Title: The Sahara Testament
Extent: 184 pages
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)
“… 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
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.