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Month: June 2013

To Ihuoma and Others alike

Ihuoma is a beautiful woman, she is a village sweetheart, but she has a stain. No, it’s not the stain of blood; it’s the stain of widowhood. She is not just a widow; she is a serial widow with more than one dead husband to her conjugal resume. Her life is littered with the ghost of husbands; her skin now sticks to the black grieving uniform which mortifies her soul. The burden of raising her children hangs around her neck. It is not lightened by moonlight play for unlike everyone in the village, she is socially dead. She only knows sympathizers who just trickle in these days. This is the story of Ihuoma in Elechi Amadi’s renowned book ‘The Concubine’.
TheConcubineWhen marriage is broken not by divorce but by death, the live of the once better half becomes broken. Many things converge to determine the depth of their grief. The strength of their bond, the level of dependency on the union, and their partner, the self concept of the surviving partner, all of these work together in colouring grief. The surviving partner’s ways of life is interrupted and subsequently fragmented.
Were these to be their only fight, then it could be manageable. But some cultural rites of ritual seclusion, helps to strip the living half of the life and comfort they knew, and suddenly they become invisible. Their lives stops, most of them begin to live on the margins of our society and weeping does not lessen their burden.images (13)
This is the worst nightmare of many married women; hence it is an issue that is dear to the United Nation and other development agencies. It buys into the wider issues of gender inequality, the very things that CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of Domestic Violence Against Women) represents. Unlike widowers, widows experience domestic and social violence. This double trauma shatters them.
I have often wondered why the loss of a partner can render another partner so useless that they may actually turn to begging or living on stipends from family members to keep going. This I could connect to the prior economic circumstances of the women. But it obviously does not explain the loneliness which they suffer even beyond the mourning period. Their daily routines have been disrupted, most times in unforeseen ways, they become socially inept. I am tempted to question the self-concept of the individuals but I am cautioned by the truth that we all have rights to any identity we choose and the consequences thereof.tumblr_mdwiolUUWt1rrvcrmo1_500
The 23rd of June is a day for widows according to United Nation. Hence we need to cleanse the land of sin against widows. To cleanse this sin of omission done against this group of secluded or excluded women, we have to reconsider the economic and social impact of our social culture on them.
We can beginning by improving inheritance rights and encourage access of social amenities. Like Ihuoma, the survival of many widows may be through scraping the earth for whatever is left by others to feed the family. Many communities have economic arrangements that deny women ownership of inelastic commodities like land and other forms of properties that can yield economic comfort to the surviving family.
thumb_COLOURBOX559156The coping strategies of women like Ihuoma are not very predictable, some people though exhausted by intense care giving to a terminally ill spouseBL08_1323899f may have prepared for the imminent widowhood. Where the widow is young and unprepared, the realities are harsh. It is often suggested she remarries for her (and maybe her children’s ) economic and social security, as death can shrink any existing income. Remarriage is a challenging survival strategy because of the stigma many societies give to women carrying the widowhood title.  ‘The concubine’ presents this in the choice made for Ahurole over Ihuoma by Ekwueme’s parents.
Many times, in a partriachal society, widowhood is a dead end. The challenge of trying to keep body and soul together does not go without a fight. This is captured in the struggle between Ihuoma and Madume. In the end, every widow hopes for a cobra to come to their rescue as it did for Ihuoma.
Such help is still possible in the present day world with some adjustments in our laws and policies. For a start, couples should be encouraged to register marriages formally. We can create policies that ensure that assets are registered in the name of both spouses.
destinybloom.orgCEDAW legislates for equal inheritance rights, and our countries have ratified it. Perhaps we can pressure our government to make CEDAW effective by signing it into law.
On a lighter side, perhaps we can also ensure that on our guest list for the next birthday, wedding, or social parties, we include the living half of a couple that we once enjoyed their company together. In this way and others, we can empower and reach out to widows today.
-Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Death and the King's Horseman

