Thursday, June 30, 2011

85. The Gods are not to Blame by Ola Rotimi

Title: The Gods are not to Blame
Author: Ola Rotimi
Genre: Play/Tragedy
Publishers: University Press PLC
Pages: 72
Year of First Performance: 1968
Place of First Performance: Ife Festival of Arts, Nigeria
Year of First Publication: 1971 (this edition, 1990)
Country: Nigeria

In this play, Sophocle's Oedipus Rex, is given a Nigerian treatment and having not read Sophocle's, I really enjoyed Ola Rotimi's rendition. The gods are not to blame is a play that questions destiny: are we in control of our destiny or we are the product of our destiny? Can we escape it? At the end of the play, the question is still not answered as an individual can argue both for or against this theme.

The play opens with someone narrating the events surrounding the birth of King Adetusa's first son. Queen Ojuola, King Adetusa's wife, has just delivered her first son and the soothsayer has been summoned to foretell the future of this newly born son. The soothsayer, Baba Fakunle, announced that:
This boy, he will kill his own father and then marry his own mother!
To avert this taboo from materialising, the baby was sent to the evil grove and offered as a sacrifice to the gods. 

The first Scene of the first Act opens thirty-two after, when King Adetusa has been succeeded by King Odewale after a series of battles and conflicts with neighbouring villages and Kutuje has become somewhat peaceful but for the sudden deaths and sicknesses that have befallen the people of Kutuje. Having nowhere to go and not knowing what to do, the people brought their grievances, their problems, to bear before King Odewale. 
Yesterday, my twins died - both of them. My third child ... [unstrapping the baby on her back.] here, feel her, feel how hot she is ... come feel.
However, since the King himself has not been spared the sickness because 'sickness like rain falls on every roof', he has sent Aderopo to the oracle of Ifa at the shrine of Orunmila to seek the cause of their tribulations. Returning home, Aderopo - fearful for the results he was carrying - decided to tell the chief, in private, the response the oracle has given him. Haughty and temperamental as he is, King Odewale demanded to receive the information right in front of his people, to the hearing of everyone, mocking Aderopo in the process. After several cajoling, mocking, insulting, and pleading, Aderopo told them what the oracle had said:
Very well. Ifa oracle says the curse, your highness, is on a man...
A full-grown man...
The man has killed another man...
King Adetusa - my own father, the King who ruled this land before you....
 Having been told this, King Odewale set out how the murderer would be punished
Before Ogun the god of Iron, I stand on oath. Witness now all you present that before the feast of Ogun, which starts at sunrise, I, Odewale, the son of Ogundele, shall search and fully lay open before your very eyes the murderer of King Adetusa. And having seized that murderer, I swear by this sacred arm of Ogun, that I shall straightway bring him to the agony of death. First he shall be exposed to the eyes of the world and put to shame - the beginning of living death. Next, he shall be put into lasting darkness, his eyes tortured in their living sockets until their blood and rheum swell forth to fill the hollow of crushed eyeballs. And then, final agony: we shall cut him from his roots. Expelled from this land of his birth, he shall roam in darkness in the land of nowhere, and there die unmourned by men who know him, and buried by vultures who know him not... (Page 24)
Thus, like biblical David, King Odewale narrated his punishment even before the culprit was found and he did so, in anger and arrogance, swearing before the townspeople and the gods they serve. Baba Fakunle was called forth to deconstruct the message he gave to Aderopo. Approaching the palace, Baba Fakunle, the soothsayer, refused to move farther claiming 
... I smelled the truth as I came to this land. The truth smelled stronger and stronger as I came into this place. Now it is choking me...choking me. I say. Boy! Lead on home away from here.(26/27)
Again, the anger and arrogance of King Odewale would not allow the soothsayer depart to his village until the truth is squeezed out of him. Several verbal struggles ensued with attempts of morphing into physical persuasions until the soothsayer blurted it out:
The truth that you are the cursed murderer that you seek.
King Odewale took this as an insult even as the soothsayer went on to call him a 'bedsharer'. Before Baba Fakunle finally departed he told King Odewale that it was his 'hot temper, like a disease from birth, .... that has brought you trouble' and that
King Odewale, King of Kutuje, go sit in private and think deep before darkness covers you up ... think ... think ... think!
Instead the King saw this as a plot to get him out of the land because he was an Ijekun man ruling the people of Kutuje. He accused Aderopo - son of King Adetusa - as behind this plot, together with some of the chiefs and his own bodyguards. Here the 'blindness' that mostly follow leaders came into play. As the play unfolds King Odewale made several statements - unconsciously though - that affirmed what Baba Fakunle had said, calling Aderopo, his brother and inviting him to also come and sleep with his mother. Again, like Macbeth, the King became almost demented began accusing everyone of plotting against him.

Then a series of events occurred. His best friend Alaka suddenly appeared in his palace in search of his long-lost friend. Through conversations, and again, through his quick temperament, Odewale nearly killed his friend when the issue of his birth came up, for Alaka had called him a bastard in front of the townspeople. Again, Alaka promised to tell Odewale how he came to be in Ijekun in private, but again Odewale refused, setting  the stage for the denouement.

Though Baba Fakunle linked King Odewale's 'hot temper' to his curse, was it really that? Or was it his attitude against insult and falsities? Or even his unbending attitude towards unfairness? I would prefer the last two and not the first.

