive and aesthetic radicalism. Think of Zaynab Alkali, Tanure Ojaide, Femi Osofisan, Bode Sowande, Niyi Osundare, Festus Iyayi, Tunde Fatunde, Kole Omotoso, Odia Ofeimun, Wale Okediran, Olu Obafemi, Ken Saro- Wiwa, Abubakar Gimba, Chidi Amuta, Stanley Macebuh, Chinweizu, Biodun Jeyifo and how they fired up the Nigerian literary scene in the 1970s and 1980s. be hotheaded and fire-spitting Marxism or Marx-influenced
Sometime in the early 1990s, Femi Osofisan presented a lecture at the University of Leeds which contained the report card of his generation in Nigeria – and elsewhere in Africa – as far as their lofty dreams of literature and nation, literature and society, were concerned. Soyinka spoke of a wasted generation, right? Well, Femi Osofisan’s lecture is entitled “Warriors of a Failed Utopia”. A certain Nigeria of a certain dream is, of course, the failed utopia captured in Osofisan’s lamentation. By the time Osofisan was presenting his lecture, Nigeria had endured the military dictatorships of Buhari/Idiagbon, Ibrahim Babangida, and Sani Abacha. SAP had drained the soul of the Nigerian people and emptied the content of Nigerian nationhood. Corruption was eating up the crumbs left by SAP. The embrace of Marxism and poverty no longer appealed to this generation. Many moved abroad. Those who did not move abroad went in pursuit of capitalism and prosperity.
Wasted generation. Warriors of a failed utopia. Two writers, two generations, two successive grim report cards on Nigeria’s stubborn resistance to the Aesculapian functions of literature. My generation should have taken a hint. We should have remembered the tale of the wise tortoise. The tortoise arrived at the entrance of the lion’s cave, noticed that all the paw prints of the animals who had gone to pay a condolence visit to the sick king of the jungle were going inside and none was coming out, and took a life-saving hint. The tortoise did not enter the cave. My generation did. We entered the cave of national envisioning because that is what literature commands. I mentioned Mari Vargas Llosa’s essay earlier. The crux of his submission in that essay comes down to this statement: “nobody who is satisfied can write.” That is Vargas Llosa’s one-sentence definition of the creative vocation. Literature is a permanent dissatisfaction with one’s condition, one’s environment, one’s society, one’s community. It is out of the cauldron of that dissatisfaction that literature dares to imagine differently. Art imagines out of a deontology of dissatisfaction. Ask John Lennon.
My generation entered that cave, because we were dissatisfied. Just as Soyinka and his foundational quartet were dissatisfied. Just as Femi Osofisan and his warriors of a failed utopia were dissatisfied. To my knowledge, no member of my generation has ever announced our report card the way Soyinka and Osofisan made definitive pronouncements on their respective generations. It could be because our story, our entanglements or lack thereof with project nationhood, is still unfolding. If we won’t make that call, if we won’t make that pronouncement, there are new kids on Nigeria’s literary block. They have been rocking the Nigerian, African, and global literary worlds. These new kids on the block – more on them later – would make the call for my generation. They are that irreverent because they are good at what they do. They would announce the report card of generation in terms of literary accomplishment and in terms of what we did or did not do with the task of literature and nation.
The novelist and poet, Richard Ali, is a one of the new kids on the block. I love Richard Ali. Not in a way that will guarantee me a14-year prison term in Kirikiri. Richard Ali is what you would call my protégé. That is the sense in which I love him. But I am not afraid to say this: God soda Richard Ali’s mouth! It was on Richard Ali’s Facebook Wall that I first chanced upon a thread in which his generation was passing judgment on mine! Their judgment was harsh and unforgiving. Whereas Soyinka and Osofisan had described two generations of wasted or failed warriors in search of a failed Nigerian utopia, Richard Ali and his fellow coroners did a post-mortem on my generation and simply placed a question mark to indicate absence and emptiness where we had been or ought to be. Where are they? What happened to this generation, Richard Ali queried. I dare not tell you the discussion that ensued among members of Richard’s generation as they took their koboko and went after us. Trust Deji Toye not to carry last in such a venture.