The Praise singers said to Elesin “Elesin, we placed the reins of the world in your hands, yet you watched it plunge over the edge of the bitter precipice. You sat with folded arms while evil strangers tilted the world from its cause and crashed it beyond the edge of emptiness”. 
So the King is dead, and this time, the chief horseman will not ride with him to the grave. Maybe Elesin’s escape from following the king to the grave is an act of the Gods or maybe it’s just an interruption of people’s culture by Mr. Pilkings (the Colonist/District Officer) who does not understand it. What101264-final_group_headless_horse_guess_who_0018_Layer_6_copy_full-480w precisely does the conflict of the play portray?
While the King waits for Elesin, many interpretations have been drawn from this dramatic work of fiction.  Most of them in my view may be prompted by the author’s preface while others will just be a case of different people’s positionalities.  Wole Soyinka warned against an interpretation that portrays a theme of cultural clash. His prefatory explanation for the conflict at the core of this play is that of the metha-physical with a thredonic essence making Mr. Pilkings interruption of Elesin’s death ritual a mere catalytic incidence. This explanation according to critics, depoliticises the work while also limiting its interpretations.
Intriguingly, 34 years after this intensely complex play was published, the author in an interview with Andrew Gumbel of the Guardian UK, expressed his response to a Chicago cast that couldn’t master the script and were challenged with the rigours of the Yoruba dance steps. ‘I told them they were just as ignorant of African culture, African politics, African rhythms as everyone else,’ he says. What then is 2486the message of Wole Soyinka’s Death and the Kings Horsemen?
While the divergences persist, I will be making my own interpretations of the conflict in the interruption of Elesin’s death ritual by Mr. Pilkings from a development perspective. Perhaps this is not far from the struggle for meaning which permeates every scene in this drama. On this premises, I can draw inferences that the core conflict, characterizes the struggle and ongoing debates on the epistemology of the development concept and practice. The power relation for the legitimacy of meaning may be reflected upon through the conflict of this work. I cannot fail to see the tension of two cultures inherent in this conflict, one that raises a question on the struggle for meaning and its legitimacy. It encapsulates the tension between the cultures of development built on its theories against the culture of the rural communities which is built on their tradition.
No one is allowed to commit suicide peacefully in many cultures, but the Yoruba culture in this context permitted it. Just like Mr. Pilkings could not easily understand the act that Elesin was to undertake without a good grasp of the Yoruba culture, so also development practice has over the years experienced challenges of understanding the characteristics of some culture they intervene in.
Considering this, the debates on the epistemology of development comes into spotlight as it focuses on the dynamics of understanding. Whose development, for whom and by whom?  Critics of development have argued that Lucian-Msamati_1382254cdevelopment interpretations are purely Western with no participation of the recipient nations or culture. This presents development as an exploitative ploy of the former colonists to depoliticize the beneficiaries. The act of intervening in people’s culture and lives claiming to know what is not good for them by development technocrats is not legitimized and the ethics are questionable. These biases impede the objectives of development.14832591-photo-of-wooden-letter-blocks-forming-the-word-development-on-the-white-background
In literary sense, what legitimacy does Mr. Pilkings have to stop this cultural practice? The rather well meaning Mr. Pilkings must have temporarily saved Elesin’s life in that moment, but he also destroyed Elesin’s dignity and self-identity as a law abiding Yoruba man as Elesin is seen to commit nonfeasance. Could the implications of prevailing in a culture he (Pilkings) does not understand be the death of Elesin’s son Olunde who takes on the suicidal death ritual before his father who is delayed in jail?
This raises the question on whether having good intentions alone is enough for development interventions? Suffice to say that such good intentions has saved so much; well meaning interventions have contributed to the end of twin killing which are well captured in literary works in the past decades. Amongst other achievements, it helped tremendously in managing health issues like HIV/AIDS and its various consequences.
Things-Fall-Apart-by-Chinua-Achebe-300x462However the negative cost of poor power relations and misunderstanding inherent in some project implementations is not negligible. Such are represented in the death of literary fiction characters; Elesin’s Son had died in his father’s place. In a similar way, Okonkwo in Achebe’s Things fall apart has also committed suicide as aftermath of an unrest created by a clash of understanding.
Olunde before his death says to Jane the European, “I discovered that you have no respect for what you do not understand”. Obierika in response to Okonkwo’s death says “That man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried like a dog…”
If there be one thread running through all these words, it’s the expression of regret for interruptions and failure to stick to indigenous values by the people.
An antidote to such conflict and lose is personified in the character of Mr. Brown in Things fall apart. Through his exceptional approach, we could see 300px-Brazilian_indians_000that not all missionaries worked with prejudice.  Mr. Brown, was well respected because he lived amongst the natives and tried to understand their culture. He takes advantage of this understanding of the Igbo faith to convert people. A fanatic intrusion into people’s life and faith was not going to work here; he found a way to synergize his need for converts and the community’s need for participating in the new power arrangements.
Mr.Brown’s strategy was not validated by the other missionaries, but such approach surely improves power relations. That way, the beneficiaries of many development projects will not be viewed through this predisposed lens that facilitates conflicts. They will be seen as people who have something to give, and from whom experts can also learn. An appreciation of all these in reality, may have influenced the shift in development understanding, causing a focus on participatory development. Hence the era of project blunders in development seem to fading as beneficiaries find relevance for the interventions in their lives and legitimize it.
soyinka-001There is the danger of trading the characterization of the colonists for development practice in the context of this column. This indirectly transfers all the negative and maybe positive attributes of colonialism to the motives of development. That is not the aim of the comparison I have done here. I hope that the infusion of a development perspective into Wole Soyinka’s Death and the Kings Horse men portrays how all human institutions struggle for cohesion in understanding.