The play could be interpreted in several ways. For instance, King Odewale's message to the people when they approached him for the solution to their problem is almost  like a social commentary on the political scene of Nigeria or most countries for that matter, or even on human nature. He asked them what they have done for themselves in order to mitigate the effect of the sickness instead of rushing to him. He says:
But what have you done about it, I ask. You there - Mama Ibeji - what id you do to save your twins from dying? ... each one of you lies down in his own small hut and does nothing. ... Well, let me tell you, brothers and sisters, the ruin of the land and its people begins in their homes. (Page 12)
This is a beautiful play and even though one could tell how it would end, it is how the events unfolded that makes it beautiful and worth the read. The adaptation of English by Nigerians and making it their own is clearly seen. Interspersed with proverbs the dialogues are natural and roll off the tongue leaving taste of satisfaction on the reader's tongue. It is recommended to all who love good plays. If you have never read a play, give this a try.
Brief Bio: Emanuel Gladstone Olawale Rotimi (1938 – 2000) (AKA. Ola Rotimi) was born April 13th 1938, in Sapele, Nigeria, to Samuel Gladstone Enitan Rotimi and Dorcas Adolae Oruene Addo. Ola Rotimi became one of contemporary Africa's leading playwrights and theater directors. He obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Boston University, and the Master of Fine Arts from Yale, where he earned the distinction of being a Rockefeller Foundation scholar in Playwriting and Dramatic Literature. His graduate project-play was declared “Yale University's Student Play of the Year." 

His publications include six full-length plays (two of them award-winning), and a number of scholarly articles on Theater and Drama. He is featured in such reputable international records as: the Encyclopedia Britanica, the Encyclopedia of World Authors, Cambridge Guide to World Theater, and the International Authors and Writers Who's Who. (Source)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

84. A Sense of Savannah: Tales of a Friendly Walk through Northern Ghana by Kofi Akpabli

Title: A Sense of Savannah: Tales of a Friendly Walk through Northern Ghana
Author: Kofi Akpabli
Publishers: TREC
Genre: Travelogue
Year of Publication: 2011
Pages: 150
Country: Ghana

At a time when local tourism has been reduced to annual school excursions to manufacturing plants in Accra and Tema, Kofi Akpabli has opened to the general Ghanaian public and the world at large the beauty locked within a place that's hardly ever travelled to by most Ghanaians, the northern regions comprising Northern Region, Upper East Region and Upper West Region. In this tour-guide cum travelogue, Kofi Akpabli documents his personal experience of travelling to these seemingly remote places in Ghana, mixing his experience with facts. The results of which is a well-crafted book that points to beautiful tourist destinations and the excellent human relations exuded by the people he met.

In A Sense of Savannah Kofi tried to present to us a different narrative, one that those who have never travelled to these regions and whose perspective of that part of Ghana is shaped and reshaped anytime news of conflicts jumped out of their ghetto blasters. And this Kofi succeeded to such an extent that even we who are fortunate enough to have visited the area seem to revisit and live it all over again. 

Written in a humourous style, making sure that every sentence makes you 'emit loud, embarassing laughs' Kofi takes us on a mental journey through northern Ghana so that from his clear and imagistic narrative we forget that it is only a mental journey and that we are where we were when the book was opened for reading. From "Way West to Wechiau" to "A Pilgrimage to Paga" we travel with Kofi as he explores the beautiful landscapes of the region. In the former he tells us the class of animals hippos belong to and why they 'sweat' oil. He also never forgot to mention of the birds whose songs he heard on the serene Black Volta, whilst pointing out how those imaginary international boundaries/borders dissolve into nothingness when you live in these places; how the locals have come to live in close proximity with these 4,000kg 'wild' animals and yet have not feasted on them; how he was afraid and his reaction when he saw a family of hippos.
...the hippo is among the most dangerous and aggressive of all animals. It is considered Africa's most dangerous. When you put a bullet through it, for instance, you must be prepared to chase miles after it before you can get its body (that is, if it falls at all). As a hippo's anger grows it keeps 'yawning' and then, shows its big teeth. A hippo's jaws are capable of biting a 10-foot crocodile into two. Any question?
It is facts such as these mixed with the author's personal experience of the animals and the place he visited that makes A Sense of Savannah a very unique book worth having.

Unlike those Naipaulic and Conradic tales and those commercialised tales and stories told about Africa where all that's narrated are the Safari with its wild lions and elephants and how the writer almost fell into a ditch but for his or her determination to survive would have been chewed by a lion, Kofi in this travelogue cum tour-book described the warmness of the people of the north. He never entered there with a prejudiced mind. He entered there with a mind so open that he saw the little things that makes the north tick, like market days which fall on Sundays called 'Sunday High'. So that we celebrate Christmas with the people in "Christmas in Hamile" and Valentine in "A Savannah Valentine". In "Bawku the Beautiful" the author writes as a prologue to the chapter:
The indifference of New York
The business savvy of Kumasi
The ethnic diversity of Nima
Bawku, Beauty is thy name 
Invitation to pito - locally brewed beer - drinking was abundant and with the right attitude friends are easily made. The successes of the people and their challenges are presented in equal measure. In "Sirigu Success Story" we meet a wonderful woman Madam Melanie Kasise who on reaching retirement age refused to bend to the dictates of old age but gathered the women in her community, Sirigu, to form the Sirigu Women Organisation for Pottery and Art (SWOPA). So famous is the success of this 300-women organisation that the former United Nations General Secretary, Kofi Annan, visited them, where his bust still stands today.

Making nonsense of the prejudicial, parochial, single-story narratives about Africa that have pervaded every media outlet, Kofi with this book has provided a fresh alternative narrative about these places in Ghana and, perhaps if one is quick enough to apply this to other places, in Africa as a whole. For those who love to travel or to read about places, those who seek to understand a people from the people's own perspective and not buying into the usual stereotypic narrative by those whose philosophy in life is 'if it is not like mine, it isn't worth it', if you are one of those then this book is for you. However, if you are not tired of reading the single-story of Africa, its backwaters, its mountainous problems, and the zombies who inhabit the place, if this is your ideal fantasy novel or book, then stay clear off this book. It isn't for you.

