On Destiny | Chris Abani

Destiny isn’t a deck of cards stacked up against you.
It is the particular idiosyncrasies of the player, not the deck
or dealer, that hold the key.
Personality always sways the outcome of the game.

–From Becoming Abigail by Chris Abani

New Year’s Eve Midnight | Gabriel Okara

Now the bells are tolling–

A year is dead.

And my heart is slowly beating

the Nunc Dimittis

to all my hopes and mute

yearnings of a year

and ghosts hover round

dream beyond dream

 

Dream beyond dream

mingling with the dying

bell-sounds fading

into memories

like rain drops

falling into a river.

 

And now the bells are chiming–

A year is born.

And my heart-bell is ringing

in a dawn.

But it’s shrouded things I see

dimly stride

on heart-canopied paths

to a riverside.

Gabriel Okara was born in 1921 in Nembe in Rivers State, Nigeria. He is one of the most significant early Nigerian poets. Often concerned with the identity of his people, throughout his poetry, there is evidence of the influence of the traditional folk literature of his people. (Culled from A Selection of African Poetry, annotated by K.E. Senanu and T. Vincent)

From A Place by Titilope Sonuga

From A Place by Titilope Sonuga

I come from a place

where mothers go to battle each day
with a baby strapped across their backs
another still clinging from their breasts
childcare at its finest

A place of street businessmen
who don’t need a white collar to make deals
they sign contracts with handshakes
shirtless sometimes shoeless
they will show you how to make money
make money

You will find anything in these streets
from hubcaps to toilet seats

It has been said
if you leave home naked
find yourself caught in the gridlock traffic
of Lagos roads
they will have you dressed
boardroom sharp
briefcase in hand
between the mainland and the island

I come from a place
of jaw dropping mansions and

face-me-I-face-you-rooms
where a child hawks goods in the blazing sun
next to an air conditioned Mercedes Benz

There are dichotomies here
abject poverty chewing at the seems that bind us
but we are the same people who built a city on fire
who bent fire and metal to give you art
built empires before the world’s first breath

Check your textbooks
better yet check your encyclopedias
read between the lines
you will find us there
you will find us everywhere
every continent, climate, country
speaking Portuguese, French, Italian
and they call us uncivilized

We can show you how to perfect pair
your caviar and wine
and still get down fingers deep
in a plate of pounded yam

I come from a place
where the world’s best storytellers first spoke
who taught you
You Must Set Forth At Dawn
be No Longer At Ease with that
Thing Around your Neck before

Things Fall Apart

So when you ask me where I come from
there are things I want to tell you
that are louder than my bright green passport
things that are heavier than the failed explosive
cradled in Mutalab’s underpants
things that are more colorful than a well crafted
419 email

You will never understand who I am until you know
exactly where I come from

Poem taken from the Spoken Word album ‘Mother Tongue’. Reproduced from https://literature.britishcouncil.org/blog/2015/writing-a-new-nigeria/

Titilope Sonuga released her first spoken word album Mother Tongue in 2013. Her second poetry collection Abscess was released in 2014 by Geko Publishing. Titilope is the winner of the 2013 EMCN RISE (Recognizing Immigrant Success in Edmonton) award for Art and Culture and the 2014 National Black Coalition of Canada Fil Fraser Award for outstanding work in literary performance and/or visual arts. Visit her at http://titilope.ca/

Silence Is a Steady Hand, Palm Flat

“What you hear is not my voice.

I have not spoken in three years: not since I left boot camp. It has been three years of senseless war, and, if the reasons for it are clear, and though we will continue to fight till we are ordered to stop—and probably for a while after that—none of us could remember the hate that lead us here. We are simply fighting to survive the war.

(…) We have developed a crude way of talking, a sort of language that we have become fluent in. For instance, silence is a steady hand palm flat, facing down. The word silencio, which we also like, involves the same sign, with the addition of wiggling fingers, and though this seems like a playful touch, is actually means a deeper silence, or danger, and as in any language, context is everything.”

My Luck, a fifteen year-old soldier, wakes up after an explosion and discovers his platoon has disappeared. He then decides to go back to the destroyed villages to find his comrades. On the way, My Luck relives his old memories, thinking about his dead parents, his friends, and Ijeoma—his girlfriend who also died in a guerilla attack.