Nigeria happened to my generation. Incidentally, a poem I wrote about haemorrhage, about Nigeria bleeding us to Euro-America, included in my collection, The Wayfarer and Other Poems, was what prompted Richard Ali’s reflection on my generation. We did not set out to be exiles. We did not set out to be the Andrew generation whose space is now occupied by Richard Ali’s question mark. In 1988, Harry Garuba edited a volume of poetry whose significance remains unsurpassed in the annals of Nigerian letters as far as I am concerned. Voices from the Fringe did for Nigerian letters what Leopold Sedar Senghor’s An Anthology of New Negro and Malagasy Poetry did for Negritude poetry back in 1948. Senghor’s anthology announced the birth of Negritude poetry, Garuba’s screamed the arrival of a new generation of Nigerian writers. The critic, Chris Dunton, and yours truly spent much of the 1990s and early 2000s theorizing these new creative effervescence as the handiwork of those we labelled Nigeria’s third generation writers.
This generation did not remain long on the fringe. By the early 1990s, they were the only news in Nigerian literature. Today, those of us who move in Euro-American circuitries of knowledge production on African literatures often marvel at the sort of literary history that is always constructed for Nigeria abroad. You’d think that Nigerian literature went to sleep after the Osofisan generation concluded that they were warriors of a failed utopia and roared back to life only in the 2000s when Helon Habila, Chimamanda Adichie, Chris Abani, Helen Oyeyemi, Sefi Atta, Chika Unigwe, E.C Osondu, Uwem Akpan, Biyi Bandele, and Teju Cole came to global attention. Viewed from the global north, it is as if the literary effervescence of the late 1980s to the 1990s never happened.
Yet, the foundation of whatever is happening today in Nigerian letters can be traced to the renewal of creative juices and energies by the generation of Remi Raji, Wumi Raji, Sola Osofisan, Uche Nduka, Olu Oguibe, Obi Nwakanma, Okey Ndibe, Obi Iwuanyanwu, Obu Udeozor, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, Maik Nwosu, Chiedu Ezeanah, Esiaba Irobi, Ogaga Ifowodo, Toyin Adewale, Omowumi Segun, Nike Adesuyi, Lola Shoneyin, Unoma Azuah, Promise Okekwe, Angela Nwosu, Nduka Otiono, Akin Adesokan, Ike Okonta, Nehru Odeh, Ebereonwu, Eddie Ayo Ojo, Carlos Idzia Ahmed, Emman Shehu, Okome Onookome, and Toni Kan. Obviously, you know that this is a ridiculously short list. I cannot possibly mention all the writers who transformed the Lagos-Ibadan axis and the Nsukka axis into the two dominant literary hubs in Africa in those heady days.
The haemorrhage did happen. Afam Akeh, Olu Oguibe, Uche Nduka, Sola Osofisan, Godwin Amatoritsero Ede, Okey Ndibe, Biyi Bandele started the early trickle towards Europe. Drip, drip, drip and a generational exodus towards Euro-America had become the defining feature of the generation by the end of the 1990s. Is it really true that exile and flight are the only legacy of this generation? I think that exile, flight, absence, and Richard Ali’s question mark tell less than half the story of this generation. We must remember that majority of the members of a generation that has come to be defined by flight and departure did not in fact leave Nigeria.
Toni Kan has always been here. Remi Raji, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, Chiedu Ezeanah, Denja Abdullahi, Emman Shehu, David Diai, Henry Akubuiro, Omowumi Segun, Toyin Adewale, Nike Adesuyi, Chux Ohai, Jude Dibia, Ike Oguine, Dulue Mbachu, and many prominent members of the third generation never left. Lola Shoneyin, Ogaga Ifowodo, Chuma Nwokolo, and Victor Ehikhamenor (many don’t know that he authored Sordid Rituals, a volume of poetry) are all back. Ebereonwu and Austyn Njoku never left till they left. To the extent that it is possible to speak of a renewal of literary modes imagining a new Nigeria beyond the ruination of military rape; to the extent that it is possible to speak of an aesthetic split with previous generations, one has to credit the third generation with such spectres of literary renaissance. My generation produced the first truly new literature which imagined the Nigerian nation in a new way – marking a rupture with the practices and antecedents of previous generation.
