Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Ferdinand Oyono's HOUSEBOY

This novel, which was written decades ago, is haunting and very powerful, evoking the colonial situation in black Africa in the past. It is very funny and very sombre and sad at the same time. The protagonist, the main narrator is na├»ve and fascinated by the "gleam" of white life and privilege (to use a word - gleam - beloved by the great Ayi Kwei Armah). 

Toundi believes great vistas are opening up for him by being the houseboy of one of the white colonial administrators. The author brilliantly explores the whole scenario, evoking the raw basic humanity in people across colours and race. 

Here we have discrimination, prejudice, lust and infidelity; and the cruelty personified by the police and penal system. The protagonist actually witnesses a horrific beating up/torture by the penal agents that tragically presages his own demise. As Toundi revels more and more in the white man's secrets, he seals his won doom in the process.

For example Toundi is initially fascinated with the wife of his "master" (more of this later) but soon realises that apart from being a mere human too despite her white colour, she is actually worthless and sleeps around extravagantly. Being aware of such a "secret" is of course dangerous though the irony is that it is no secret at all.

When we see Toundi's white master implying that the "boy" smells badly, it mirrors the sentiment of the black girl lover of a whiteman who complains about the smell of her white boyfriend! Being white of course the lover boy is not too anxious to let the world know about his black girlfriend and does not trust her fidelity at all. In the end our narrator finds himself in an awkward situation though in no way culpable: he is arrested by the system and viciously worked over...soon to die more or less like a dog.

There is a memorable passage in this work that reflects how much Toundi initially "worshipped" the whites; when he first meets the wife of his master and she awkwardly shakes his hand. Hear him:

 "I have held the hand of my queen...from now on my hand is sacred...my hand belongs to my queen whose hair is the colour of ebony, whose skin is pink and white as ivory. A shudder ran through me at the touch of her hand...her smile is refreshing as a spring of water. Her look is as warm as a ray from the setting sun..."

The passage is at the same time funny, serious and tragic. It rather encapsulates Toundi as his life hurtles towards implacable disaster...
-         - Henry Ozogula

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

ADEBAYO FALETI (1930 - 2017)

By O Bolaji

Pa Adebayo Faleti, the renowned Yoruba writer (from Nigeria) died at the weekend. He was also a veteran actor, poet, translator, and tv facilitator - from inception.

As a creative writer, Faleti was among the best in respect of the Yoruba language, one of the all-time greats. Works associated with him over the decades include Bashorun Gaa, Ogun Awitele, Okun Ife yi, Sawo-Segberi, Saworoide,  ewi Adebayo Faleti, Won Ro pe were ni, among many others.

Yet the late Faleti triumphed despite daunting odds. As a youngster, his family was so poor that the boy had to essentially pull out all the stops to educate himself. This he did earnestly and painstakingly, even attending University in Senegal along the line.

Faleti would work at the first television station in Africa at Ibadan (now NTA Ibadan) where he made his name and began to do great things for the Yoruba language. His early works even entered the school system, like Ogun Awitele, a typical ingenious work which had facetious undertones.

Pa Faleti cared very much about his mother tongue, Yoruba, and deprecated any attempt to undermine this language, which after all is spoken by well over 30 million people around the world. Yet the great man was also proficient in other international (western) languages like English and French.                

Faleti became ensconced as belonging to the corps of all time greats of the Yoruba language; he even collaborated with other icons of the pristine language like Akinwunmi Isola, and of course as an actor too, Faleti got to mix with virtually all the finest Yoruba actors around, like the powerful Lere Paimo.

Faleti's books and general work straddled many genres - drama, poetry, fiction, general essays plus biography - and his work was illustrated in Yoruba comics, or general illustrations. In life and death he remains larger-than-life.

As a Thespian, Pa Faleti had the ambience of a solemn actor, epitomising a distinct gravitas, allied to the flamboyant brio and eloquence one would often associate with outstanding Yoruba actors and actresses. In every particular, he has certainly gone down in history!