As the journey unfolds, the reader discovers that My Luck cannot speak because his vocal cords have been cut; the boy and his comrades communicate in an invented sign language. My Luck’s language becomes both a means of communication between mute people, but also a poetic and metaphoric way of seeing and understanding the world: silence is “a steady hand”, night—a “palm pulled over the eyes”. Any feeling or notion can be expressed by tangible gestures.

Abani’s brilliant novel is concerned with language and with how people preserve their dignity by communication.

Humans are dependent on language, on expression, on representation, this seems to be his postulate. My Luck’s tone is simple, focusing on the beauty of words and the deep connections communication fosters between people. In spite of the nightmarish things he goes through, My Luck’s luck is his language—and Abani’s novel is proof that communication keeps us alive.

Song for the Night by Chris Abani

9781846590573| 2008| Telegram Books

Review by Ioana Danaila

Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.

Birds of Chibok | Viola Allo

For the kidnapped girls of Government Secondary School Chibok, Nigeria

I.

We are the children
of the birds. They call up
to us, call down
to us, call out
to us. Forever talking /
walkabout
with song
we sing back to them /
to each other
always the same
mournful / hopeful song
of home.

II.

This forced flight /
brutal bite /
terrorist
blight
this blow to the wings
of people / country /
continent /
planet
is no sweet roar /
no true / ancient tune.
It cannot
win.

III.

We are the children
of Chibok / birds
of Chibok.
Tally our hijacked
days, rally your voices
to remember us
and sing. Tomorrow is
your baby today / unblemished
great egret on the Niger /
gifted with cries / songs
deeper / longer
than the reddened
rivers of our time.

 

A Rainy Season by Nnaziri Ihejirika | An Excerpt

Chapter 1: Jude

I met Alex at a cocktail party at the British High Commission. One of those the parties where tickets are sold out well in advance and senior Nigerian government officials paid homage to British officials in exchange for horrible food and condescending remarks like:

“Well, I guess we should be happy NEPA provided power for an hour today. Surely, that’s a milestone for your people, isn’t it?”

The Nigerian officials would grin stupidly and bob their heads like excited zombies.

Alex was introduced as a progressive journalist who was “passively campaigning against the government in power” as my British host, Mrs. Chambery, assured me with no small hint of high intrigue. What exactly was a passive campaigner? In any case, despite my reputation as a government news spinner, he smiled warmly when introduced. I had to wonder why he was wearing aviator sunglasses indoors. Later, I would appreciate the cunning brain behind the jovial countenance and dark shades.

“Are you the same Jude Ezeala who turned a small consulting outfit into Abacha’s spin room?”

“I see my reputation precedes me. As does yours, or aren’t you the same Alex Odutaye who specializes in getting the scoop on which government official purchased a mansion or a sports car and other such important news?”

He laughed where others may have taken offence. We struck a fast friendship.

Naturally, our first few meetings were slightly contentious.

Me, trying to paint a rosy image of the regime. Alex, berating me for propping up the government’s propaganda. He tried to obtain insider information on whether General Abacha was planning to shed his uniform and contest the presidential elections as a civilian in ‘98. I stuck to the official line that the good general was going to retire to his family home in Kano and leave Nigeria under a democratically elected government. I could tell from his disbelieving looks he wasn’t buying any of it. Certainly, I was not, either.

Alex was separated from his wife and I was single, so we spent a great deal of time playing tennis or squash at the Ikoyi Club. Having resolved to get more active, I was glad to have a regular partner to play with. Afterwards, we would enjoy suya and chapman, a tasty cocktail made with angostura bitters, orange soft drinks, blackcurrant juice and slices of lemon or cucumber for garnish. We’d watch the women at the bar, pick the best looking one and make bets on which of us could get a date.

Outside of that, we discussed a variety of topics. Pan-Africanism. Reparations for victims of civil war in Africa. And what Alex liked to call the “stifled polygamous nature of the African man,” his absolute favourite topic. I don’t think his wife shared his justifications, which could explain his impending divorce.

