Friday, September 30, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman (I)

Again, like Ola Rotimi's The gods are not to blame, these quotes are more of proverbs than they are of quotes. Proverbs and riddles are traditional ways of speaking in most African countries and a good speaker is one who is able to communicate using the appropriate proverbs to carry out his message. In most cases, an adept speaker would use only proverbs and the listener is expected to grasp the meaning, just like a mathematician would use mathematical symbols to communicate to other mathematicians. In fact, in Ghana, the very word for a gathering, where chiefs or other traditional elders or where something important is about to take place is translated as 'proverb market', (in Twi, b'adwam or Bε Dwam). The following proverbs are not exhaustive:

Because the man approaches a brand-new bride he forgets the long long faithful mother of his children.

When the horse sniffs the stable does he not strain at the bridle?

[W]hen the wind blows cold from behind, that's when the fowl knows his true friends.

The hands of women also weaken the unwary.

There is only one home of the life of a river mussel; there is only one home to the life of a tortoise; there is only one shell to the soul of man; there is only one world to the spirit of our race.

The cockerel must not be seen without his feathers.

A life that will outlive fame and friendship begs another name.

Even a tear-veiled eye preserves its function of sight.

When time is short, we do not spend it prolonging the riddle.

A fault soon remedied is soon forgiven.

An anthill does not desert its roots.

We cannot see the still great womb of the world - no man beholds his mother's womb, yet who denies it's there?

The waters of the bitter stream are honey to a man whose tongue has savoured all.

No one knows when the ants desert their home; they leave the mound intact.

How can man talk against death to person in uniform of death?
____________________

Thursday, September 29, 2011

45. Excursions in My Mind by Nana Awere Damoah

Title: Excursions in My Mind
Author: Nana Awere Damoah
Publishers: Athena Press
Pages: 134
Year of First Publication: 2008
Country: Ghana

Read for Amy's BAND

Nana Awere Damoah's book Excursions in my Mind began that which was continued in Through the Gates of Thought. As in the latter, this book of inspiration used examples from the author's own life and from varied sources; prominent figures and books like the bible were not spared. The book was written in simple language and unlike many other books on motivation and inspiration, here the reader - perhaps the Ghanaian or African reader - could be able to relate quite well with most of the examples cited.

Each series - as a chapter is referred to in this 134-page book - begins with a short story or an exposition of the theme or subject matter. The author then goes on to give 'Action Exercise' in an attempt to encouraging the reader implement that which he had read. Most at times this is followed by quotes and on few occasions by a poem that gives further expatiation on the said theme.

In all there are thirty-six series with a bonus one, ranging from Books and Knowledge to The Mountain Story covering themes like, goal-setting, financial prudence, dreams, friendship, responsibility, learning, faithfulness, shyness, fear, forgiveness, learning from a loss, waiting and or working for what we want and more. These are themes that are applicable to our lives. Most of my favourite series are those taken directly from the author's life. Nana discusses his family openly, showing us what goes on within - the dynamics, the challenges, the sacrifices that his parents had to make to send him through school, making him the person he is now. Appreciation comes when one realises that the cost of education requires a willing and able parents to see their children through to the end. Thus, unlike, perhaps, in other places, education is a privilege when it comes one way; that achieved through the sacrifice of parents, especially those in the middle and lower economic class. The author does not back away from the negatives but more importantly he shows us that there are positives even within a negative life, which is what we should concentrate on. Though the author does not shy away from his Christian affiliation, which is seen by his outright declaration, his use of language and quotes from the bible, he also does not dissociate himself from his traditions. And like all themes, he looks at the positive side of this too. He agrees to the proverb 'if your parents look after you for your teeth to grow, you must look after them for their teeth to fall out'. He demonstrates this using personal examples from his life. Even when Nana Damoah lost his two brothers and a father in a year, he was able to learn from this, realising how ephemeral our life in this world is and how fast we reduce to zero when death comes knocking.

With short chapters and precise language, Nana Damoah has crafted a book that would resonate with a lot of readers, both on this side of the globe with his personal examples, and with everyone through his expositions and quotes. Could this book be the beginning of a memoir? Could this be the beginning of something bigger? Reading every series and the references to his family giving precise years - sometimes to the exact date and day - one is bound to believe that these series would coalesce into a memoir sometime to come. For don't we all have something to say from our lives? And here Nana's eidetic memory that seems to make the words come alive on the page would serve him excellently. And when it does, I would be here to read and review it.

This book is recommended and even those for whom any mention of the biblical texts is toxic to their health, there is something to learn from this book if such individuals choose to take the content but not its associated source.
___________________________
Brief Bio: Nana Awere Damoah was born in Accra, Ghana. He holds a Masters in Chemical Engineering from the University of Nottingham, UK, a first degree in Chemical Engineering from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. A British Council Chevening alumnus, Nana works with Unilever Ghana Limited. Nana started serious writing in 1993 when he was in sixth form and has had a number of his short stories published in the Mirror and the Spectator. In 1997, he won first prize in the Step magazine National Story Writing Competition. His short story Truth Floats was published in the first edition of African Roar Anthology. He is the creator and editor of Story Loom. (Read more here)

ImageNations Rating: 4.5/6.0

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

44. Stickfighting Days by Olufemi Terry

Olufemi Terry's Stickfighting Days won the 11th Caine Prize for African Writing Award in 2010. It was later included in the anthology A Life in Full anthology published in 2010. This story first appeared in Chimurenga vol. 12/13.

The focus of the Caine Prize is ' on the short story, as reflecting the contemporary development of African story-telling tradition.' Here, one wonders if the 'African story-telling tradition' part deals with what publishers refer to as 'The African Story'. If so, the Caine Prize has succeeded. If the 'development' is also necessary, then it has failed totally; for now, the prize is almost seen as the ultimate search for the story that that can make readers puke and wonder if the characters are savages or humans. Consequently, writers summon all their creative power to write the most scatological stories that would define what an African story is. Whereas some writers search for the most rotten neighbourhoods in any country they can imagine, 'selling their nations horrors', others, unable to find appropriate vicinities, themes, or enough filth, create theirs. And if the Caine Prize's aim is to continuously reward these stories, describing them as 'creative, ambitious, bold, imaginative', then Stickfighting Days would be to the Caine Prize, what Rushdie's Midnight's Children is to the Booker. Stickfighting Days by Olufemi Terry is the ultimate horror story a writer can create.