For those who would purchase this book, be very careful before you read, especially "Bolgatanga to Kumasi by GPRTU" and "Kumasi to Bolgatanga by GPRTU (State of Emergency)", for there is a caution at the back, which reads:
For fear of emitting loud, embarrassing laughs do not read this book in public
This book is available in most book-selling shops in Ghana.
Brief Bio: Kofi Akpabli is a communication professional and a journalist whose special interests are triangled between tourism, culture and the environment. Whether he is covering a 9/11 memorial on Ground Zero in New York or discovering traditional taboos in Ghana's Upper West Region, human interest is ever his soft spot. Happily as he uncovers the intrigues of the human situation, humour never seems to leave him alone. (Source)

In April 2010 Kofi Akpabli was nominated as a finalist in the CNN/Multichoice African  Journalist Awards Programme. He won the best journalist in the Arts and Culture category with his piece The Serious Business of Soup in Ghana. He again won this award in the same category last Saturday, June 25 2011, with his article What is right with Akpeteshie. The citation following Mr. Akpabli’s award read: 
Kofi Akpabli’s story uses the most enriching and fantastic language to explain why Akpeteshie, a local brew, is the equivalent of a liquid national heritage. Kofi not only educates and enlightens us to the history and best practices of this national beverage – but he also does it with humour and style. A worthy return winner. (Source) 
ImageNations Rating: 5.5 out of 6.0

Monday, June 27, 2011

Proverb Monday, #28

Proverb: W'ani rebɔ na εtε si wo so a, wofa no saa ara
Meaning: If you are going blind and you find it is only a cataract, you are content
Context: If you are faced with a major disaster, any small hope helps
No. 4309 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Manu Herbstein: Guest Writer for June

The Writers Project of Ghana (WPG) is pleased to have Manu Herbstein, author of Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, as the guest writer for June, and as usual there will be a reading at the Goethe Institute in Accra. This event, which is part of the Ghana Voices Series, will take place on Wednesday 29th June, 2011.

Manu Herbstein's novel won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book in 2002. Beyond this, Manu has many other works to his credit, one of the more recent being President Michelle - Ten Days that Shook the World. The author will be reading from a variety of his works, giving a wide view of his skill and scope of writing. 

The Ghana Voices Series provides a platform to engage with writers in a friendly atmosphere. The reading will be followed by a discussion.

This programme is organised in collaboration with the Goethe Institute, Accra.
Date: Wednesday, 29th June, 2011
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Location: Goethe Institute, 30 Kakramadu Road, (next to NAFTI) Cantonments, Accra.
Admission is free.

Read more about it here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

M.K. Asante: Author. Filmmaker. Professor.

At 29, when most of us are struggling to set our feet firmly somewhere, M.K. Asante is already an author of three celebrated books, the latest being It's Bigger than Hip Hop, a filmmaker and a professor. This Zimbabwean gem says he was conceived at the night of a Bob Marley concert and birthed nine months later. Thus, at conception point Asante was/is a man of the arts.

This exceptional professor shows that one can be a professor and be 'hip' at the same time. The two go together. In sweatshirt, Nike 'foot' and a cap over his Rasta hairdo, Asante has given lectures in over 25 countries across the world. He says that what counts is not the material things we wear, but the intellect - that intangible thing seated in the head which has no correlation with your dressing - that counts. A first glance would lead you to judge him as a hip hop star or a fashion aficionado; but Asante says it's bigger than hip hop. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer described him as a "a rare, remarkable talent that brings to mind the great artists of the Harlem Renaissance." Asante is the recipient of the Langston Hughes Award and his latest book has been hailed by the Los Angeles times as "An empowering book that moves you to action and to question status quo America."

Note that all these were not grabbed from the classroom. He is also street-smart and have earned his fair share of rustication, dismissals and 'negative-branding' by teachers. He was told he would not amount to nothing, but ten, twelve years on, he has amounted to some so significant that his achievements are worth sharing. Asante's other books are Beautiful. And Ugly Too and Like Water Running Off My Back, winner of the Jean Corrie Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

As an acclaimed filmmaker, Asante direcated The Black Candle, a film he co-wrote with renowned poet Maya Angelou who also narrates the prize-winning film. It was through this work that Maya Angelou commented on his talents on facebook. And this is where I met Asante. He wrote and produced the film 500 Years Later, winner of five international film festival awards as well as the Breaking the Chains award from the United Nations. He also produced the multi award-winning film Motherland. Read more about him here, but first listened to this interview with CNN's African Voices.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The First Science-Fiction Novel in Shona

In Africa almost everybody is bilingual. There is a choice between speaking the colonialist language or the local language. And often we find ourselves in the middle, speaking the Pidgin Language (English, French, Portuguese) in unofficial places. In Nigeria, Pidgin English is the most common form of communication. However, some scholars have called for the use of African Languages in official settings. This call has been called populist by some and shunned by others. In fact, recently an author argued that the African Language divides. Until then, I never heard that the language of our forefathers could divide us. We all had our say on the issue.

However, few authors are taking this call to higher levels. A name that comes to mind easily is Ngugi wa Thiongo'o, who writes in Gikuyu, his mother tongue. And Masimba Musodza is also contributing to making this dream a success. Masimba Musodza, according to the Press Statement below, has written the first science-fiction novel in Shona. I first heard of Masimba when I read his short story, Yesterday's Dog, in the first edition of the African Roar anthology. That story showed the cyclic nature of man and the ever-changing roles we hold. His story was one of my favourites in the collection.

The Press Statement
UK based Zimbabwean author, Masimba Musodza, has ushered in a new era in Zimbabwean literature by publishing the definitive first science-fiction/horror novel in ChiShona and the first in that language to be available on amazon Kindle.

