Imminent River now on Amazon. }
The Sea Route to Señorita’s Heart } Now all Amazons!
One Day with the Hounds. }
People easily forget that originally the word, ‘Amazon’ meant ‘warrior’ whether among the ancient Greeks or ancient Dahomey-ans in West Africa, and in fact, it still does (forget the warriors’ gender for now). For months I debated the pros and cons of selling my books on today’s Amazon, founded in 1994 by Jeff Preston Bezos, né Jorgensen, who got the idea while on a cross-country train ride. There were stories – some of which turned out to be old wives’ tales – of insufferable complexity in the process, of presenting oneself on a platter to book pirates, and of one not being able to receives his/her sales proceeds, etc. So I’d cooled to the idea, after all, the hard covers in local bookshops aren’t exactly doing too badly. But now, following several how-do-we-get-Imminent River? and are-your-books-on-amazon? enquiries, I’ve decided to test the waters. Last week, the soft copy of Imminent River appeared on the online sales platform, with sales to boot. And now, in hard copy or in soft, we are marching with the Amazons (Jeff’s, that is).
ORDER AND RECEIVE YOUR COPIES from anywhere on God’s favourite planet, earth. Sorry, we’re not on Mars yet, nor anywhere near SpaceX’s Falcon 9 space rendezvous, but with Bezos, the world’s first centi-billionaire according to Forbes, you never can tell tomorrow.
On Familiar Grouse:
DENJA ABDULLAHI FUSES UNCANNY ECHOES OF HISTORY AND MODERNITY IN Death and the King’s Grey Hair
B O O K R E V I E W
Title: Death and The King’s Grey Hair
Publisher: Kraftgriots, Ibadan.
Publication Year: 2014, repr 2016
Pagination : 59 pages
Reviewer: Anaele Ihuoma
Many libraries and catalogues will categorise it as historical drama, but Denja Abdullahi’s Death and the King’s Grey Hair raises as much topical dust as any self-touting contemporary play would. It insinuates that if despots across a wide spectrum of historical, social and geographical space have tended to share a stubborn streak, then they have equally met their match in a civil society resolute and ready to match them grit for grit and guile for guile. In these encounters, oftentimes the tales have been staid and laboured, at other times effervescent and hair-raising. Death and the King’s Grey Hair would be located in-between, perhaps nearer the effervesce point.
Set in Jukun land at a point in history when a cultural and political imperative dictated that the king must relinquish the throne as soon as the first strand of grey hair was found on his head, the play captures the now-solemn, now tumultuous contest for supremacy and custodianship of the sacred mantle of the community. Enacted in seven movements, it resonates with fanfare and intrigue, often reminiscent of early forms of Greek tragedy.
Death and the King’s Grey Hair can be likened to a multicultural echo chamber, given the universe of echoes it reverberates with. First, the title instantly echoes one famously associated with Africa’s first Nobel Prize in literature. In Soyinka’s play, the king’s horseman, Eleshin Oba, must die a death of honour, to be able to continue to serve his master in the other world, but in Denja Abdullahi’s, it is the king himself, who must die, upon the affliction of age, and then get reborn as a lion, for the renewal and overall good of the community. This is a role King Esutu, like Eleshin Oba, is in no hurry to fulfill. The King’s Horseman is a victim of fate, albeit one for which he was well prepared by his job description, but the fun-loving and wily King Esutu is, himself, the active ingredient in his misfortune. What must be termed the checks-and-balances arms of government, (backed by representatives of civil society) wait for him to succumb to ageing and therefore submit to the death rites of the customary Poison Bearer. But the king continues to luxuriate in inexplicable youthfulness, making his watchers restless and suspicious of mischief. However, without proof, they can’t do much. Until the intervention of providence in the form of ‘MAN’ who, much like in Shakespearean comedy, reveals the complicity of a visiting Prince, a randy Oscar Wildean character, upon whom he had eavesdropped. It is the king’s shirking of this cultural onus, by devious means, that makes the triumvirate of ‘parliament’, priest and civil society to activate the next stage, a scheme of regicide via the Poison Bearer. Again, this has strong echoes of Oyo Mesi’s legislative watchdog role in the Oyo Empire of yore.