Broken English

Ken Saro-wiwa, Hmmnnn!

His murder was a travesty to modern day Justice, his death by hanging made him an iconic casualty of a capitalist world.  But maybe www.shabazi.orgwe can do him justice by validating the causes he represented while he was amongst us. One of them is protecting the rights of Indigenous people all over the world. This also means protecting their languages from extinction and giving voices to people living on the margin. Ken Saro-wiwa fought for the Ogoni land, an ethnic minority in Nigeria whose landscape were targeted and destroyed for crude oil extraction by Royal/Dutch Shell Group, or do we say destroyed by development?
In his fiction novel ‘Soza Boy’ we follow the character of ‘Mene’ on his journey of transformation from ‘Mene’ to ‘Soza Boy’ (Soldier Boy). What is interesting about Saro Wiwa’s novel is that Soza Boy does not speak the Queen’s English. He communicates to us in Broken English; a translated version of an English Language which has left its natural boundary. It’s just the way it is spoken in Dukana Village.

“Some people have chopped the people food and sold the cloth that the Red Cross people ask them to give all the people. They are selling this food and cloth and afterwards they will preech to the people… these bellymen are friends of the sozas and of the politicians and the traders. And they are all trading in the life of men and women and children. And their customer is death.”

“Dukana is not like Dukana again. Where are chief Birabee them and all those his chiefs who every time will take bribe from the people? Where is Pastor Barika singing his song in the morning and in the evening and every Sunday telling all his lies from the pulpit to the women of Dukana? Where are all the young men with their long prick and big blokkus? And where are all the young young girls with JJC just waiting for the young men? Sozaboy, Dukana don die. The war have buried our town.”

