Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Kinsman in a Yoruba Village


Obododimma Oha

Igbo and Yoruba are relatives by virtue of their belonging to the Volta-Niger family, according to a recent classification by Roger Blench. But apart from this linguistic classification, some semiotic similarities between both languages are amazing. That suggests that the idea of a “Handshake across the Niger” which was recently made an important ideological expression in the current relationship between Ndiigbo and Oduduwa children west of the Niger in a ceremony at Awka did neither start with Nzuko Umunna, the frontline Igbo organisation that hosted it, nor by Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu who recommends it in his book, Because I Am Involved. Indeed, Ojukwu was a great Igbo leader who read the indelible ancient signs of the closeness of two brothers and emphasized the need for them to put back their differences in their goatskin-bags and embrace each other. Similarly, Nzuko Umunna, through its studied and mature discourse based on Igbo Onye Kwue Uche Ya, heard the ancient voice of truth and re-engineered it on the path to mutual understanding.

As one commends Nzuko Umunna for being the new voice for this eternal truth, one would like to make a journey to a Yoruba village to see and listen to one’s kinsman. I do not mean the current Igbo person who left his local community (like the one who went to work in the cocoa plantation in Ondo in those days) and maybe bought a parcel of land and built a house, becoming a landlord in a Yoruba village! He feels comfortable there and, if you go to his house, it is possible that the language of communication among family members is Yoruba. Maybe one Yoruba man has even taken one of his daughters in marriage and one of her children is called Arinze Segun Ayo Olapade. No; I am rather referring to the Igbo person that is defined as the child of Oduduwa and whose cultural home is the South-west! Does that sound like an abduction? Does that sound like a cultural assimilation, an attempt by one forest dweller to devour another? It can as well be a child of Oduduwa that is defined as onye Igbo and whose space is the South-East. Whatever may be the case, what is very important to this essay is that onye Igbo and omo Yoruba are possibly relatives that have forgotten where it all started. These days that there is a great emphasis on identity as what is invented, one runs the risk of being called an inventor of relationship that has always been a fiction!

All right, then; guilty as charged. Watch out for interesting semiotic evidence in that inventive act! Let us start from Ekiti. Do you think my choice of Ekiti is informed by the likelihood that I may be invited home for a sumptuous meal of pounded yam and meat from the hunter’s stable? No qualms if that happens before the end of our excursion. By the way, doesn’t the name “Ekiti” sound like “Etiti” in Igbo? Actually, some Igbo towns are called “Ekiti,” with a different tone-mark but sharing a similar meaning, “middle.” Indeed, “Ekiti” is an Igbo variant of “Etiti.” And who is bothered much about the difference in the tones in the Igbo “Ekiti” and that of the Yoruba? Don’t we have tonal variations from one Igbo dialect to another?

You recall that I mentioned meat from game and pounded yam. My village has that as a favourite course for industrious souls, too. Then, fresh palm-wine. One must drink down this handshake across the Niger! But, let’s wait for the master hunter, the person who knows the smell of the forest, to return in the evening. He went on “ndide” (stalking, targeting, and trying to get a clean shot at the “anumanu”). I hear the Yoruba prefer to call the master hunter “ode” (I suspect “ode” literally means “One who stalks, targets, and kills the game, too). Just imagine that! The verb and morpheme, “de” is the same sound and meaning in Igbo, “stalking and targeting”). Do you see why I have to welcome the “ode” who went for “ndide” back with open hands and look into his bag?

You should not be surprised; it is a long story. Do you see those rocks, “okuta, “in Ekiti, which the Igbo call “okwute” ("okwuta") or just “okute” in some dialects? They hold the mysteries of my encounter with the master hunter from Ekiti called “Olosunta” which travels back to 3000 years! That “ode” is also one interesting statement about the handshake across the Niger. You doubt it? The name of the “ode” is just clipped in Igbo as “Ochunta” or “Oshunta” (O’chunta)! Ochunta means “One who hunts game” or “master hunter”! Olosunta or Oloshunta in Yoruba is also “One who hunts.” Don’t mind that “Olo” that is prefixed. The Yoruba sometimes identify what one does as a profession with that prefix. Now, don’t I deserve to peep into his bag?

