Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Additions to the Library

Between my last report on newly acquired books and now, I have come into possession of several books. This has come about because, first, I ran out books - the remaining few being those I am not keen on reading; besides these are basically non-African authored books. Left with the option of choosing between reading western authors I am not keen on and repleting my library (at moderately significant cost), I chose the latter. However, not all the books I have come to own were purchased. 
  1. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen. This was sent to me - in a soft copy format - by a friend. Every body has heard of that Ibsen's statement about the majority being stupid rather than being right. Yes! If you haven't then there you have it. It is in this play that that famous statement was made. The story is a metaphorical take on the cause of rot and deterioration in a society. Guess what it is. This book is worth the read.
  2. African Roar 2013 by Emmanuel Sigauke. Every year, since 2010, StoryTime publishes an anthology of short stories by African writers. Most often these authors are new or moderately unknown. The publishing platform offers them the launchpad to shoot their career. This is a great source for new African writings. This year's anthology consist of thirteen short stories with wide-ranging themes. I was fortunate enough to have received an Advance Review Copy. 
  3. The Confusions of Young Torless by Robert Musil. If there is anything I have directly gained from blogging, it is being given books. To those who have been gifting me with books, I really thank you and do appreciate it, especially those who have to spend extra dollars to ship them to me. Musil is the first Austrian writer I have read, ever. His first book, titled above, is about the psychological changes that go on in a person during the teenage years and its sexual fulfilment. Its about power and the use of power. Musil's insight into the relationship between sex and power is enormous.
  4. A Bit of a Difference by Sefi Ata. Another source of books has been book readings and the Ghana Voices Series organised by the Writers Project of Ghana, an organisation I associate with, and the Goethe Institute provides me with that opportunity. The reader for the month of September was Sefi Ata and so we got to purchase her books. A Bit of a Difference is her latest book.
  5. Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Any ardent follower of this blog knows that not only do I have a copy of this fantastic novel, but I have reviewed it earlier this year. So why buy another copy? Yes, this is a replacement copy. The first one is missing about forty-five pages and almost the same number of duplicated pages. I had to borrow friend's to read those important pages. Like the rest of the books below, I purchased this from the EPP Bookshop, whose floor-space is pictured above.
  6. Dreams in Times of War by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Ngugi is one of my most-read authors with five books. Thus, it is only proper that I started reading his memoir. Dreams in Times of War is Ngugi's childhood memoir. The other one is In the House of the Interpreter (2012). By the way, I had the privilege of being among a group of nine - made up of reader and blogger Kinna of Kinna Reads (who made this once-in-a-life-time event happen); writers Ama Ata Aidoo, Nii Ayikwei ParkesNana Nyarko Boateng (also a blogger), and Martin Egblewogbe; publisher, Nana Ayebia Clarkes; and photographer, Nana Kofi Acquah - which met Ngugi over lunch when he visited Ghana. That's another blog post on its own.
  7. Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote by Ahmadou Kourouma. I found the title of this story fascinating. The Independence describes the book as 'a tour de force - original, irreverent, brutal, funny, poetic - in which history and myth are brilliantly evoked.' The book won the Prix du Liver Inter in 1999. Unfortunately, Ahmadou Kourouma an Ivorian, died in 2003, this being his last novel. It was translated from French by Frank Wynne. 
  8. Allah is not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma. This was first published in French 1998 and translated, again, by Frank Wynne (like the one above). Allah is not Obliged won the Prix Renaudot. According to The Economist, 'Allah is not Obliged...deftly captures the mixture of horror, fascination and detachment with which a child views the world of grown-up folly'.
  9. True Murder by Yaba Badoe. I heard when this book when it came out. I purchased it for Kinna's Ghana Literature Week scheduled for November 11 - 17, 2013. According to the Daily Mail 'The Novel surges wtih raw emotion; guilt, love, betrayal, loss - and treachery.'
  10. Women of Owu by Femi Osofisan. I picked this book because I have heard of the title, not the story. Besides, I have heard of how wonderful a playwright Professor Osofisan is and having read Ola Rotimi and Wole Soyinka, I do not doubt this. Western Morning News: 'This African retelling (of Euripides), written by Femi Osofisan, of a people and a beloved city destroyed by the brutality of war is unnervingly topical and eloquently moving...'

Monday, October 28, 2013

262. African Roar 2013 by Emmanuel Sigauke (Editor)

The first principle I have adopted in my reading is that every book has something to offer. Thus, I do not go into a story or a book with a prejudiced mind or with the structure of another book in mind. Neither do I attempt to impose my expectations of how things should have fared on a story. Consequently, I attempt to judge every book on its own merit, without comparing it with another. Using this strategy, I do not pronounce a story as bad in relation to another or my expectations; I judge a book on its own merits.

With this out of the way we can proceed to talk about African Roar 2013 (StoryTime, 2013; 170). African Roar has become an annual anthology of African short stories since 2010. This being the fourth edition. I really do not know how I missed the 2012 edition but have talked about the 2010 and 2011 editions on this blog. First, it is important to commend StoryTime for their insight and for what they are doing for young and relatively unknown African authors. Most of the names in this collection are young aspiring writers with a slim pile of published stories. To such folks African Roar offers an important platform where they could share what they have and use it as a launchpad for greater things.

This year's anthology features thirteen short stories from seven different countries. This diversity (with authors coming from Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Nigeria, and South Africa - some of whom were born outside the continent but currently lives here whilst others were born her but lives abroad) has resulted in an anthology with as many stories as there are authors. Themes range from identity, changes, home, and abuse, to motherhood, death, migration, and marriage. 

Though these countries spread fairly well across the continent - covering Southern, East, West and Central Africa, it is still deficient in its coverage. The countries in the collection represent only Anglophone countries and the lack of translations means that North African countries - Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya etc. which speak French or Arabic - and Lusophone, Spanish and other Francophone African countries are left out. Perhaps with time StoryTime will remedy this.

Home by Alison Erlwanger: Alison's story is about love, identity, and home - as in one's place of origin, one's root. The issue of home can easily be disregarded in an increasingly globalised world with unprecedented volume of migration aided by supersonic improvement in technology, and unrestrained intermarriages. Today, an English man is as much at home in Cape Town as a Nigerian is in Berlin or Milan. Despite these developments, people - regardless of race - still feel they have to belong to some place and thus must be associated with a part of the earth where they could call home, irrespective of whether they actually live there or not. This story therefore questions where home is and its relations to identity. In doing so, it brings to the fore a less discussed thread of the emigrant stories - the diversity of Africa and its European and Indian citizens. Usually, with the mention of an African, one conceives images of black skin and woolly hair; however, the Indian population in East and Southern Africa is not insignificant. Africa is no more homogeneous in complexion than America is; it is no more a continent for blacks than America is a continent for whites. We have our fair share of mixed races, of half-castes, quadroons, and octoroons who were born and have lived on the continent all their lives. 

Home in this story is where the heart is - pun intended. As a Zimbabwean of a half-caste Indian father and a Zimbabwean mother, Fungisai was described as un-African at every turn. This was exacerbated by her inability to speak any of the local languages. In New York she was confronted with this and had to always explain herself to her Nigerian partner, Neville - a professor of Politics, especially when his friends came visiting. However, Neville himself was trapped in his quaint vision of who an African is and how the African should look. It was his perception of the African identity that kept him still in love with his Nigerian fiancée - a woman he had not seen in so many years. Yet, in his mind, she was the ultimate African woman, pristine and servile, to whom Fungisai did not compare. However, Neville had a rude awakening when, as providence would have it, he chanced upon this former, still-loving, girlfriend - Kathy - at a conference on Igbo art. It was at this meeting that it dawned on him that Africanness is more than one's complexion and that home is more than where the 'hut' is; it is where the 'heart' is and the heart can be anywhere one chooses. Fungisai described Africa as an ideology, she says
Africa, it is an ideology, neither one of us has been there in over ten years Nevy, and yet we are always there in our minds, in our arguments, in our disappointments. But sometimes you go to a part of the ideology where I cannot touch you, and I want to be able to touch you ... So today I am saying this, I know where my home is, it is wherever you are, and unless you come to terms with loving me, and loving Nigeria at the same time, we have to go our separate ways.
This is a beautifully strung multi-themed story. Each theme - identity, home, love - is intricately linked to the other. 

