Being a paper presented by Adagogo Brown of the Humanties Department Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Port Harcourt at a seminar organised by the department, recently.
Literature, in the main, is fictive and includes poems, narratives and dramas. These forms are imitations or fictive representations of some types of “natural discourse”. This explains why literature is seen as a reflection of society. It is from this point that Miesoinuma Minima’s Odum Egege can be appreciated as a work of art that tries to capture political, social and economic activities and relationship between the Azumini (Ndoki) and the Opobo (Ibani) peoples of the Oil Rivers in the 19th century. Conflict eventually arose from the relationship when the economic survival of the trading nations was threatened. Minima puts it clearly:
King Jaja has persuaded his alapu (chiefs) that military actions against rebellious countries and the condemnation of Odum Egege to death were informed by a sense of duty and the desire to check the menace of the white man and make the state survive.
Odum Egege and his people, it must be noted, also asked for survival by trying to assert and protect what they felt was their inalienable rights. Survival, a fundamental human issue, is often the raison d’etre for various human actions even though there can be no unanimity of opinion as to the extent, in given situations, to which those actions are just and justifiable or morally acceptable.
Ordinarily, one would not have bothered to go beyond.
Miesoinuma Minima’s play in the search. However, this has to be done in order to show the importance of the question of the vulgar Marxist: Does it or doesn’t it contribute to the reality and the cause· of the present social truth among contemporary Africans by insisting (vulgar Marxit style) that literature, as part of ideological superstructure, must divorce itself from the luxury of art for art’s sake and ally itself with the Marxist dictum that art, as an instrument in the class struggle, must be a reflection of the basic economic struggle?
In order to reflect this basic economic struggle by the Niger Delta people in contemporary Nigeria, Miesoinuma Minima carefully explores the literary technique of allegory, ‘An allegory’ according to M. H. Abrams, “is a narrative in which the agents and actions, and sometimes the settings as well, are contrived both to make coherent sense on the ‘literal’, or primary level of signification, and also to signify a second, correlated order of agents, concepts and events.”
To achieve this meaning, Miesoinuma Minima selects agents, actions and settings that are able to convey and make both literal and figurative senses. Beyond this, Odum Egege is also an historical and political allegory, “in which the characters and actions that are signified literally, in turn signify, or “allegorise” historical personages and events. These historical events revolve around King Jaja of Opobo and Odum Egege of Azumini. In all of these, most important, is my perception and summary of Odum Egege as an allegory of ideas, in which the literal characters represent abstract concepts and the plot serves to communicate a doctrine or thesis. These literary concepts and plot are seen in the events surrounding the relationship between the contemporary people of the Niger Delta and the Nigerian State. From all perspectives of allegory, Odum Egege is a statement on the political, economic and social relationship between the people of Niger Delta and the Nigerian State. It is a statement which has economy, derivation, resource control and survival as themes. For me, Odum Egege is all about, struggle for survival which is also a reflection of the Niger Delta question.
From the Marxist stand point, Odum Egege can be seen as a work that does not only advance some social revolution in Nigeria but also reflects the reality and present social truth of the Nigerian State, What Odum Egege tries to do, as can be seen from the point of view of Terry Eagleton, … is to deliver the story of the struggles of men nd woomen to the free themselves from certain forms of exploitation and oppression.
The play opens with a protest scene in front of Nna Odum Egege’s house. The people of Azumini, whose livelihood is dependent on farming, complain of how they are exploited in produce trade by the Opobo people. The awareness and agony of deprivation is felt in the voice of Chijioke:
Imagine! Today my household went to the market with loads of goods: pots and pots of oil; baskets of kernel; eggs; two fat rams; ten cock; five hens; heaps of plantain and bananas. (Demonstrating) only these panga full of oporo, these akasa sunju, some quantity of salt, two packets of biscuit that I received in exchange …. (pi).
The complaint of Chijioke is only one out of several others including an old woman who receives unfair and raw deal in the hands of Opobo traders. This unfair deal is an understatement of exploitation and disposession of the Azumini people by Opobo people.
To be continued.