MunaHacha Maive Nei weaves issues of greed & corruption, sustainable development, international corporate intrigue and concerns around bio-technology. Chemicals from a research station conducting illegal experiments begin to seep in to the local ecosystem, causing mutations in the flora and fauna. When a child is attacked by a giant fish, the villagers think it is an affronted mermaid-traditional custodian of the ecology- and seek to appease it according to the prescription of folk-lore. However, the reality of what is happening soon becomes evident, a reality more terrifying than any legend or belief.

MunaHacha Maive Nei was written for the next generation of ChiShona readers, taking a language that has long contended with encroaching westernisation into the modern world of information technology and new media. It was written in the United Kingdom, a country that considers ChiShona a language widely spoken enough to have official documents and information printed in. Musodza demonstrates a remarkable flair for ChiShona and overturns the notion that it is not possible to write "complicated stuff" in a language that is often shunned by the educated back home. Influenced by Professor Ngugi wa Thiongo's Decolonising the Mind, Musodza has been an advocate for the sustained use of African languages. (see this article here) It is his hope that MunaHacha Maive Nei will generate more than academic interest. The print edition will be published in the next few weeks by Coventry-based Lion Press Ltd.

Masimba Musodza was born in Zimbabwe in 1976, and came to England in 2002. A screenwriter by profession, he published his first book in 1997, The Man who turned into a Rastafarian. He is perhaps best known in literary circles for his Dread Eye Detective Agency series. Musodza lives in the North-East England town of Middlesbrough.

click here for the link to Musodza's page on amazon Kindle

Monday, June 20, 2011

Proverb Monday #27

Proverb: Kwasea ani te a, na agorɔ agu.
Meaning: If a fool becomes clever, then the game spoils.
Context: If a person refuses to be taken advantage of anymore, you cannot do anything about it.
No. 3950 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Chenjerai Hove's Shadows

Exile wields the hammer of darker memories. Where the victim and the victimizer embrace, who shall intervene, and clouds of rain pour down on the sky's rejects. 
Page 44

There are many homesteads which will remain intact, with children and dogs chasing after hopeless bones and fireflies. But his home will not be a home. It will be a home of graves, ancestors, shadows, broken walls leaning on tired ear.
Page 45

When the small bull grow horns, it must learn to defend itself...
Page 46

A silent man will die in the silence of his foolishness.
Page 49

[A] man who broods about his problems alone is likely to bewitch others. Talking is the medicine for troubles. 
Page 50

If this is what my foot can carry me to, I choose the buttocks which make me sit near the grave of my ancestors. The lizard with a broken tail must learn to play near the cave.
Page 50

An old death is better. Everyone dies when the years have left them behind. Everyone joins the womb of the earth on their way to the ancestors. To die the way you died, that is pain. That is the pain which eats the cracked feet of a sleeper. The sleeper tries to wake up, the rat blows some fresh air on to the wound so that the sleeper can sleep until the whole sole of the foot is a big wound.
Page 54

When the earth speaks, even the deaf hear. They listen carefully because things of the earth cannot be allowed to leave without entering the ears of all.
Page 54

[A] man who runs away from death will run into death.
Page 56

If a man overeats and then takes a spear to stab the granary which stores the food, he should not blame someone else when tomorrow his stomach starts rumbling with hunger.
Page 57

[A] man who refused to be warned only remembers the warning when his forehead is covered with wounds.
Page 79

It is the noisy bird which gets the stone from the catapult...
Page 82

An injured man must not feel pity for himself, otherwise he will live in sorrow for the rest of his life.
Page 86

The stump that hits the toes of the person walking in front of you will also hit the toe of the person walking behind. When the big finger burns, the small ones also burn.
Page 102

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

83. Shadows by Chenjerai Hove

Title: Shadows
Author: Chenjerai Hove
Publishers: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Genre: Novella/Pastoral/Politics
Year of Publication: 1991
Country: Zimbabwe

Chenjerai Hove's Shadows is a story to read. In just 111 pages, Hove tells a story about love and death and the politics surrounding and leading to Zimbabwe's independence. Johana's father left his ancestral home to Gotami's land. There he became famous and rich, until the arrival of Marko. Johana walked with the boys and did the things they did. She herded the cattle and milked the cows. She found the classroom hostile. And she loved the boy with the civet cat in his mouth. But the boy seems to see through her; not talking to her after he had initially expressed his love for her. Then Marko came. A boy who had escaped poverty from his own land. The two saw within themselves a common destiny and fell in love, platonic initially but then with time it morphed into something emotional, something that needed to be fulfilled. And it was fulfilled. When Johana's father heard of the happenings between his daughter and Marko, the boy from far away, he disapproved it and almost killed him. Later Marko would die by his own hands and Johana too. One from a rope, the other from a poison.

Written along the line of Romeo and Juliet, Shadows weave within its pages the politics of the day. How misunderstanding broke within the camps of those who were fighting for independence. How this fight for independence and this misunderstanding lead to the death of innocent rural folks. Within this we find that Johana's father is an alienated figure, neither supporting the freedom fighters nor supporting the colonialist. However, there were places in the story where one is more likely to assume that Johana's father appreciated the white rule more than the 'unknown' fighters in the bush and their cloudy course. 
He is a master farmer, he remembers. Do people not remember how the white man who teaches the good ways of farming came to our house, spoke a lot of things many of which no one could understand? Did he not mention my name so many times that people thought I was the younger brother of the white man? Every time he opened his mouth, his tongue danced with my name on it. Who in the whole village has had the white man come to praise him in his own home? They were jealous, their eyes looking at me as I stood there next to the white man like his interpreter, nodding as if I could understand the language of the nose. (Page 43)
And there were other places where Johana's father saw the white man (the colonialist) with a different eye. This makes Johana's father a character difficult to comprehend. He was a mix of everything: apprehension, fear, love, hatred, indecision and more. Just like all of us are. In him we find a man who would protect his children and his family and yet when his actions lead to death would also take the blame and suffer for it.

