A REVIEW OF TADE IPADEOLA’S THE SAHARA TESTAMENT

Title: The Sahara Testament
Author:Tade Ipadeola
Genre: Poetry
Format: Paperback
Extent: 184 pages
ISBN: 978-978-51826-6-8
Publisher:Hornbill House of the Arts, Lagos

 

 

The natural man would rather appreciate objects such as the snake from a reasonable distance. Only when assured of his safety does he then begin to adulate the object’s grace and charm.It is the same with the privileged class who would collect Van Gogh and revere Mother Teresa and St. Francis of Assisi even though they themselves would rather not relinquish their comforts and experience 1/10th of the life their ‘heroes’ lived. THE SAHARA TESTAMENT bridges that chasm between us and the desert life.At first we recoil from its horror and harshness. And then we begin to understand it and to draw nearer until we begin to experience it with the poet persona. What the book does is throw you beside your self. It knocks you out of your mind. Reading through it, you become born again. “There is no birth of consciousness without pain”, Says Carl Jung.

Even as I write this review, I still have not been able read the book from front page to back page not minding that I have had it for over two years now. I mean, how does one read The Sahara Testament from its first page to the last? Who can claim to have done so? Possibly, not even the author.

The Sahara Testament is not the type of book that is come by every day. Blot the poet’s name from the book cover and the book would easily pass for a multi-authored inter-generational collection on the geography and anthropology of the Sahara.

“And in the beginning…”

Thus begins the very first verse of the very first chapter of The Sahara Testament. And it does start at the very beginning of existence when it was yet vegetation and reptiles; to the very beginning when “Atlantic winds carried echoes from the Amazon Rainforest”; the very beginning when “Flora breathed the nascent Levant air free from Mediterranean speech”. So typical of the griot that Tade Ipadeola is.

What distinguishes the poet from the ordinary man is the eye. The former’s eye is gifted, or rather accursed, with a special lens that enables it spot the extraordinary in scenes that the ordinary man’s would miss. The poem in pp4 proves just that. I am astonished at how a random encounter in a public place can be captured so elaborately.

“The fishwife in her wooden market stall

Tucks in a franc into her black brassiere,

Smiles as she hands over the fish…”

 

The persona becomes fascinated by her teeth which

 

“glisten whiter than the sassier

 

Neighbours, whiter than any woman’s, so white

I wondered if God knew she’d make it

Into a magnet for custom and light…”

 

When I think why the persona would refrain from pitting his “halting French against her effortless river/ Of Bambara and market French”, the only likely reason that comes to mind is that he anticipates subsequent encounters and therefore would rather not do anything that would diminish his prospects. He must have become so enraptured that he eventually forgets:

 

“What the fish tasted like, but not the fever

Of curiosity, flaring as it did from the nugget

 

Of ivory that blinded my wandering eyes…”

 

But in spite of all these,

 

“The desert was ever present, its idiolect

Suffusing the streets with a certain ease…”

 

One of the things about desert life is that it makes you become more alive. You learn to appreciate the environment. It affords you time and space to notice hitherto insignificant things like the sand and the scorpions and the night sky and all other such things. Page 44 draws our attention to:

“The swagger of young eagles soaring in the sun

Oblivious to the weight of light resting

On outstretched wings, their trajectory of fun

Wide as the Sahara…”

 

I am touched by the anticlimax that befalls this “lords of flight” which slice “clean as swords/ through morning air”:

 

“Soon they age compared to mountains, soar alone

For decades soaring, outliving the condors

Coming to rest in a ball of feathers on a stone.”

 

 

Just like the persona, you would also pity

 

“…their hyperactive femininity

Their perennial regicide, their shrinking kingdom

Embering out to ash with sex and DDT.”

 

We are not spared the violence and grimness of the desert world where

“… The dead lay in throngs, Arabs and Black

From smoke and steel, clubs and poisoned pike.” (Pp 48)

 

And again

“… All night the final battle raged

men dying in thousands like fish with oiled gills

gasping for air amid the ruins…” (Pp 49)

 

This same desert which “nibbles at asphalt like black chocolate” is still home to millions who have grown to understand its language. It is only the migrant who sees the desert as the

 

“…face

Of that hidden museum of hellish inquisition,

Lacking all kindness, compassion and grace

Impervious to the merits of calm disquisition.”(Pp 116)

 

However, against all odds, there is hope in the horizon. The harshness and violence that mark out the desert are nothing but harbingers that announce the coming of better things.We get to learn (in Page 151) that

“The colours of freedom are the same colours

As those of the newly born, blood precedes

The narrative and pangs of pain, it pours

With the crowning, it multiples, it recedes

 

For a spell before the joy is born.