The principal thesis of this play, in my view, relates to the critical role of those organs of government designed to checkmate a despotic and constitution-flouting monarch. The vigilance of the triumvirate, which may be renamed ‘axis of good’, in this play, goes to a great length to ensure that a wily and despotic king does not plunge the society into anomy. Most commendable is the resoluteness with which they go about their task. Locally, it easily calls to mind Nigeria’s travails during the Third Term imbroglio in her recent history. Globally, there are strong echoes of the awakening of civil society all around the world: The Orange Revolution (Ukraine), The Arab Spring, Brexit, the global Occupy Movement and currently the uncertain political situation in the United States amid the ambivalence of the Mueller Report on President Donald Trump and his dalliance with the old foe, Russia. As in some of these cases, Death and the King’s Grey Hair brings the power of civil society to the fore, even as it raises questions regarding the fine line between fairness, justice and the law. To what extent, for instance, should legal technicalities be allowed to stand in the way of justice and the intent of the law itself? Similarly, it throws up healthy debates around societal good versus individual liberties.
The triumvirate confronts the devious despot even without hard core evidence. Instinct-and-intuition, in this case, was good enough, and in the end, the forces of good prevail over those of despotism and raw power. Often this victory comes at a great price, but it has not stopped the trending, in social media, of contemporary memes of struggle, resistance and hope. Think Sowore:#RevolutionNow! Notwithstanding their overall negative portrayal, the King and visiting Prince have something that many will find sympathy with: their tenacity in holding onto strong opinions vis-à-vis an archaic tradition that greets the king with a death wish.
Abdullahi’s portrayal of, and general attitude to women bears the ambivalence of the Roman god Janus or the Yoruba Eshu: double-faced. On the one hand, young virgins are tossed at royalty, as entertainment items, to assuage the insatiable, raging loins of the king and his cohorts. In fact, one of the king’s famed appellations is ‘owner of a well-stocked harem.’ Related to this, the ship of the family, so dear to women, is torpedoed in such lines as ‘when a woman stays too long in her husband’s house, she becomes a witch’. Even if such ‘wisdom’ is drawn from the communal idioms repertory, is it one to propound a thesis around? On the other side of this Eshu posturing is the very dignified but curiously unnamed ‘1st Woman’ and ‘Woman’, the latter the very symbol of vigilance, courage and sociopolitical activism, whose words galvanise the ‘parliament’ into advancing the status of the stand-off with the King, which ultimately leads to the monarch’s fall. “No power on earth,” she declares,” can save that king born of a woman who rules without paying homage to the mothers.”
The play is simple but with a profound message, in an Achebean manner. It also shows a depth of fine character delineation: the despotic, reckless wine-bibing king versus the sobre, intuitive Gabisi, the so-called guardian of the word/culture’; a highly irritable, wine-swayed son-of-the-king who is wont to engage his father in a womanizing contest, versus a calm, reticent son of Gabisi, (‘poet of the ancients’) who easily (perhaps too easily!) assumes the heavy mantle of his father, with neither remonstration nor a sense of sudden self-importance.
The song-laced play which made the three-man shortlist of the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature 2018, lends itself easily to exuberant histrionics and theatrical action, with strong echoes of Greek and Yoruba drama. A good director would bring out the inherent Alarinjo spectacle. Much more so, the theme is drawn from a traditional practice that, in a clan of Sophocles, Soyinka, Osofisan, and the similarly minded, would have spawned a multiplicity of plays.
Death and the King’s Grey Hair often rises to levels of brilliance in language and dramaturgy, but it is not immune to familiar pitfalls that all too often dent Nigerian plays. A few typos (‘being’ for ‘been’) may be blamed on the proofreading team, or the printer’s devil himself, but the dirge that ‘is started’ amid the very solemn closing moments of Movement Five should probably just ‘rise’ from the participants in the scene. But the drama is so engrossing that you might not notice except you were a diehard editor of the finicky persuasion. Some may have an issue, as I do, with the notion that, other than being lumped together as the harem, there is no mention, by name, of Esutu’s wives, especially for a man who seems to keep them for sport.
Here we have a delicious cultural setting, a natural playground of playwrights, who weave and re-weave the story to distil diverse sociocultural and political aesthetics. It is a wonder that it has taken long for this to happen, at least at this depth. Denja’s may not be the last, but certainly this thought provoking piece has earned its place among Africa’s renascent drama and theatre elite.
via Apostrophe 4
- APOSTROPHE 4
Exotic plumage adorns the peacock
I will not trade places with the peacock
The albumen and yolk inhabit the eggshell
are they not all sport for the chef?