Business as Usual by Jayne Bauling: Set in South Africa, Business as Usual is about the lives of the poor; it is about their survival tactics - sometimes feigning anger and violence to extract their living from the rich - their everyday challenges, their aspirations. It is also about the indifference of the rich and society at large towards the poor, the homeless hobos. Ironically, society only cares when one such person dies in a public space, but not beyond that. When this happens all emergency buttons are activated to get the cadaver autopsied, after which the business as usual button is punched and all is left to survive on their devices.

A group of traders and hawkers sell their wares around a post office in the city, where towards winter they receive their trading and hawking kin from Jozi. Once a while their wares are patronised by the rich; however, even this is declining as the advent of  computers and the internet has rendered the post office obsolete. Sometimes some of them have to beg for food and others, especially the homeless hobos, have to scavenge and sleep in makeshift homes made from cardboard. The story shouts their silences, and their dignity even in their poverty.

This is a matter-of-fact first person narrative of life in a city, where no one really cares about the other. It is told in a nonemotive voice thus making the pain, the desolation, the impotence, the poverty, the waste, the death and loss, all the more palpable. The story is not necessarily about exposing the duality of economic life and the rot that has become the lot of these rejects but through showing the everyday lives of the people, it exposes these profoundly.

Salvation in Odd Places by Aba Amissah Asibon: Aba is the only author in this collection whom I have read before. Earlier this year, I read her short story The Lump in her Throat, published at Guernica. Salvation in Odd Places, written in the present tense, is a story about the life of a young boy in northern Ghana. Like most countries across the continent, Ghana's economy is not uniformly developed. The south, where the capital is located, is relatively more developed with more economic prospects than the northern part. Thus, there is a constant flow of people from the north to the south in search of economic miracles, which sometimes elude them, leading to consequential changes.

In this story, one of the consequential changes is that of a breakdown of the family system, the loss of people in the household and the insecurity of its aged members. Hassan's cousin - Khaled - is leaving for the city, to live with his uncle, leaving Hassan with their grandmother. All of Hassan's wish is to join his brother in Accra and make money for himself; but the decision is not an easy one to make. Who will look after Grandmamma and the household should he leave for the city? Grandmamma has lost two of her three sons, including Hassan's father and in a traditional family this is a big deal as sons are supposed to head and direct the family after the death of their father. Thus, Grandmamma is left uncatered for and unprotected, exposed to economic vagaries. And, as if that is not enough, she has to bear the debt Hassan's father accrued in his life whilst looking after the household. This, coupled with the lack of any economic activity in the household, makes the decision to migrate imperative as it is linked to the survival of the household. This therefore creates a kind of conundrum where each decision is both positive and negative and each will lead to the same effect.

Thrown into this economic migration story is Hassan's love for Farida, a woman he is likely to lose should he move to Accra.

The story thus shows the difficult decisions migrants have to make and its consequential effects, such as the breakdown or changes in the family structure and the deterioration of the basic function of the family as a unit of protection. Today, economic consideration is the first determinant of a family's stability; a family that is not financially sound is more likely to lose its members to the glittering pull of city life, itself harsh and unforgiving, exacting its pound of flesh at the least opportunity. In cities, these migrants are found on the periphery of economic life, live in hovels, and become the urban poor. The redemption they seek eludes them.

Aba showed all these with a kind of laid-back attitude. As if she they are the very things she is not saying. Such writing requires the reader to be involved - virtually - in the writing process. To pull up the words and locate what is beneath, what the writer is saying by not saying it.

The Faces of Fate by Abdulghani Sheikh Hassan: As the title suggests this is a story about fate and its unpredictability. It gives weight to two often-quoted aphorisms: man proposes and god disposes; and the grass is always greener at the other end. Narrated in the second person singular - 'You' - the story is about a girl who had grand plans about her future, having already began school in a prestigious private institution, until fate and an auntie decided otherwise. Together with her friends, Njeri and Atieno, Samira talked about following the footsteps of her father.

Everything was to change when her parents died and she had to live with her auntie. The death of her auntie saw her join the police force and with her rejection of bribery and advances from male colleagues, she barely survived. All these while she had fanciful ideas of what had become of her two friends. She saw them in high places, doing all the great things. But a chance meeting with them, during an operation, told her that life is more than wishes and visions.

The second person narrative created a sort of impersonal relationship with the main character and as a short story it did not take much away from it. The story, however, seems straightforward, lacking an element of surprise. The fact that life really do not turn out as we had perceived it growing up is a lesson in life all adults know. Perhaps I sought for something which was not part of the writer's motif, but the ability to tell everyday problems in a different way is the spine of storytelling.

To young adults, this is a lesson of life they will do well to internalise - that more often than not our station in life is a function of so many independently moving variables.

In Bramble Bushes by Dipita Kwa: That the ultimate end of life in the twenty-first century is wealth, that ambition is the medium, and that wealth restores dignity, are known to all. The opposite too is true. It is said that it is poverty that turns the elder into a toddler so that his admonishes and advice are deemed frivolous and treated with scorn. In this day and age, wealth speaks. So to what extent will one go to accrue such wealth?

Yandes Seka Ebindi will go to all lengths - no holds barred - to become rich and bestow respect on his family. He wants the people of Njock to respect him. He also wants to be better than his bitter polio-ridden father who had cursed life and God for his circumstance. So like what most wealth-seekers do, he migrates to a bigger town, enrols as a human specimen in a research programme by a rogue research institute developing new drugs, and earned some money.

Years later, as Yandes lay on his father's shrunken mattress dying from the vaccines injected into him and the experiments conducted on him, his past sins come visiting, in human form: the girl he had raped, with the help of his father, has come with the child that came out of it - a child he has neither seen nor known to exist prior to her presence at his deathbed. Calling for death and death moving farther away from him, Yandes regrets every single decision he has had to make, he thinks of all the things he could have been and did not become. Thus, instead of the respect he sought, he gets the disdain and ridicule from the people, disgracing himself and his family.

This story provides a counterpoint, of sorts, to Abdulghani's. And like Abdulghani's - and others in the collection - they seek to offer a moral lesson, just as most of the traditional folktales do. Here the end of the quest could not be regarded as fairly 'okay'. It is downright repugnant. It shows that ambition for ambition's own sake usually results in fleeting happiness and lengthy period of pain.

Transitions by Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende: Every country goes through certain physical and psychological changes after independence, more especially if the society was a racially segregated one. No one continent has suffered such separatism and segregation than Africa. This story is about the changes that took place in Zimbabwe as the country gained its independence from British minority rule. Overnight, locations which were once closed to blacks began receiving their black residents after their white owners sold their properties and left the country.

What presented major obstacles for the blacks then was living up to the expectation of the whites and fighting discrimination and intimidation. The antagonism between the two however remained, stressing the marriages and lives of the first black who entered those neighbourhoods. The children lived in a tensed friendship, and the black children witnessed the maltreatment meted out to their kinds who served in white households.

However, what the story addresses is the deterioration that set in in these neighbourhoods after all the whites left, transforming quiet and pristine neighbourhoods into hovels of rot and degeneracy. Tarred roads eroded, whole streets lost their coatings, garbage piled up, stores appeared everywhere, and buildings sprung up uncontrollably on vacant lots. The colours became random as each painted his house a colour of his own choosing.