From day one, I was convinced that our meeting was not entirely coincidental. It did not take long for Alex to reveal his hand. We were by the swimming pool bar at the Le Meridien Eko Hotel when he decided to come clean.

“You know, Jude, if you want to do something about this despotic government, you’re not alone.”

I stopped in the middle of singing praises of the government’s public relations campaign to eradicate cerebral meningitis. Alex continued blowing cigarette smoke and sipping his 33 Export beer nonchalantly.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh come on, Jude. You believe that bullshit you’re spitting out as much as I believe that Abacha plans to retire next year. How did you get into this PR business, anyway?”

“This is Nigeria.” I shrugged. “A fellow has to make a living. The gift of gab coupled with a buried conscience.”

“Indeed,” he laughed. “I have heard about your student activism at Legon. How you marched on campus with posters denouncing the governing council. Vitriolic letters written to university administrators demanding tuition freezes. You know, stuff that sounds radical and fancy but means nothing once you graduate and need to find a job.”

“It was a little nobler than that, Alex,” I demurred.

“Be that as it may, I’m talking about real action here. You and I know that the biggest obstacle to Abacha’s selfish ambition is a free press. Coupled with a vocal political opposition, we can ensure that enough pressure is put on Abacha to leave office and allow democracy to flourish in the country.”

I was silent, looking intently at my drink.

He continued with increasing vigour. “The group I’m with is made up of people in our age group. We’re looking to provide a haven of escape for journalists, politicians, pro-democracy activists, basically anyone with principles whose life is in danger at the hands of government agents. Shall I continue or are you about to call State Security and report me?”

“Come on, man,” I retorted, “surely you know me better than that. Besides, you haven’t told me anything about this haven of escape of yours.”

“What’s your gut feel about being involved in this project? It’s certainly anti-government and it flirts with the Abacha government definition of treason.”

My heart was pounding in my chest, and a feeling of inevitability was creeping upon me. It was almost as if the door I had been knocking on was finally opening. I had to be sure of Alex, though.

A Rainy Season by Nnaziri Ihejirika | Buy the Book | Read more by this writer

FriesenPress | 2014 |  978-1-4602-4495-1

Ahmed Yerima: An Interview with the Esteemed African Playwright

Ahmed Yerima is one of Africa’s most esteemed playwrights and has written over a dozen award-winning historical plays set in and around Nigeria. Some of his plays include; The Lottery Ticket; Yemoja; Hard Ground; Attahiru; The Trials of Oba Ovoramwem; Kaffir’s Last Game, and more. In 2006, Yerima was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Theatre, before that he served as director of the National Troupe. He is currently a professor in Nigeria and has served on numerous arts committees around the world.

ABR: What influenced your decision to use historical and mythical figures in your plays?

YERIMA: Historical figures are very dramatic, very interesting…because these historical figures lived a long time ago, history has set up a template for them that they can’t leave: a wicked king remains a wicked king, he killed eight wives he killed eight wives, he killed his son he killed his son. So I have a set structure to work with. Also, most of them are dead so I can add to the stories that already exist about them, I can manipulate them to some extent. The major problem is finding a way to use these characters to say something new to a different generation. So when I use historical figures, I am trying to twist, expand and extend them so that they create meaning, not just as historical figures but as images that contemporary society can relate to.

ABR: Would you cast your work as a form of social realism?

YERIMA: Well I am not conscious of categories, I’m more conscious of writing plays about human characters. My definition of drama is basically “telling stories.” I see myself first and foremost as a storyteller. In playwriting, I tell stories through dialogues and characters and in turn these dialogues and characters assist me in telling my stories. My plays can deal with rituals, they can deal with religion, they can deal with culture. They essentially explore social aspects of society and use realistic portrayals of people, so if you say that’s social, I accept it and if you say because the characters are a reflection of reality, that’s also good for me.

ABR: As a playwright, what is your approach to the blank page and your process for starting a new play?

