I stumbled upon an article weeks ago, about a newlywed who was rushed to the hospital, as a result of Orgasm that had lasted for over an hour and still ongoing. It got stowed away in memory, as one of those weird things you can’t be certain are true but hit the internet anyway.
This is what Okey Ndibe’s ‘Foreign Gods Inc.’ did to me. It was an immensely pleasurable read, and when I finally put it down, the waves took a while to calm, days, weeks.
What was special?
Without fear of sounding like a broken record, I say again, that the amount of Orange backs (African Writers Series) I consumed as a child was pivotal to the sort of fiction that catches my fancy today. I am inclined, first choice always, to stories by African authors. The themes explored in the books, led me to ask questions, answers of which left me with a deep awareness and awe of our culture and traditions.
Over the years, I have found good pleasure in our contemporary stories by both new and established voices. Purple Hibiscus- that story was everything relatable, I didn’t need to ask questions like
“Daddy, what is Omu nkwo? Why do they place it between their lips when performing procedures?”
I recall Oso-mmanwu one Christmas, coincidence that a certain relative was absent from the event, and that a certain masquerade quite nearly flogged me but for some reason not the swiftness of my feet, I escaped. That incident reminded me of the immediate hushing in Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things fall apart’, when a thought crossed, on the similarity between Okonkwo’s steps and that of a masquerade, which were believed to be spirit of the ancestors.
Purple Hibiscus was none of that, it was for me, a welcome awakening –stories about the younger generation are beginning to be told by the younger generation.
After a while, I began to yearn again, for culture infused prose. I found myself rereading Arrow of God and the like. I stumbled upon Akachi Ezeigbo’s ‘The Last of the Strong ones’, a book I want to read again. The story was just what I needed at the time, my hometown –Obeledu, was even mentioned, alongside neighboring towns I have been too, I could almost grasp the vividness of the imagination it evoked in me.
So I find that my choice sways like palm branches in the wind, and nothing culture infused blew my way till Foreign Gods. The beautiful thing about the book is that it began, set initially in the Ovacees. Next thing, you are carried and dropped wham! inside Libations and praise being served to a local god. The servant of a diety, interrupted by the ring of his mobile phone
“Hello…call me back”
and returning to breaking Kolanut and chants to his deity, It doesn’t get any better!
I had this discussion recently, and we didn’t seem to find common ground. Where do we find Fiction like this these days?
Book Sales, writing what would make good sales. Why should writing a book not result in astounding commercial success? Why shouldn’t the days and nights writing and rewriting pay off? Some gave this as a reason, culture infused themes are not in popular demand right now.
Someone rejected a recent short story of mine, in which I mentioned the old Tejuosho market, as not been modern enough. It made me shiver a little about a short story sitting in my files, set around the Agulu lake, emphasis on a little. Something similar to sales, Awards, I adopt the above paragraph for this point as well.
Another said our old cultures and traditions were no longer relevant to these times, therefore needless to write about. On a debate on a colleague’s Facebook post, Emeka Okahia, someone said culture evolved. I do not know whether or how to refute this, after all, the Protagonist in Foreign Gods Inc. experienced spells suspected to be deity related in faraway America. So did Culture evolve truly, or did our perception of it evolve?
Religion, plays some role here. The propagation of the death to sin, resulted in a dearth of some of our traditions and heritage. There seemed to be no consensus of what should go and what should stay, some good things that went (are going), are quickly justified as wrong under religion. Traditional marriages are deemed heathen in some quarters, best believe. A young couple hiss about the necessity of a traditional wedding, when they reluctantly agree and Elders shed light on why we have to consider the Igbo market days before fixing a date, they get a couple of eyeballs rolled at them
Again, maybe Culture is plain razz, not Pop enough. The ewww that greets me when I say we are having a big new yam family festival.
“You mean to say y’all can’t just buy yams and eat?”
“We can, but we don’t just start eating new yams”
“Na wa for you people o, Yam is Yam”
So yep! How can we write about things we do not even find worthy of discussions?
Thankfully, they are not totally extinct, but it a struggle these days. We still have the Eyo festival, the Ojude Oba Festival recently held in Ijebu Ode, the Njiko carnival of Eastern Nigeria, infuse these themes deep into our fiction, not scratch/surface level. The Myths surrounding some of these festivities, culture, tradition, our heritage in entirety, play with them, take them to America like Okey Ndibe, bring them back, throw them left, shift them right, the power is in our pens.
May our Ink never run dry, Iseee.