The story is filled with blood, shit, murder, glue-sniffing, scavenging and more. At almost every other line, there is the macabre. There is enough macabre in this story to make any of Stephen King's novels become a bedtime story. The more so if one realises that King's stories are somewhat paranormal and Olufemi's story is more of a representation of his reality, at least that is what he wants to portray. As to which reality, created reality based on his perception or his personal experience, it is up to him to tell us.

Stickfighting Days - worse than E.C. Osondu's Waiting, another Caine Prize-winning story (2009) that made me puke - is a story about a young boy of thirteen (13) years named Raul and the life he leads. Like Waiting, we do not know the place, whether it's a town or a city. The story is based on the character Raul and how he relates to his environment and the people around him. 

Raul is a stickfighter - simply put, he fights with sticks. And this is no child-fight. He fights to kill. He pops out eyes. In fact in a single day he killed two people - a boy named Tauzin, from whom he steals bread, and Salad, a guy who always act as judge during stickfighting. Prior to this he had nearly killed another fighter. This makes the reader wonder how many people would be left on the street if he goes at such rate. Besides, he exhibits no emotions; he has become habituated to emotions, which makes him eerily enjoy what he does. 
There's something in his eyes - he's not afraid - but I see recognition beyond fear - and acceptance of what I'm about to do, of what I am. Killer.
Written in the first person narrative, this is how Raul describes killing Tauzin
The strike is precise enough to kill; I feel the rubbery give of his temple beneath the tip of my sticks. But once more shame comes on me, so suddenly I taste it mingling with the acid vomit. I walk away without checking he's dead.
And this is a thirteen-year old boy who names his sticks Mormegil and Orcrist because the judge - Salad - had told him stories from Lord of the Rings. In fact he aims to be like the Spartans. And here the Olufemi showed his motive: to create a morbid and macabre story in a way that has never been before. For how does an illiterate boy, who does nothing but to fight, kill, scavenge and sniff got to know how the Spartans were and wanted to be like them? It's almost like a collection of morbidity heaped on this Raul character. 
Markham thrusts into his other eye and Salad's face splashes blood. He still makes no sound. I'd dreamed of a killing blow, the single cut that cleanly ends life, but I've done that already, with Tauzin earlier. It was sweet. But now's not the time for precision. I swing and thrust, mindlessly raining blows, and Markham is with me, shares my aim for we club at the judge's head with no thought of accuracy. Even when he no longer moves, Markham and I swing for some minutes. And I stop.
And what did judge or Salad do? He prevented Raul from killing Markham and declared Raul the winner of the fight. Because he prevents fights from deteriorating into death matches.

If the boys are not stickfighting, they are scavenging on dumps, covering their legs with specks of shit - remember Osondu's Waiting? - sniffing glue. Almost every character in this short-story has a delinquent behaviour and this is rightly so as Olufemi was writing about street children. But street children even show love, they show care. I wonder where these street children came from and in which environment they live. Even in street kick-boxing, deaths are not rampant. For instance, Raul had killed Tauzin because Tauzin told him that he had put rat-poison in the bread he just stole and ate.
"That bread was poisoned. I left it as bait for whoever's been stealing my stuff. Rat poison," he adds unnecessarily. "Bet you didn't know I was a master poisoner. Had no idea it was you, but I don't care really. You might not even die."
Some people have claimed that the author is not an ambassador for his country and what matters most in writing is the creative process. This story does not read like anything by Flaubert or Proust, so what is the motive? According to the Chair judge, Fiammetta Rocco, this story is
ambitious, brave and hugely imaginative, Olufemi Terry's 'Stickfighting Days' presents a heroid culture that is Homeric in its scale and conception. The execution of this story is so tight and the presentation so cinematic, it confirms Olufemi Terry as a talent with an enormous future
I wonder what Fimmetta was referring to as brave and ambitious. Was the author writing about a people he was not supposed to write, which requires bravery? Or was he ambitious of winning the Caine, which might probably explained why he wrote this? Mediocrity is not talent. If Olufemi keeps writing in this form, even Western readers, to whom most of this morbidity and macabreness is directed, would be fed up with his offering.

This story did nothing for me. It is the weakest story in the shortlist. But it won, according to the judges. For those who want to find out, this story is available at the Caine Prize website for downloading.
__________________

ImageNations Rating: 2.5/6.0

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

43. A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo

Title: A Grain of Wheat
Author: Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo
Genre: Fiction/Colonial Literature
Publishers: Heinemann (AWS Classics)
Pages: 267
Year of First Publication: 1967
Country: Kenya

A Grain of Wheat has been noted as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's best novel. It was voted as one of the Best 100 African Books in the Twentieth Century by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. As the third published novel, A Grain of Wheat embodies distillates from Ngũgĩ's two previous novels: Weep Not Child (1964) and The River Between (1965). In this story, the fight for independence, started in Weep not Child and The River Between converges and hints of elitism, greed, and discrimination against the independence fighters that blossomed into the novel Matigari had just begun. 

Mugo wa Kibiro's prophecy (in TRB) that 'there shall come a people with clothes like butterflies' had come to pass and Waiyaki - the protagonist in TRB - is reported to have been 'buried alive at Kibwezi with his head facing into the centre of the earth' to serve as a 'living warning to those, who, in after years, might challenge the had of the Christian woman whose protecting shadow now bestrode both land and sea.' The natives have fought the colonial government and the Queen had agreed to independence. With few days to Uhuru - independence - the people of Thabai and Rung'ei areas are making all the necessary preparations to make the day a memorable one whereas party leaders and freedom fighters are looking for speakers to mark the occasion. This is the setting and period - December 10 and 12, 1963 - within which A Grain of Wheat placed. 