Using mainly the poetry of Emman Shehu, Harry Garuba has described the aesthetic departure of the third generation from the practices of preceding generations in terms of a decentering of the mytho-ritualistic bases from which the first two generations imagined project nationhood. Here, nobody is going to make Ogun or any of the weird characters in A Dance of the Forests the organizing principle of an imagined nationhood; nobody is going to invoke the matricial or nativist essence of mother Idoto as a pathway to personal and national becoming; nobody is going to expect a new Nigerian nation to say yes so that her Chi may echo yes in return.
Even in the context of SAP and military despotism, the evacuation of the mytho-ritualistic centre as the basis of engaging and imagining project nationhood led to textual adventurism and thematic daring on a scale previously absent from the Nigerian imagination. Nigeria could now be imagined as a postmodern force-field of play in which other emotions, other psychologies, other realities beyond the admonitions of history and culture could be summoned to feed the psychic will and desire of the patriotic self for anchorage in a hostile national space. Consider the difference in the use of laughter as a motif in the poetry of Niyi Osundare and Remi Raji. Osundare’s laughter is bitter, the sort of ironic laughter which is said to be worse than crying in Yoruba lore. The reality of the homeland that Osundare is engaging calls precisely for such a deployment of laughter. Laughter in Remi Raji’s poetry does not serve the purpose of lamentation. It is indicative of the poet’s ability to find spaces of love for a scorched and scorching homeland.
But Remi Raji is not alone. Freedom from the mytho-ritualistic imperative is what accounts for one of the most powerful enactments of patriotic attachment to fatherland in Nigerian poetry. Who could have thought that this could happen outside of a cultural-nationalist praxis involving the salute of a mytho-ritualistic source? But Olu Oguibe pulled it off. “I am bound to this land by blood” announces the poet persona of his great poem of the same title with considerable gusto. And with this anthem-poem – arguably the most famous poem of my generation – inaugurated what you could call a poetics of love as the predominant ritual of relating to fatherland in Nigerian letters. In previous traditions, love took the indirect route of admonition, reproach, and chastisement for the errors of the rendering; chastisement for the roads not taken. With my generation, a poetics of boundless love was unleashed.
In fact, if you take a look at their collections in the 1990s, there is hardly any that doesn’t contain a section of love poems. We know, since Pablo Neruda and Leopold Sedar Senghor, that love poems addressed to named or unnamed women aren’t always what they seem to be on the surface. We know that the body of the named woman or unnamed woman is often a double entendre unto which is grafted an idea of the fatherland, Chile in the case of Neruda, Senegal in the case of Senghor. Study the love poems of Ogaga Ifowodo, Remi Raji, Nduka Otiono, Toyin Adewale, Unoma Azuah, and you will see Nigeria the fatherland grinning at you beyond the silhouette of the male or female partner who is the ostensible addressee of each poem. Those who still pay attention to the poetry of the 1990s at all – remember I told you that they have been silenced as a corpus; Lola Shoneyin is remembered today as the author of Baba Segi, nobody remembers So All the Time I was Sitting on an Egg; most people will tell you the title of Unoma Azuah’s novels, few will remember the title of her poetry collection – focus all their critical energies on the naked denunciation of military rule.
There is one more thing that Nigeria did in terms of imagining Nigeria which I believe has come to characterize the textualities and identity politics of the young writers I believe have been referred to as post-centenary writers by the conveners of this conference. I have obviously taken the liberty to expand the brief of our discussion so that we do not reduce newness to any generation. Every generation had ways of imagining Nigerian newness, of imagining Nigeria newly. My generation screamed that Nigeria can be loved beyond reproach because we a rebound to her by blood. But we also screamed that love for her must never imply limiting our creative energies and imagination to chronicling and narrativizing her. We found ways to extend her into the world in a postmodern actuation of the transnational imperative. believe have been referred to as post-centenary writers by
Harry Garuba opines that the extension of Nigeria as a self into the self of the global and the transnational begins in the poetry of Emman Shehu. I think a similar claim can be made for Uche Nduka. After the chronicle of the life of my generation that he offered in the cinematic clip strategy ofChiaroscuro, it is safe to say that Uche went on to embrace the world, fashioning a poetics unmoored in immediately localizable national anchors. The embrace of the world. The transnational imagination. The Afropolitan persona. If you move beyond what Uche Nduka has been writing and publishing after Chiaroscuro – consider his poem, “Aquacade in Amsterdam”; if you move beyond the Toronto peregrinations of the poet persona in Amatoritsero Ede’s “Globetrotter”, if you move beyond the imaginative transnational crossings of Chris Abani’s Elvis in Graceland, if you move beyond Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s attempt to reproduce the London errantry of earlier generations in In Dependence, you encounter a new generation that must grapple with the identity politics of Afropolitanism and the attendant contradictions of trying to imagine a new Nigeria in an existential context which daily reminds them that the world is now their playground.