The story traces retrogression and decay and can metaphorically be applied to Zimbabwe's political scene whose description by some writers will make it analogous to this story. However, in its literal sense one cannot but ask a moral question: is deterioration a natural consequence of self-rule? Or could one choose between a pristine orderly neighbourhood and independence? The natural outcome of the story's sequence is that when the whites left, the blacks destroyed Zimbabwe. And the blame is the way of life of blacks.
One by one, Portia and her family watched the whites leave Kilarney, a mass exodus, which began in December 1979 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement, swelled in April 1980 with the inception of the Republic of Zimbabwe and climaxed in the early 1990s as she finished high school. .... and in the interim years, the neighbourhood transformed from a quiet, sleepy suburb with bland white houses into a busy bustling place with yellow, green, pink and blue houses, concrete walls, emergency taxies, and commuter buses. With each visit home for holidays, Portia found that the landscape had evolved and transformed as new homes were constructed on vacant lots, the bush in which she and her brother had once foraged for wild fruit, gone. It was peppered with trash, plastic bags and old newspapers as the city council garbage pick-up trucks started coming once every two weeks, then once a month, then not at all. ...
Just as Saleem's life mapped out the history of India and Pakistan in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Portia's life - a child born on the eve of independence - mapped out the changes that have taken over Zimbabwe, mostly for the worst.

The story leaves little room for the reader's imagination even about things that are pretty obvious or implied from previous statements. It would have helped if the author had involved the reader in the story by not stating the obvious.

A Yoke for Companionship by Andiswa Maqutu: This is a story about love and the labour of love, of sorts. It is also about the love of a grandmother towards her granddaughter and the gradual deterioration of that love in twenty-first century families resulting, perhaps, from the demands of today's jobs. The story contrasts a time in the past with a time in the present. The narrative is unusual as it shifts constantly from the omniscient narrator to the first person and then to a point-of-view. It becomes somewhat complicated when the grandmother was telling the story about her granddaughter - the grandmother's sister's granddaughter, to be specific; both were married to the same man.

In the end it converges at the strange but unexpressed love between a father and his daughter - that granddaughter being talked about. Strange in a sense that whereas the daughter seems to be somewhat afraid of her father, the relationship between the two has thawed, the father seems to be reliant on her. The narrative style and the jumps in the story makes it difficult for the reader to follow the events and the connections between the people.

The Puppets of Maramudhu by Dilman Dila: Dilma's story is unique, not that it is alien or experimental. It is neither of these. In fact, it is the kind of stories we love to tell, orally, but which we rarely ever write, unfortunately, perhaps because of our quest to remain realists. A story such as Dila's could easily be found on any street across the continent. Stranger stories have been heard.

The story is about a puppeteer named Maramudhu who hypnotises people who patronises his puppet shows and commands them to commit murder so that he will live longer. Every murder allows him to live thirteen - an ominous number - more years. It is believed that he has resurrected before and in an attempt to live forever has been exchanging people's lives with his. His victims will either turn themselves in at the police station or will do nothing to cover up their crimes and in the end will deny ever having committed the crimes they are being charged with. The only person who has seen through Maramudhu's deviousness, Musawo, will not be believed by the police no matter how long he talks and how much evidence he presents. To the police, this is arrant nonsense, superstition forms no part of police work.

Superstition abounds in Africa and this story can be told in any country and will be literally believed. For instance, in Ghana there was a time when some men claimed their manhood had shrunk after they had been touched by certain people. Overnight, people began to walk with care, avoiding suspicious individuals. Dilma therefore did well in telling this story and his command over the narrative was interesting. The subject also lent itself to the short story genre.

Through the Same Gate by Brian Bwesigye: Besigye's story is about a young boy who had been brought into his father's home. The relationship between him and his father's wife is an uneasy one, bordering on maltreatment, and discrimination. Written in the first person, the boy attempts to rationalise his step-mother's maltreatment and the friendship between him and his step siblings. The two situations seem incongruous for him.

This story did not work very well for me. I felt there were a lot of repetitions, especially in reference to the title, that could have been done away with. I also felt that the title could have been metaphorically weaved into the story instead of the literal interpretation it offered. However, Brian wrote the story entirely from the frustrations of a young boy and on this basis the repetition could be justified, for the mind of a frustrated child does not conceive events smoothly. I also like it when Africans insert bits of their local language into their stories, in so far as it does not distort the meaning and take something away from the reader; after all, not everyone gets the Spanish and French one finds in reading English works.

The Spaces in-between by A. B. Doh Set in the US, The Spaces in-between is a story about love that was not. A Cameroonian lady fell in love with a Yoruba man and just when things started to pick up, he dropped the bombshell, indirectly, about a Yoruba lady his parents would want him to marry
Our people have known each other for a really long time, so she thinks it'll be a good thing, especially for our families' business. 
The story is about loss - the loss of loved ones; for Nams was pregnant for Tunde before the separation and Tunde was not ready to father a child outside marriage. It is also about people who cannot stand for themselves. Nams attempted playing the educated modern woman in the twenty-first century who knew her rights and could defy family wishes, and so expected Tunde to do same; to at least be the man and prove his love. But Tunde was different. To him, the family businesses come first.

The story is beautifully narrated in the second person's voice, in the present tense, by a narrator who was peripheral to the events. It is rich in detail.

Anti Natal by Mike Ekunno: This is about the apprehensions of a woman attending her first antenatal. It tells, in the first person, of her struggle to get there, her fear of occupying the tail end of a possibly long queue, the fear of being examined by a male doctor.

The one thing that salvages this story is its ability to highlight people's perception that every pregnant woman is married; one cannot be single and pregnant. The connection between marriage and pregnancy is so automatic that people will hardly ever think about it, especially when the woman is out of her teens. When she gave her name as Emmanuella Owanari Hart, Hart being her maiden name, the nurse automatically inserted a Mrs in front. Besides she turned her next of kin - Doyin - into a man and a husband, thus becoming Doyin Hart. Also, it captures the state of the health system and the general economic situation in most African countries that make accessing healthcare a challenge. The linkages, for instance between transportation and healthcare, is clearly depicted.

Green Eyes and Old Photo by Ola NubiA Nigerian student in England had an affair with a white girl. When the girl got pregnant, the two decided to marry against the wishes of the girl's parents. Now years after, after the birth of their daughter and death of the wife, the girl - who had been prevented from travelling with her father back to her homeland Nigeria by her white grandparents, had come looking for her father. The story is the father's story of what happened in the intervening years.

Ola Nubi told her story in two voices: the third person singular 'He', which referenced the main character's bed-ridden father, and the first person singular, which is the father's story told by himself. The second part of the story, by the father, was told in flashback. It offers a glimpse of life in a racially insensitive England at the time. Overall, the narrative fits the story.

Cut it Off by Lydia Matata: A radio station, discussing the story of a woman who had cut off her husband's penis, invited listeners to make their contributions stating whether they would have cut it off had they been in a similar position, or not. It is the contributions of these callers that built up the story and carried it along its theme. The contributions indicated the various kinds of problems people had endured, or were going through, in their marriages or relationships and the extent to which they will go to retaliate or extricate themselves from the relationship.

There was a lady who had been defrauded by her 'foreigner' boyfriend whom she had loved and trusted because he was handsome and caring. There was another who had nearly poisoned her husband for neglecting his matrimonial home, with his children, whilst keeping another woman in a posh neighbourhood; and another who defended her husband when all had accused him of paedophilia and theft. The stories dig into society, exposing the rot hidden behind smiles and makeups.

The liberalisation of the airwaves and the surge in the number of private radio stations that came with it has given platforms for programmes dedicated to the discussion of such social problems. This has allowed people to share their problems in the hope of finding solutions or healing themselves. This is more important in our part of the world where a visit to the psychiatry will quickly be associated with madness, thus dissuading people from seeking the help they terribly need.