To make the celebration memorable, the leaders of Thabai are impressing upon Mugo to be the main speaker. Mugo through his actions and, mostly, inactions have climbed to a certain status that he himself is afraid of. He is scared of accepting the appellations women shower on him. Something is bothering him. He does not see himself worthy enough to lead the people. He asks himself 
Yes, could they really have asked him to carve his place in society by singing tributes to the man he had so treacherously betrayed?
But women continued to sing Mugo's praises at the market, in their homes. His queerness and taciturnity increased his popularity. Something he did not expect. He was regarded as the equal of Kihika, achieving  hero-status when several beating after days of hunger-strike, to confess the oath, left eleven detainees at Yala Camp dead leaving him.

However, behind this openly mirthful - seemingly impeccable - preparations for Uhuru lies the search for the ultimate traitor; the individual behind the betrayal of the Movement's leader, Kihika, by General R. and Lt. Koina. Kihika had ran into the forest to fight the colonial government and natives who worked for colonial government, like Teacher Muniu and Rev. Jackson both of whom - using the bible - spoke against the struggle for independence. Reverend Jackson Kigondu - a native pastor - had
called on Christians to fight side by side with the whiteman, their brother in Christ, to restore order and the rule of the spirit. 
And with such lines, Ngũgĩ showed the role Christianity - through some native pastors - played in dividing the natives and subjecting them to colonial rule. After several search, analyses, and elimination, Lt. Koina and General R settled on Karanja as the perpetrator of this unforgivable crime. 

Using a back and forth narrative style, Ngũgĩ provided the reader the background of most of the characters involved and their role for or against the uhuru struggle. And through this we get to know that most of the so-called freedom fighters had at one point in time betrayed the Uhuru cause. They had denounced their oath in detention and quietly come home to their family or had denounced the oath and openly joined forces with the colonial government in its fight against the natives. The motivating factor amongst the latter group of people was that Uhuru does not imply the end of white rule. And Karanja belonged to this group. 

Karanja loved Mumbi but before he could open his mouth, Mumbi had accepted Gikonyo's. Years later, after the two had married, Gikonyo was taken to detention, Karanja capitalised on this opportunity to win Mumbi. He denounced his oath, became a homeguard  - killing people natives at will - and later a political chief drawing his power directly from the District Officer John Thompson. And it was during Karanja's position as a political chief that Mumbi begot him a child. Coming from detention after six years, and seeing his wife with a child, Gikonyo shut himself up: working hard to raise his economic status.

As preparation towards Uhuru gathered pace, people began asking questions. People, in their minds, wanted to know if after the departure of the whiteman and the introduction of black rule:
would the government become less stringent on those who could not pay tax? Would there be more jobs? Would there be more land? The well-to-do shopkeepers and traders and landowners discussed prospects for business now that we had political power; would something be done about the Indians? 
Gikonyo was to discover, painfully, that nothing much had changed. Having planned, together with his friends, to obtain a government loan through their MP to purchase Burton's farm, and the MP having promised them, they were later to find when they visited the farm that the MP had acquired the property. And this was before the uhuru celebrations. During the uhuru celebration itself, General R observed that
those now marching in the streets of Nairobi were not the soldiers of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army but the King's African Rifles, the very colonial forces who had been doing on the battlefield what Jackson was doing in the churches.
Early on, Gikonyo had remarked:
You have a great heart. It is people like you who ought to have been the first to taste the fruits of independence. But now, whom do we see riding in long cars and changing them daily as if motor cars were clothes? It is those who did not take part in the Movement, the same who ran to the shelter of schools and universities and administration. And even some who were outright traitors and collaborators.
In the end, as a sign of resignation and helplessness, Mumbi reminded her visitors that they '... have got to live', to which Warui - an elderly woman in the village - responded 'Yes, we have the village to build'. And again, just like the fight for Uhuru, the building of the country became the burden of the ordinary people and not the elites who had inherited everything.
How dirt can so quickly collect in a clean hut!
The title 'A Grain of Wheat' is symbolic. A verse underlined in black in Kihika's Bible reads:
Verily, verily I say unto, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit (St. John 12:24)
According to bible.cc, a corn is the same as 'a grain'. Thus, Kihika knew that the struggle for independence, or uhuru, would require the utmost sacrifice on the fighters' part. And that except they are prepared to fight and die, their situation would not change. He was therefore the 'grain of wheat' that died and brought forth much freedom. Using Christian analogies, Ngũgĩ compared colonialism to the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt. And several biblical pages were quoted to support this.

Though Ngũgĩ used an omniscient narrator, there were several places where the use of 'we', 'us' and 'you' pointed to a narrator who is one with the natives' cause. This hidden character was there at independence and was there when the struggle started; he or she seems to be the spirit of the Kenyans identifying himself with the people whenever he or she addresses the reader.

This is a story filled with symbolisms, metaphors and analogies. It shows hope, hopelessness, and hopefulness in a stochastic distribution. It also gives voice to the unknown soldiers of Kenya's past and present; those who have made it their aim to fight the war until the end is attained. It is recommended.
______________
For a biography of the author, click here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Proverb Monday, #41

Proverb: Kookoohene se ɔsene wo a, ɔsene wo wɔ kookoobere, na ɔnsene wo fupεberε
Meaning: If the cocoa chief says he he greater than you, he is greater than you in the cocoa season, but he is not greater than you in the off-season.
Context: Cocoa is a seasonal crop and brings in money twice a year. At those times farmers can afford extravagance. In the off-season they may be poor. Fupεberε is the season between the rainy and dry seasons. Hence: Your position depends on achievements over the years, not on "quick come, quick go" money.
No. 3505 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Library Additions