Not so long ago, when I was cutting my poetic teeth and doing the usual runs in the writing confraternities of Ibadan and Lagos, I had to rely on the good offices of the British Council or the Alliance Française to encounter the world infrequently. I had a Nigeria that could be symbolically sealed off and made exclusively amenable to my imagination and that of my contemporaries. This is not possible for Richard Ali, Tolu Ogunlesi, Paul Liam, Olisakwe Ukamaka Evelyn, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Okwui Obu, A. Igoni Barrett, Ifedigbo Nze Sylva, Jumoke Verissimo, Chinyere Obi-Obasi, Egbosa Imasuen, Uche Peter Umez, Su’eddie Vershima Agema, Onyekachi Peter Onuoha, Rosemary Ede, Saddiq M. Dzukogi and so many other members of the new generation now animating and rocking the Nigerian literary scene.
If a hermetic national locale is not available to them, it is not because they must contend with the deracination of some of their contemporaries who have found their way into Nigeria’s literary consciousness while being basically of the global north – Helen Oyeyemi, Tope Folarin, Chibundu Onuzor, etc; it is not because any of them is carried away by the delusions of Teju Cole and Taiye Selasie whose idea of cosmopolitanism is a disavowal of the tag, African or Nigerian writer; it is not because they cannot write creative works set in Nigerian realities – kaine Agary’s Yellow Yellow, Richard Ali’s City of Memories, Sylva Ifedigbo’s The Funeral Did Not End, Isaac Attah Ogezi’s Under a Darkling Sky, it is mainly because new modes of transnational alterity prevent exclusive claims to national conversations.
The impossibility of national exclusiveness is played out daily on social media. This is not just the generation of flash fiction and what I have called twitterature elsewhere, they are a generation whose Nigerian literary conversations must engage the “Nigerianness” of Binyavanga Wainaina, Barbara Mhangami, NoViolet Bulawayo, and Christie Watson. Wole Soyinka and co had for raw material a Nigeria that was brutalized by colonialism and handed over to them; Femi Osofisan and co. had for raw material in which the lofty dreams of independence had collapsed and they went in search of utopia wielding fiery Marxism; my generation had for raw material a Nigeria sapped beyond recognition by SAP and military rape and we tried out a poetics of love on her; Pa Ikhide’s children have for raw material a borderless Nigeria whose literary axes are located not just in Ake and Port Harcourt but also in Kenya, Uganda, and other funny places from which we read the tweets and Facebook their Facebook updates.
This new reality gives them an advantage though. Never mind the complexities and fault lines of Nigeria that we love to retail, all preceding generations had a rough national referent that we could call the single story that is Nigeria, for want of a better expression. Today, the story has been atomised and scattered all over the place like broken China in the sun. That is why Chimamanda writes Half of a Yellow Sun and we encounter subtle counter stories in Musdoki and City of Memories. Those looking at Nigeria and Africa from the outside may still threaten her with the danger of a single story. The new writers imagining her from within do not run such risks. They have at their disposal not a single story or referent but multiple and fragmented stories. The dilemma we face with a generation in possession of multiple narratives of a single nation in the age of social media is this: will their stories become a thousand flowers armed with the inalienable right to bloom under the sun or will their stories be Babel?
Being keynote speech presented by Professor Pius Adesanmi on November 13 at the 2014 MBA International Literary Colloquium in Minna, Niger State.
Reading Chike Ofili’s ‘Adapting Half of a Yellow Sun against Igbo’ (it appears online as ‘Adapting Half of a Yellow Sun Film against Igbo misfortune’)(Saturday Sun Newspaper, 7th June 2014 Page 40), one begins to wonder at the sentiments that run through the hearts of most of us – writers specifically now. Going through the piece, you find the reviewer trying to build a case of Yoruba/Igbo sentiment in such an unbalanced and subjective argument that would leave anyone worried.