How Heinemann, Pacesetters Promoted Growth In Nigerian Literature
The emergence of the African writers series by Heinemann in 1962 really helped to boost the Nigerian and indeed African writings of the Achebe era. According to Odimegwu Onwumere, a poet and media consultant, the series has been a vehicle for some of the most important African writers, ensuring an international voice to literary masters including Chinua Achebe, Ngugi was Thiong’o, Steve Biko, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nadine Gordimer, Buchi Emecheta and Okot P’Bitek. “It provided a forum for many post independence African writers, and provided texts with which many African universities could begin to redress the colonial bias then prominent in the teaching of literature”, Onwumere wrote. The works in the series include novels, short stories, poetry, biographical writing and essays from across Africa.
The brain behind the series was the Heinemann executive, Alan Hill, and the first editor of the series was Chinua Achebe, who focused first on West African writers, and soon branched out, publishing the works of Ngugi Wa Thiongo in East Africa, and Nadine Gordimer in South Africa. By the time Achebe left the editorship in 1972, over 40 writers from 19 different countries had been published in the series. According to records, apart from the editors, James Carrey anchored as the editorial director of the label from 1967 to 1984, and during his tenure, the series released over 250 titles by authors from more than twenty-five African countries.
In spite of the obvious advantages of the series, it also had some shortcomings. According to Onwumere, many African authors saw the series as part of the colonial masters strategy of exploiting the relics left of Africa. Consequently, many of the authors did not want the label, AWS, to publish their works; they wanted African publishers as against the neo-colonial publishers. The genesis of this contentious relationship between the AWS publishers and the African authors ranged from advance/royalty payments to editorial recommendations. This was why perhaps, Wole Soyinka, for a time, resisted having his novel, The Interpreters appear in AWS; though he said it was for fear of being confined to the ‘Orange ghetto’ defined by the recognizable colour scheme of AWS volumes. The contention could also been the reason for Ayi Kwei Armah’s hope “to find an African publisher as opposed to a neo-colonial writers coffle owned by Europeans but slyly misnamed African”
But the factor that really led to the steady decline of the series seem to border more on economy than authors-publishers relationship. In Onwumere’s words, “After a fairly prosperous beginning, the series faced (the economic) difficulties that mirrored those which faced the continent as a whole. By the mid-1980s, only one or two new titles a year were being published, and much of the back catalogue had fallen out of point”.
However, from the early 1990s, Heinemann has been making attempt at reviving the series by publishing new works, text originally published in local release and translated works. So, in conclusion, while there are all sorts of ways to critique what the AWS turned out to be, in the words of Aeron Badly, “it is absolutely unquestionable that Alan Hill’s establishment of an ‘African Writers Series’ for Heinemann was the most important and most influential publishing infrastructure through which ‘African Literature’ was first developed between the late 1970s and early 1980s Nigerian young writers were given the opportunity to have their works published curtsey Macmillan publishing company. Through the company’s young writers’ series, known as pacesetters, hundreds of youths across Africa were published, with Nigerians forming the largest percentage. The series dealt mostly with contemporary issues that were of interest to young adults. Among the lucky young writers to be published were Mohammed Sule, author of the undesirable Element (1977) and the Delinquent (1979), Helen Obviagele, who wrote Evbu My Love (1980) and Dickson Ighrini who authored Death is a Woman (1981) and Bloodbath at Lobster Close (1980). Other work in the series include, Kalu Okpi’s Coup!, Sunday Adebomi’s symphony of Destruction, I’ve Oparandu’s The Wages of Sin, Sam Adewoye’s The Betrayer, and Victor Ulojiofor’s Sweet Revenge. By the early 1990s, there were about 125 pacesetters titles. And the books were widely available, even in the market bookstalls, which usually sold only textbooks.
However, with the economic decline which began around the 80s, Macmillan separated from Macmillan Nigeria, taking with it the pacesetters copyright. Consequently, the series vanished, and only occasional pirated versions of a few titles could be seen in Nigeria. But, those who were fortunate to have been published have made their marks and some have even gone further to produce more serious works. Among such writers are Mohammed Tukur Garba (author of the Black Temple-1981); and Muhammed Sule, who published Eye of Eternity and the Devil’s Seat, respectively, in the 90s.
Collection Of Poems For Ken Saro-Wiwa
(Tribute to Ken Saro-wiwa)
Dance to us again
The dance of your people
The ogoni traditional dance
The Scintillating dance
That rekindles the fickle minds
Motivating them to sing war songs
Songs of freedom, injustice and rebirth
We watched you at the wrestling contest At the literary battlefield
And saw you acrobatic displays
The defeat of your opponents With your piece Sozaboy”
A novel in rotten English
In another harvest, y our poems. Their verses were sonorous
Yet they indicated sadness, pity…
Oh! That of “Ogale’”, a poem of war conditions
Threw me apart mentally, as Ogale a town did lie naked
In the hands of the Nigerian civil war.