Geosi shared with me his new source of used books. Not that I didn't know this place but I associated them with text books and genre-fiction. When I was in school I visited them for some of my text books. However, recently they have taken delivery of fiction, literary fiction and Geosi found himself a lot of gems. I went there too and got myself some really interesting books. And the big 'thing' is that the books are cheap. Very cheap. A buck each. I went there with the high-book-cost mentality and came with a truckload of books:
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan. This 2001 Booker shortlist book is on my Top 100 books reading challenge. I haven't read any book by this acclaimed British author. Not yet.
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. This is also on my Top 100 books reading challenge. By this effort and others, I definitely am on my way to fulfilling at least 50 percent of this challenge, not this year but by 2012. On Chesil Beach was also shortlisted for the 2007 Booker.
  • Saturday by Ian McEwan. This makes it a trilogy for McEwan. This trilogy starts of with Atonement published in 2001, Saturday in 2005 and On Chesil Beach in 2007 consecutively.
  • The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger. Another recommendation by book bloggers. Sometimes I don't know whether these books have been actually recommended or I buy them simply because I have read reviews of them. But definitely, their names sound familiar and have generated some heat on the web.
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith. This book is also on my top 100 reading challenge. Zadie Smith was voted as one of Britain's Best 20 Novelists under 40 years by the Telegraph.
  • The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (1) by Alexander McCall Smith. I saw this book on the blogosphere, amongst the book blogging community. I also love the setting and want to know what it has to offer. It's about a detective agency in Gaborone, Botswana owned by Precious Ramotswe - the first lady to enter into that line of business. The author is Scottish but was born in Rhodesia, current Zimbabwe.
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. After his controversies and his supposed 'snubbing' of Oprah's request to appear on her show, after the book had been  selected for the Oprah Book Club, and his latest book Freedom having the Obamas as one of its first readers, I think it is time to listen to what this young supposedly intelligentsia writer has to say with this book.
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. This is another book I discovered from reading reviews from book bloggers. I don't know the exact place, but I know I read two reviews of it in a week, positive or negative the name stuck.
  • The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. I love this book because it features Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes as characters and a book club at its centre. It is also about murder and the search of the murderer. I love stories about books and book lovers like Arturo Perez Reverte's The Dumas Club.
  • The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. I have heard the name before, perhaps even read a review or two of her books. I bought this because it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994.
What are your thoughts on these titles. I have also realised that most of the books I am acquiring is bound to defeat the purpose of this blog if I go ahead and read them in a row. Thus, I would be going in search of more African titles as I am running-out of them.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

42. Muzungu by Namwali Serpell

Namwali Serpell's Muzungu, her first published story, was shortlisted for the 11th Caine Prize for African Writing in 2010. The story was first published in the African Diaspora journal Callaloo and later selected and published in The Best American Short Stories 2009. I is also one of the stories in the Caine Prize Anthology, A Life in Full and other stories.

Muzungu tells the story of a young precocious girl, Isabella (or Isa), and her relationships with the people and things around her. Isa is the daughter of expatriate parents and, at age nine, has come to understand what being white meant. She is also an intelligent girl who prefers having conversations with adults to children and who thinks Athena is better Aphrodite. She loves fractions too. However, this characteristic was expertly handled so that any hints of Einsteinian traits were avoided. For instance, when she follows Chanda to the servants' quarters and is called muzungu by one servants' relatives, she runs to her father to seek its meaning.

Isa's parents - Sibilla and Colonel Corsale - seems estrange from her. Whereas the father is a drunk; preferring to drench himself in alcohol to holding complete conversations, her mother is either serving and doting the party-visitors or doing another thing. All through the story Isa was almost never seen in their company and the only time he goes to her father, he was in a drunken stupor. Besides, though her parents keep servants at the servants' quarters, she is not allowed to play with the servants' children, not even with Chanda who is closer to her in age. And this makes Isa, an only child, lonely. She is unable to fraternise with the her parents' friends' children who come to the parties his father organises. They seem too childish and cry at the least opportunity.

In addition to her introversion, Isa has 'teenage' doubts about her features and keeps looking in the mirror. She thinks her nose hangs too close to her upper lip and will usually push it up with her fingers. She is also afraid of inheriting her mother's hairiness.
She checked her face for hair (an endless, inevitable paranoia) and with a cruel finger pushed the tip of her nose up. She felt it hung too close to her upper lip.
In effect, just like any other preteen, Isa entertains fears and harbours insecurities. And Namwali did an excellent job in the way she treated them without giving in to stereotypes, which would have been the easy way out.

In addition to this vivid portrayal, devoid of the overly-dialogue that one encounters in stories with children as protagonists, is Namwali's excellent use of language and beautiful narrative. The author's sense of observation is acute - and this is enhanced by her point-of-view narrative style - carrying to the reader the smell, taste, and feel of the story. The reader inevitably feels attached to the narrator seeing whatever it is she is seeing and doing whatever it is she is doing. At a place where Namwali describes the Colonel's drunkenness, she writes
The Colonel liked to drink from the same glass the entire day, always his favorite glass, decorated with the red, white, and green hexagons of a football. As his drunkenness progressed, the glass got misty from being so close to his open mouth, then slimy as his saliva glands loosened, then muddy as dirt and sweat mixed on his hand. At the end of the evening, when Isa was sent to fetch her father's glass, she often found it beneath his chair under a swarm of giddy ants, the football spattered like it had been used for a rainy day match.
Per the title Muzungu - ghost - race and identity is the major theme threading through. For instance, though Ba Simone and her children live on the same compound as Isa and her parents, the contrast between the kind of life both lead is stark: food, dressing and language are dichotomous and diametrically opposing, each family occupying an extreme locus.

However, the focus Namwali's story is on the characters and with detailed descriptions she delivered. It is clear from the dearth of dialogue or its sparing use that Namwali's strength lies in intricate, spicy narrative than in dialogue. She made reading this story a joy to the mind. The choice for the award would have been between Namwali's story and Alex Smith's Soulmates, though none won.
_________________
Brief Bio: Namwali Serpell was born and raised in Zambia until she moved with her parents to the United States in 1989. Her first published story Muzungu was selected for 'The Best American Short Stories'. Her recently completed novel Furrow is set in the Bay Area of US. It is the tale of a 12-year old girl who loses her younger brother. As an adult this girl meets a man who looks just like her brother, however this seeming reunion unfolds deceit and delusion. Breaking is a work in progress and looks at three Zambian families - black, white and brown - over the last century. In September 2011, together with six other writers, Serpell was awarded the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Awards. Namwali Serpell works as an Assistant Professor of English at University of California, Berkeley.