150px-Sozaboy_CoverPerhaps this explains why this work of fiction was not popular amongst readers despite how impressed I am by his ingenious and humorous writing, making him poignantly the best writer for the issues raised below.
According to the late writer, “Sozaboy’s language is what I call ‘rotten English,’ a mixture of Nigerian pidgin English, broken English and occasional flashes of good, even idiomatic English. This language is disordered and disorderly. Born of a mediocre education and severely limited opportunities, it borrows words, patterns and images freely from the mother-tongue and finds expression in a very limited English vocabulary. To its speakers, it has the advantage of having no rules and no syntax. It thrives on lawlessness, and is part of the dislocated and discordant society in which Soza boy must live”.
This work highlights strongly the conflict in the language choice of global development. Language is an expression of nationhood and identity; it is a vital tool for the transmission of values, spiritual and traditional beliefs, and the entire histories of a people from generation to generation. In most countries, even homogeneous ones, we have significant minority languages. But the desire for globalization is perhaps sending indigenous languages around the world to extinction.
The_seated_scribeCritics of ‘Soza Boy’ hit mostly on its choice of language as limiting and ridiculous. This leads me to wonder how we can promote diversity through the existence of different cultures, identity and language when we do not appreciate and encourage the use of minority languages. How do ethnic writers from multi-lingual societies like India and Nigeria confront issues of self, ethnic and national representation in language choices in the face of global audience from dominant cultures? In many cases, writers are forced to think and write in dominant languages about rural realities and minority issues. This presents a dis-connect as I wonder if the local people ever become their readers or benefit from the message they carry.
Suffice to say that over half of the ethnic minorities in the world who are often targets for development, are not English or French s_r01_RTR33M00speakers. In most cases, they are the custodians of the indigenous languages. Yet dominant languages are promoted to them through education as the pre-requisite for a poverty free life, an assurance for socio-economic mobility. But is mother tongue sustenance a barrier to socio-economic development or education? Who says people are not literate because they were educated in local languages?
Education is a major vehicle for empowerment, it’s one of the Millennium Development Goals, used widely to promote sustainable development, but its implementation is also fracturing indigenous languages. It is widely understated, that through formal education, people learn a dominant language at the cost of the mother tongue.
IMG-20130607-WA0000Language discrimination noted in educational approach to development may indeed be reinforcing inequality; it depreciates the capabilities of a people as their language is sent to the bin for the choice of say English, French, German amongst others. It can be argued that the use of dominant languages even in very influential development research concerning the well-being of indigenous people perpetuates subtractions in global linguistic repertoire.
Putting the importance of understanding and promoting local use of language over a dominant one can be a good approach to combating poverty, promoting democracy and citizen’s participation. A language carries with it cultural strength, if a child is educated in a dominant language; they are indirectly transferred to a dominant culture. They probably will suffer low self esteem compared to their peers who are lucky to have their mother tongue as a dominant language. More so, the trans-generational transfer of that language is broken and eventually threatened by extinction.
Adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – along with other relevant human rights standards – provides the foundation for strengthening language rights and discouraging extinction of languages.  But are not these declarations just a Paper Tiger?10035166-copie_new
How does development approach respect or appreciate language right of indigenous people? Could this in any way give reason to the conflicts that arise between institutions and aboriginal people who reject development? Could the conflicts in places like Orissa in India and Ogoni in Nigeria regarding the management of  their natural resources have been avoided if their language, values and rights as a minority where protected?
If the gains of making the world a place with one culture, fewer language, same people is perhaps worthy enough, then the promoters have to grasp the importance of appreciating indegineous languages. The role of promoting and understanding indeginous languages may be underplayed, but therein lays a key trigger for sustainable development.
220px-Ken_Saro-WiwaGovernment and development agencies/non-governmental organization can still right the wrongs if for example, we consider promoting reading and writing cultures in indigenous languages. More authors may choose to go the way of Ngugi wa thiongo who now writes in his mother tongue despite the minority they present in readership.
Ken Saro Wiwa, is fondly remembered as a civil right activist, writer, with many more books which I intend to read. His positive contributions were cut short by a government that was determined to end his political career at all cost. Saro-wiwa may be dead, but the language and rights of indigenous people does not have to die with him.



“He was no longer the dignified commander of a company of slave hunters. His instincts had taken control of him. He was a two legged animal bent on copulation…Deeper and harder he drove. Nandzi could not control her sobs. Suddenly, as he plumbed her depths, she felt a surge of pain unlike anything she had ever before experienced. It was as if he had mounted the sharp iron head of his assegai onto the end of his penis. Each time he plunged into her, the pain rose to a crescendo. She screamed in agony but he paid no heed. Once, twice, three times. She summoned up all her strength in a superhuman effort to throw him off, but he was too strong and too heavy. Then she lost consciousness”.