I like this story for its experimental narrative form. Though the story has several voices - told from different sides, by different people - they were not disjointed. Each strand connected and contributed to the thread and its major theme - abuse in relationships. The form worked for the short story genre, but might become difficult to sustain and tedious to read in even a novella.

Conclusion: Overall, this is a fantastic collection of short stories. The reader may not necessarily enjoy each and every one of the stories, but each and every one of them has something to offer. This anthology is unreservedly recommended.

Friday, October 25, 2013

261. The Parliament of Poets by Frederick Glaysher

The Parliament of Poets (2012) is a 294-page epic poem by Frederick Glaysher, which has the moon as its setting and deals with important issues such as science and religion, the current consumerist approach to our economics, profiteering and capitalism, gradual wearing away of morality and spirituality, wars, hunger, general deprivation, race, and more. It is a poem in twelve parts or Books. This review shall be restricted to Book I, which deals with the general issues covered in the individual books, and Book XI, which involves the persona's visit to Africa and involves Achebe's character in Arrow of God, the Priest Ezeulu.

As already stated the setting of this epic poem is the moon, specifically, the Apollo 11 landing site. The gathering of ancient and modern poets from both East and West was called by the Greek god Apollo and the Nine Muses. The main subject for discussion is the meaning of modernity and modern day nihilism. Several poets are gathered: Cervantes, Du Fu, Li Po, Vyasa, Tagore, Basho, Saigyo, Rumi, Attar, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Keats, Wordsworth, Jane Austen, African griots and shamans, Balla Fasseke, Merlin, Job, and others. Before these gathering of awe-exuding poets stood the persona - The Poet of the Moon.

To begin with I should state that I cannot do this poem the justice it deserves and I will not pretend to even attempt to be doing so. This is a beautiful poem that falls off the tongue smoothly. As an epic poem, I expected that the versification will be rigidly structured and turn of phrases so sharp that it might distort understanding and appreciation and require only trained minds to decipher; but Glaysher did none of this. Besides, one would have thought that epic poems no longer have any role to play in the present, scientific world. That our current level for short and brief messages and the introduction of one-forty character message platforms that has drastically affected our attention span will make the appreciation of a long poem difficult. But Glaysher proved all these wrong; he has shown with this epic poem that with the right subject matter and the right language, one can create an epic poem even in today's age. In effect, today's events make epic poetry a necessity for there are so many important life-threatening, earth-destroying events that a careful observer cannot but talk about it. And so much are the problems that in the hands of a poet, it can only lead to this.

The Book I opens up what the poem is about. It talks about the clash between science and religion and how uncontrolled profiteering is tearing the world apart and destroying the very world we live in. The gathered poets bemoaned the lack of restrain as scientific quests turn into capitalist ventures, mining the earth to line capitalists' pockets, and how the profiteers are expanding into intergalactic researches. This physical destruction is in tandem with the stripping of the 'spirit' away from the world for capitalist gain - the gradual 'despiritisation' of the earth. A cursory look at rivers in Ghana will suffice. When it was found that trees could be lumbered without ripostes from 'river gods', water bodies started losing the trees that protected and they shrank or dried up completely. The gathered poets, specifically Cervantes, stated that they had owned the moon for millennia
and must not cede it to wayward scientists
and plunderers of the earth, who would
extend their selfish exploitations 
throughout the universe, debasing everything [31]
Samuel Johnson added 'but what else can be expected of scientists who lack a vision worthy of humanity?' Thus, in a way death has deified the poets and thus, like God, the Parliament of Poets are seeking ways to save mankind, who 'can't go anywhere without littering', from himself. The destruction being discussed here is both physical and spiritual. The persona - here the poet - becomes the 'Christ' who must be sent to save humans, as in the biblical quote 'whom shall I sent and who will go for us, then said I Here am I send me' [Isaiah 6:8].

When allowed to ask a question of the gathering after they have lamented about the current spate of devolution and corporatocracy, the Poet of the Moon opted to know how today's world compares with the past which has had its fair share of problems. He asked:
...what do you advise?
Tyrannies and oppressors, Marxists and fascists,
we've already had. Only madmen would
want to go back to anything like that,
and yet order erodes, deteriorates,
moral decline and decadence deepen,
a Slough of Despond draws in everything,
empire grows, looms, corporate plutocracy,
oligarchies and billionaires, with
no commitment to any nation or people [37]
The persona thus contrasted the present with the past, drawing conclusions that there are not much differences; each has its problems or decadence. Today's plutocracy is not different from the tyrannies of the kings of yesterday. To this Virgil answered 'know thyself' - an aphorism that has been attributed to several philosophers and which is believed to apply to individuals who boast more and know less - and that the greater questions lie beyond this. He further provided a ray of hope requesting that the persona should have greater confidence; that though there may not be any Augustus for our age, men are talking to men to find solutions to the upheavals of the day. It is on this hopeful note that Book I ended.

In Book XI, the parliament of poets called upon Ezeulu, the priest of Umuachala and of Ani, the Earth Goddess, and the representation of Africa's hominids, to take the persona from the moon to Africa and then to his native Igboland. Ezeulu is a character in Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God. As they flew over the continent and explored its many regions from space, the persona sought to confirm or deny the news and images of Africa as fed to western audience. Having listened to the priest, an epiphanic moment burst upon him 'And then I knew he was one of each of us.' Thus, through Ezeulu, the humanness of Africans was restored in the mind of the persona to be spread afield. But he saw much more than this, he concluded that Africa is the birth place of humanity because
All the shades and hues were in his dusky,
ochre-covered body, his genome, at root,
its base and stem, from which we've grown,
untraceable, perhaps, but all his actions
and artefacts tell us now he was like us,
not a mere ape in a tree, or climbing down
from one, but upright and thinking, trying,
at least, more than many of us today. [250]
Upon reaching the priest's compound the persona saw many great things. Ezeulu explained to him the philosophy of his people adding that the Great God - Chukwu - allows each person, at the point of birth, to choose his or her chi and he must therefore serve his and that 'if a man agrees, his chi agrees'. The author utilised Ezeulue's dilemma and the choices he had to make in Achebe's book. He says 
You choose and agreed. You must keep choosing,
or you'll end up a priest of a dead god,
disgraced by his own actions, in the eyes
of his people, pushed aside by them, not heeded.
Sacrifice yourself for their good, serve them. [256]
These were the exact things that happened to him when he had to choose between the gods and the people. Ezeulu's advice for the persona contrasts poorly to the current crop of leaders in Africa who sacrifice nothing and steal everything; who have become leaders only so they could use their positions to siphon their nations' resources to enrich themselves. Ezeulu believed that man has been offered the freedom to choose who he wants to be. Thus, what people become are their own making, devil or angel, good or bad. He says
Now I understand. We can all be angels
or savages, choose the heart of darkness,
if we lose the human heart of the people,
become cold to human suffering not our own.
The people live in the village. Leaders
who forget the village are unworthy
of the people.... [261]
Glaysher investigated the African's relationship with his environment and his god. Through the names the African attributes to his gods, one can directly learn the extent and depth of his belief in them. The fact that the religion of the African had no direct or attributable founder or reformer is one of its identified features that distinguishes it from other religions, in addition to it being a non-proselyting religion. The African only believes and that belief is his life.

The issue of race and how it is defined also came up in their discussion. The persona claimed that he is from Africa, at least that was what modern technology has shown and that this was no ordinary romanticism. He claimed that he was not a stranger and defended the continent before Conrad, indirectly, insisting that 'Africa is not the heart of darkness, no more than any other place on Earth,...' Whereas Ezeulu believed what the persona said, they were worried about the other non-initiates who see not beyond the physical colour boundary. The metaphor for peace - the breaking of the kola nut - played an important role in their meeting and discussion. It signified the persona's acceptance by Ezeulu and perhaps into Africa. The persona was then charged to speak to the parliament of poets on behalf of Africa.

