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Literature

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“For the boys who will never be known

And the girls who become numbers”

– Stars without a Name

            If you have been wondering how the recent happenings in the north-eastern part of the country are going to turn out, you might as well stop wondering and pick up Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday to check if it fits into what you thought they would look like. Not only has Elnathan John ventured into the murky waters of insurgency in the North-East, he has tried as best as he can to explain some of the things happening in the North-east so that those who have never been there nor know next to nothing about what operates in the north-eastern part of Nigeria can understand to a certain extent what the Boko Haram insurgency is all about without having to grapple with details. Elnathan brings to bear the situation in this part of the country through an engrossing story told by a young boy, Dantala, whose growth we witness, from boyhood to manhood.

Divided into four parts with 263 pages, is a book that chronicles the coming of age of Dantala from an innocent Almajiri who learns at the feet of Mallam Jinadu, to a street urchin under the tutelage of Banda, to a mosque boy taken in and groomed by Sheikh Jamal and finally a black spirit, resolute even in the face of death.

The book Born on a Tuesday takes its title from the name of the protagonist Dantala which means someone born on a Tuesday (P.33).  It is narrated in the first person point of view which makes it more personal to the reader. It starts in Bayan Layi, in 2003 where we are introduced to the life of street urchins in the northern part of Nigeria as told by Dantala, a young Almajiri who ends up under the Kuka tree because of circumstances beyond his control. Who sends a child off to a Quaranic school under the instructions of a stranger for 12 years without checking on him and expects the child to turn out okay and return as a perfect man in the sight of Allah and his people?

Elnathan John touches on how politics is a tool that fuels the crisis in the north-eastern part of Nigeria. Although according to the book, the crisis between the Shia and Shiites has been in existence as far back as when Islam started, the elections were what opened the door to insurgency. Crisis are fueled by the politicians who give money to religious leaders to gain their supports causing division between ‘brothers’ who are supposed to have each other’s back.

Religion is supposed to bring equality among all but thanks to Born on a Tuesday, we now know that bigotry also exists in the religious circle. Mallam Abdul-Nur’s betrayal was alluded to him being a Yoruba man and according to Sheikh Jamal,

A Yoruba man is a Yoruba man.

No matter how Muslim they become.

They stab you in the back.

That is how they are. Hypocrites. (p.210)

            Elnathan John does not just leave it at politics, religion and insurgency; he delves into issues like homosexuality, masturbation, adultery and prostitution which are usually not talked about whenever religion is discussed. Dantala’s inability to confront Abdulkareem and Bilal about what he sees and the Sheikh’s decision to ignore Dantala’s masturbation to talk about marriage shows the hypocrisy in the religious circle concerning issues like this.

Worthy of note is Dantala’s journal entries which started when Jibril starts to teach him English. These entries though in simple English which sometimes are wrongly made and cancelled reflects Dantala’s inner thoughts. They are deep and although they are sometimes serious, there are times when you can’t keep yourself from smiling at the humour presented in the narrations.

Born on a Tuesday is such a good read and until you have read it, you just might not understand what it really is about when they say ‘every king was once a crying baby’. We are first humans before religion, culture and tribe separates us.

Thanks Elnathan for bringing to mind the Burni Yadi boys who were murdered in their sleep at Federal Government College Burni Yadi, Yobe on the 25th of February 2014 and the 276 Chibok girls kidnapped from their dormitory at Government College Chibok, Borno State on 14th of April same year.

 

 

Chaka is a profound historical fiction of the life of the founder of the Zulu Kingdom, Chaka, (sometimes spelt Shaka) who built a mighty empire during the first quarter of the 19th century. As an epic tragedy, the story’s arc followed the normal curve or the inverted ‘U’, where events are built up to the peak and begin to descend uncontrollably ending in the demise of the main character, Chaka.

 
In this novel, Mofolo mixes facts with fiction to recreate the legendary and wondrous life of one of Africa’s most mysterious and highly enigmatic figures. The eventful reign of Chaka (Shaka) became the epic tragedy of a heroic figure whose overweening ambition drove him to insane cruelty and ultimate ruin.

 
“I do not believe,” Mofolo writes, “that there was ever a human being whose life was as full of mystery as that of Chaka.” An attempt to capture this mystery led Mofolo to write Chaka in 1910. But his missionary publishers were so freaked out by the novel that they refused to publish it until 1925.

 
Chaka, born out of wedlock, became the first male child of Senzangakhona, the tribal king, who was previously without male children. He decided to marry again so that he can have a male offspring for the kingship. He became attracted to Nandi and, overcame by her beauty, took her when they were yet to be married, in violation of tribal law. She became pregnant, whereupon the two got married secretly. Chaka was born afterwards.

 
His position, however, became precarious after Senzangakhona’s senior wives began to bear him male children. The other wives were jealous of Nandi and her son Chaka, conspiring and imposing on Senzangakhona to send Chaka and Nandi away from the palace. They threatened to expose Senzangakhona for impregnating Nandi before marriage. Fearing that his tabooed deed might be found out, Senzangakhona acceded to his wives’ demands. In spite of this, and perhaps exacerbated by it, the news of Chaka’s rejection and his illegitimacy spread through the villages, making him object of ridicule and persecution.

 
Like any oppressed soul, Chaka believed that things would change since right and justice was on his side. That illusion however faded away when he heard his father order his death, even as he stared Chaka in the eye.