Oloshunta is my kinsman in an Ekiti village. Honestly, that “ode” knows the smell of the forest! I strongly suspect that H.E. Ayo Fayose is his son, skin and blood. Did you see how he put those grazers of free-range cattle destroying crops in their place? I suspect that the name “Fayose” in Igbo means “Put pepper in the eyes (of your enemy))! No further explanation is necessary.

Now that my invention of relationship is done, can I have my pounded and bush meat, to be sent on an errand to my stomach with fresh palm-wine, “ike-emetu-ala”?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Looking for the Living among the Dead


Obododimma Oha

As a researcher with a keen interest in cultures that are fast going extinct and a great enthusiast of my indigenous Igbo culture, I am shocked to realise that cultural materials I look for in my research or send my students to collect and analyse in oral literature or folklore programme, are simply not there in the cultural milieu, not even in the memory of present-day Ndiigbo. I could as well have sent them to construct and analyse fictions. You know what happens when people imagine things. They could spice the experience here and there, after all, we enjoy it more when there is a lot of fabrication! The folktales are now fabrications and in the place of their performances, we have Nollywood films or Hollywood films. Chiwetalu this. Ezemmuo that. Mama G those. Aki and Pawpaw these. And gradually we lose the skills of the cultural telling of the folktale. Black Panther learning to pounce! Season of mimesis and reinvention of self.

Is it the proverbs? Who remembers to cite them? They are a text of your pastness, the fact that you belong to years ago. Why not cite Obama and Trump or the referee of FIFA? Why cite the dog and say, according to the dog, those it requested to buy mat for it in the market should bring back the money because it is used to squatting? Who told you that a dog could talk? At least, not in your world, unless you are into the strangest science fiction in our time!

Worse still, when you expect listeners to exhibit their reception or processing skills by knowing your meaning and intention, citing your ancient culture again as saying that if you throw a proverb at someone like a petrol bomb and the person demands an interpretation, the dowry paid on the head of his or her mother was a colossal waste. Imagine that! Does it not raise an objectionable gender oworosu? And who says that your ancient culture is still the norm in our modern discourse, after all your education and programming in the ways of the West? Don’t be stupidly anachronistic!

I think that you should be interested in the different realities that these proverbs enact, the emergent discursive changes, and realise that you should not be looking for the living among the dead. Same for your folktales and all that.

Just listen to this mocking voice and feel how I feel over endangered Igbo cultural materials and oral literature or other related studies that feed on them. The new Christian fanaticism in Igboland and some other parts of Africa is, of course, a major source of threat. While other cultures are getting energised, building museums for cultural materials and declaring even their sacred forests important cultural sites that can become money spinners through well managed tourism, your soldiers of Heaven are busy demolishing ancient sites and shrines, declaring them evil. They are told by their pastors that the problems in their businesses and employment are from those cultural materials and sites. If they destroy the sites, their businesses would suddenly bloom! They would experience “breakthroughs” even if they spend hours in church and few minutes at work. God will do it, God the patron of laziness; God who punishes those who work hard and gives them the keys of Heaven, but sends those who work hard to Hell! You see your life, your miserable life in 21st-century Africa characterised by fundamentalist religiosity?

I am reluctant now in oral literature of folklore to send my students out for fieldwork, to collect and analyse what is no longer there, to look for the living among the dead. Rather, I am changing direction in oral literature studies. Now, I am interested in making my students understand that there is a new oral literature out there: this new oral literature is hybrid and holds an ongoing conversation with other cultural practices, even with the facilities of the new media. It is an evolving oral literature in which the tortoise drives a jeep or flies a private jet over bad roads and could sit in the National Assembly. Even the State House. If there is anything Tortoise the trickster should be able to do, a trickster that grows, it is that if it could marry a beautiful maiden with only a grain of corn, it should be able to get into the State House, to rule a nation of 200 or so mumus! A trickster must grow, must be made to appropriate modernity and changing times.

Rejoice, students of new culture in Africa. No more being made to cross the timeline, to return to the past, to look for the living among the dead. Unless you are looking for fossils. Unless that. But you may not even find the fossils. Rather, look for what is looking for you at the moment in time and how it is doing it. That is all that matters.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Why a Town Union Matters


Obododimma Oha

Every month, I attend our town union meeting and join my kinsmen in examining little or big issues relating to our lives. That I am a highly educated person around, perhaps the person with the highest university degree, does not make me have my head in the clouds. My very high university degree and my rank all belong to my community, by the simple logic that I belong, as a person, to my community. I am my community’s ambassador, just like every other member, and the town union is happy for it, provided I do the things an ambassador does, and do not bring shame to our community.