Fragile baby joy- arriving in a slender frame…”

 

 

Tade Ipadeola has proven to be one of the last flag bearers of the old guard who still insist on keeping poetry as an art/for only the strong-hearted. Those are the very few who knows what it is to wait upon the Muse to drop on their souls words that merge into phrases and grow into lines and stanzas until they read like chants by the oracles of Delphi. With The Sahara Testaments (and works like it),Tade Ipadeola (and others like him) has in no small way renewed the faith of many who had contemplated giving up on poetry since after the band of cavaliers broke through the gates and hijacked the stage.

 

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END OF YEAR IN BENDE AND BEYOND

This coming Christmas season may mean everything to you, but not to the people in Bende (and few other) Local Government Area(s) in Abia State. Not that Christmas doesn’t ring a bell, but Otu Omu (a celebration of old age and of the official retirement from active communal functions of the oldest Age Grade), rings a louder bell. Usually observed at the end of December, it is a time when the community celebrates and approves an Age-Grade assigned project(s) deemed to satisfy the needs of the community. On successful completion of said project(s) by the retiring age grade, a special day is set aside for presentation and handling over of the project(s) to the community headed by the “Ezie Ogo”. In certain circles, the Otu Omu ceremony is considered so important a rite of passage that some individuals would be heart-broken to die before their age grade got to perform theirs.

Dance troupes move from one compound to another, chief among which will be the War Dancers, to rival the DJ’s deafening loudspeakers. Inscriptions such as CONGRATS TO OUR DADDY/MOMMY or FINISHING STRONG take the place of SEASON’S GREETINGS or MERRY CHRISTMAS/ HAPPY NEW YEAR. Large photos of the smiling celebrants hang where those of Santa Claus’ ought to have, ordinarily. At one end of the courtyard stands a small booth covered all over with the costly and much valued George wrapper. Even the chair inside this booth is also enshrouded in George wrapper. The celebrant dresses in a flowing blouse, a George wrapper, a stately headgear, and a walking stick or some other symbol of office. In some cases two or three chairs are placed on each side of the celebrant’s, where dearest friends and relations can sit momentarily to share drinks with the celebrant. It is the time for even the lowliest of the pack, who had never rested from menial labour, to finally get a pinch of nobility; to understand how Emperors felt when they were surrounded by happy and loyal subjects. A desk stands at another corner of the courtyard for the notary, who is usually a trusted member of the family, for the purpose of collecting visitors’ names and cash gifts, the worth of which might determine the kind of souvenirs the donors might get. There have been cases where some wealthy visitors showed up with police escorts or some other armed private security who released occasional shots into the air as a deterrent to potential criminals and to also remind the other visitors that there were superhumans amongst them.

At dusk, the tired celebrant rises in a dignified manner and waltzes into the sitting room, which might still be crowded by family members and friends, to wave at, shake hands with, or even embrace one or two persons before retiring into his or her bedchamber.

Otu Omu is hardly 100% bliss. For one, it is the worst time to be the poor son or daughter who can’t make significant contributions towards your parent’s party. It is also a time for less privileged celebrants to embrace painful reality, seeing the superior gifts and personalities that flood some other celebrants’ booths.

Otu Omu is not an occasion for only the elderly, but also for the youths. It must delight the elders to see young men and women donning the traditional costume, even though some of the guys use jeans trousers in place of loin cloth. It is a time that city beauties come back home to mingle with other returnees. It is a time that successful guys in the diaspora visit home to be thrilled by home-based maidens, some of whom were still adolescents few years ago when the boys were leaving home for the city. It is a time for re-union and match-making.

But, perhaps, what matters the most is that Otu Omu is a moment of plenty: plenty food even for households that can’t feed two consecutive times in a day; plenty music for stiff joints to stretch in a dance; plenty opportunities for faces long wrinkled with frowns to get to smile again.