 
Chaka was on the run from assassins when he met one of the most ruthless witchdoctors that ever graced the pages of an African novel, Isanusi. Isanusi, who liked the young man and promised him that if he will obey in all things, he will one day inherit his father’s kingship, which was rightfully his by birth. Isanusi was the guy who made things happen. He was the magician, the sorcerer, the therapist, the priest, the conman, the strategist, the visionary, the confidante, the doctor, the hit-man, the fixer—the everything man— that every great empire-builder in history has had by his side.

 
He was the one who “inoculated” Chaka with the “medicine of blood.” “If you do not spill blood,” Isanusi explains to Chaka, “it will turn against you and kill you instead. Your sole purpose should be to kill without mercy, and thus clear the path that leads to the glory of your kingship.”

 
Isanusi turned Chaka into a killing machine. A man who had been hunted all his life had returned to bring the world to its knees.

 
By living up to this mandate to kill or be killed, Chaka instituted a political order never before imagined in his part of the world. But the blood on which his beautiful empire was built did not stay still forever. Chaka was eventually consumed by the violence that made him king and lived out the rest of his days in what can be described as schizophrenia.

 
The story of great emperors gone mad is old and familiar, but Mofolo tells it with all the dark, romantic flair of an African storyteller—sorcery, the supernatural, graphic violence, and tragic love. According to Mofolo himself
“The events in Chaka’s life were overwhelming because they were so numerous and of such tremendous import; they were like great mysteries which were beyond the people’s understanding.”

 
Mofolo’s novel is a dark, mysterious, and poetic critique of the principle of violence that defines all empires. There are novelists in Africa—a multitude of novelists. But there’s only a handful of storytellers. Mofolo was one.

 

Chaka
This book was listed as one of the best African books of the twentieth century. I recommend it for all those who love historical fiction and who want to know more about different cultures.

The Africa Utopia is back for a third year celebrating the act and culture of one of the world’s most beautiful, dynamic and fast-growing continent. The festival looks at how Africa can lead the way in think about culture, community, business and technology and includes topics ranging from fashion, gender and power to politics, sustainability and activism.

 
This year’s festival features some of Africa’s greatest artistes across music, dance, literature and art. The three day event held at London’s Southbank centre features fascinating and exciting events that reflect the richness of African culture and heritage and in some cases, what to expect from African creatives’ based at home and in the diaspora.
The Festival features also interrogate key themes attributed to the narratives of the continent such as migration, and displacement through visual art and theatre.

 
There were lots of events lined up at Africa Utopia. Some of the features from the 3 day festival:
Through Dance, music, art and literature the festival showcased appearances from Tavaziva Dance-when king Gogo met the chameleon,

legendary drummer Tony Allen, one of the acknowledged co-founders of Afrobeat,

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Senegalese super group Orchestra Baobab;

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Phoebe Boswell’s Transit Terminal,

Photo: Africa Utopia

Funmi Adewole,

Diene 'waaw waaw' Sagna, one of the performers at the opening of Africa Utopia, Southbank Centre, 11 September 2014. event. Photo: Carole Edrich

Maia Von Lekow,

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powerfully soulful West African(Mali) singer Kassé Mady Diabaté;

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Europe’s first Black and Minority Ethnic classical symphony orchestra, Chineke! and lots of others.

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Fashion and food lovers were not left out as there was an African-inspired fashion, a buzzing marketplace and delicious African street food to enjoy.

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Eritrean Food

Africa Utopia Friday Day Pass was an opportunity for people to participate in panel discussion, exploring African politics, technology, education and trade. Everything from disruptive innovation to the power and politics of data in Africa were discussed. A panel of writers with African roots explores migrations real and imagined, asking if we inevitably circle back to where we came from.

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It was a great and colorful festival.

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy: AfricaUtopia

What makes me African?
What makes you African?
What makes us Africans?
What have we become?

 
Many questions yet few answers
We crave for much yet less is worked for.
We talk more than we act
We have become enemies of work.
We have become copy cats
We are about to die
For;
“Curiosity killed the cat.”

 
We have grown a hopeless desire
For things from the west
We claim to be modern
Yet the ways of modernization don’t depict ours.

 
Did our great grand fathers and mothers fight for nothing?
Did our ancestors pray to their gods for nothing
What of the manners they instilled and so much preached,
They would strike us if they had a chance.

 
We are a shame to our own kind,
We fight each other instead of creating bonds,
We have become hurtless monsters,
Not different from the lion that hunts other animals.

 
Our values are diminishing,
Just like our dishes,
Just like our ancient hobbies,
Hide and seek and Omweso.

 
We live by stereotypes,
They define us completely,
And we fight men,
Instead of ideas.
Greed defines our path,
Africans and greed,
We are one.
Our ancestors are all together angry.

 
The lovely night bonfire’s
The awesome beer parties,
The games and hunting of game,
The energy that flowed all day long.

 
We have become servants,
Of western interests.
We are still slaves
Neo-colonialism does that.

 
We have forgotten our music
Our lovely beats,
Even our dances that many pay for to watch,
We call all of it ATS.

 
We have become prisoners
We have imprisoned ourselves,
We believe in the white man,
More than in our selves.

 
We are Africans
Behaving like slaves and servants.
We are Africans
That have forgotten their roots.

 
We teach our children western ways
We teach them how to use these instruments
Of mass destruction and hate.
Socializing avoided.

 
Social media and laziness,
Unemployment and poverty,
If only we knew our worth,
The whites would want to know our secrets.

 

#IAmAfrican

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