None faces a fiercer besiegement than thief of the honeycomb
I will not dwell in the honeycomb,
I will not be lured by the marvel of their hexagons
Many have turned Mediterranean waters to waves of want-outs
Anywhere-but-home in search of home
I will not seek their magic kingdoms
A singer, not the bird, once toasted the back seat of his Cadillac
heaven, he called it
Even the pilot knows
that the vaunted gadgetry of ‘Airforce One’ provides little comfort in political storms
To-date, Plato-bashed poets still seek a homeland
As I did:
I have dwelt in homes highbrow and lowbrow
I’ve dwelt in the cosiest universe in the heavenlies:
Mama’s amniotic sac
Yet nothing compares to my now-abode
A cute apostrophe,
The easy-to-miss space between God and his lovingkindness
As another year emerges with yet kinder omens .
12 July 2019
By Anaele Ihuoma
Reviewed by Ngozi Osu
Book Editor & Literary Consultant
AN AFRICAN ENCHANTMENT:
THE QUEST FOR THE FORMULA FOR LONG LIFE
Imminent River. In this novel written by Anaele Ihuoma, I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the title of the book, I imagined a story set on the banks off a great river, or perhaps a story about ‘living waters’ flowing through imaginary hills or cascading down imaginary terrain; a story that ebbed its way through dangerous and treacherous waters. With mermaids. Or big fish. Then I realised I was letting my imagination swim away with me. So I settled down to read.
As I read the first chapter, I smiled and fastened my imaginary seatbelt. I realised this book was about to take me on a journey flowing through time… on a course with ceaseless tides, both high and low, strewn with endless currents of scheming and mind-bending intrigue. I was enthralled. And I had 45 chapters and 316 pages of pure magic ahead of me.
Imminent River by Anaele Ihuoma was about to change the course of time.
Written in three parts, Imminent River takes us back in time to Africa in the early 19th Century. The book is set in the hinterlands of western Africa and opens with the detailed description of a traditional rural African community in which the protagonist, Daa-Mbiiway lives, giving us insight into what life was like during this period. She lives in a location thought to be in the environs of Ogidi, Onitsha and Asaba, located in the south-eastern part of Nigeria, to be precise.
Meticulously researched and written in fine detail, we encounter Daa-Mbiiway, the strong and resilient traditional healer who sets the pace for the book. A gentle middle-aged woman, her life is an embodiment of the African spirit, of harmony with nature, of perseverance and determination, typical of the indigenous African traditional healer that she was. More importantly, she had developed a medicinal formula for longevity which only she could pass on to a chosen one.
At first, one would think Daa-Mbiiway is the only protagonist in this captivating book – and indeed she is, in a manner of sorts, as she features throughout the main thrust of the story. However, just as we are captivated by her life and calling, the plot takes a twist and we are almost thrown into another story within the story.
It is the early 19th Century; Daa-Mbiiway is attacked by slavers whilst walking through the forest and disappears. Now the real intrigue begins. And this is what makes Imminent River fascinating. Fact, fiction and fantasy interwoven to create a story that reads so real.
As we read the first part of the book, we are taken aback as the author gives lucid details of encounters with dreaded slave traders as they terrify people in their villages; the petrifying slave raids on communities, and the anguish of those captured and sold into slavery, and their journey into captivity across the great waters of the Atlantic Ocean into a strange, new and frightening world. It is a gruesome tale. The horrific details are heart-wrenching, but they are also clear fact. These were the horrors our ancestors experienced. This was their terror. Man’s inhumanity to man. It makes us pause, think and decide that this must never happen again, as we strive to make our world a better place, where we can all live in peace and unity.
But where is Daa-Mbiiway? And what has become of the longevity formula she developed? Did the longevity formula even exist? The plot thickens.
Enter Jesse and Opuddah, Daa-Mbiiway’s principal apprentices. Enter also Daa-Mbiiway’s two sons Chimenam and Dioti-Ojioho, brothers in arms but enemies at heart, both in search of the longevity formula. Despite their scheming and devious plans, they were getting nowhere near the formula, which we later learn, is encoded in Nsibidi text. Why was it so important to them? And what was the significance of the mystical river given to Chimenam, by his father?
So we set sail into Part Two.
Imminent River is not just a story about mystical fantasy and conspiracies. There’s the delicate blend of the beauty and splendour of rich African culture that features throughout the book, channelling its course and irrigating the story with the freshness and ambience of Africa.