DIARY OF A NAGGER (A Review of Timi Rowland Kpakiama’s SONG OF BENASORO)

Title: Song of Benasoro
Author: Timi Rowland Kpakiama
Genre: Poetry
Format: Paperback
Extent: 66 pages
ISBN: 978-978-934-004-0
Publisher: Origami Books, Parresia Press

 

It is a collection of 15 poems by one Benasoro and one Brisibe about a million trivialities. Put more precisely, it is basically a diary of a provincial nag by name Benasoro, who is languishing in unrequited love for her husband Brisibe who fancies some other woman. Benasoro just cannot understand why Brisibe “despises” her for Cecilia whose

“… bones crack

Like dry kuru wood when

She walks. Her age

Has long passed child-bearing…”

 

She cannot hide her disgust for ballroom dancing which she thinks is “for those with scabies on their buttocks”. She finds it appalling that

“A man whom you are not married to

Would politely place his hands

On your shoulders

Bobbing up here and there like averen insects.”

 

But at the end she learns to

“cast down my pride,

And trampled on it

With the sole of my sandals

And learnt the steps of the ballroom dancing,”

 

Benasoro is a total aberration of “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” She lacks the jealousy of Cleopatra. Where you expect her to fight her rival, she whiningly complains to her inattentive clansmen. Where you expect her to be reasonable, she jeers at her rival from a safe distance. No psychoanalyst will take Benasoro seriously. Not because her case is irredeemable but because she is unstable. One moment she is deriding ballroom dancing and another moment she becomes very interested in it she wants to learn it. One moment she admits that Cecilia “drinks from the clay pot” and then later she tells us that Cecilia is so posh she doesn’t “drink from our water pot…”

She doesn’t even spare her husband who has become so westernized that he will put on his “three-piece suit under the/ roof of this scorching sun…” We further learn that he

“… kills his time

Reading Marx’s The Capital

He does not have spare time

For unproductive talk.”

 

Brisibe is suffering from Salvation Complex. Even before he becomes a member of the People Liberation Party, he vows that “he will single-handedly uproot the huge/ tree of poverty and ignorance/ that is blocking the view of Oyakiri clan.” He claims

“… he alone has

The chest to chase the python poverty

Away from the impoverished gates of Oyakiri and Kabo.”

 

There is very little else Brisibe seems to have to do than deride every other person. He believes that

 

“… the Kaduna Mafia

Are responsible for the arrival of

Python poverty swallowing the hopes of our countrymen.

The mafia must be eliminated at all costs.”

 

Benasoro is not only hysteric but also suffers from Persecution Complex. In THE THATCH OF THIS RAFTER IS FALLING, she tells us how

“For decades, each Hausa warloard

Has lived in the castle of our skin.

The dissident says his pygmy mind

Had not been circumcised

On the mountain of books,

So he does not care that

The university’s gate is growing rusty”

Song of Benasoro chronicles the career life cycle of the average politician. At first, they don the revolutionary garb armed to the teeth with Marxist or liberalist ideologies. Next, they endear themselves to the masses, vowing to restore the world to the state of Eden if given the opportunity to occupy public offices. But once they have gotten there, they will align with the old enemy and mutually rape the helpless masses. Brisibe completes that crazy cycle. Through the People Liberation Party, he occupies a position of power from where he hopes to dismantle the

“… Structures of the Kaduna Mafia,

Grind it into powder and blow it into

The endless pit of River Gongola

Where it will be washed away forever.” (pp 19)

 

But soon he joins the Millionaire Club, and

“… washes his velvet hands

With Spanish wine at the same table

With retired Generals whose oil fields sullied the creeks

Of Oyakiri and Tarakiri clans!” (pp 21)

 

At first glance, one can easily be intimidated by some of the names in the AKNOWLEDGMENT page and in the blurbs section of this book. One would think that these persons should have been able to spot, and then alert the poet about, the handful of stones that has ended up marring his plate of rice. The reader’s enthusiasm begins to corrode right from the ACKNOWLEDGMENT page which seems too rife with grammatical errors. None of the fifteen poems that make up the collection can be totally absolved of one grammatical error or the other. There is no doubt that the poet and his publisher have good intentions towards their readers. But that alone is insufficient to make the readers’ hearts dance. More can be done by both writers and publishers to see that works don’t get out of the laboratory until it has survived the test of fire and.

One good thing about this book is that it will make you wonder once again what makes a thing a poem? Is it its form or its substance? Is converting a flood of words into short uneven lines (whether or not these words spark up imageries at a higher plane) enough to make a write-up a poem?

I am not saying that reading this book isn’t worth the pains. Of course, any effort to propagate literature is a welcome development. Majority of us may not dispute the fact that Song of Benasoro is a poetry collection, even though most of us would wish that the words within were as graphical and picturesque as the rich cover design of the book.