Thursday, July 13, 2017



When darkness engulfs my days,

When dust chokes my breath,

When fog enslaves my eyes and the rain shatters my skin.

When laughter is but a beautiful enigma and joy fades into a distant nostalgia.

When my face becomes a worn out canvas of old tales, foreign routes and dried up channels that once nourished the nearby grasslands,

When thick beds of solidified ash and debris are the only witness to my existence,

When I am stiffened and stationary in my resting place,

I shall have a hymn in my heart,

 I shall sing sweet melody,

I shall ululate with gratitude in my slumber,

For I have lived a beautiful life!

Monday, July 3, 2017


Lola Shoneyin's book is one of the most successful and most widely read, received in African literary history (never mind African women's literature). This of course indicates that this work is also widely read in the western world. Indeed some observers sneer at facts like this, claiming that such an author is only largely read by "detached whites' overseas", but this is absurd, as tens of thousands of perceptive African readers abound all over the western world anyway.

Shoneyin is a superb writer, often even giving the impression of a tongue in cheek, non-conformist. This book is about polygamy, African polygamy, which might remind one of the late Isidore Okpewho's early classic, The Victims. Here, we have an irresistible mixture of societal intrigue, chicanery, blackmail, gossip and sparkling conversations, as we latch onto the inner workings/travails of a medley of women in particular.

Many a modern African man will express their reservations, and even the "impossibility" of coping with just one woman at home (monogamy), as they claim that many modern women delight in turning their man into a "docile imbecile" - hence younger ones can only grasp at the effrontery of Baba Segi (the polygamist here) who marries 3, 4 women and somehow keeps them in tow, including whenever he deigns to invite any of the wives to share his bed!

Here we vividly experience the gamut of what such women (wives) go through - their daily foibles and experience, the horrors of (child) barrenness, intense, sly competition among women and siblings... The author pulls it all off magnificently.

- Henry Ozogula

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

THE MAN DIED: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka

It is bizarre to think that a distinguished, world class literary pearl like Soyinka spent years clamped in gaol. But then again, so did other African literary giants like Kofi Awoonor (Ghana), Ngugi (Kenya), Jack Mapanje (Malawi) Mongani Wally Serote (SA) among others. At least Soyinka’s incarceration resulted in this extraordinary book, a work so brilliant that it necessarily invites all sorts of superlatives. The full range of Soyinka’s literary talent and nous is explored in this work, with his patent intellectualism augmenting this memoir – a memoir that one can read over and over again with multiple rewards. Soyinka never hides his disgust and disdain for certain tendencies and personalities, and there are many instances here, perhaps including the “damned casuistic functionaire”. The author’s innate imagination and creativity is “gathered, stirred, skimmed and sieved” (to purloin his own expression here) during his travails behind the bars.  Soyinka has always been a cerebral, metaphorical poet and legions of pertinent examples abound in this work. Memorably, the hapless soul who emits “porcine sounds” whilst cleansing his throat/expectorating early every day: “regurgitating mortar and slag and dung plaster...do you?”
- Eric Malome

Monday, May 22, 2017

ARROW OF GOD. By Chinua Achebe

Literature can often puzzle and startle one, including African
literature - the way we receive and criticise books. A good example is
Ghana's world class writer, Ayi Kwei Armah; the literary world keeps
on praising him and his first novel, The beautyful ones are not yet
born. Yet Armah was a young man, still developing, when the book came
out, and critics did not seem to care about his subsequent, better
works over the decades. This seems to be the case too with Achebe,
whose first novel, Things fall apart, is always talked about and
praised. Yet this one, Arrow of God, published many years after Things
fall apart, is in many ways better and more mature than Things fall
apart. Arrow of God is more mature and dense...here Achebe is at his
best, displaying great knowledge of indigenous black characters, and
also the white (imperial agents) characters too. There is a startling
objectivity and detachment that one would not expect from a African
(black) writer. Yet Achebe, like he did in Things fall apart,
brilliantly goes to the heart of Igbo customs and proverbs throughout
this work. The narrative is ultimately tragic of course - as one might
- H Ozogula