I mentioned above that I may even be the most highly educated in the town union meeting. That does not mean that other members – groundnut sellers, commercial motorcycle operators, petty traders, etc. – do not have their own legitimate cultural or professional education that I may not have, and so, could also be said to be highly educated. Do you see why I said that my very high university degree does not make me the person with the highest educational degree around and does not make me lose my head as a member? Even though once in a while, a member, in his contribution to a debate, refers to my being the most educated person around who could confirm some facts, I don’t like it at all! For one, I do not like being pointed out as different, what more the person to decide the correctness of a view when in a meeting of the union.

Yes, my being the most educated person does not mean that I am outside authority in the community meeting, that I am exempt from what every member is required to do. The town union – a typical image of the Igbo umunna, has its officers whose authorities must be respected, whether they are highly educated or not, whether they are the oldest or the youngest in the group. Do you see why and how the town union is a test for your sense of submission and humility, in spite of your high education? The chairman may not be richest but that does not mean that, because a member has millions or estates or companies, such a member is above the chairman.

Sometimes, I hear educated Igbo elite proclaim that they do not attend their town union meetings or are not members and I shudder. How do they hope to change or contribute meaningfully as grown-ups to their communities? How do they hope to get closer to ordinary people in their communities?

The town union is also a very good context for learning. Any person that has stopped learning is dead! Ikwu amaghi, ibe ezi ya! (If one relative does not know, another relative can teach that person). Is it in how to talk in public, how to address issues in public? Is it in ita okwu eze were ekwu? Is it proverb lore and situations in which one could deploy a type? Is it how to look at issues critically? Is it in knowing who is who in your community, who to consult when the occasion arises, and who is what nwannadi? Indeed, ikwu amaghi, ibe ezi ya. The town union meeting is an important classroom, and each time a member misses a meeting or an activity organized by the group, such a member has missed important matters (You could say important classes for learning). The person would need to update notes! When members who missed meetings or activities are asked to pay fines, we see such as ordinarily a punishment. Really, such members are losing double. They are losing money, plus the knowledge they could have gained if they had attended.

Yes; sometimes one is asked to pay a fine for defaulting. That is an important corrective measure. You have lost more money as a defaulter and it makes you sad. Next time, don’t flout the group. But there is something you have lost more as a defaulter. That thing is called respect. It is integrity. The amount may be small and affordable. But it is symbolic. It indicates that you have erred and your name would be put down in the record books as a noisemaker, late comer, absentee, as the case may be. So, it calls you to order, asks you to come back to your senses.

Sometimes, I hear some educated elite give, as their excuses for not becoming members, their dislike for those ways of “traders,” ways of thinking and doing things! Isn’t this an unfortunate negative stereotyping? Some members who are traders may misbehave – and are usually disciplined for it – but it is unfortunate for one to keep away due to objectionable ways of life noticed. Even in wider society or country, do we all behave alike? Do we all have to behave in the ways you necessarily like? And would you cease to be a citizen because of the other person’s ways you don’t like? I think that people who give such excuses are confessing that they have a problem, one being culture shock – they have kept outside the culture for too long and have lost touch with its ways, and are, therefore, coming back to it strange! They have alienated themselves and need to bring themselves back to community.

I am aware of the fact that some people join their town union meeting so that there would be people to carry their corpses to local communities and bury such when they die. And the educated elite would think they do not need such favours. Well, you do not join your town union because of death. Death is just one occasion for a community to demonstrate its obligations. Town union is where you belong and you simply have to be there. It is good to be where you belong. Your church or professional group can bury you when you die (or use your corpse for barbecue, who cares) but cannot replace your town union. Remember: ikwu amaghi, ibe ezi ya!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Resurrection of the Stick with the Rising Sun


Obododimma Oha

Technology is our side, supporting our inclination to remember, and mocking your inclination to delete our past and our reality. Is it the powerful images that the cameras of phones and other ubiquitous technological devices can produce? Is it the circulation of news that you can no longer control as you did when information technology was still in its infancy? My late father, as the vice chairman of civil defence corps in our town and a staunch believer in the struggle, had a walking stick bearing the emblem of the rising sun. I greatly admired how the artist carved this rising sun and spent a long time reflecting on the sun and its rays beautifully carved on the piece of wood. Whenever my father was getting ready for any local meeting and needed to use the walking stick, we, kids in the homestead, had to struggle, each to be the one to take the stick with the rising sun, to him. I always made sure I won in the struggle for the venerated stick. Indeed, on several occasions I would win and those who lost would cry their way back to the kitchens where their mothers would wipe their wet cheeks.