ImageNations: 5.0/6.0

Other Caine Prize Shortlist: The Life of Worm by Ken Barris (2010)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Quotes for Friday from A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo

What Karanja feared more than the rumours was their possible confirmation. As long as he did not know the truth, he could interpret the story in the only way that gave him hope: the coming of black rule would not mean, could never mean the end of white power. (P. 42)

God helps those who help themselves, it is said, with fingers pointing at a self-made man who has attained wealth and position, forgetting that thousands of others labour and starve, day in, day out, without ever improving their material lot. (P. 63)

Party leaders from the district were the first to speak. They said Jomo Kenyatta had to be released to lead Kenya to Uhuru. People would not accept any other person for the Chief Minister. They asked everyone to vote for party candidates in the coming elections: a vote for the candidate was a vote for Kenyatta. A vote for Kenyatta was a vote for the Party. A vote for the Party was a vote for the Movement. A vote for the Movement was a vote for the People. Kenyatta was the People! (P. 71)

'What thing is greater than love for one's country?...' (P. 72)

'But there is no home with a boy-child where the head of a he-goat shall not be cooked,' (P. 80)

Mbugua had earned his standing in the village through his own achievements as a warrior and a farmer. His name alone, so it is said, sent fear quivering among the enemy tribes. Those were the days before the whiteman ended tribal wars to bring in world wars. (P. 82)

A home full of children is never lonely, she always said. (P. 83)

'It is not politics, Wambuku,' he said, 'it is life. Is he a man who lets another take away his land and freedom? Has a slave life?' (P. 107)

Our people say that building a house is a life-long process. (P. 121)

Then wealth and power were not important unless they enriched that silent communion from which living things heaved and opened to the sun. The silence to which he had now returned dead. (P. 128)

One lived alone, and like Gatu, went into the grave alone. ... To live and die alone was the ultimate truth (P. 129)

A man does not go to a stranger and tear his heart open (P. 135)

'Strange, isn't it, how we give many motives to our actions to fit an occasion. ...' (P. 162)

'... The coward lived to see his mother while the brave was left dead on the battlefield. And to ward off a blow is not cowardice.' (P. 162)

A river runs along the line of least resistance. (P. 183)

'.. Those buried in the earth should remain in the earth. Things of yesterday should remain with yesterday.' (P. 190)

'She has gone back to her parents. See how you have broken your home. You have driven a good woman to misery for nothing. Let us now see what profit it will bring you, to go on poisoning your mind with these things when you should have accepted and sought how best to build your life. But you, like a foolish child, have never wanted to know what happened. Or what woman Mumbi really is.' (P. 192)

Mugo was deeply afflicted and confused, because all his life he had avoided conflicts: at home, or at school, he rarely joined the company of other boys for fear of being involved in brawls that might ruin his chances of a better future. His argument went like this: if you don't traffic with evil, then evil ought not to touch you; if you leave people alone, then they ought to leave you alone. (P. 211)

'... He who was not on our side, was against us. ..' (P. 240)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

GUEST POST: Introducing Omoseye Bolaji – An Intriguing African Writer

As most of you know, I have almost solely handled this blog. All articles, reviews, interviews and others have been from me. This is my first Guest Post. Rahpael Mokoena is a book critic and a South African and wants to introduce to us the 'intriguing African writer', Omosoye Bolaji, a writer from Nigeria. This is more like a South-West connection.

_________________________

By Raphael Mokoena
Omoseye Bolaji (right) with  Pule Lechesa
Omoseye Bolaji, the South African based versatile Nigerian writer, is an intriguing wordsmith. He often baffles readers and critics. Is he a “serious, committed” African writer, or otherwise? What is his literary legacy? Why is he often dubbed a “grassroots oriented” writer?

Yet, many serious literary critics and commentators take him (Omoseye Bolaji) serious; to the extent that over half a dozen different studies (books) have been published about his literary work. The academics of the rather conservative University of the Free State were also in unison when they conferred the Chancellor’s Medal of the University on Bolaji in 2007.

It is clear enough that that just like in the world famous case of British writer, Dorothy Sayers, most of Bolaji’s readers will always associate him with Mystery/Detective works. Indeed, Bolaji has created one of Africa’s best known sleuths, Tebogo Mokoena, who features in seven published books – from Tebogo Investigates (2000) to Tebogo and the pantophagist (2010) See selected works at end of this article.
Despite the great success and the popularity of the “Tebogo Mystery series”, especially in South Africa, it would be wrong to pigeon-hole Bolaji, or his corpus of writings in this way. Bolaji’s versatility as a writer often works against him, as he is a novelist, short story writer, journalist, poet, biographer, playwright, essayist, literary critic, etc.

I for one feel that Bolaji’s contributions to sparkling literary criticism/essays, has been largely undermined. His two major books of this ilk, Thoughts on Free State Writing (2002) and Miscellaneous Writings (2011) are powerful and eclectic enough to earn him a solid reputation as a skilful literary critic/writer. Thoughts on Free State Writing, though published almost ten years ago, is an intelligent work containing well thought-out chapters on subjects like African fiction, Books for children, Literary criticism, Poetry, Biographies, African renaissance, vagaries of Education etc.

Omoseye Bolaji’s latest published work, Miscellaneous Writings (2011) is already being described by some pundits as a breathtaking work of art containing many short dazzling essays. At least half of these essays involve world, African literature, but there are many other topics brilliantly brought to life by the author in this new work. Topics, or, and protagonists covered in this new work include: DH Lawrence, Lewis Nkosi, The Allure of Father Xmas!, The National English Literary Museum (Grahamstown), Steve Biko, Nigerian and South African Writers, Camara Laye, Dambudzo Marechera, NMM Duman, Gabriel Okara, Facebook, Ola Rotimi, The tormentone, Gordon Banks, Horrific Murder/Rape, Segun Odegbami, The Illustrators, Teboho Masakala, Musical Maestros, Sheila Khala, Relativity of Poverty and others.

