Friday, September 20, 2013

256. Taboo by Mawuli Adzei

The arts and its creators have since creation suffered from man's unrestrained penchant for categorisation. It is this attitude and reflexive thoughts that create good and bad with nothing in between; superior and inferior with destructive consequences. However, to writers and artistes, this Inherent Discrimination Syndrome (do not google this) could stifle creation, especially when the pot is binary or discrete with concomitant bipolar descriptions - negative for A and positive for B.

Most work of fiction is classified as either literary fiction or pulp fiction with the academics favouring the latter. Yet, there are several works that could not be easily classified as belonging to either camp. Today, that definite mark is gradually fading, thanks to authors like China Melville. 

Mawuli Adzei's Taboo (Kwadwoan Publishers, 2012; 247) belong to this loose group. The story itself could be described as postmodernist in its deconstruction of culture and its embedded religion; in that case it is a literary fiction. However, one will be totally wrong to describe it solely in such term for in this interesting  and easy read is an investigative subplot that one usually finds in such books considered as pulp fiction. In effect, Taboo is a story of many important parts, each a prerequisite for the survival and effective functioning of the other. 

In its deconstruction of culture and religion, this Catholic author, responded to that festering wound of an argument about what an African story should be. In Mawuli's book, an African story is just that, a story. And still he raised more questions than he answered. The story deals with a clash between the indigenous African religion and Christianity, more specifically Catholicism. Yet, unlike pastoral stories steeped in romanticism and the current Ghanaian-Nigerian movies and films where Christianity and Islam always win, in Mawuli's novel, none is the winner. He seems not eager to choose but to open it up to the readers to decide. Each has helped the people at each point. It was not as if the people were sacrificing each other until the advent of the Christianity and it was not as if its coming and establishment had denuded the people of their problems. As an interrogation of church doctrines, the question that begs an answer is: Who should be blamed when a catholic priest, from a traditional religion priesthood background, fails to adhere to the all-too important, but seemingly irrelevant, celibate laws? The Pope? His morals? His self-will? Rampant stories of priests who fail this oath from all parts of the world indicate that there is the need to look at this law, again. Through a series of inner arguments, Mawuli through Atakuma - later Father Shakana, questions the vow of celibacy.

However, what will hit the impatient readers is not a Father who broke vows; for delicate or fundamentalist readers, the peskiness will not even be that Father Shakana was embroiled in a serial murder (non)controversy; these readers do not care that much about those extras. What will cause the greatest irritation, heaving, hyperventilation, and the possible pouring of invectives and vitriolic curses on the author, even if virtually, forgetting that he is only engendering a larger debate, will be the deliberateness with which Mawuli seamlessly merged the two religions. He did something that had been talked about in smaller circles but about which hardly an attempt at putting it into popular debate had been made, that all religions are basically the same and each had serve mankind at different points in time.

Father Shakana, burdened with troubles, sought help from his traditional priest uncle. What? A pastor going back to Devil-worshipping? This will be the anguish reaction of such readers. But this is one of the functions of literature: to revolutionise. Not too long ago issues of sex and anti-God (questioning religion and existence of God) could not be put into books and authors who did so hardly ever got published. But with persistence they broke through.

In Mawuli Adzei's world - which is the real world, for the book is not based on fantastical tales - both religions provide solutions and non-solutions; they work and do not work in equal measure, so that when Father Shakana's father died and a struggle ensued between the Christian part of the family and the traditional religion part, both won at different points in time. In this way, the author showed that the character of people matter, regardless of the religion; so too are the laws under which they function or which bind them to act in a particular way. The irony in all these is that though Atakuma became Father Shakana, he was more of a traditionalist at heart than his twin brother Ata who had wished to follow his father's footsteps but failed utterly.

The argument that religion should reflect on the way of life of the people was also subtly made: the decline in the traditional religion occurred because the people found the new religion - Christianity - somewhat accommodating and flexible, not that all their needs were met. However, as typified in Father Shakana's life, and his struggles with the doctrines, the unwillingness of the church (Catholicism) to address some of these doctrines might lead to a decline of some sort.

Taboo is suspenseful and Adzei achieved this through the investigation into the serial killing of women in the book. And for the Ghanaian reader, the interest is likely to be more than double since this unfortunate incident actually occurred in the country between 1999 and 2000. Similarly, this segment of the story benefited from Adzei's deconstruction. Here he analysed the body politic and crime. Through the investigators he provided an insightful view of what has become the life of the ordinary person in this country: how problems are resolved not to its root but superficially to gain or counter political points leading to injustice, mostly against the poor and the powerless; how the poor are stifled out of living and the powerful always wins; the ignorant ascription of events to other causes except the actual cause; and the general refusal to reason when issues become politicised.

These subplots of the novel are stitched together beautifully by Mawuli's exactitude descriptions. For instance, this is how one of the rooms of a house in a village the investigating officer, Oduro, spent the night looked like:
A large hurricane lamp placed on top of a dwarf table lit the room generously. In one corner was a sideboard on top of which was an assortment of items arranged to impress. There was a large thermos-flask, a white plastic tray with six large beer jugs covered with a transparent white linen and a glass bowl full of cutlery; there was also a medium-sized radio cassette player and a stack of cassettes. Inside the sideboard were neat rows of Lux, Imperial Leather, Sunlight and Fa toilet soap, four tins of Exeter corned beef, about six tins of canned Geisha mackerel and a box of cube sugar among other items. They were for showmanship only; not for use. [102]
Anyone who has had an interaction, however brief, with village life, or have been alive in the 80s up or even the late 90s in the cities will know this and perhaps smile.

Taboo is that story which could be read in a sitting but could remain with the reader for a while; it is one of those that interrogate life and yet provide no definite answers, leaving the door open for the reader's mind to do the work. However, at most places the tutorship - the author lectures Post-colonial literature and Creative Writing - in author rears its head making the reader all too conscious of the author's presence with his super-fine sentences. And the publishers could have used a better font. Apart from these two perhaps flimsy points, this is a book that should be enjoyed by most.
__________________
About the author: Mawuli Adjei is a British Chevening Fellow who has taught English in Nigeria, Libya and Ghana. Currently, he is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English, University of Ghana, Legon, where he teaches African Literature, Post-Colonial Literature, Popular Literature, Practice in Criticism, Creative Writing, and other courses.

Writing under the pen name of Mawuli Adzei, Dr Adjei's creative career started in Keta Secondary School. He won he Southern Volta Poetry Competition for secondary schools under the auspices of the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) for FESTAC '77. In 1996, his collection of poetry, Testament of the Seasons, received the Valco Fund Literary Award for Meritorious Writing (Unpublished Poetry Category). Some of his poems have since appeared in The Mirror, The Daily Graphic, and on radio (Citi FM, Accra). Mawuli's poems have been read at various poetry readings and recitals, including at events at the University of Ghana, University of Lome, Togo, the Nubuke Foundation Literary Night series and the Splendours of Dawn World Poetry Day workshop (2011).

Mawuli has also served as a resource person for the Writers Project of Ghana, Mbaasem Foundation, and Splendours of Dawn.

Mawuli has three books to his credit - the novels The Jewel of Kabibi (Infinity Publications, in press), Taboo (Kwadoan Publishers, 2012) and the poetry collection Testament of the Seasons (ERASKA Print). He is currently working on a third novel, Unchained. (Source)

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