Having invited death onto his homestead, Johana's father left home for the city. While in the city he was officially declared a fugitive from justice by the guerrillas for being a saboteur. The brutal killing of his sons reached him and this dissociated his awareness of himself from himself.  He was later to be killed by the very individuals who killed his sons. Like Johana's father, Hove, a critic of the Mugabe government, would also go into exile in 2001.

Described as an extended prose poem, this pastoral story written in the vein of Mia Couto is evocative and makes the reader think and ask questions. Though the narrative keeps changing from an omniscient narrator to the first person (mostly, Johanna's mother), such shifts do not distort the read. One does not find the bump that one finds in stories of switching narratives.

My only problem with this brilliant piece is a problem I have had with most stories by Africans but one I have not written about. It is the use of a refutable 'lack of knowledge' for 'mistrust'. This is not only demeaning of African native farmer but also a continuous misunderstanding of the ways of our people. Recently, a body of knowledge has become approved in Agriculture, Indigenous Technical Knowledge. This body of knowledge shows the depth and level of thinking of the African farmer. For instance, why does he/she practice mixed cropping instead of monocropping? Now we know that, in addition to the diversification of production which leads to food security should a given crop fail, there is also the gain in nutrients released by one plant and taken up by the other. A simple example is the nitrogen-releasing leguminous crops interplanted with nitrogen requiring crops like maize. Yet, we who are of our people refuse to learn of and understand their ways. In Shadows Johana's father was a farmer who rears cattle. However, when he bought a piece of land at Gotami and was asked not to take his cattle there because of tsetseflies he became worried. And mistrusted the District Commissioner who had sold the land to him. He asked himself how flies could kill cattle. My problem is that wouldn't cattle raisers know of the tsetsefly, especially if they have been doing this all their lives?  However, we find that Johana's father did not know of the tsetsefly.

However, this may be my own misinterpretation and whether it is or it is not, it takes nothing away from the beautiful and carefully woven story of Hove. Though this wasn't the Hove I was after, I knew after I completed this that I would search for Bones, his most acclaimed piece. This piece is recommended to all who love beautiful prose.
Author's Bio: Chenjerai Hove (b. February 2, 1956), is a leading figure of post-colonial Zimbabwean literature. He's one of Zimbabwe's finest writre's now living in exile for fear of his life. Novelist and poet Chenjerai Hove gained international fame in 1988 with his novel Bones. In recent years, his work (which revolves around the theme of the spiritual importance of land in African cultures) has gained a new significance in the light of the social crisis unfolding in his native Zimbabwe. In 2001, Hove left his country of birth amid the escalating violence triggered by the government of Robert Mugabe. He now leads a migrant's life in the West and is an outspoken critic of the Mugabe regime.(Source)

ImageNations' Rating: 5.5 out of 6.0

Monday, June 13, 2011

Proverb Monday

Proverb: Wo ne ɔberεmpɔn na εda a, anka wobε ɔsi apini anadwo
Translation: If you were to sleep with a paramount chief, you would hear that he sighs in the night.
Usage: Even the great have their troubles and anxieties
No. 6570 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Winner of the 2011 Orange Prize

The 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction has been announced. Though ImageNations was supporting Aminatta Forna with her The Memory of Love to win, things went in the way of the Serbian/American Author  Téa Obreht with her debut novel The Tiger's Wife (Weindedfeld and Nicolson). At 25, Obreht becomes the youngest-ever author to win the prize.

In its sixteenth anniversary this year, the Prize celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women's writing from throughout the world. This comes timely as Naipaul in his ever caustic remarks has recently indicated that women authors, including Jane Austen, are inferior to him. Or so he was supposed to have said and this has generated a lot of heat in the literary blogging world, to which I have added my two pesewas, in the form of comments, here and there.

At a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, the 2011 Chair of Judges, Bettany Hughes, presented Obreht with the £30,000 and the 'Bessie', a limited edition bronze figurine. Is this 'Bessie' in honour of Bessie Head? The South African who became a Botswana citizen? If so then this figurine is worth winning.

According to the Chair of Juges, Bettany Hughes:
The Tiger's Wife is an exceptional book and Téa Obreht is a truly exciting new talent. Obreht's powers of observation and her understanding of the world are remarkable. By skillfully spinning a series of magical tales she has managed to bring the tragedy of a chronic Balkan conflict thumping into our front rooms with a bittersweet vivacity. ... The book reminds us how easily we can slip into barbarity, but also of the breadth and depth of human love. Obreht celebrates storytelling and she helps us to remember that it is the stories that we tell about ourselves, and about others, that can make us who we are and the world what it is.
About the AuthorTéa Obreht was born in 1985 in the former Yugoslavia and raised in Belgrade. In 1992 her family moved to Cyprus and then to Egypt, where she learned to speak and read English, eventually immigrating to the United States in 1997. After graduating from the University of Southern California, Téa received her MFA in Fiction from the Creative Writing Program at Cornell University in 2009. Téa was featured in The New Yorker's Top 20 Writers under 40 Fiction Issue (June 2010) and at 24, was the youngest on the list. Her short story, The Laugh, debuted in The Atlantic fiction issue and was then chosen for The Best American Short Stories 2010, a further short story, The Sentry, featured in the Guardian Summer Fiction Issue. Her journalism has appeared in Harper's magazine and she lives in Ithaca, New York.

Read the full announcement here.

This wasn't my post of the day. For my post of the day, which is a review of Mia Couto's Every Man is a Race click here.