Omoseye Bolaji’s reputation as a poet is also limited, despite the fact that his poems are often evocative and dazzling, and they have been reviewed liberally across the board. Bolaji has actually published three books of poetry (see list below)

Bolaji has published only one play – The subtle transgressor, a drama which has been put on stage a number of times. The published play itself, especially the Sesotho edition, was reportedly a “fast-seller”. Translated into Sesotho by poet and literary critic, Pule Lechesa, Joo, letsa Shwa-Letla Botswa has been quite a success.

Bolaji's 2011 Book
This short introduction to the literary contributions of Omoseye Bolaji can not be complete without mentioning other general novels published by him (as distinct from the “Tebogo Mystery series). Bolaji has written and published other interesting works of fiction like Impossible Love, The ghostly adversary and People of the Townships. The latter (People of the townships) is considered by many to be a quite important work in South African Black Literature.

I hope this piece will inspire others to do more research on Omoseye Bolaji and his published works – for one thing, there is no shortage of interesting articles on the man and his work on the internet. Let’s all learn more about the man dubbed “The Black African master of the unexpected”!

A SELECTION OF BOLAJI’S WORKS:     
The Tebogo Mystery series 
  • Tebogo Investigates (2000) 
  • Tebogo’s spot of bother (2001) 
  • Tebogo Fails (2003) Ask Tebogo (2004) 
  • Tebogo and the haka (2008) 
  • Tebogo and the epithalamion (2009)
  • Tebogo and the pantophagist (2010)) 

Poetry  
  • Snippets (1998)  
  • Reverie (2006)  
  • Poems from Mauritius (2007)
Literary essays/criticism 
  • Thoughts on Free State Writing (2002) 
  • Miscellaneous Writings (2010)  
General novels
  • Impossible Love (2ooo)
  • The ghostly adversary (2001)
  • People of the townships (2003)
Drama  
  • The subtle transgressor (2006)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

41. Neo-Colonialism the Last Stage of Imperialism by Kwame Nkrumah

Title: Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism
Author: Kwame Nkrumah
Genre: Political Non-Fiction
Publishers: PANAF
Pages: 283
Year of Publication: 1965
Country: Ghana


CAVEAT: This review has been delayed for several reasons. First it is to afford the reader enough time to think about the subject matter deeply and present it lucidly. However, after several days, it became clear that no amount of thinking would lead to a clearer review. Thus, to understand the wealth of facts and figures, of information within this pages, kindly get a copy. What is presented here cannot even be described as a pin-prick of what the book offers. The second reason is that today is Kwame Nkrumah's birthday. He would have been 102 years.

When Kwame Nkrumah published this book in 1965, it was banned in the United States. A year after, on February 24, 1966, he was overthrown in a coup d'tat, which according to declassified files or documents, was sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States. During this period several African nationalists were assassinated. And the UN's attitude, especially in the Lumumba case, is there for all to see. Thus, even then, the UN has only worked to help a handful of countries and individuals. 

Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism is a step by step guide to unveiling, exposing, denuding, the factors, individuals, countries, and corporations working against Africa's development and unity. From chapters such as Africa's Resources, Obstacles to Economic Progress, Imperialist Finance, Monopoly Capitalism and the American Dollar, The Truth Behind the Headlines, The Oppenheimer Empire, The Diamond Groups, Mining Interests in Central Africa, Union Miniere du Haut Katanga, Economic Pressures in the Congo Republic, The Mechanisms of Neo-Colonialism, among others, Nkrumah sought to make the world know the kind of forces we are facing as Africans (and non-Africans) on the path towards development (and the people that rule our world).

Corporations, which stole Africa's resources from the beginning by making chiefs sign papers they know very well they cannot read and in most cases papers which talk of a different contract only to turn out that these chiefs have signed off their resources, have come to control Africa's extractive industries, or broadly, Africa's primary resources and have enriched themselves - creating empires - through colonisation. These corporations, even after independence, had done everything necessary to keep the status quo. Through  vertical and horizontal integrations they have formed monopolies that control the production of the raw materials, its transport outside the country, its transformation or value addition, its price on the international market and the manufacture of the finished products. In effect, they control the demand and supply of products. And consequently, prices.

Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, did a diligent job with this book in unmasking the demons against Africa's development and unity with hard facts. Appropriately, the book opens with 'Africa's Resources', where the author shows the volume of Africa's raw materials and those who control it. The chapter opens with the paradox that even though the continent is rich its resources go to enrich, mainly, non-Africans.
Africa is a paradox which illustrates and highlights neo-colonialism. Her earth is rich, yet the products that come from above and below her soil continue to enrich, not Africans predominantly, but groups of and individuals who operate to Africa's impoverishment. (Chapter 1, Page 1)
After the second World War, most African countries began the fight for independence and colonialism became unfashionable. In places where the granting of independence was resisted, the natives took up arms. As disaffection towards the colonial government increased, independence became the only way out. However, post-war European countries have seen a boost in their economies that would fall should total (economic and political) independence be granted. The colonialists in granting the independence fashioned out a systematic method of dominance that would still keep them in control of the resources that is needed to drive their economies back home. This burden of keeping growth and development in developed countries became a burden of developing countries:
It is the less developed countries that continue to carry the burden of increasing development of the highly developed. (Chapter 4, page 66)
This new form of control meant to grant quasi-political control (in terms of the physical head and not the politics), while keeping economic-control, is what the author refers to as Neo-Colonialism. 
Neo-colonialism is based upon the principles of breaking up former large united colonial territories into a number of small non-viable States which are incapable of independent development and must rely upon the former imperial power for defence and even internal security. There economic and financial systems are linked, as in colonial days, with those of the former colonials ruler. (Introduction, page xiii)
This system was much preferred even by the French who, granting independence to Guinea removed every single-piece of investment in that country including office equipment such as light-bulbs to prevent the remaining countries from fighting for independence. This is because with Neo-Colonialism, any social and economic failings and disaffection by the people in the 'independent states' are blamed on the government of these states. And these disaffection are easily created through influencing prices.
In neo-colonialist territories, since the former colonial power has in theory relinquished political control, if the social conditions occasioned by neo-colonialism cause a revolt the local neo-colonialist government can be sacrificed and another equally subservient one substituted in its place. On the other hand, in any continent where neo-colonialism exists on a wide scale the same social pressures which can produce revolts in neo-colonial territories will also affect those States which have refused to accept the system and therefore neo-colonialist nations have a ready-made weapon with which they can threaten their opponents if they appear successfully to be challenging the system. (introduction, page xiv)
From the control of raw materials, manufacturing plants, financial capital, finished products, markets for finished and raw materials, through mergers and acquisitions these individuals and corporations have gained enormous power against which neo-colonialist countries, with their small size and little income, can hardly work against or be victorious in any bargain. Capitalism's irony is that, even though it is supposed to be a free system that breeds competition, its practitioners have sought ways to be prevent that very 'advantage' from materialising through mergers and acquisitions, with the giants in the industry swallowing one another. With their control over different industries they control the pulse of most countries, the world even. Today, monopolies have been created for almost every type of industry. So that the mining of Gold is controlled by a few (mostly two) organisations which have shares in each others organisations. And so effectively are a single unit with multifarious appendages (like an octopus). These industrial monopolies have also become the properties of a few individuals, like a pyramid. What is frequently observed is that about five directors of five major corporations would also be directors in over two hundred other corporations in different industries, serving the same interest groups. From their control of industries and new-found raw materials they seek to
...deprive rivals of their use. The manipulation of artificial scarcity is another of monopoly's tactics for maintaining profits. For three years between mid-1964 the big copper companies were running at between 80 and 85 percent of capacity to keep up prices. Steel production, too, was held back to something like 80 percent of capacity.  (Chapter 4, page 62)
In countries where nationalists fight to gain control of these resources, secession is first advocated and then war is instituted. One only needs to look at the Congo DR, a country currently managed by mining corporations, to understand how this strategy works. Where investments are made, the enormous capital flight these corporations and countries embark upon leave the producing-country crippled.
Direct private American investment in Africa increased between 1945 and 1958 from $110m. to $789m., most of it drawn from profits. Of the increase of $679m. actual new money invested during the period was only $149m., United States profits from these investments, including reinvestment of surpluses, being estimated at $704 m. As a result African countries sustained losses of $555 m. (Chapter 4, page 62)
In Chapter 5, Nkrumah showed us 'The truth behind the headlines'. This chapter is dedicated to unravelling the goings-on behind news headlines. According to Nkrumah to 'really understand what goes on in the world today, it is necessary to understand the economic influences and pressures that stand behind the political events. So that an innocuous headline such as 'Morgan Grenfell participates in new French bank (Financial Times, London, 18 December 1962) has more to say than the headline.
Morgan Grenfell & Co. acts effectively as the London end of the important American banking house J.P. Morgan & Co. which, in 1956, already owned one-third of the British company. It should not, therefore, surprise us to learn that the new 'continental' bank in which Morgan Grenfell is participating is called Morgan et Cie; more especially, since 70 percent of the capital of 10 million new francs is held by Morgan Guaranty International Finance Corporation, and 15 per cent by Morgan Grenfell. What about the remaining 15 per cent? This is divided between two Dutch banks - Hope & Co. of Amsterdam and R. Mees & Zoonen of Rotterdam - with both of which the Morgan group has had close association over many years. This association has been drawn even closer by the acquisition in March 1963 of a 14 per cent in both of them by the Morgan Guaranty International Banking Corporation, a subsidiary of Morgan Guaranty Trust. (Chapter 5, page 70)
Using different methods and strategies we are made to accept that we are incapable of doing anything for ourselves. From the Hollywood movies the covert operations of their cultural attaches/ambassadors, peace corps, information services that publishes their own bulletins, the war against united Africa and against development is fought. Not long ago, the Chinese (and even Japanese) were looked upon as we are now; fastforward to today and China and America have mutual respect for one another. It is such examples that we can point at that shows that, at least, hope exist and that is what this book seek to provide: hope.

After reading the introduction of this 283-page book, France's intervention in Cote d'Ivoire - a country it has vested interest in in terms of its resources and financial capital - and US cum NATO assault on Libya would be clearer. Readers would no longer perceive these two events as interventionists but rather a calculated attempt to keep Africa 'apart' and its resources to them. For what would the newly-supported and installed government do when businessmen from these countries troop in to ask for mining and drilling concessions? Most at times, because the powerful families and corporations behind these wars also control the media, we are presented with falsities, half-truths, staged-news and complete lies about what goes on in these countries. Obama's call for military intervention to 'protect civilians' in Libya is a veil for his real intention. However, if we use blanket names such as America, France, Britain etc. we refuse to see the bigger picture. For behind these countries are multinational corporations, the empire of a few individuals, fighting to increase their control of the world's resources. So that the problem is not unique to only Africa but to other countries as well, even in Europe. These corporations, through lobbying, election funding, control over institutions, have infiltrated governments, placed their 'men' (bootlickers) in strategic positions and so are able to influence policies.

Note that Kwame Nkrumah, in this book, did not speak against foreign investment. What it is against is exploitation and the overarching objective of these investors to make super-normal profits while impoverishing the countries in whose land the resources are.
While foreign private investment must be encouraged, it must be carefully regulated so that it is directed to important growth sectors without leaving control of such sectors in foreign hands.
Nkrumah propounds African unity as the solution. A united African would have the economy, the resources and trading amongst itself would become a force to reckon with. China's importances stems partly from the size of its economy. But it is this unity that is being fought from all sides with all manner of weapons to the extent that we have, today, African leaders who prefer to live in countries whose GDP is ten times less than a corporation working in their boundaries. Others who just want to be 'presidents'. Similarly, the Angolophone-Francophone colonialist blocks has done little to aid unity. In fact, every attempt at uniting is hampered by these blocks using baits such as aid (which only serves as a revolving credit, taking ten times more from the 'aided' country than was given), debt-cancellations, and the like. But then again, the book proffers hope and rightly so for this is their last gasp for breath.