One day, we saw our father cutting the stick and burying it. We were very sad indeed. In fact, I kept a vigil over the grave of the stick with the rising sun after he had finished. He buried his pistol, too. We saw father's face and sadness was written boldly all over it. He told us that Nigerian soldiers had entered the town and that that they whisked off every adult male from any compound where any artform or anything that carried the symbol of Biafra was found. We understood that he needed to be safe but we were very sad for losing a great friend carved in wood!

A week later, we found a vent for our anger. A Nigerian plane was flying low and was dropping documents – Gowon’s end-of-war speech and other things. We roamed the bushes where the leaflets fell and tore them to pieces. I was particularly happy to do this, as a way of avenging my friend the rising sun carved in wood, now buried. I gave up my lunch, same for other children, and dutifully roamed the bushes to find the offending leaflets dropped by Gowon Onye Amu Ibi and to tear them. The children – even adults in the neighbourhood – were engaged on a kind of competition on who should be the most celebrated in tearing the Gowon leaflets.

In the late afternoon, we were done. The leaflets were all torn or burned, but the fire still burned in my heart for losing my friend cast in wood. I thought that tearing the leaflets would calm the rage in me. It did not. But I knew that the image of my friend the rising sun was still intact in my head. The Nigerian soldiers looking for significations of Biafra could not reach there to erase it or whisk me off for keeping the image. It was already part of my consciousness. It was part of me and my main possession.

Now that I am older, and can understand the value of art, especially in struggle, that memory of my friend in wood comes back and I feel very sad again, in fact, angry.

But I am consoled that modern technology is on the side of memory and remembering. The image of the rising sun is, however, better and safer in my head, in my consciousness.

Now, I realise that my friend the rising sun carved in wood was destroyed and buried by my father to his great pain, but never really died, never got buried. If it was buried, it was buried in our heads as we struggled every morning to touch it, hold it, and take it to our father who was preparing for a strategic meeting. It was buried in our heads and has grown with our heads. It never died. It is very much alive in our heads and no soldier ransacking the house or neighbourhood for Biafran images can destroy it.

They labour in vain who try to look for images to erase.

They are frustrated; we know it.

We still touch our father’s great walking stick years after.

Yes; if you look closely, you would see the risen star leading the wise men from the East away from Herod to Bethlehem.

If the soldiers had known, they would not have forced the rising sun to be buried in our heads.

By seeking to down the risen sun, the soldiers have unknowingly set us on the course of anger, to search for Gowon’s deceitful leaflets in the Nigerian bush and to tear them all. If the devil had known, he would not have let Jesus be crucified on the cross! Now, he has even helped Jesus to preach salvation!

Who says art ever dies, particularly the type that remains on the side of truth and justice?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Mouse versus Mouse


Obododimma Oha

Imagine a mouse, a real mouse, a real miserable mouse, launching an attack on my computer mouse, chewing off the cord from the central processing unit, biting off the keyboard cord too! What could this mouse be after? Was it angry that the computer mouse aided and abetted the movement of troops of information to the battle-fields of texts uploaded to my blog? Or was it envious of the identity of “mouse” which computer technology has chosen for the hardware? Wondering and angry that, of all the identities in the world, its own had to be “stolen” and given to that component? And what the hell made those captains of computer language think that that “mouse” looked like a mouse?

It is difficult to get into the head of a mouse to find out what it thinks, whether it thinks at all, and how it thinks! The much I can imagine is that a mouse launched an offensive against my computer mouse, chewing off the cord! The whole idea of a mouse against a mouse makes the experience worth thinking about. A friend suggested (whether to tease me or to set me on the course of a wild, traditional human superstition): “Probably, your enemies are after you!” We laughed and laughed. Probably my enemies are mousing after me. Probably my enemies think that my type of warfare is textual and crippling the means of my textual battery is more strategic. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Are you surprised at the military fatigue that my language wears in this blog post? Don’t be. In the first place, I live in a country at war; or, rather, a country starting many wars, fighting many wars. Even a war of the stomach. In that war of the stomach, a mouse stranded in a lecturer’s office has experienced a double tragedy. Is it not when the lecturer gets his full monthly wage that he could buy ordinary biscuit, and, if God answers the prayers of a wandering mouse, the lecturer might “forget” the biscuit in a drawer for the miserable mouse to sniff out and devour, and after go for thanksgiving in a congregation of mice? Too bad for the miserable, wandering mouse that enters the lecturer’s office (through whatever tunnel) at a time when the dollar is gaining against the local wallpaper in the stock market. The economic war has left a miserable drawer for a miserable mouse in a miserable office in a miserable country.

