WHEN THE GODS ARE SLOW TO ACT: A Review of Friday John Abba’s Alekwu Night Dance

Title: Alekwu Night Dance
Author: Friday John Abba
Publisher: Write Words Consulting
Number of pages: 115
Year of publication: 2013
Category: Play

A member of Council, a supposed pillar in the land, is driven by nothing short of envy and malice to the point of contracting a lunatic to deflower the belle of the land. But things go awry and the agent ends up killing her after taking her life. This sacrilege sets off the dark music that forces Alekwu, the deity of the land, to a macabre dance. Continue reading “WHEN THE GODS ARE SLOW TO ACT: A Review of Friday John Abba’s Alekwu Night Dance”

FAITH vs. FATE: A REVIEW OF SU’EDDIE VERSHIMA AGEMA’S THE BOTTOM OF ANOTHER TALE

 

 

Title:The Bottom of Another Tale
Author:Su’eddie Vershima Agema
Genre:Short Stories
Format: Paperback
Extent: 142 pages
ISBN: 978-978-525-95-6-8
Publisher:SEVHAGE Publishers

 

 

THE BOTTOM OF ANOTHER TALE is a collection of short stories over 98% of which is told in the past tense. They are about disillusionment. They are about loss: loss of hope, loss of life and loss of the mind.

In this book, life is lived in retrospect. Many of the characters yearn for the lives long lost. Not that the past is paradisiacal, but it somehow has something the present hasn’t. Perhaps, it is sheer nostalgia. Besides, time has a way of romanticizing the past.

The most striking, for me, of the themes in this collection is that of faith. In The River’s Testament, we meet the educated Tombo who has become so westernized to the extent that he no longer considers himself the “sort of African who believed in such nonsense” as traditions. To him, “Traditions were old pieces of caution and action that had been created for specific events. Ignorant people continued them even when the importance had long faded.”

Tombo will easily represent all the National Youth Service Corps members who don’t pay attention at the Orientation Camp when they are being told to respect the cultures and traditions of the host community they are deployed to. Being a teacher of English Language and Literature, it is most probable he has read Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God and has been impressed by the colonialist who pulls over by the highway to pick out British currency from a pot of sacrifice.

From the very beginning, Tombo doesn’t plan to stoop low to the lesser civilization he has been involuntarily thrust into. We learn that he “exchanged the hell he found for a bit of bliss provided in the opportunity to learn more of the language and traditions of the people- more for literary material to aid his writing than for acculturation.”

Even though Bantaje is “a peaceful village with good people”, Tombo cannot stop reminiscing about South Africa where he had spent his formative years; a place he likes to think of as “the lands of better thinking people”.

“You don’t believe in our traditions?” Rekia, the local beauty that has charmed his heart asks him one night.

“Not at all,” our enlightened Tombo grins. “I think they make for good humour, great laughter and all but that is it…”

The local belief he finds most amusing is that the river has the power to kill on nights of full moon. Of course, Tombo doesn’t doubt that someone can drown and die in the river. That is natural enough and has scientific explanation. But the problem arises when the villagers try to ascribe supernatural tendencies to the river. And to prove them wrong, Tombo runs to the river for a swim in one of the nights of full moon.

Humans have rebelled against God and laws. Humans have always wanted to be master of both their lives and universe. Adam and Eve ate the fruit they were forbidden to touch. Drunken with success, Odyssey declared his autonomy from Posidon the god of the sea who reminds him that “man is nothing without the gods.”

Barely twenty four hours after his challenge to the gods and rites of the land, Tombo is revisits the riverside once more this time around to search for the lump of money he is sure he must have dropped the previous night. Only, he ends up running mad. And by the end of the story, he has become a convert.

While The River’s Testament is about an enlightened soul being converted into a believer of superstitions, Luashie’s Doctrine is of a believer becoming disillusioned. Lushie has seen it all, from the bizarre miracles in Pentecostal churches to the calmness and serenity of mass and communion in the Roman Catholic Church. Attending early morning mass becomes his escape from the harsh realities of (family) life and a bullying wife. He feels so fulfilled in this faith that “there was no way he was ever going to even think about changing his faith.” But he returns home that same day and engages in a fight with his wife, an incidence that leaves him hospitalized and shakes his faith to the point that he becomes sure he’s not going to stay with the church much longer.

In A Lust Intervention, Amina fails to entrap Tarlumun with food and sex in order to steal his prosperity and his luck. She first makes his acquaintance at a construction site which he is supervising, where she approaches him ostensibly to “inquire if she could get a contract to supply some building materials”. Eventually, she sets a perfect scene and mood for seduction and only fails because Tarlumun’s fiancé, Nnenna, is busy that same night in intercessory prayers on behalf of her man.