We meander through traditional African society showcasing cultural festivals with captivating dances, music and masquerades: traditional African society in all its grandeur. And it is beautiful. We experience the highlights of everyday activities such as farming, hunting and trade, and are enchanted by ceremonies, customs and traditions especially those pertaining to marriage, child-birth and the naming of a new-born child. Our rich African culture and heritage portrayed in such glowing words. And in some places, poetry.
Even the fantasy felt real as I was transfixed with the adventures of Wopara, Ezemba’s father and his incredible journey into the rain forest.
This is our Africa in all its glory. Proud.
In Imminent River, I was transported into the midst of the community and I felt as if I was part of their lives. I felt their joy and pain, and even blushed reading the love story between the village beauty Agbonma and the handsome Ezemba, Daa-Mbiiway’s great-grandson.
As we read on, we saw the unity in families and how communities shared a common goal: to be your brother’s keeper. The burden or concerns of a family were shared, as family and friends always came to help, no matter the situation. And when a child is born, everyone rejoices; when there is death, everyone mourns. This is our life as Africans, and Anaele Ihuoma writes it well.
Imminent River is a story that flows from the heart. As we delve deeper into the book, we find a very delicate underlying theme of kinship, fellowship and friendship; the bedrock for living together in peace and unity, no matter the creed, colour or circumstance. This is the strength from togetherness that creates a support system; it is a concept of brotherly love. We see it in the bond between Daa-Mbiiway and her adopted daughter Edidion; we see it in the love story between Agbonma and Ezemba, and in the relationship between Ezemba and his childhood friend and business partner, Jindu. Even the people captured and sold into slavery are able to stand strong together. The message is clear: No matter whom we are or where we are, we can overcome all odds with love, trust and understanding.
Interestingly, Imminent River also has little pockets of humour delicately deposited around some rather amusing characters in the book, bringing out their personalities with often comical effects. The scene with the bungling policeman, who lost his job for his apparent idiocy, and his hen-pecking wife, will leave you in stitches. And there’s the baby called ‘Swivel’ simply because she was placed in a swivel chair after she was kidnapped; I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. The scenes with Pa Oleka? Hilarious!
On the other hand, one thing that stands out in the book is the large number of characters. Traversing from the early 19th Century into the 20th Century, it is almost tasking to keep track of everyone, who they are and who they are related to. There seems to be so much happening, with so many people, almost all the time. However, as the book unfolds, the characters become clearer and as the narrative develops, we see their importance and the roles they play in bringing the story together, like tributaries feeding a larger watercourse.
As we go into the third part of Imminent River, the story cascades in the 20th Century. Ezemba continues the quest to find his great-grandmother’s longevity formula with new twists and turns, and a new adversary on his tail: High Chief Ojionu, a distant cousin. This is where the story climaxes and an impending stream of devious conspiracies and disloyalties unfurl. Now I am at the edge of my seat, spellbound. My heart is pounding furiously and I can only imagine how the story ends.
I wasn’t prepared for what came next. Ezemba, with all his wit and strength, is thrown off guard by High Chief Ojionu. How could this happen? And what has become of the longevity formula? Yet there is respite, as an impending river of gushing living waters springs into existence – eventually everything falls into place.
Just as a river flows and ebbs with its high tides and low tides, so does life with its trials and triumphs, and this is the current that pulsates in Imminent River. For Daa-Mbiiway, Ezemba and his wife Agbonma, and the incredible African-Americans, descendants of their West African ancestors sold into slavery centuries ago, the end certainly justifies the means.
In Imminent River, Anaele Ihuoma tells a brilliant story of perseverance and endurance, of determination and resilience that leads to a victory against all odds. Often laced with lavish poetry, it is a riveting story that climaxes in one main theme: it’s never over until it’s done.
Imminent River is a delightful read as authentic Africa meets fantasy, fact and fiction to create an unforgettable tale.
The VAR Sonnet
With what are you so singed?
Hold your breath, it’s VAR!
A pendulum planted by the whirlwind
It sets emotions at the highest bar
An outrush from incontinent anus
It trades its final onus like a untamed phallus
The scourge of the fan-atic
It humbles the hooligan and the home crowd
Defying the roar of the dying minute clock-tick
Leaving pundits cowed and bowed
Waifs and whistle-wielders are alike in wonder
As wives wonder at all the wonder
No one is safe from Fifa’s Frankenstein
Even the favoured choke as they wine and dine .