Discourses we encounter have ways of exercising some influence in the mental geography of our minds. It is like an infection. My mind is already prepared in thinking of the problems around in terms of warfare. Everyday in the life of the citizen in this postcolonial country is a war or rather a day spent at the battlefield. Actually, we should be talking about the everyday battles of the postcolonial vassal. Battles in the streets. Battles with other embattled folks on the potholed roads. Battles at the bus stations. Battle at the marketplaces. Even battles while you sleep. Battles in church or mosque as one prays, for Satan may be close by to sponsor the prayer or oppose it. Battles as you breathe in, for you must breathe out to breathe another day. Battles in everyday life. Battles.

And the language of battles in discourses of war might just be there to ignite the primed semiosis of wars processed and recorded by the mind. This morning, after trekking past a battlefront mounted by my fellow angry workers who have not been treated fairly by the government, I bent down at one of the many “bend down” bookstands around and I beheld a copy of a rare book, Antitank Warfare by G. Biryukov and G. Melnikov. A 1972 publication of Progress Publishers, Moscow, the book opened a direction in my rethinking of the attack on my computer by the miserable mouse (I was actually on my way to a computer shop to buy a cordless mouse, as a preventive measure, after which I would consider a biological weapon in my counter-offensive – rat poison!). It was a surprise find at a give-away price! Ideas on a page that I opened reinforced my thinking of my experience with the mouse that ate the cord of my computer mouse as a warfare or part of the wars I have to wage in the fictiveness of my reality in a postcolonial economy: “The enemy’s tank losses must be such as to deprive him of striking power and force him to abandon the offensive” (p.103). I see! So, the mouse was probably on a counter-offensive that would possibly disable my computer in this information war? My friend was probably right in teasing me with the assertion that my enemies were after me! Who is my “enemy” but he that tries to cripple my efforts in producing a blog post, like this one?

Now, I know I must go for a chemical weapon in fighting back, no matter what the UN Security Council says about such weapons. Imagine the likeness, as our village folks would say, to register a sense of being utterly amazed, no, being flabbergasted! Imagine a miserable, stranded mouse in a stranded economy trying to disable my computer tanks! Imagine the likeness!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March 15: Some Reflections


Obododimma Oha

Events of life do not occur by chance. There is a network of relationships running through all happenings. Our challenge as humans is to discover those relationships, to comprehend the deep meanings in the syntax of events. Ignoring the syntax is to fail to put into use the competence that underlies attentive living; indeed, it is a semiotic competence through which we understand not just individual signs but also the main grammar of signs and signification in the Divine Plan of creation.

You might call it a coincidence. Another, a case of serendipity. For me, more than both.

Perhaps, what led me into this experience I am trying to find its meaning was my incurable desire to buy and read books, to search for relevant ideas, voices, to which I could connect my own. Inside our heads as book people, don’t you have a number of ideas, a number of other thinkers, holding conversations? Are we, as book people, not made up of quotations? We are connected to other thinkers through their ideas. Call it a testimonial strategy when we refer to other people and their ideas in what we write and say. We are, indeed, connecting ourselves to other selves in an intersubjectivity, establishing a network of thoughts. Even the ideas we do not endorse but cite or criticise are linked to our thoughts. They call this connectivity of a text to text, of a voice to another, “intertextuality.”

Now, you see, I did not set out to write about Obi Nwakanma’s poetry today. I did not even know I would meet Obi Nwakanma today, speaking eloquently in 73 pages. When I set out in this morning, there was no Obi Nwakanma on my mind. But he was there at the bookstand waiting for me. I was just writing something that had to do with the first cry a baby gives out when it is pushed out of the mother’s womb. I wanted to cite a poet in this regard, to let a poet say it along with me. A handy name was J.P. Clark-Bekederemo; remember his poem, “The Cry of Birth”? But I could not lay hands on J.P’s collection. Books move around a lot on my disorganised bookshelves! So, I planned to search for J.P. at a convenient time. But it looked like by thinking about J.P’s poem, I had roused the village of poets, a village of cooperative voices that took interest in the significant event of birth.