YERIMA: Ideas motivate my foray into the blank page and I think about these ideas for a long time. For my new play The Wooden Pot, I got a phone call about an uncle of mine, saying that he had cursed his family and that’s why they are poor. So I wanted to juxtapose that belief in curses with my own reality as a lecturer in a Christian university. I was also looking at the issue of faith, where is the faith in this issue? Where is love and the role of family? Where is the logic in saying a man cursed his children. And if he did, then where is his own future? What legacy does he leave? This one phone call got me thinking about a host of issues and influenced the story that became The Wooden Pot. But I am also influenced by everything that happens to me, sometimes by past issues that occurred thirty, forty, fifty years ago and when they come back to me in strands, it’s easy to merge them into a story.

The first scene usually takes me the longest to write, once I write the first few words, I ask myself “what is the conflict of the play? What am I talking about”? In my play Hard Ground for example, a boy has just been brought from Yenogoa into Lagos and he didn’t want to be saved. So what is his conflict? Who saved him? Why? He wants to return home, he’s become a militant. I use these conversations to create the rest of the play in my head.
In the first act of Heart of Stone, I wrote about a woman looking for her son, yet I didn’t know why. I had dreamt of my daughter who died many years ago, her ghost was crying and the tears were so real; why would a ghost be crying? And her son, I couldn’t find her son. This inspired that first act and once I could understand the motivation for the idea, it became easier to tell the story.

ABR: Who are some of your influences?

YERIMA: My major influence is Professor Wole Soyinka who was my teacher. He taught me to take plays seriously. I read his plays, especially the early ones like Swamp Dwellers, Lion and The Jewel, Strong Breed; they motivated me while I was in school. His village plays would transport me from Ife where I schooled, to ilu ijinle. I also love Ola Rotimi’s plays and Wale Ogunyemi’s plays. They influenced my two best plays, Song of a Goat and Wedlock of the gods.

I used to think that storytelling had to be romantic, I believed that tampering with my consciousness to bend reality would be enough to create the play. But by the time I started reading Shakespeare and the rules of Aristotle, I began to understand how to shape characters. My teacher in England was also very good, the late John Linstrum, he was quite good, he made me write my post-graduate play called Not My Responsibility which was very funny and he made me play the role of Vasta Dada, a humongous caricature that I wrote into the play, he found it very interesting and I found semblance in his encouragement. The encouragement I got from Soyinka when I wrote Asylum in my second year in university also spurred me to keep writing plays and to read other people’s plays. I read Noel Coward, JP Presley and Harold Pinter, John Arden, and much more.

By that time I started thinking harder about what I wanted to do, and I realized I had to find my own style.

I didn’t want to write like those people, I wanted to write like Ahmed Yerima, I wanted to make my own mistakes because playwriting is a skill.

It’s like driving; my father used to say for every trip you make in a car as a driver, you are a good driver for that trip. Likewise for every play you write and write well, you are a good playwright and so I had to keep writing.

ABR: Based on your experiences as the director of the National Theatre of Nigeria, how would you characterize the theatre’s role in the society today?
Continue reading “Ahmed Yerima: An Interview with the Esteemed African Playwright”

6 Amazing Books by African Women You Have to Read

So Long a Letter by Mariama BâSo Long a Letter is an epistolary novel written in the voice of Ramatoulaye, a Senegalese school teacher. Addressed to her best friend Aissatou, the letters chronicle Ramatoulaye’s emotional journey after her husband’s second marriage and his unexpected death. Considered a classic of contemporary African women’s literature, So Long a Letter is a must-read for anyone interested in African literature and the passage from colonialism to modernism in a Muslim country.

 

A Bit of Difference by Sefi AttaUsing the life of Deola Bello, a single auditor working for a British charity, Atta explores everything from Western perceptions of Africa and African women, to the contradictions inherent in social expectations for women and their abilities to meet, ignore, or defy set expectations.

[Read our interview with Sefi Atta here]

 

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieFifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They’re completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear.

 

 

Maru by Bessie HeadA moving and magical tale of an orphaned girl, Margaret Cadmore, who goes to teach in a remote village in Botswana where her own people are kept as slaves. Her presence polarizes a community that does not see her people as human, and condemns her to the lonely life of an outcast. In the love story and intrigue that follows Head brilliantly combines a portrait of loneliness with a rich affirmation of the mystery and spirituality of life.