82. Every Man is a Race by Mia Couto

Title: Every Man is a Race
Author: Mia Couto
Genre: Short Stories (Anthology)
Translator: David Brookshaw
Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Year of Publication: 1991 (Portuguese) 1994 (English)
Country: Mozambique

Asked what his race was, he replied
'My race is me, John the Birdman.'
Invited to explain himself, he added:
'My race is me myself. A person is an individual humanity. Every man is a race, Officer.'
(Extract from the bird seller's statement)  
Every Man is a Race is the second collection of short stories by Mia Couto. It is this collection that established Couto as master storyteller. His stories are known for being magical and surreal. It's always difficult to directly interpret Couto's story. The symbolism is heavy.

Consisting of 18 short stories, Every Man is a Race follows the path of Voices Made Night in style, structure and theme. Couto has a way with words. He makes them come alive. Using little dialogue, Couto tells the story as we have known it told since childhood, when we gathered by the fireside sharing stories among ourselves. His themes ranges from love to politics. 

In the fearful love-life of Rosa Caramela in Rosa Caramela, the first story, Couto tells of a hunchback who after having been disappointed by his lover was taken for madness. It is one piece whose understanding only comes at the end. The Russian princess  is about a Russian lady married to a Russian miner, a man she doesn't love, in the town of Manica. Prevented from going out she knows little of what goes on around her and about the slave labour used by her husband at the mines. When once she went out to witness the living conditions of the 'slaves', she was put under heavy surveillance; when she heard of another accident at the mines, her depression spiralled into insanity. This epistolary story was written by the 'boss boy' addressing God to forgive him of his sins, after the princess - Nadia - died in his arms and he ran away. The Blind Fisherman  is a story about a man's chauvinism and a woman's patience in the face of hopelessness.

The legend of the foreigner's bride falls under the magical tales of Couto. And so too does The rise of Joao Bate-Certo. Yet the images within the lines of these stories could all be symbols indicating something more real and earthly. In the latter story, a boy who is fascinated by the city and who hungers for its visions of concrete and tall buildings decided to build a tall ladder on which he would satisfy this hunger. This simple is a story of hope and visions.

The Swapped Medals and The flagpoles of Beyondwards are some of the stories with political undertones. And even in the latter, the relationship between whites (the bosses and masters) and blacks (the slaves and servants) were explored as it has been explored in most of Couto's short stories. His African sensibilities are very acute. So too are his political ones. For whereas people see freedom, Couto sees enslavement. In Flagpoles of Beyondwards, Couto writes:
'Listen, Joao. I always have this doubt in me: now I'm a white man's servant. What will become of me after?'
'After, there will be freedom, Father.'
'Nonsense, son. After, we'll be servants to those soldiers. You don't know about life, my boy. These gunfire folk, come the end of the war, they won't be able to get used to doing anything else. Their hoe is a musket.'
Treating human nature and politics would not be complete without talking about those pretentious freedom fighters whose only reason for fighting is to become the very people they are fighting against. In Whites Couto brings this to the fore. Before a seminar organised to to discuss the African authenticity, where 'relevancies and eloquences' had been exchanged, a black man, Carlito Jonas, and his goat, Zequinha Buzi, suddenly appeared. Carlito, who represents the bourgeoisie, told the gathered elite:
you're whites in disguise, you're pretending to be my race, you're just making fools of us folks, I, who you can see in front of you, I'm not scared of anyone, I'm no milksop, I'm going to complain about you, let's go, Zequinha, let's go and denounce these goings on.
This speech reminds of a statement in Ngugi's Weep not Child 'blackness alone does not make a man'. Thus, comprehensively, this collection of short stories defines and describes, in equal measure, the human 'condition'. What people really are and the relationship structure that exists between the rich or elite and the poor or the masses, irrespective of the colour of the skin.

Mia Couto is a master storyteller and he draws more from his Lusophonic background to flavour his stories. Even those that are difficult to breakdown still grabs the reader's attention. This collection is recommended to all.
Brief Bio: Click here 

ImageNations' Rating: 5.5 out of 6.0

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Wrapping up the Kwamebikrom Adventure

Finally, I get to Accra and back at the office. The latter days of the research was fun and tiring. We planned on visiting a town called Soccerkrom; there it was my intention to ask the chief how they came by the name. Unfortunately, we had to leave out this town on very technical reasons.

Two days before the final day, I had a ride on a motorbike through several cocoa farms; climbing steep slopes and passing on thin wooden planks acting as bridges on small muddy streams. On more than one occasion I had to get down and push the motorbike, whilst the rider tries to climb the slope. Then there was another time that I had to lift the back of the motorbike from a muddy stream. The back tire slipped off the think plank-bridge after the front tire had virtually crossed it. This particular ride was fun since it was my third or fourth time sitting at the back of a motorbike and the first time riding through a farm and a closely planted cocoa at that.
The Dugout
As we got to our destination, a bush fallow, we were treated to the painful stings of red ants (referred to as nhohow in Twi). These red ants are so fast that the very moment they land on you they find themselves in very close and private spaces. We were unlucky to have disturbed more than a nest of them. They showered themselves on us and scuttle into very very private spaces. We had to almost naked ourselves to get rid of them. The effect of their stings was still felt hours after the encounter.
One of the Guides, the one who swam
The mother of all fun came on the day before the final day. We had by then been restricted within a certain geographic coordinates and had to make sure that we sampled some villages located within these coordinates. Fortunately or unfortunately we selected Old Papase. Farmers at Old Papase cross the Bia River before going to their farms. And the forest is also located behind this river. Consequently, if I really need to get my GPS coordinates for the forest I had to cross the Bia River. Thank God I had a bold colleague with me. Our guides were afraid we would not go when we see the twin River we had to cross. We had to cross the Sarko River and the Bia River at the same time. These two rivers have different sources and routes. However, in this town and at that particular crossing point they merge and diverge a few meters away. It was really interesting to see two rivers merging but then again showing their distinctiveness.
My Colleague walking to hard ground after the first crossing
When we got to the crossing point, the canoe was on the other side. The guides hooted, a signal to check if someone was coming from the other side where the canoe/dugout was. If there were, the individual would hoot back. Silence meant there wasn't anyone coming and one of our guides swam across the river to fetch the dugout. We rowed to the other side and rowed back, wetting our shoes, trousers and more. I was very happy and scared at the same time, since this was my first time of crossing a river in a dugout. However, I did my best to suppress my fears. Once on the other side, we had to get into the forest by walking through muddy streams, barefooted.
In the Dugout, a Passenger (in Red) Behind
So from Kwamebikrom (meaning: a certain Kwame's town) to Fosukrom (Fosu's town) to Achiase, Kena, Bawa Camp, Oseikojokrom, Ahimakrom, Pillar 34, Old Pampramase, Old and New Papase, Nyamebekyere (God will provide, loosely), Kunkumso, Asempaneye (good news is good), and Sebebia, I am back to Accra. Though the travels has come to an end, as of now, the thrills still lives in me.
In the Dugout II, 2nd Guide Behind
I dedicate these posts on my travels to Kofi Akpabli, who has shown in his book A Sense of the Savannah, Tales of a Friendly Walk through Northern Ghana, which I am currently reading, that there is fun in every place we go. All that we need to do is to seek it. Usually, I would only have concentrated on the work and not the fun and would have negatively reported on my tiredness, the volume of the work and more. But now I know that I had some great fun which I would not have had sitting in my office in Accra. 

