Wednesday, February 22, 2012

138. Burning Grass by Cyprian Ekwensi

Title: Burning Grass
Author: Cyprian Ekwensi
Illustrator: A. Folarin
Genre: Ethnic
Publishers: Heinemann (AWS)
Pages: 118
Year of First Publication: 1962
Country: Nigeria

Cyprian Ekwensi' Burning Grass is a story about the life of Fulani herdsmen narrated through Mai Sunsaye. Mai Sunsaye is a leader of his people and a medicine man, a man who knows how to treat people. One day, whilst with his sons grazing their cattle an incident occurred that would affect all their lives including the children. A Fulani girl a slave of the fearful man Shehu was being chased by a man with whips. Mai Sunsaye paid for Fatimeh with his cattle and ordered man to leave. Thus, Fatimeh became free.

Rikku, the youngest son Mai Sunsaye loved Fatimeh and the girl also showed signs of affection toward him. However, it was Hodio who eloped with her. As a leader of the people of Dokan Toro, Mai Sunsaye had been opposed by Ardo. One day, Ardo's men released a bird with magic which inflicts people with sokugo 
a magic that turned studious men into wanderers, that led husbands to desert their wives, Chiefs their people and sane men their reason.
Drawn by the bird, and with his household burnt, Mai Sunsaye began a journey that would take him to several places, meeting several people, and participating in several activities. He would meet eldest son Jalla, would run from him and move on to Old Chanka and then to New Chanka. His son Rikku would follow him and so would his wife and daughter, in search of their father and husband. Initially, Mai Sunsaye set out after the bird, then the search turned into a search for his son, Jalla, and when Jalla was found it turned into a search for Fatimeh so that his son Rikku, who had suffered emotionally and physically by the elopement, would be well again.

Whilst on this journey, Fatimeh had also gained a reputation, one that grew from people's  fear. She wore only white, traveled with a lion, owned a herd of cattle and journeyed only in the evenings. These added onto her legend. When Fatimeh left with Hodio, they had met Jalla and another incident had happened. At New Chanka, Shehu's men had attacked Hodio and he had defended himself but could do nothing to the re-taking of Fatimeh as a slave. But the woman found her way out and was now living an itinerant life. Mai Sunsaye's adventures would include meeting Fatimeh, who would heal him from the sokugo, meeting Ligu, who would help him fight Shehu and his men for his son Rikku who was arrested when he was running away from Kantuma, bringing his family together and fighting Ardo and his men and to lead the Dokan Toro people. Mai Sunsaye, through this affliction, visited his sons, supervised the marriage of Jalla and witnessed his flight from manliness.

This story portrays the life, struggles, and travails of cattle herdsmen and their aversion towards city life and its sedentariness. The enjoyment of the book is the narration. Events take place at a fast pace and though the reader could make some predictions, because things fitted in so perfectly, it was still a pleasure to read them. The reader can find himself or herself hoping that nothing untoward happen to the old man (Mai Sunsaye) who was oblivious of the cause of his zeal to travel or leave home. Ekwensi employed the traditional narrative style and it suited the story very well. 

Though one is tempted to ask which great medicine man cannot fight sokugo charms or even show any form of magic whiles on his journeys, these don't detract from the story. It is a quick and fan read. Jagua Nana has been touted as Ekwensi's best.
Cyprian Ekwensi (Source)

About the author: Cyprian Ekwensi ( September 26, 1921–November 4, 2007 ) was a Nigerian writer who stressed description of the locale and whose episodic style was particularly well suited to the short story.

Cyprian Odiatu Duaka Ekwensi was born at Minna in Northern Nigeria on September 26, 1921. He later lived in Onitsha in the Eastern area. Ekwensi attended Government College in Ibadan, Oyo State, Achimota College in Ghana, and the School of Forestry, Ibadan, after which he worked for two years as a forestry officer. He also studied pharmacy atYaba Technical Institute, Lagos School of Pharmacy, and the Chelsea School of Pharmacy of the University of London. He taught at Igbobi College. He lectured in pharmacy at Lagos and was employed as a pharmacist by the Nigerian Medical Corporation. Ekwensi married Eunice Anyiwo, and they had five children.

Ekwensi began his writing career as a pamphleteer, and this perhaps explains the episodic nature of his novels. This tendency is well illustrated by People of the City (1954), in which Ekwensi gave a vibrant portrait of life in a West African city. It was the first major novel to be published by a Nigerian. Two novellas for children appeared in 1960; bothThe Drummer Boy and The Passport of Mallam Ilia were exercises in blending traditional themes with undisguised romanticism. (Source)


  1. Lovely review, I especially like the quote you've selected about sokugo's enchanting magic.

  2. I read Burning Grass a long time ago, I think as a literature book in secondary school and your great review has evoked the sotryline which had been hazy. I do recollect that at time I lked Burning Grass so much and admired Mai Sunsaye and wished that he would be well in the end.

    Maybe, reading it again will dispel the rather negative feelings I presently have for the Fulani herdsmen who have been abusing our hospitality and terrorising us in the country. I will get a copy from EPP and add it to my TBR. Thanks, Nana.

    1. lol. But I still believe, after reading this book, that the Fulani's behaviour in Ghana is bad. They shouldn't mess up with our hospitality.

  3. this sounds right up my street Nana some wonderful stories in the AWS ,all the best stu

    1. Heinemann captured the market with the AWS and because they have the widest distribution network they were able to publish more authors.

  4. Very good review. One of my favourite books of all time. Short. Entertaining. It does elicit a lot of empathy for the Fulani Herdsmen.

  5. This is an author I long to read eventually, but his works have proven more difficult for me to track down. I have faith I will prevail one day though ;) Thanks for this review!


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