Give us your golden pen Pen of good hope
That makes the sarows, here and abroad
Where is Basi and company? Where is the publishers gone? When shall he return
To continue the liberation struggle?
When shall another Soyinka, Achebe
Shakespeare. Aristotle of Ogoni emerge in your place?
This death!, death at the crossroads
That struck you on the road to freedom Has left literal scholars in tears.
THE PERFECT LIGHT
Like a firefly that flies at night Ken flashed a perfect light
It was Daytime
And Tappers headed riverside Ogonis were awake
They reminiscence on their losses It was a perfect light
It contained uric-acid
Its luciferin reacted violently
In the minds of the minority people.
Like a firefly that flies at night Ken flashed a perfect light
That produced an amazing powers of revolution He shaped golden teardrops And had the razor on his lips.
As a rebel
Like a firefly that flies at night Ken, flashed a perfect light
And gave the candlelight of educational progress and Ogonis flew to Europe
I n search of knowledge
But today, Ken. has flew away He is trapped like an ant
Trapped in the tree’s honey like resin As he scurried along a tree trunk
Arguing for his peoples BiII of rights Lamenting against injustice
Injustice meted on his people, Niger Delta…
But his detractors switched it off Before Christmas
They should understand that Ken’s light The footprints of Ken Saro-wiwa
Still shines now and years to come.
To be continued Nwagwu Samuel wrote from Port Harcourt
This Generation Youths
Not to sound too Oprah-ish, but I was reflecting on the advice I would give my younger self, which is in harmony with the gifts I share with my own sons as well as the youth I am fortunate to mentor.
Although I fared well in an extremely volatile environment, these lessons would have saved me from some unnecessary mistakes and setbacks. We are currently in a very challenging and hostile environment. Unfortunately, today’s youth cannot afford to make the same bad decisions we made a generation ago.
I have been given some valuable gifts in my lifetime, but none has been more valuable and fruitful than the gift of knowledge and wisdom. Divine wisdom says “there’s more joy in giving than receiving,” so I generously give these jewels quite often.
Jewel No. 1: Think before you act. The simple but effective process of thought will help you avoid making critical mistakes that could cost you your freedom, education or your life. “. . . Thinking ability will safeguard you.” — Proverbs.
Jewel No. 2: Find an adult mentor. A responsible adult knows what is best for your well-being. Even if you have to sacrifice your reputation with your friends, draw close to an adult who you know has your best interest at heart. Ideally this should be your parent. Friends will come and go but your parents will be an unconditional and lifelong source of love and support. Don’t get this confused!
Jewel No. 3: Do not be a follower. Avoid being part of the crowd. Without being a loner, you can separate yourself from the group of people who are not involved in positive things and still have a social life. Avoid following popular trends that could lead to a high-risk lifestyle, such as becoming so obsessed with materialism that you will do illegal activities to obtain certain things.
Jewel No. 4: Be humble. In the current environment, it is popular to be haughty or arrogant. Such attitudes tend to prevent an individual from developing healthy relationships. Being humble allows you to be open to learning from elders and making adjustment to become a better person.
Jewel No. 5: Establish a set of values. There are many deep cultural, social and spiritual values that will benefit all people. However, I recommend three simple and basic set of values for youth: life, education, freedom. If you place a high value on each of these and consider them in your decisions, it will affect the choices you make. Put simply, if you value your life you will think twice about drinking and driving. If you value your education you won’t threaten a teacher, which will get you expelled. If you value your freedom, you will avoid criminal behavior the could lead to incarceration.
Jewel No. 6: Maintain emotion stability. Managing emotions is absolutely vital for navigating through these critical times that we are currently living in. Emotions run high in dealing with personal matters, family matters, work relationships, even in sporting events there has been incidents that go bad due to a loss of emotional control. If you are in control of your emotions most incident will not escalate. Remember, “life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we react to it” — Charles Schwindle
With an alarming increase in police violence against black youth in particular, there is a great need for special urban survival training. These lessons should be drilled and instilled in every youth these days.
By: Deon D. Price
Deon D. Price is an Author and youth life skills coach who lives in Fairfield, CA.
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