There are hints that I would have to go back and explore another angle of the research. If that happens, I would let you know. But until then, I end here with much love. Thanks for following me through my travels within the Bia District of the Western Region of Ghana.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Proverb Monday

Proverb: εka wo nsa a, egyae fεyε
Translation: As soon as you obtain it, it ceases to be beautiful.
Usage: Familiarity breeds contempt
No. 2945 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Mia Couto's Every Man is a Race

It's been almost a month since I brought you this weekly feature. As you are, by now, aware, I have bee away for sometime. Today's quotes comes from a writer whose way with words is so unique that I believe I can correctly predict every line as his, when 'blindly' quoted. Mia Couto is known for his lyrical stories. He epitomises the originality of storytelling where the teller in his/her telling leaves room for the reader/listener to make his own meaning from the tell.

A man's story is always badly told. That's because a person never stops being born.
(Page 10 in The private apocalypse of Uncle Gegue)

A poor man can't bribe his way to his fate. He invents expectations for himself, unreachable places and times.
(Page 11 in The private apocalypse of Uncle Gegue)

It's the sea that causes islands to be round.
(Page 16 in The private apocalypse of Uncle Gegue)

Which is the best family? The unknown relatives of strangers. Only those ones count. With the others, our blood relatives, we have debts from the day we are born.
(Page 16 in The private apocalypse of Uncle Gegue)

A rogue doesn't cut another rogue's hair.
(Page 21 in The private apocalypse of Uncle Gegue)

Death had become so common that only life inspired terror. To avoid notice, survivors imitated death. As they couldn't find enough victims, the bandoleers dragged the corpses from their graves to hack them about again.
(Page 21 in The private apocalypse of Uncle Gegue)

...can you warn a lizard that the stone under him is hot?
(Page 22 in The private apocalypse of Uncle Gegue)

Envy is the worst snake: it bites with the teeth of the very victim
(Page 42 in The Russian princess)

But you've never seen a hell like that one. We pray to God to save us from hell after we die. But, when all is said and done, hell is where we live, we step on its flames, and we bear with us a soul full of scars.
(Page 44 in The Russian princess)

It's always like that: one's judgement grows thin more quickly than one's body.
(Page 54 in The blind fisherman)

But you can't tell the height of a tree by the size of its shadow.
(Page 54 in The blind fisherman), the whole of it, is one extended birth.
(Page 60 in Woman of me)

...the dead, the living, and those awaiting their birth, make up one large canvas. The frontier between territories can be summed up as fragile, moving. In dreams, we are all enclosed in the same space, there where time yields to total absence. Our dreams are no more than visits to these other past and future lives, conversations with the unborn and the deceased, in the language of unreason which we all speak.
(Page 60 in Woman of me)

The yet-to-be-born, those who are waiting for a body, are the ones we should fear most. For we know almost nothing of them. From the dead, we still go on getting messages, we take kindly to their familiar shadows. But what we are never aware of is when our soul is made up of these other, transvisible spirits. These are the pre-born, and they don't forgive us for inhabiting the light side of existence. They couple together the most perverse expectation, their powers pull downwards. They seek to make us return, insisting on keeping us in their company.
(Page 60 in Woman of me)

...courage without cunning is mere audaciousness.
(Page 66 in The legend of the foreigner's bride)

The two lovers were like two flowers flowing in one current. But they were fulfilling the destiny of all rivers, that slowly disappear inside their own waters.
(Page 68 in The legend of the foreigner's bride)

It's betrayal which pulls vengeance in its wake, .... You should be against betrayal if you want to avoid vengeance.
(Page 70 in The legend of the foreigner's bride)

Man believes he's huge, almost touching the heavens. But if he reaches places, it's only because he's living in a borrowed size, his height is a debt he owed to altitude.
(Page 70 in The flagpoles of Beyondwards)

The sun walked barefoot over the plain, dragging its daytime feet across the landscape.
(Page 92 in The seated shadow)

He greeted me with words of warning: a country that no longer travels no longer dreams.
(Page 92/93 in The seated shadow)

To laugh without teeth is like drinking beer without foam.
(Page 93 in The seated shadow)

... if you throw up beer, your relatives will visit you ; throw up blood, and you won't see people for dust.
(Page 105 in Whites)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

81. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale (402; 1985) is an imaginative dystopian about a fictional world; a place where all rhetorics about women's place in the world are realised. It is also a world that has been lived before. In this novel, Atwood relied on all that had been said and is being said about women and what they should and shouldn't do. In the fictional world of Gilead, the constitutional government of the United States had been overthrown; its place place taken by Gilead, a state based on the Christian teachings and its purpose for women.

