The Mystery of Tutu

This morning I listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on BBC Radio 4’s Cultural Exchange programme (in which creative minds choose their favourite cultural work) and learnt about Ben Ewonwu, the Nigerian artist ( 1917 – 1994). Adichie spoke about Ewonwu’s painting Tutu, of a Yoruba princess. The original painting has been missing for years, but when Adichie was growing up in Nnusuka, in South-east Nigeria, a print of the work was in practically every middle-class Nigerian household. It is still on the wall of her parents’ home.

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‘Tutu’ by Ben Ewonwu

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Sing On the Edge of Blue

On Edge of Time Future

I remember the history well:
The soldiers and politicians emerged
With briefcases and guns
And celebrations on city nights.

They scoured the mess
Reviewed our history
Saw the executions at dawn
Then signed with secret policemen

And decided something
Had to be done.

They scoured the mess
Resurrected old blue-prints
Of vicious times
Tracked the shapes of sinking cities

And learned at last
That nothing can be avoided
And so avoided everything.
I remember the history well.

2
We emerged from our rubbish mounds
Discovered a view of the sky
As the air danced in heat.

Through the view of the city
In flames, we rewound times
Of executions at beaches.
Salt streamed down our brows.

Everywhere stagger victims of rigged elections
Monolithic accidents on hungry roads
The infinite web of ethnic politics
Power-dreams of fevered winds.

The nation was a map stitched
From the grabbing of future flesh
And became a rush through
Historical slime

We emerged on edge
Of time future
With bright fumes
From burning towers.

The fumes lit political rallies.
We started a war
Ended it
And dreamed about our chance.

Fat fish eat little fish
Big ones arrange executions
And armed robberies.
Our rubbish shapes us all.

I remember the history well.
The tiger’s snarl is bought
In currencies of silence.
Eggs grow large:

A monstrous face is hatched.
On the edge of time future
I am a boy
With running sores

Of remember history
Watching the stitches widen
Waiting for the volcano’s laughter
In the fevered winds

Hearing the gnash
Of those who will join us
At the mighty gateways
With new blue-prints

With dew as seal
And fire as constant
And a trail through time past
To us

Who remember the history well.
We weave words on red
And sing on the edge of blue.
And with our nerves primed

We shall spin silk from rubbish
And frame time with our resolve.

~ Ben Okri, from An Afrian Elegy

Review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

things-fall-apartTHINGS FALL APART

By Chinua Achebe

(Anchor Books, 209 pages)

THIS was not my first reading of the book, but my third. I read Things Fall Apart for the first time in my teens, but I admit to only skimming then. The second time I read it was in 2014. For some reason, it was a hurried read and I did not retain much of the story.

Certainly, the first time I read it, I was a very silly girl who only read white authors. My Pinterest record of the books I read in 2014 has me completing the novel on 22nd Feb. Later that year I read other African authors like Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Sefi Atta. I believe that was the year I decided to make a big effort to read out of my comfort zone, i.e. more Asian and African authors. However, as it was early days, the part of my brain that handles reading was stuck in a rut. It still had to be kicked in the rear out of its literary ditch.

Three years on and I think I’ve succeeded in getting to a place where it’s not just stories by dead white women that make sense to me. And yes, my ‘problem’ with Things Fall Apart was that I couldn’t ‘make sense’ of it. The writing style, the content – including setting and characters – the language, nothing about it was what I was used to. Thus, I found it hard to relate to, or made no effort to try. Sure, I had read and loved Maru by Bessie Head twenty eight years before, but that was probably due to it being an A-level text, i.e. reading it maybe fifty times over, and discussing it with my tutor would have ensured that that story made complete sense.

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Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)

My partner, Don,  is Igbo, which is the ethnic group of the characters in Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe was also Igbo). I think this has made a difference to my recent reading of the book. This time round, the story seemed familiar. I recognised details from what Don has told me about Igbo cultural traditions. The way of life described was still strange, but it was easier to empathise with the characters and not completely dismiss their actions as outrageous or nonsensical.

It also helped being able to discuss the book with Don. He offered a different perspective and put things into a context I would have found it hard to imagine on my own.

The story is heartbreaking, on the level of it being the tale of a man’s downfall, and also in a larger historical and social context, as the story of the colonisation of Africa. The final sentence of the novel struck me to the core. It sums up the reality of the situation – in the novel, in history, and in race relations today.

A wife by any other name

I’ve never liked the practice of a woman changing her title and surname when she marries.

A man is a mister whether or not he’s married and so a woman should not need to go from Miss to Mrs. I use Ms. And I don’t see why a woman’s marital status is anyone’s business. Why does she need to announce to the world that she’s married?Read More »

Everyday is a Winding Road

‘I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.’ That’s sort of my motto because I like how it reflects my intention to always keep on moving forward, or even backward, in any direction, really, so long as it means not staying in places and situations that suck.

Well, right now I know I’m going to Lagos, Nigeria.

That’s the plan, but there is so much to put into place that I guess I feel lost and a bit directionless, like a headless chicken. Or Mulder and Scully seeking the truth and knowing it’s out there, but not knowing what exactly they’ll find.

So, I know where I’m headed, but it still seems like a dream, right now. I’m on my way though. I am.

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From The X-Files, a comic by Josephin Ritschel