The Gaping Void takes it a notch higher. It proves faith can reverse fate and that all things are possible if only one believes. I have hardly read through the first two paragraphs when these lines from J. P. Clark’s Abiku ran through my mind:

“Coming and going these several seasons

Do stay out on the baobab tree

Follow where you please your kindred spirits

If indoors is not enough for you…”

 

You cannot but feel sorry for the family of Ebuka and Adaora who keeps having Ogbanje babies that die only to be reborn eventually. The sestet embedded in the story says it all:

“Ogbanjes die

They will delight you with a cry

Then, in early childhood die

Locate your tear bank, prepare your cry

They might deceive you a few years but by and by

Ogbanjes die”

 

Like Tombo in The River’s Testament, Ebuka has little or no regard for customs and tradition. We are told that he views “custom as simply a course to which people willed that which would befall them.”

According to Cacious in Julius Ceaser, neither “stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass/ nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron/ can be retentive to the strength of spirit…”

Ebuka goes on to name the baby Victor, insisting that the child will live despite that the others are clamouring to scar the baby in order to identify him in his next coming. By the time the boy Victor is old enough to go play football in the street, his father is unexplainably absent. Adaora has given birth to another repeater child, a baby girl. Adaora proves to be the antithesis of her husband. Rather than replicate what Ebuka did in the past, she resigns to fate and says to Victor: “Your sister has decided to leave us. There is nothing we can do.”

But Victor, the redeemed Ogbanje, refuses to give up without a fight. He picks up the baby and does to her what his father had done to him in his own time.

While a mere phrase can hardly be said to be devoid of message in whatever way, some of the stories in this collection doesn’t seem to merit their place. You either find them too short for a quickie, or quite fleshy but tasteless. The reader comes out from them suspecting that they were just used to make up the pages. The Pen and Sword, which is approximately 223 words, is still vague even as a facebook status update.

Su’eddie Vershima Agema does something remarkable in THE BOTTOM OF ANOTHER TALE. Faith and fate are ascribed equal powers, the only determining factor being the individual for whom it is left to either let the former overrule the latter or vice versa. Things aren’t necessarily what we think they are. Everything is what we make of them.

SERVIO’S BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS

(A Review of Servio Gbadamosi’s A Tributary In Servitude)

One is tempted to say that A Tributary In Servitude is a tribute to the Congolese poet Tchicaya U Tam’si (1931–1988), whose works are basically on the (mainly negative) effects of foreign religions and traditions on Africa. Three out of the six sections that A Tributary In Servitude is divided into open with quotes or excerpts from Tchicaya.
On the one hand, Servio Gbadamosi delights in playing the griot and curator of the nation’s history/ traditions. On the other hand, he stoops under its crushing weight and bursts out in frustration because he doesn’t seem to have many, or even any, compatriot(s) willing to share his burden. And one of the wonders of this book is the way the poet fuses these two states of mind without seeming to suffer any cognitive dissonance.
A Tributary in Servitude is a dirge from a crushed spirit and a broken heart. I have wondered why or how Servio Gbadamosi could even afford to sing (albeit a sad one) bearing this crushing load. I remember the book of Psalms 137:4 where the captives at Babylon asked: “How shall we sing (the Lord’s) song in this strange land?” But then, I also remember Samuel Beckett’s: “When you are in the last bloody ditch, there is nothing left but to sing.”
The poem IRRITATIONS IN THE OYSTER is the outburst of pent-up anger and frustration. Indeed, every messenger despairs at one time or another in their prophetic career? The prophet Jeremiah has this confession to make: “… Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in his name.’ But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.” Jeremiah 20:9
The burning passion and zeal locked up in the heart of the persona in IRRITATIONS IN THE OYSTER eventually bursts and pours out in a wake-up call to the wayward country, nation and people:

“… the waters tumble

out with armoured fists to tame

a prodigal.

My country wobbles

fumbles, tumbles, crumbles…”

While showering encomium on the revivalist who diligently and tenaciously fashions out a new generation, he dismisses the present turbulence as labour pains that precede the birth of something good:

Hurray for the potter foraging clay

by the burrows of crab…

who, drawing from the ticktack

interpreted the friction within as

irritations permeating an oyster

just before a pearl is born.