Contemplating on how to conceptualize ‘rape’ as a weapon of warfare in the context of our weekly column, I hit a wall severally as I Manu Herbesteinrealised that there is a dearth in the use of rape in literature, most especially African literature. Maybe the constructions and criminalization of it, is something Africans are yet to come to terms with. In a patriarchal society where women are expected to just be ready to provide sexual pleasure always, criminalizing rape presents a huge conflict. I had consulted an able friend Mary Okeke for suggestions, and thanks to her, Manu Herbestein’s book ‘Ama’ made for a superb reference, as it evokes the exact mortification inherent in rape.
From the excerpt above, I would conclude that the character of ‘Nandzi’ was transformed into ‘Ama’ through an initiating process of rape by Commander ‘Abdulai’. Thereafter a journey that thrust her in a foreign land began; she was passed from owner to owner and eternally stripped of her identity. The remainder of the story captures a life of struggle and resignation of a slave girl.
Symbolically, ‘Ama’s journey represents the reality of many victims of rape, men and women alike. We Picadorcoverare thought of the sacred ownership of certain parts of our body, enshrined in our deepest recess is the knowledge that our sexual purity is definitive. When those sacred places are attacked, the feeling of that violation is etched into one’s judgement of self. If you are unlike Linor Abargil, the brave miss world who found justice, the shame injected into you by that penetrating forceful push will hover for long. It’s like a knife goes through your dignity and self-esteem and slices them apart. Even when you stitch it together, the scars are forever.
Rape scenarios may be different, but the discreet act that transforms the lives of its victims remains the same. What they share in common is the use of force, the violation of the will, the body and a person’s right to choice.  The leftover haunting memories and mental mutilation like Diamonds, will last forever.
You may be asking, why talk about this and where do I situate it in global development? Rape is an rape statsugly word but a common phenomenon, more common than we can comprehend. It screams out there but our silence muffles it. In recent times, many stories of violence are happening between the lovely bones all over the world. In England, we meet Jimmy Saville, and then we travel to the rape land of Congo in Africa. There, guns are not needed for war, rape is.  We can choose to navigate to India for the Rape Fiestas; next destination might be the Japanese rape club. Then we halt at the landmarks in lived experiences of serial rapists and chauvinist killers of America. All of them tell the story of momentary defeats of people’s will that has placed them in a lasting category; ‘RAPED’!
Incidence of war rape in the African continent created frenzy in the media this year, with the rising number of men, women and children reported as victims in Congo. Heavy criticisms from Navi Pillay the UN High commissioner for human right, amongst other institutions decried this act. Hence, Congo towns Gome and Sake became synonymousnavi_pillay with the land of sexual warfare. South Africa and India also took to the stage for the monstrous rape of innocent individuals which in some cases led to death.
Rape is no longer about sex, like guns, it has become a weapon of warfare, It’s more about violence; used to reinforce instability and dominance. It’s about individuals abnormally gaining mental balance through inflicting violence on others. It’s about Power; massaging an ego at the expense of robbing another person of their sexual integrity. The assumption that only evil persons with knives in the dark are rapists has long shifted too. Powerful, rich, upward moral promoters like politicians and imagesreligious leaders have long joined the list.
Many explanations have been given to the rising culture of rape, some blame the promotion of violence by media through movies, pictures, books and cartoon. As in all cases, fiction has a role to play. Cartoons like ‘Rape man’ cannot be excused from the guilt of promoting the rape culture.
11486More so, incidence of rape has been viewed along the gender lines even in literature. In ‘The Colour Purple’ by images (3)Alice Walker, we meet ‘Celie’, the poor black woman whose letters tell the story of abuse and rape by her father. ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold adds to the shape of rape in contemporary literature, presenting ‘Susie Salmon’ who posthumously describes how she was raped and killed on her way from school. Symbolically, what we know about Susie, her family does not, as rape remains an isolated event. The list of literature can go on including our case study ‘Ama’ by Manu Herbestein.
Critics complain that rape and violence against women are being misrepresentedp in fiction. The above literatures suggest that men are rapists as women are often cast as victims. Like in the cartoon ‘Rape man’, rape in works of fiction is often perceived as punishment to stubborn heroines. This raises question on whether fiction is purely an imaginative work or is inspired by reality? Certainly authors may hand pick realities they want to represent and the pattern arguably shows that their choices seem to favour realities that reinforce women as victims. But in reality, it’s important to note that rape cuts across gender as men are raped too. The fact that a man responds to a stimulation with  an erection does not mean he wants to have sex.
Writing this, am wondering if fiction writing can provoke the desired change, can the mental structures of a writer shift to entertainimages and present realities that will stimulate change for all? Can our mental structure as readers also adjust on this issue by reading literary fiction?
In conclusion, the comparisons above can never contend with Susan Brownmiller’s  persuasive prose ‘Against our Will’, but I assume like her, that it’s important to explore this issue in every way we can until the mental structure of our society begins to shift organically. Hopefully, through fresh wisdom, we can abandon silence to speak and fight against this violence. The truth is that every victim of rape goes through rape twice, the first is by the rapist, and the second is the rape by the law and the society which shuts them up.
-Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

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