Later, Sogolon - the mother of Sundiata of ancient Mali Empire - took the poet of the moon (the persona) to a higher plane and introduced herself. Sogolon saw a time when man will leave the path and seek things for his person, where the community will break on the back of an individual's greed, when the greedy ones will sell the land to foreigners, who will latter attack them, and when such a day descends, it will not be possible to save the people
Breaking her silence, she said to me, "Woe to
a time that forgets the measure of man,
for then people fall to the darkest depths,
and not even I could defend myself
against attackers with all my herbs and potions,
even porcupine quills could not drive away
such men reduced to rapacious beasts." [263]
And then Sogolon evolved and even as time moved forward rapidly, the prophecy unfolded before the persona as countries, tribes, and men destroyed each other over minerals and oils as they sought power and control. Whilst they quest for power, they did away with things of the spirit. The tectonic shift in the moral values of Africans, from spirituality to materialism, is what has led to wanton slaughter of millions of its people.

All through this epic poem, the Poet of the Moon is addressing or discussing the Buddhist concept of Itai Doshin or the unity of the mind in the midst of diversity, which is also the concept that underpins the Ubuntu philosophy, which translates into 'I am, because we are'. The poet talks about peaceful coexistence, that oneness of us as a people of the earth and with our environment. He sees rapacious quest for wealth as unhealthy, impacting negatively on us as a people. He believes that everything should be done to advance the course of humanity and not an individual. He believes that science and religion should not be antagonists but should both work to advance the course of humanity. The problem comes when the sole end of scientific research becomes profit. And here one should equally add religion, with regards to the springing up of churches whose ultimate goal is making money for the founders. In effect the poet wants to see the unity of what he calls 'false dichotomies': science and religion, reason and intuition, material and spiritual, white and black, and others.

Bringing together such a vast array of poets and feeding on their works and its implied meanings mean that the reader need to have read widely in order to appreciate this piece completely. A reader whose reading is not extensive might only benefit from the discussions that are not directly linked to the work of that poet and might miss a lot. This is what most great works do, they provide pointers to where the reader should look for further reading.

With the exception of Balla Fasseke, Sundiata Keita's griot, no African poet was mentioned by name. I would have expected at least Christopher Okigbo to have been part of the gathering. However, the period from which all the names were taken from might not have allowed this, thus settling on Fasseke and the amorphous 'griots' and 'shamans'.

This is an excellent piece of poetry. It is not too tasking once the reader has read wide, and even if one has not, the language is simple enough for one to get a fair idea of what is going on. Very much recommended.
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Copies of the books could be obtained from these sources: Loot Online and Exclus1ves

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

260. Indaba, My Children - African Tribal History, Legends, Customs and Religious Beliefs by Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa

For most Africans the history of their lives, their culture, their ancestors, begins from the point of entry of the unknown men with pale skin, who would later become the colonialists and the oversea slave traders. To most of us who have gone through formal education studying subjects like Social Studies, Life Skills and a bit of History, not as an Elective but as a core, the farthest we can trace our history is to the borders of the Mali, Songhai and Ghana Empires. Even then, we do not know how they are linked to our present selves. Thus, to ask a Ghanaian student - to be specific on what I can guarantee, though I know this might largely apply to several Africans - to think of his ancestors beyond this period is to ask him to risk haemorrhaging his brain cells or to cause him to hallucinate holographic images of people whose faces he cannot outline or describe and whose deeds he does not know.

Yet, it is ironical that these same folks who know nothing about themselves, their origins - for we all migrated from a source - will insist and claim certain traditions as their culture, insisting that 'this is not our culture' and yet be unable to define, to trace, to historically discuss that culture which they are trying to protect. And the authorities, the men who have to ensure that this problem is solved, look on unconcerned. The leaders - or as they prefer to call themselves, the politicians, who must invest - material and personnel -  to ensure that this knowledge gap is bridged hardly ever think about it. But it is not for nothing that money is pumped into such studies of archaeological interest. The end result is not the museum such archaeological finds occupy; they are profounder than that. They are psychological.

It has been said - and has ignorantly been repeated - that an unexamined life is not worth living; if this is the case, then we, who have lost our roots and who have no vision of where we had come from and whose only claim to fame is our struggle with the British colonisers in eighteen-something, are not worth living. There are those who will ask: What is the use? Why not move on? What will this bring us? To such questions one can only say that there is a psychological importance to knowing one's history. For instance, currently, we sit in awe of the enlightenment of other cultures with the belief that we never had one, had never had one; we sit in perplexity over where we all did come from and if we really all did come from some source then this space we currently occupy belongs to all of us and not one particular ethnic group. Thus, knowledge of our roots will imbue confidence and unity amongst us, as a people. The knowledge that one's ancestors did something meaningful is a sure way of motivating one to aspire to do greater things. Great countries have been emboldened by the greatness of their past. This is one reason why it is important. It will also expose why we are as we are; why certain progress has not been made; and, consequently, what we must do to lift ourselves from the morass of deprivation. And such researches should not be limited to the text-books of higher institutions. It should be made available to all through different sources.

In Indaba, My Children (Canongate, 1998 (FP: 1964); 696), Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa sought to trace the history of the Bantus and other similar groups from the Central and Eastern Africa as they migrated towards Southern Africa. Vusamazulu, himself a Bantu Shaman, has pieced all this history together from the stories he was told, the native songs of the people, and the histories he was forced to memorise as one of the keepers of Tribal History and Stories. Through these he has created a book filled with legends, stories, customs, and beliefs of the people. He has recorded the battles that were won and those that were lost; he has recorded the brave men and the cowards; those who created nations and those who destroyed them. Vusamazulu, more importantly, has also discussed - in this beautiful book - why Africans (or may be Bantus) failed to develop technologically. He also removed the cover from some of the beliefs and rituals of the people, showing them as they truly are.

In the telling of the stories, the author relied on the oral mode of telling engaging stories by mixing mythology with history to the point that the listener is somewhat unable to stake out where one ends and the other begins. However, as always, the essence of what is being said could be seen if one look beneath all these mythological tales and legends. He pointed to songs, to inscriptions and paintings on caves, to the art of the people to support his statements. Through this book Vusamazulu has broken myths - like the popular belief that Shaka (the Zulu), who appeared at the tail end of the story, was the greatest Zulu warrior [refer to both Thomas Mofolo's Chaka and Walton Golightly's AmaZulu] and the main cause of Piet Retief's murder. In fact, according to Vusamazulu, Shaka was a coward who killed his mother. Here he explained in Bantu life, a mother is revered and therefore if one draws blood from one's mother, he or she is deemed to have killed her. Hence, both those who argue that Shaka did not kill his mother and those who claimed he did are right. The Bantus regarded Shaka's stabbing her leg with an arrow as murder, even though she actually died of dysentery. Yet, writings by Europeans and from European perspectives are what have influenced this 'brave Shaka' tale and our minds to an extent that no single person doubts the legendariness of Shaka the Zulu. 

Furthermore, Vusamazulu answered many unasked questions. Did the African ever attempt writing? Many an European writings about Africa - fiction or non-fiction - have shown how savage the African was. Books such as Conrad's In the Heart of Darkness and others as such show how blood-thirsty the African was in such times and that it was the coming of the Europeans that brought to the dark continent, a modicum of civilisation. Therefore, it will not be a surprise if most African and all European readers doubt that the African ever wrote. According to Vusamazulu, message sticks and mats and calabashes were passed round in moments of need, confirming that the African wrote. In fact, he provides examples of these inscriptions and their meanings in the book. The most significant eye-openers in this book are the numerous 'surgeries' the African performed, such as - even in the not too distant past - the precise drilling of a small hole into the skull of a person to turn him or her into a zombie, the delivery of babies, the suturing of wounds and others. The problem is that all these were shrouded in mystery and attributed to gods and spirits.