In Gilead women are grouped into Wives, Marthas, Aunties, and Handmaids. Handmaids are reproductive 'machines' that keep the population of Gilead from declining. And children are the most prized assets of the day. Rich couples unable to bear their own children contract these handmaids to get pregnant for them. A Handmaid who's unable to get pregnant after several 'servicing' with Commanders are described as unwomen. These unwomen are sent to other parts of the colony.

Offred, the narrator of this story, was a handmaid. She tells of her life as a handmaid and what she went through. It was almost like diary entries, written not to be read by none so that most things are not described detailedly. The reader sometimes feel like the cover was half-closed instead of half-opened. If it were a pot, one would have stretched one's neck to take a full look into it; but this wasn't so. However, in Offred's (or Of Fred) tale, she contrast life in this utopian turned dystopian regime with her life in the earlier period where all things were working well and women had the opportunity to do whatever they wanted to do; where there were women's movement, of which her mother was one, which fought for the rights of women. Like every strictly managed society, there were saboteurs and those unwilling to fit in Gilead, individuals working to bring down the Theocratic state, which itself wasn't theocratic to the core. For though micro- and mini-clothings have been banned and uniforms have been prescribed, prostitution and drugs have all been superficially eliminated, there was a building within which all of these are done with abandon, by the very Commanders who instituted Gilead. Amongst such 'unwilling' individuals was Moira.

Offred's Commander seemed to have some love for past things as 'love' and 'scrabble'. In Gilead, love is not the key. Women function. Men function. Love is not something you fall in in Gilead. However, this primordial emotion awakened itself within Offred's Commander, and most of the commanders for that matter, and as told, unreliably though, by Offred, the commander began showing some levels of love to her during their secret scrabble games. Offred's narration could not be fully reliable as she herself sometimes say one thing only to tell us that it wasn't true, it didn't happen that way. But we can be sure that the glimpses she offered us, which were not reliable, were the watered down versions. The real deal were more macabre. 

Atwood dispassionately wrote this novel and it was difficult to see where she actually stands in this grand scheme. Does she incline towards the period before or the current period or a bit of both; for, in writing, she brought the good and the bad from each side. There were, superficially, no drugs, stealing or any form of blatant crime on the streets of Gilead. It was a peaceful place though the internally, within the people, there was chaos in the first generation of Gileads. Individuals missed the things they were, in the previous period, most likely to term immoral and also of things most likely to be ignored or glossed over. Like women magazines, like lipsticks, like prostitutes and more. However, even though naturally the puritanic ideology of Gilead failed, Atwood, nevertheless, showed how people conditioned themselves to live in such conditions. Later, in the historical notes, where the major impact of the story is felt, Gilead becomes just one of the many past civilisations: Mayans, Aztecs, Hittites and many others. 

Is this world the best it can possibly be? In Atwood's Handmaid's Tale where the issue was fully implemented, tweaking the current dispensation would lead to problems; just as capitalists don't want governments to interfere with business. Academicians studying Gilead, several years later, provided interesting analysis and it is there that story finally converges.

Though this novel is said to have been inspired by Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and also set to have no mean a place beside Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984, I can only say that this novel is Atwood-esque. It had all the characteristics of the only Atwood I have read, Oryx and Crake. The time difference between the books was palpable but taking this out, we see Atwood projecting before us, the very things we have been experimenting and preaching. Whereas in Oryx and Crake it was the scientific world doing all these splicing of genes to create a better world - that novel inspired my poem Middle Sex - in The Handmaid's Tale, it is the religious world or specifically the Christian world. Again, these two books illuminates the age-old rivalry-cum-love affair between science and religion.

In the end I can only say that I enjoyed reading this book. It helped me a lot on my trips to different communities. Sometimes reading this imaginative world and entering a rural community where pastoral life is dominant is almost akin to landing on Mars blindfolded. An interesting book. All should read especially those who think they need to change the world to conform to a universalised law in a homogeneous world. And the changemakers. This is an Atwood and every Atwood is a must-read.
For the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

May in Review, Projections for June

Currently I am in Kumasi and I can at least update my blog. May was a busy month for me in terms of my professional life. My reading was somewhat limited and my blogging was seriously affected. In all I read four books and reviewed two. However, I kept my Monday Proverbs going by scheduling all the post. I love this feature. Sometimes I find on my phone that a blog has just been published.

  1. The Secret Destiny of America by Manly P. Hall
  2. Searching by Nawal El Saadawi
  3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  4. Every Man is a Race by Mia Couto

I also brought you updates - the non-professional side - of my travels in the Bia District of the Western Region. First I told you about what I would be doing in this blog post. Then I introduced you to the village where I would be staying, Kwamebikrom (or for a direct transliteration: a certain Kwame's town), in another post. Just last week I updated you on the chills and thrills I have encountered on this field trip. I would  be bringing you the final part of this journey in days to come.

June would might also be dull as the data collected would need to be inputed and analysed. However, once I am in Accra I would be here more frequently than when I was away. I would be reviewing the two books I have already read. Currently, I am reading Shadows by Chenjerai Hove and enjoying it. 

Again, in May I celebrated two years of promoting African Literature. I have come this far and would not be turning my back on this non-paying but interesting job. I would only entreat my readers to bear with me as I go through this slow period in June. Though I was away, May was the month I had one of my highest visits to my blog. Thanks to you all.
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