At the bookstand, outside the hall where I went to listen to a scholar tell me why we should take it easy with the postcolonial state that does not want to see another – Biafra or Oduduwa – born out of it, was Obi Nwakanma waiting to be bought and read. I had just listened to a talk that cleverly dodged telling me about a system that would rather have other states that are waiting to be born, strangled at birth, or to prevent them from being born, even when the mother is in travail and must inevitably give birth to! And there was Birthcry, Obi Nwakanma’s collection of poems, seemingly metaphorically challenging repressed birth of new nations with its eloquent title.
When I saw the book, I knew immediately I would buy it, at whatever cost, for I needed a poet’s inspiring counter-discourse badly. Please, note that the poem might not have been written about Biafra, but it resonated with the eternal idea about coming into being (of persons) and could be gainfully harnessed to my discourse about the unstoppable births of larger entities in a networked Divine Plan.
I opened the book. Or the pages of the book flew open. Better, the book opened me! I like open books!

There, yes, the lead poem, surely, was titled “Birthcry.”

Two very striking stanzas:

Did you, from the portals of the unborn,
Hear the many footsteps
Those who have gone before you
The birthcries, inviolate moments,
On the lips of mornings?
The birthcries are the same.
The first is all –
Is always the beginning
Of the pristine journey to life.
Without a kink.

The birthcry and the foetal blood; the birthcry, with someone bleeding. A mother always bleeds. A motherland, too. She is made to bleed. Motherlands that oppose the continuation of the colonial project in Africa are always made to bleed, especially if they are heavy with children and want to give birth. Someone, probably acting on behalf of the colonial invader, would always want to prevent the birth, or to kill the baby at birth. Why are colonial mercenaries afraid of the legitimate child that is waiting to be born?

We will still have to return to “Birthcry” and and penetrate its semiotics from many angles. But Obi Nwakanma completely swept me off my feet with another poem in the collection, “March 15”! Today is March 15 and right before me is Obi Nwakanma telling me about that very date in a poem! Now, this is more than a coincidence! From “Birthcry” (read in relation to struggles for post-colonial self-determination) to the temporal deixis of my encounter with the text, the exact location in time of my encounter with Obi Nwakanma’s inspiring voice!
Here are some verses that engage my attention greatly:

Flight of the white bird, O she
Who shapes the form of the bough,
Remember, there is nemesis for the hand
That yokes the bow to the arrow.

I saw the falcons
On the rise of five suns,
They flew inclined
Towards the East.

Yes, “… the hand/That yokes the bow to the arrow” waits for nemesis. I can relate with that, too. No one escapes natural justice, societies too. Worse, if societies still repeat their past mistakes and arrogantly refuse to accept that they have erred. Postcolonial societies that think they have to continue the coloniser’s project, have already submitted themselves to the hand of nemesis. Their intellectuals know the truth, but they would not say it. They are probably afraid of something or somebody. They would rather maintain silence, as an avoidance strategy. But such avoidance strategy doesn’t always work. They have already made themselves victims by denying themselves a vocal resistance as an assertion of their fundamental human rights.

Watch how some intellectuals that analysed and criticised tyranny in other lands choose to dance around the issue when their own countries are involved. They have been caged by fear or the bonds they share with rulers who do the very things they criticise about other countries. It could even be shared prejudice.

I am happy that I have met Obi Nwakanma at the bookstand today. I am delighted that his thoughts strengthen mine. Glad that I have found great thoughts and great words to lean on. Roll on, March 15.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Oduche, Ezeulu's Son in Chinua Achebe's in Arrow of God, Writes to His Father


Obododimma Oha

Dear Nnaanyi, Ogbuefi Eze Eziokwu,
I am writing to you this letter as a way of providing you with a report of my experience with the white man’s ways, particularly because you asked me to be your eyes and your ears in what the white man has brought to our land. I wish you had lived a bit longer for me to give you this report directly in your obi, two of us alone. That would have pleased me greatly. I know you would have put in a word here and there in response and would have couched your advice in a powerful proverb or two. I hear that one can actually talk to a dead relative through a letter by writing it and burning it on the dead person’s grave. I don’t know whether it is true, whether it works, but I want to try it. I am going to burn this letter on your grave secretly, around midnight. I am not sure our priest would approve of that – and I have neither asked for his views on it nor his permission. I want to try it secretly first, without letting anyone know.