To underscore the sentiments, you see unabashed praises heaped to the heavens poured on every Igbo person the reviewer mentions – there’s Stephannie [sic] (Okereke) Idahosa “a well-known Igbo actress” whose “Through the Glass, [sic] opened the floodgate for female filmmakers…and redefined a new Nollywood…” He continues that “This new trend was made far more popular another Igbo lady…Chineze Anyaene’s school project, Ije. This Igbo title for Journey came with a much stronger force of multiple media approach to its publicity.” You can raise some more questions on the continuous emphasis on Igbo here and some explanations that aren’t necessary but well…
In the torrents of his sentiments and spite, a common name that spits at anyone who has a tiny idea of the Nigerian film industry (that the reviewer shows a good knowledge of in his review, so no excuses), Omotola Jalade Ekeinde is written wrongly as Omotola Ekhide [Haba!]. If we are to follow the trend of the argument of the piece, you would ask why Mr. Ofili didn’t make a mistake on the name of the Igbo actress Genevive Nnaji [who coincidentally acted in the movie too]. Oh! Yes, sorry, that name was meant to be Genevieve, right? And wait, a fellow Igbo brother, Chiwetel Ejiofor (written in the article as Ejiorfo Chiwetel), apart from having his name spelt wrong is said to have won the “2014 Best Actor award in the UK’s coveted BAFTA as the lead actor in The Last King of Scotland” [Bold mine, the rest word for word from article]. Well, let’s just forget that Chiwetel got the award for 12 Years a Slave. Ehem, so, what were we saying again? Yes, the sentiments of a review.
In all, you begin to wonder what the reviewer has more problems with – a Yoruba directing an ‘Igbo’ novel brought to screen or stage (he has an issue with the adaptation of Things fall apart by a certain Yoruba man too) or with Biyi Bandele, who wrote the script for and directed the movie adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun and yes, the stage adaptation of Things Fall Apart. There’s only one place where the reviewer tries to show balance to apportioning blame to the novel too but that is even done stylishly.
The reviewer subjects Bandele’s ‘level of script fidelity…to history’. You begin to wonder if the reviewer has fidelity to proper spellings, names of people, history or objective judgement. Hee hee hee. But let’s follow the script of that review and talk it properly. The reviewer questions why Ojukwu is shown, ridiculed and all without a trace of General Yakubu Gowon being shown in the movie or as he put it, “If anything, there is a tinge of black humour in the application of irony to ridicule the Biafran leader, General Odumegwu Ojukwu, of in his choice of actualities [sic] from the archives to ensnare him with the words of his mouth when his expressions of conquest of the Federal side turned out a dramatic irony.” So, nothing like this was shown in the novel? There was no irony in the novel where Odenigbo and co begin to wonder at the futility of the war much later? Where Olanna has to wonder if it was worth it and how Ojukwu hadn’t truly done them right? Did my brother reviewer not read that book properly? Anyway, the reviewer continues that: “The mischievous ridicule [of Ojukwu] is taken further by the constant use of footages to playback Ojukwu’s role in the war and there is a deliberate stone silence on the role of Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria”. Haba! Maybe a sharp re-reading of the text help our critic to look beyond Bandele’s ‘episodic selection’ for the movie script. Ojukwu is shown in the book severally and/or references made to him in many instances while Gowon is not much of a presence anywhere. The seat of power, Lagos, is even neglected when the story of the novel shifts to the war. Now, the narration of Chimamanda Adichie, who wrote this novel, neglected Gowon and Lagos for her artistic purposes which, I believe, was to properly zoom in on the effects of the war on the Igbo side through the eyes of some key characters who lived through the war. Maybe it was because the author thought there was really nothing to write about the other soldiers or their experience. It might be that each other sets out to paint a picture and leaves out what shades doesn’t fit the collage. You might say that makes the story a single story of some sorts but that is a debate for some other essay. Whatever reason she did that, it then does not call for anyone to expect the script adapter to invent some parts which never existed to come into his script.
It is hard enough putting the book together into script, talk less of inventing far more things. Who knows, perhaps if he had invented Gowon to play more prominently, our reviewer would have said that he (the script writer) was being sentimental by showing too much of Gowon!