The question one is likely to ask is what then prevented us from developing into a machine-gun-wielding people with stone-buildings at the time the Europeans arrived. It is this that Vusamazulu intends to answer with this tome of a book. He seeks to educate the black man as well as the white of the intricacies of the Bantu's - or more generally, the black man's - mind. He believed that his book - published when his native South Africa was still under apartheid rule - will lead the white supremacists to an understanding of the Bantu's mind and thus lead to an amicable and peaceful coexistence. Whether this was achieved is there for any of us to interrogate, for it took three decades after the book's publication for South Africa to break the yoke of apartheid. 

According to Vusamazulu, there was a period where there was massive progress among the people - buildings, weaponry and others. However, usurpers who want to be equal to the gods or to lord over the people and live every vision their depraved minds could conjure, took over these to suppress the people to the point of slavery. Here he referenced the Zim-Mbaje (the stone building in Zimbabwe). It was at a point when these usurpers were toppled and their colonies thoroughly destroyed that a high law was passed to prevent people from improving on things that exist and from creating new ones. According to the law, anyone who did so was comparing himself to the gods and should be sentenced to death. This high law, and its strict application, ensured that 'deviants' were killed leading to a suppression of creativity and development and the homogenisation of the society.

The book, like all mythological tales of history and unlike the formalised historical writings, also narrated the Africa's (or Bantu's) creationist story linking it to the coming of evil, life after death, the essence of man and his purpose on earth, and the African's view about death. Thus, the African religion - which has variously been labelled as fetish, pagan, animism etc. - is comparable to any other religion. He refuted the oft-said and always misunderstood statement that the African worship his ancestors. He explained the role of ancestors in the African's life.

In proving that Africans have come from a common source, Vusamazulu relied on the commonalities in our languages, where sometimes similar words are used for the same thing by different ethnic groups across the continent, from Eastern and Central Africa down to Southern Africa. In this linkage, Vusamazulu made a bold statement, not based on any research finding, that Africans migrated from South East Asia. I must say that during the time I was reading this book, I watched a documentary that seems to support this idea. Here, I who hardly speak or understand any local language apart from my native Twi, found some of the similarities. For instance, according to Vusamazulu the Yiddish name for Mother is Ima, and Ma in Bantu. Among the Gas in Ghana, it is Imaa (shortened from Imame or my mother). In Twi it is Mama or maa (the contracted form). Similarly, the name for Father in Yiddish is Aba, in Zulu, Shangaan, Shona, it is Baba, which is also used among certain ethnic groups in Ghana. There are several of such examples: Mina is Me or Myself in Bantu, Me, Meus, Mei in Latin, and Me in Twi and Mi in Ga. (Note that the Twi and Ga additions are mine).

This is a book that makes bold statements from a point of knowledge and that seeks to unmask Africa's hidden past - both the good and the ugly. It seeks to dispute the claim, which most Historians (including those on the continent) make, that Africa - because it lacks a written language - has no history. Here Vusamazulu, a man whose great-grand father worked with Shaka and who himself no less a person than one of the High Priests of the Bantus who has sworn to protect tribal secrets, has bared it all. Whether we agree with what has been said, whether we attribute them to legends and fables or to an imaginative mind, he has provided a compelling story, which regardless of the legends it entails, should make us think and think again as Africans. He shows clearly that the African has lived for thousands and thousands of years on this continent and that he had means to preserve his culture in the face of torture and oppression.

Vusamazulu employed several narrative styles. There was the omniscient narrator, the first person narrator - where he sets out to describe and explain, and another first person narrator but from the point of view of a character in the story, Lumukanda, and sometimes from the points of views of animals and plants. Thus, the African's view of life, as all-encompassing, was honoured here: trees and animals are all spirit beings, and so too are the mountains and the rivers. There were also places where poetry and songs, in the form of stanzas, were used. However, the entire language is dreamlike and poetic.

This is a book that must be studied. It is one which must be treasured and one whose content must be subjected to critical debates and scientific researches because Vusamazulu does not take what he says lightly, he believes in them and ask us to do same, not religiously but to subject them to studies and see if we will not come to the same conclusion. He is bold and this is what I like about the book, in addition to the fact that to some of us inquisitive minds - those of us who want to know exactly what our past was like - it is like a refreshing spring that one must visit over and over again.
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About the Author: Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa (born on July 21, 1921) is a Zulu Sangoma from South Africa. His father was a widower with three surviving children when he met his mother. His father was a builder and a Christian and his mother was a young Zulu girl. Caught between Catholic missionaries on one hand, and a stubborn old Zulu warrior, Credo's maternal grandfather, his parents had no choice but to separate. Credo was born out of wedlock which caused a great scandal in the village and his mother was thrown out by her father. Later he was taken in by one of his aunts.

He was subsequently raised by his father's brother and was taken to the South Coast of Natal, near the northern bank of the Mkomazi River. He did not attend school until 14 years old. In 1935 his father found a building job in the old Transvaal province and the whole family relocated to where he was building. 

Where Christian doctors had failed, his grandfather, a man whom his father despised as a heathen and a demon worshipper, helped him back to health. At this point Credo began to question many of the things about his people the missionaries would have them believe. "Were we Africans really a race of primitives who possessed no knowledge before the white man came to Africa?" he asked himself. His grandfather instilled in him the belief that his illness was a sacred sign that he was to become a shaman, a healer. He underwent the initiation from one of his grandfather's daughters, a young sangoma named Myrna. 

His other books include Zulu Shaman: Dreams, Prophecies, and Mysteries (2003); Songs of Stars, 1st Edition (2000); Africa is My Witness (Blue Crane Books 1966); The Reptilian Agenda (with David Icke); My People, the Writings of a Zulu Witch-Doctor (Penguin Books, 1977)[Source]

Monday, October 21, 2013

#Quotes from Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa's Indaba, My Chrildren - African Tribal History, Legends, Customs and Religious Beliefs

Her willpower shattered against the rocks of desire and went flying into a million shards of rainbow-coloured crystal. [99]

What deadlier betrayer is there than one's own body? What fouler enemy had the human being than desire that flows in his own veins? Marimba was lost. [99]

There is something known as hope, and that something has the habit of shining brightest when a man gets most hopelessly lost in the forest of fear and despair. Hope is a false star shining brightest on the darkest night of one's life. [108]

A man about to die loses all fear. He throws all respect and dignity to the Seven Winds and says and does exactly as he pleases, and Malinge did exactly that. [108]

Give a Masai a stone and he will hit something or somebody with it. Give him any piece of wood and he will turn it into a club with which to brain you. [112]

When one has slandered an innocent man for many days with intent to destroy him one becomes scared when one learns that all one's lies have been exposed and the victim's name cleared of all the slime one hurled at it. [119]

Lo! is it not said in our Words of Wisdom that 'evil hunts and destroys itself?' [121]

I, and the rest of my shackled race, led our lives like the beasts of burden we were; it was of no use for us to speculate or to dream, because daydreams make a slave's life more intolerable than the chains around his ankles and neck. [159-60]

The only purpose of Life is Death. A man is born and before he dies he gets the opportunity to ensure that others after him will also be born and die. You may deceive yourself by thinking that there is more to life than birth, growth, mating, old age and death. But, sooner or later, Naked Truth makes itself apparent. [174]

There were, there are, and always will be, those with feelings for others. [190]

My children, you cannot keep on storing up the wrath of a river without that river sweeping you along. [208]