Father, I know that you would first like to know whether I have mastered the white man’s magic of putting down thoughts in the form of marks on paper. Yes, I have. Of course, the evidence of that fact is that I am the one writing this letter privately! I wish you could rise from your grave and see me. Or can you see me? Can you also read what I am writing since you are now a spirit? I really would be delighted if you could read my letter by yourself, not employing the services of another spirit who is literate. You never can be sure, that other spirit could, afterwards, let out our secret. He could pass the information to another spirit who cannot keep secrets and before you know it, one of our church members would get the information in his dream and I would be disgraced! Just as I am your eyes and ears here, it would be nice if you become my eyes and my ears too in the land of the spirits, revealing things to me once in a while, please.

Ogbuefi, it is not how the chewing of the bitter kola sounds to the ears that it tastes on the tongue. It is good to embrace the white man’s values – learn something like writing a letter and reading it or other written things, as well as join the white man in his worship – but these are not the whole story. Do you know that with all that learning and all that praying, the people still practise wickedness, still discriminate and hold on to selfishness? There is still a lot of quarreling here and there in church and in school; there is still the nwannadi in everything. You would think that those who have attended school would be more refined and peaceful. It is not so! Indeed, father, human beings will always be human beings; their conversion to new life can never be complete! I am ashamed to tell you about the nwannadi they are doing to me in assigning positions in our church council. I indicated that I would like to serve as secretary, because I can write very well now, having completed my Standard Six. Even the priest commented that he was amazed at the speed at which I could learn and was very happy with me. That Thomas the son of Ilo opened the mouth with which he eats yam and cocoyam and said that I was too ambitious, that I should wait for my own time! I even heard from a reliable source that he said that people won’t take the church seriously if I become secretary!

I passed my Standard Six examination and should have been selected to go to teacher’s college, but Enoch the catechist suggested that Oliver the son of Edogo should go instead, that he was the first to indicate interest. You see, they just want to show me that they have influence. They even ridiculed me because my father was the priest of Ulu, asking me whether you have seen the new moon now and can authorize the eating of the new yam. When they gang up against me like that, they won’t call me by my baptism name, Paul, again, but would prefer to call me Oduche. “Oduche!” “Oduche!” Yes, I am Oduche and will always be. I am no longer anxious to be addressed as “Paul.” I am Oduche the son of Ezeulu! Not that I cannot withstand njakiri, but using it constantly to attack my person as a convert is not acceptable at all. If I had known that I would meet that kind of politics in the new religion, I would not have joined in the first place. I blame myself. Father, is it not the person that Imo sees his feet that it carries away?

I know you were not pleased with the way I treated that sacred python I put inside a box. I was meaning to apologize for it. It was Enoch that persuaded me to do it to prove my conversion and seriousness to other converts. The same person has turned back to say that there is a curse in my family and it is because of that that we do strange things! I am sorry that I listened to him; it was an act of extreme zeal. Please, forgive me for doing that and almost causing the family to be ostracized.

This other message would infuriate you. I hear the white people plan to stay in our land and to rule us for a long time. I don’t like that at all. I thought they just brought education and a new religion to help us to become better human beings. Now, they are talking about ruling us for a long time as if we are their slaves. I thought they would just show us the way and allow those of us who have embraced their ways to rule our land. How can strangers become the landlords? Does the stranger know or understand the ways of our people? They just used the religion to deceive us and rule our land.

Father, I want to be your eyes and your ears in a meaningful way. I now realize that I am not just there to listen and observe the white man’s ways and the white man’s plans. I am there also to say something and to do something about what I see. Isn’t that a better way to be your eyes and your ears, to be you, actually?

Eze Eziokwu, Ezeulu! Eze Gadagwom! I greet you! Now that you are not here physically, I long for your noble presence greatly. Sometimes, I wish I could see you and share my feelings of anger and disappointment with you. I need your wise counsel now. If you can get this letter, I would really be very happy. I have to end the letter here. I don’t want it to be a long one. If you get it, talk to me in my dream, please.
Thank you very much.

Your loving son,