Where is all this leading to? Now, I am not rejecting the notion that there might be holes in Bandele’s scripting and/or direction of the movie, Half of a Yellow Sun (which artistic work doesn’t have its imperfection?). What I am concerned about is that someone decides to criticize the movie for its flaws and does not even concentrate on doing it objectively (if one can be said to do that purely) but follows the path of ethnicism for his criticism. He emphasizes this when he states that “It would seem that since he [the director, Bandele] has no emotional stake in that tragic history, and perhaps never allows himself some emotional experiencing of it from the book either, it is no surprise that he could neither present it with evocation nor to any cathartic effects.” To justify his ethnic sentiments, the reviewer continues at a different area of his review that “It just reminded me of my friend, Prince, a Nollywood man and a Yoruba, who in a discussion with me at the third edition of AMAA in Bayelsa State, wondered why an Igbo should want to do an epic film on Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race, knowing the nature of Igbo-Yoruba relations. The same seems to go for Biyi. It says so much about the sneaky, if not poisonous politics of the writer-director without feelings; without empathy which he, in turn failed to communicate same to the audience that could not feel the film, as he could not make them to. He could give them what he never had” [emphasis mine]. So, is it the same so-called Igbo-Yoruba relations that forces our critic to come out this vengeful or something? He writes much on other reasons why an Igbo might have done better but in the end decides to just give hard knocks overall on Bandele’s flawed directing [which might simply be because he is Yoruba, I think, to follow the argument of the critic. After all, it is appointed for movies that are not directed by people whom the movie is focused on to have horrible movies]. He says “Another disappointing representation of the truth and worth of the novel in this film adaptation is the largely lifeless and un-memorable key characters we meet in the film that are totally not the case in the novel… Generally however, the characters in the film barely speak to our inner self and rarely connects [sic] with the audience to lead to a mutual and surreal identification with them as reading the novel does – which the film should have bettered”… Maybe, we should add to that end following Ofili’s trend that “the film should have bettered the novel but was poor simply because a Yoruba man was made to write the script and direct.”
To totally negate the movie that a few others, by the way, have hailed for different reason, on the grounds of Igbo/Yoruba malice is really not scholarly enough. [Meanwhile, let us also forget that Chimamanda who wrote the book was really impressed with the work saying “it’s a very beautiful film, it’s very well done, I think the acting is really very good…”]. But come to think of it o, wasn’t there one good thing in the movie that our reviewer noticed? Or was the Yoruba man so bad that he just flopped the entire project so as to make the Igbo lead actor, Chiwetel, to act worse than the least Nollywood star? Have we never heard of people who wrote stories of other places that weren’t theirs such that it made you really impressed? Can we forget the histories of several people that would have been silent if it hadn’t been for others from out who documented it? Haven’t most scholars agreed that the most informed and objective reports of the Nigerian Civil [Biafran] War, were written by ‘outsiders’? Same thing goes for directing, haven’t we heard of directors of a different place or clime that worked on material that originally wasn’t theirs and left them marvelling?
Screening a movie against set prejudices especially stemming from our national destroyer – ethnicism, which by the way has caused us far more harm than good creates a question on the rationality or objectivity of a writer. Furthermore, it begs the question of when we would start to think above our clans and hamlets. Would this same reviewer have written this review in this way if perhaps if he was of a tribe that wasn’t Igbo? Okay, maybe he would say he wrote it because he feels the pinches of the war as an Igbo man more. But now again, would he have written it in the same way if perhaps a Mr. Obinna Nnamdi [to use a combination of the first Igbo names that come to mind] or one of his amazing Igbo Nollywood ladies had directed it?
The several errors in the review also suggests a blind rage that hastened a hand to pour out flawed inked thoughts to condemn what was done on ‘sentiment’ [how ironic!]. Over here, one also questions the Editor of the literary column of The Sun, for allowing that pass.
We have a role to society as writers to recreate life and in many instances reconstruct what ills we can. Noting that the printed word cannot be retracted, it also calls for us to more thorough in our investigations, presentations and conclusions before going to press – whether in papers or books. A word said might be forgotten or disputed but words in print in thousands of copies everywhere, how does one do anything about it? We ought to take this responsibility more seriously when we get to that level where we have packed experience and several others look up to us. Isn’t it said that with greater power, comes greater responsibility? So much responsibility lies in our ink which should force us to be more purposed to the truth than deliberate or mistaken lies. Perhaps we should also borrow a line from our dear Chimamanda Adichie and avoid the pitfalls of the danger of sentiments or that sad sad single story.