There is nothing more saddening than a man deliberately blinding himself to the shimmering lake of reality. There is nothing more pathetic than the sight of a man who, on beholding a frowning mountain in the purple distance yonder, still insists that the mountain is not there - a man who, though standing knee-deep in a roaring river, still insists with stubborn conviction that he is standing on a sand dune in the Ka-Lahari. [211]

There is no rascal, however clever, who can be so clever as to lick the small of his own back. [235]

Strong are the Laws of the Tribe, but stronger still the laws of Nature. [261]

Fools are born to be tools of the wise. [268]

The gains of quarrelling fools become food for the monkeys... [268]

Death is death, regardless of the kaross he is wearing. [280]

The Universe is no place for Perfection and in the eyes of the Great Spirit, Perfection is as bad as Evil. Once a race has reached Ultimate Perfection it automatically loses its purpose - like a runner who stops when he has reached his goal as there is no purpose in continuing. [297]

Evil harms only those who look for it. [298]

When the bugle of pleasure calls from within the kraal of Life, I shall go in first - but when the drum of death groans from within the kraal, please, Oh Life, would you care to go first. [308]

You are beholding the knot in the Cycle of Life, and it is here that you experience the truth of the philosophy that Life is but Death and Death is but Life. One only lives to die, and dies to live again. [309]

The moment of glory for an evil man is very short indeed. [312]

Oh wanderer, lost in the Valley of Life, remember that nothing is ever what it seems to be, and seeing is not always believing. [315]

Great men, low men, fools and knaves
Chiefs or peasants, one and all:
Though thou boastest Thou art Thou,
Thou and all the rest are toys,
Dancing, capering, rising, falling,
In the mighty hands of Fate. [327-8]

Do dirty pots bring forth clean food? Do not the mortals say that rotten seed begets evil plants? [341]

Vengeance is the sweetest and the headiest mead in creation. Drink from the Claypot of Revenge and drink deep! Happy ... Happy are they who perish while avenging themselves on a hated foe! Happy is the one who will die first. [344]

So the great Lumukanda loves his own creation! Does a sane potter ever love the pot she has made? Does a wood carver ever love the image he has whittled out of the unfeeling ebony? Tell me, Oh my creator, my god and my husband, what is Love? Love is nothing but a euphemism for animal desire. Love is what a man feels for a woman before he takes her to the love mat. Love is only a form of hunger: a yearning to possess and to keep, and the interdependence of male and female beings. [375]

It is fascinating to see just how differently men feel the night before about their coming ordeal. The words so dear to beggarly story tellers: 'brave and fearless warriors' are but a putrid myth. No mortal is ever truly brave in battle and the picture often etched in our minds of a fearless and cool-headed warrior slaying a thousand of the foe is so much make-believe. [387]

On the eve of a battle a warrior is either as scared as a wet kaross or he is resigned to death, but determined to do as much damage to the enemy as possible before being killed. Very often this strange resignation to death and a raging desire to kill as many of the enemy before being killed, has been mistaken for courage. Once one is resigned to death and ready to receive it with open arms, one can still live to die peacefully in old age. [387-8]

We human beings, we ordinary mortals, should thank the spirits for the fact that one day we shall die. We should be thankful that we are not immortal. Life is a futile, senseless thing. Death is not evil; it is the ultimate relief from the pain and dreariness of life. A mortal man can at least struggle hard in the course of life to win himself fame and renown one way or another, so that when he dies men will at least remember his name, which is the only victory that one can glean from the stark futility which is life. But what does an immortal gain from Life? Nothing at all! Tribal wisdom says that all men should try hard to make their names famous for long after they are dead. I would rather lead a brief life and leave a name behind, than an endless one in lonely obscurity. [389]

An elephant's memory is as long as the Path of Life itself. Its invincible anger lasts for a hundred years at least.. [487]

We all eat and enjoy sweet things - like honey and ripe plantains. We enjoy chewing sweet cane, and we know that even sweetness can be revolting if there is too much of it. The same applies to beauty - if carried beyond the limit of its extreme it can be more revolting than ugliness. [493]

A man who lives with his soul and who lets his soul, rather than his brain, guide him, is better equipped to face the mysterious and supernatural things, because the soul understands these things while they bewilder the brain. The brain drags them into the quicksands of materialism. [612]

Where mind is master, Death recedes with all the terrors normally associated with it. [617]

The Wise Ones of our tribes say that the human race is such a troublesome and quarrelsome nuisance on this earth because people are born upside down. If Man were born right side up he would have his feet more firmly planted on the ground and he would have less rubbish in his head. And his head is full of rubbish - foolish notions, desires and motives that bring a trail of sadness, death and disaster. [689]
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Read the review here

Friday, October 18, 2013

Interviews Here and There: My Views on Writing, Reading, and Poetry in Ghana

One can sometimes bring out what he or she feels only when asked or only when certain questions are asked of him; this - in my view - is one of the functions of interviews. They are to bring out what you think of issues and sometimes to extract the truth, directly (through confession) or indirectly (through contradiction). The latter method mostly works well for politicians and socialites.

However, for ordinary folks like us an interview only allows us to express ourselves on issues. Over the year, I - through ImageNations - have granted a few interviews to folks who think I am doing something. Below, I bring you the first few questions of each interview and follow it up with the link to the blog for the full version.
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At the Street of Books and Authors (October 2013) - This interview focuses on reading and writing in Ghana & Africa

Darko: Out of an avid reading habit, and a critical mind, you have built a reputation as, what convinces many, a prolific reviewer and critic. I'm curious. What inspires you to do what you do?

Nana: The need to contribute to the development of the literary arts in Africa is my inspiration and driving force. We can't continue to complain and do nothing about that which we complain. I don't know if I have the reputation yet, or could even call myself a critic.

Besides, one can lead but one life. Books offer the individual the opportunity to live several other lives and be whoever one wants. Through books one can accumulate certain experiences and knowledge impossible in one's singular, non-lateral, life. Art is life, we must not forget.

Darko: From Amma Darko to Martin Egblewogbe, and from John Mahama to Kofi Annan, you have reviewed diverse Ghanaian authors of recent publication. Do me a favour: Summarise the quality of modern Ghanaian literature, if you can.

Nana: Modern Ghanaian literature, like any literary epoch anywhere in the world, has the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, we need all these to move forward. Time will save the best and kill the rest. The names you've mentioned belong to the good and, in addition to Nii Ayikwei Parkes, their works will stand the test of time. They love what they do and spend time with it. Good writers know their craft and know its demands. They know that the beauty of writing isn't the name embossed on the front page of the work but having someone commend you for what you've done. Amma Darko's social commentaries are what should be assigned to assigned to readers in Secondary Schools by the authorities and not the Sweet-Valley-High kind of books they currently read. John Mahama and Kofi Annan have shown that any African - leaders or otherwise - who has led a great life must put his or her life's work in books to inspire others. I like what they have done even if I disagree with some of the things they have done or they espouse. Martin's writing shows that there's another way to African writing; that the African writer need not cocoon himself or herself into a one-subject matter author or necessarily pretend to be the voice of the millions of Africans. The African has the same capability to question life, the universe, the metaphysical in his work just as Kafka, Mann and others did.

Unfortunately, there are those who think too highly of the things they do. They have no patience with the craft of writing; they are eager to publish and so come out with something that has hardly been edited or critiqued. They cover themselves in titles that put off any form criticism. This could mostly be found wit that amorphous group called poets. The anthologies they produce are weak, unfocussed, and most often prosaic. I don't exclude the novelists at all, but the poets carry with them that I-know-it-all arrogance. What we need are hard-hitting critics. I might have failed here. People should be told directly that what they are doing isn't art or creative in any form. I once expressed a negative view of a novel and I was attacked by readers. But this is what we need, frankness.