This is a book that everyone must read. Especially so if you are an African. It aims to give facts and figures rather than dazzle you with exquisite prose; yet every topic has been painstakingly explored to its logical roots. This should be a required-reading for every African leader (Presidents, Head-of-States, Military/Rebel Leaders, Juntas etc.) and also for anyone who wants to enter into governance. Like I earlier said, this review could not do justice to the volume of information in the book's pages. Thus, it would be better for one to read the book for himself/herself to really grasp what Kwame Nkrumah is talking about. What makes this book worth the read is that the very same 'demons' unveiled as hampering Africa's development are the same problems we are grappling with. Some derided his method of solving it, yet they have come up with no better solution. Recent events on the continent and in the world at large is enough to show that nothing has changed. If anything at all, the wheels have been oiled and the spinning is faster. Would the recently-discovered oil lead to development? 

To end this incomplete review, remember that:
The change in the economic relationship between the new sovereign states and the erstwhile masters is only one of form. Colonialism has achieved a new guise. It has become neo-colonialism, the last stage of imperialism; its final bid for existence, as monopoly-capitalism or imperialism is the last stage of capitalism. And neo-colonialism is fast entrenching itself within the body of Africa today through the consortia and monopoly combinations that are the carpet-baggers of the African revolt against colonialism and the urge for continental unity.
And in order to halt this foreign interference in our affairs
... it is necessary to study, understand, expose and actively combat neo-colonialism in whatever guise it may appear. For the methods of neo-colonialism are subtle and varied. They operate not only in the economic field, but also in the political, religious, ideological and cultural spheres.
Before you become complacent of this, ask yourself what would happen to us if we should run out of these natural resources? Or if substitutes are found as they are being considered for diamond, rubber, crude oil and others? Development is now.
___________________________
Brief Bio: Kwame Nkrumah (21 September 1909 - 27 April 1972) was the leader of Ghana and its predecessor state, the Gold Coast, from 1952 to 1966. Overseeing the nation's independence from British colonial rule in 1957, Nkrumah was the first President of Ghana and the first Prime Minister of Ghana. An influential 20th century advocate of Pan-Africanism, he was a founding member of the Organization of African Unityand was the winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963. (Read more here)


ImageNations Rating: 6.0/6.0
_______________________________
Quotes for Friday from Kwame Nkrumah's Neo-Colonialism the Last Stage of Imperialism (I)
Quotes for Friday from Kwame Nkrumah's Neo-Colonialism the Last Stage of Imperialism (II)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

40. The Life of Worm by Ken Barris

Ken Barris's The Life of Worm was shortlisted for the 11th Caine Prize for African Writing, 2010. The story was first published in New Writings from Africa Anthology published by Johnson and King James Book, Cape Town. This story, like all the shortlisted stories, are part of the A Life in Full Anthology published in 2010.

The Life of a Worm is a story about a man and his dog, Worm. The man lives behind a series of metal doors, motion sensors and several electronic security protection. He is also protected by Worm, a ferocious dog he struggles to handle on their daily outings. When people approach them, praising the dog, the man becomes scared, afraid that the dog would tear off intruder's face. From his internal conversation, we see that the man is unable to control his dog. He is also afraid of something: armed-burglars? He is needs this protection and this makes him unable to sleep properly, always checking on his security detail. With alarms going off randomly, his alarming security detail is a worry to his neighbours.

Another worry of Worm's owner is his neighbours infested oak tree. This oak tree has bent at such an acute angle that any strong winds or storms would fall it and in falling destroy the man's house. The man has estimated the extent of this damage should it occur, arriving at the conclusion that his garage would not be destroyed.

Taking his dog for walk one day, the man sees that a huge trunk-like stem of the oak, which he dreamt had broken off, had actually broken and and destroyed a part of the wall. He wants to confront his neighbour but continues his walk with Worm. Then a spaniel approaches Worm and Worm grabs the spaniel and strangles it to death. The man cannot make Worm release this spaniel from his jaw. And powerless, he waits till Worm, in his own time, releases this dead dog.

This story, written in the first person present, is more of an internal dialogue and desperation of a man. Taken at face-value it portrays nothing. Absolutely nothing; however, further reflection shows man's daily worries about security, death, things he cannot control, things he procrastinates and more. Would he be attacked by the numerous robbers parading the street or by any of the reported incidents of burglary? Would the rotten oak tree fall and destroy his house? Would Worm kill someone? It has this Kafka-esque feel, for things begin almost at nothing and develops into something different.

This story is worth its inclusion in the shortlist. As to it winning the award would have depended on the meanings attributed it not what it says. And since attribution is a subjective endeavour, it is difficult to speak for or against it not winning.
___________________
Brief Bio: Ken Barris lives in Cape Town, South Africa. He's a poet, novelist, and short story author. His short story The Quick Brown Fox won the 2006 Thomas Pringle Award. In 1996 his novel The Jailer's Book  won the M-Net Book Prize; it also received Honourable Mention at the Noma Award. His Poetry in New Coin won him the Sydney Clouts Memorial Award. An Advertisement for Air, a collection of poetry also won him the Ingrid Jonker Prize. He has been twice shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2003 and 2010 for Clubfoot and The Life of Worm, respectively. The latter was also shortlisted for Studzinski/PEN Award in 2009. Barris' novel What Kind of Child was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize for Best Book for Africa Region and the Herman Charles Bosman Fiction Prize. (Read about the author here)

ImageNations Rating: 4.5/6.0

Other Caine Prize Shortlist: How Shall we Kill the Bishop (2010) 

Featured post

Njoroge, Kihika, & Kamiti: Epochs of African Literature, A Reader's Perspective

Source Though Achebe's Things Fall Apart   (1958) is often cited and used as the beginning of the modern African novel written in E...