He then calls on the new creation(s) to in turn liberate their brethren who are still in bonds of iron:

“O hatchling, o fledgling

crack with thine feeble beak

the bonds of their iron-

come taste the newness of dawn. “

The nostalgia in this book knows no bound. Even when in love, the poet doesn’t desist from looking back to the very beginning when he was still innocent; when he was “still holy to the bone”. By then, a woman was more or less something to be laughed at and teased; a hand to be shaken condescendingly. In the first movement of the poem TORRENTS FROM SILENCE the poet argues that it is not always a butterfly in the stomach “when two look at two”, be they civilizations or opposite sexes. For some people, it can be a rumble. Or even a hurricane. Which is why the persona begs this queen of hearts to desist from tantalizing him because “my passion jumps at your fickle light”. The persona is such a die-hard that despite being in love with this charming lady whose fickle light he cannot help but trail even to the point of dashing his toe and bleeding, he still mourns that:

“… suddenly

they now appear the guide

piloting the music of my dreams…

where is my innocence?”

And then, as if on second thought, he admits that not only does he enjoy loving her and that “she still leads the way to my morrow…”
There are times that A Tributary In Servitude reads like the transcript of a griot’s notebook. Or put more precisely, there are times the book reads like the transliteration of Yoruba incantation.

.

“I salute each nut

with a wand of rock.

I salute each nut

with a wand of rock.” (pp 44)

hus begins the poem, PRELUDE TO TEARS, which talks about ‘us’ and ‘them’; how ‘they’ robbed ‘us’. It is a mourning of lost pride and heritage; a mockery of naivety and gullibility. If the poems in this book were to be arranged chronologically (and who says they aren’t?), perhaps PRELUDE TO TEARS would come first. For me, it traces the very beginning of the end.

“Dreams die to the glory of famished gods”

Basically, there are two reasons why people abandon their gods: (a) when the gods under-supply peace and prosperity; (b) when the gods over-supply peace and prosperity. An instance of the first case is in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God where the people of Aninta destroyed their deity, Ogba, when it stops doing what it is looked upon to do. The Old Testament section of the Bible is full of accounts where the people become lax in their devotion to God once they begin to enjoy peace and prosperity for so long. But for whatever reason, once the gods are put away, calamity is bound to befall the people to the delight of the abandoned God(s).
A people in disarray is a people heading to the rocks. They get busy making so much bang with little impact; so much flash with no fire.

We were busy shouting

We were busy swearing

And things are busy falling apart. Will Durant (1885-1981) couldn’t have been more apt when he said “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.”

“If you examine the stories

And force them through a sieve

You will see what I see-

The pot was leaking before it broke.”

And then:

“They laughed, we laughed, and they laughed

we cried, they laughed and laughed and laughed;”

This calls to mind some lines from David Rubadiri’s Stanley Meets Mutesa:

“No more the burning heat of the day

But song, laughter and dance…

The gate of polished reed closes behind them

And the West is let in.”

And then, things began to fall apart.
The most dangerous wolf is that which comes in sheep’s clothing; those who wave white flags while hiding daggers under their trousers. Perhaps, the situation would not be hopeless if not that:

“We walk backing the sun that makes us proud

We sleep looking the sun in the eye but

Receive no illumination for our awkward hearts.”

We walk away from our heritage. Even when we manage to look at them it is to spite them, no wonder we become lost. That is the danger of throwing away the baby and the bath water. The children of the world (referred to in this poem as “the tortoise”, an animal famed in folklore for its acute cleverness) has always been wiser than the children of the kingdom.

But do you see them

my story-telling fathers

they adore the surface

and swear at digging.

If they see a thing

a line of puzzle

they do not understand

they will cook a myth…

It is interesting to note that A Tributary In Servitude is Servio Gbadamosi’s debut. It is a daring move which, though might not have hit the bull’s eye, but is surely not far from it. I must warn prospective readers to brace up; to ensure they’re equipped with a complete set of cutleries before diving into the dish. The unprepared is bound to experience turbulence here and there. In some places, one might sense a strained effort to create metaphor and excessive use of colours in painting of imageries. A chain of words bound together by hyphens might be crystal clear to the poet but they can easily make an average reader lose track.

“Icing-sugar-laced” (pp29)

“The king-on-bundles-of-leaves” (pp44)

“Jesus-Christ-of-Lazarus

Father-of-the-bulky-albino” (pp48)

“pope-amongst-all-kings” (pp52)

“king-on-bundles-of-leaves” (pp81)

“the-breeder-of-life” (pp81)

One of the offences that virtually every poet makes is assuming that other people have their kind of mind and therefore ought to understand their poems even when it is written in codes. I suppose it is the same thing with every other guild. Soldiers are wont to forget that they are of a different mould from the civilian. One of the ways out of this is to make poems as simple as they can be without losing the qualities that make them to be called poems.