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At GeosiReads (May 3, 2013) - This interview is mostly about my writing and partly about my blogging

Geosi Reads: Is/Are there any circumstance(s) that led you to write poetry?
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: After Secondary School - what they now call Senior High - I loked back and was touched by all that my mother did for me when I was in school. So to show appreciation, I decided to write something. At the time I didn't what it was supposed to be. But I really did put pen to paper and began writing. This produced something that was later polished and could then be regarded as a poem. The other circumstance that made me write the second poem, and therefore totally reduced the inertia, was when I watched a documentary on Female Genital Mutilation. I was so touched that I cried. That evening I wrote my second poem.

Geosi Reads: Does writing come easily for you?
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: Sometimes it does; at other times, even if I make a conscious effort to write, nothing comes to me. However, if I've thought over a subject for a long time and I finally decide to write, it comes smoothly.

Geosi Reads: How do you start a poem? How d you know when you've come to the end of a poem?
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: There is no one specific start to any poem. Each poem is unique in how one conceives it and writes it. However, sometimes a title will come to mind. Something interesting; then I start to think what can be done to this beautiful title. Sometimes it takes months to develop a subject to the title. Then and only then - after I've mentally conceived the subject - do I sit to write it down. This would be followed by several revisions. At other times, an idea for a poem will be kick-started by a passage, sentence or a word in a novel I'm reading or a documentary. There are times where I know what to write and later think about the title, when the work is done. 

When I can no more generate enough verses, without being repetitive, to address the subject or title, I stop. Sometimes I end after two verses, sometimes after ten pages. However, with time, I've come to adopt the minimalist's approach to writing. I like how cryptic they turn out and how one can say a lot with few words.

_________________________

At The African Thought (August, 2013) - This interview focuses on poetry in Ghana 

As a poet, writer, and blogger, what do you think the future holds for Ghanaian poetry?
The number of poetry programmes springing up shows that there is hope for Ghanaian poetry. However, it would help most if subject matter/theme also change. Poetry should address several issues. As it is now, there is a crowding around of topic - basically, colonialism. Whilst this is good, since we need to understand colonialism to spot neo-colonialism, we must also realise that we inhabit a bigger world. Again, poetry has moved beyond mere rhymes. Low, Flow, Blow, do not a poetry make. However, we need everybody to be writing to get quality.

What is your impression of poetry outside Accra?
I have not participated in any poetry programme outside of Accra. However, I've heard of a series of activities buzzing in various cities and towns. I know of Poetry Foundation working hard in Kumasi. I also know there are programmes in Winneba. However, like commerce, everything buzz around Accra.

If you were to mentor a young poet, what will you teach him/her?
LOL. I am still young here. I have not arrived, not yet. However, if I were to advise a poet, I will say, keep it real. Don't force it. Let it come from within. Don't mistake rhyming with poetry. It is not. Finally, work at it - revise, revise, revise.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Quick Round Up of Literary Awards (#NLNGPrize, #ManBookerPrize, #NobelPrize)

October has seen the announcement of several literature awards: from Nigeria's US$ 100,000 NLNG Prize, to the Pounds 50,000 Man Booker Prize. Overall, 2013 is the year for women writing, both young and old.

NLNG Prize for Literature, Nigeria: An Ibandan, Oyo State-based Lawyer and Poet, Tade Ipadeola, was announced the winner of the the 2013 Nigeria Prize for Literature. Ipadeola, president of PEN Nigeria, won the US$100,000 prize with poetry anthology The Sahara Testaments. The prize is sponsored by Nigeria LNG Limited. 

The Sahara Testaments won the prize ahead of Promise Ogochukwu's Wild Letters and Chidi Amu's Through the Window of a Sandcastle. The three entries were shortlisted from 201 entries received for the prize. The judges described The Sahara Testaments as
a remarkable epic covering the terrain and peopel of Africa from the very dawn of creation, through the present, to the future. The text uses Sahara as a metonym for the problems of Africa and, indeed, the whole of humanity. True to epic tradition, this work encompasses vast stores of knowledge in an encyclopaedic dimension. It also contains potent rhetoric and satire on topical issues and personalities, ranging from Africa's blood diamonds and inflation in Nigeria to 'contrite...Blair'. [Source]
The NLNG prize rotates annually among poetry, fiction, drama and children's literature. Chika Unigwe won the prize last year, for fiction, for her book On Black Sisters' Street.

The Nobel Prize for Literature: The Nobel Prize organisation, on October 10, awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature to Canadian author, Alice Munro as a 
master of the contemporary short story. [Source]
Alice Munro was born on the 10th of July, 1931 in Wingham, which is the Canadian province of Ontario. She is primarily known for her short stories. Her works include Who Do You Think You Are? (1978), The Moons of Jupiter (1982), Runaway (2004), The View from Castle Rock (2006) and Too Much Happiness (2009). The collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001) became the basis of the film Away from Her 2006. Her most recent collection is Dear Life (2012). Her short story Runaway appeared in the Best American Short Story 2004.

Munro is acclaimed for her finely tuned storytelling, which is characterised by clarity and psychological realism. Some critics consider her a Canadian Chekov. Her stories are often set in small town environments, where the struggle for a socially acceptable existence often results in strained relationships and moral conflicts - problems that stem from generational differences and colliding life ambitions. Her texts often feature depictions of everyday but decisive events, epiphanies of a kind, that illuminate the surrounding story and let existential questions appear in a flash of lightning. [Source]

The Chinese author, Mo Yan, won the prize in 2012.

The Man Booker Prize: On October 15, Eleanor Catton was announced the winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize for her 832-page novel The Luminaries. This makes the 28-year old Eleanor, who completed The Luminaries at 27, the youngest winner of this prestigious prize and her book the longest ever to win the award. Catton is just the second New Zealander to win the prize, the first being Keri Hulme with The Bone People in 1985. 

The Luminaries, set in 1866 during the New Zealand gold rush, contains a group of 12 men gathered for a meeting in a hotel and a traveller who stumbles into their midst; the story involves a missing rich man, a dead hermit, a huge sum in gold, and a beaten-up whore. There are sex and seances, opium and lawsuits in the mystery too. The multiple voices take their turns to tell their own stories and gradually what happened in the small town of Hokitika on New Zealand's South Island is revealed.

The Chair of Judges Robert Macfarlane described the book as a 'dazzling work, luminous, vast.' Adding that it is 'a book you sometimes feel lost in, fearing it to be 'a big baggy monster', but it turns out to be as tightly structured as an orrery'. Macfarlane and his fellow judges were impressed by Catton's technique but it was her 'extraordinarily gripping' narrative that enthralled them. 'We read it three times and each time we dug into it the yields were extraordinary, its dividends astronomical.' [Source]

The Man Booker International Prize 2013 This is a bit late though. On May 22, Lydia Davis was announced the winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2013. The Man Booker International Prize 
recognises one writer for his or her achievement in fiction. Worth £60,000, the prize is awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language. The winner is chosen solely at the discretion of the judging panel and there are no submissions form publishers. The Man Booker International Prize is significantly different from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction. In seeking out literary excellence, the judges consider a writer's body of work rather than a single novel. [Source]
Lydia Davis is an American writer who was born in Massachusetts in 1947 and is now professor of creative writing at the University of Albany, the capital of New York state. 

She is best known for two contrasting accomplishments: translating from the French, to great acclaim, Marcel Proust's complex Du Côté de Chez Swann (Swann's Way) and Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and writing short stories, a number of them the shortest stories every written. Much of her fiction may be seen under the aspect of philosophy or poetry or short story, and even the longer creations may be as succinct as two or three pages. Previous winners of the Prize include Ismail Kadare, Chinua Achebe, Alice Munro (the 2013 winner of the Nobel Prize), and Philip Roth. [Source]
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