 

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga: This stunning first novel, set in colonial Rhodesia during the 1960s, centers on the coming of age of a teenage girl, Tambu, and her British-educated cousin Nyasha. Tambu, who yearns to be free of the constraints of her rural village, especially the predetermined lives of women, thinks her dreams have come true when her wealthy uncle offers to sponsor her education. But she soon learns that the education she receives at his mission school comes with a price.

July’s People by Nadine Godimer: Set against a fictional civil war during the aparatheid in South Africa, Godimer’s second novel covers a middle-class family of white liberals in South Africa fleeing the horrors of a large scale revolution started by blacks who then find safety in their black servant’s village.

L’ivrogne dans la brousse par Amos Tutuola (A review in the French)

QUI: Père-Des-Dieux-Qui-Peut-Tout-Faire-En-Ce-Monde, personnage dont la raison de vivre est de boire du vin de palme et qui, de plus, bénéficie d’un malafoutier personnel qui le prépare pour lui à partir des 560 000 palmiers de la sa plantation.

POURQUOI: Le malafoutier meurt et la soif de notre personnage le pousse à partir à sa recherche jusque dans la Ville-des-Morts

OÙ ET QUAND: Un monde et un temps du mythe

QUOI: Un récit allégorique construit sur la structure classique du conte

Ils marchaient à travers cette foret sans fin, et voilà que le gentleman complet, qui suivait cette demoiselle, se met à rendre à leurs propriétaires les membres qu’il leur avait louées et déjà leur payer le prix de la location. Voilà les deux pieds rendus à leur propriétaire, alors il commence à ramper sur le sol et, du coup, la demoiselle désire retourne chez elle (c’est-à-dire chez son père), mais l’être étrange et terrifiant ne lui permet pas de s’en retourner (c’est-a-dire de revenir) chez son père (…). “

Histoire au rythme parfois haletant, ce roman de Tutuola se lit d’un souffle et emporte son lecteur dans un tourbillon d’endroits étranges (L’île-Spectre), de personnages hauts en couleurs (Mort, Crâne, Sol ou Rire) et d’événements picaresques. Au cours de son périple, Père-Des-Dieux est obligé à quitter la ville de son père et, donc, apprend à connaître le monde et les diverses facettes du caractère humain.

Le voyage de Père-Des-Dieux est, en dehors de l’incroyable mouvement spatial, un voyage à travers et dans la langue ; initialement écrit en anglais du Nigéria, L’ivrogne dans la brousse reconstruit un monde bariolé où se mélangent non seulement les mythes et légendes yorubas en toile de fond, mais également et surtout une langue riche, complexe et pleine d’humour.

Plus qu’un traditionnel récit d’initiation, L’ivrogne dans la brousse s’intéresse aux anti-héros, à la dépendance, aux limites humaines. Tutuola pousse le personnage et la langue aux extrêmes. Ce roman, devenu depuis sa parution en 1952 un des classiques fondateurs de la littérature africaine moderne, marque un cap important dans la création d’un univers mythologique et linguistique qui sort de la norme européenne.

L’ivrogne dans la brousse par Amos Tutuola

Editions Gallimard | 2006 | ISBN: 9782070776290

Review by Ioana Danaila

IMG_0478-2

Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.

The New Testament | Nike Adesuyi

I walk the coasts of Ibeju Lekki

White sands, a blue sea and a

Happy sun distil putrid visions

*

I run into the winds;

A kite buoyed on the wings of fun

*

I race the wind to an infinity of sands and shells

Until my feet are shocked by the magic of Mammon

Asphalt scarifies the polish of the sands like tribal marks

*

Beyond the billowing wrapper of the sea,

In places secret to the coastal eyes,

Principalities and powers are violating

Our maiden of mercies

*

In Ogoni** the fishes are fevered

From the typhoid of crude

Oil paints the sea black

And all the waters mourn.

**  Ogoniland in Nigeria, where Shell Oil company vastly polluted the Niger Delta river.

NIKE ADESUYI is a Nigerian poet, and a member of WRITA. She is the editorial manager of a thriving publications company in Lagos. Her poems have been published in several anthologies.