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#AkumbuReviews: A closer look at ‘La Bastarda’ by Trifonia Melibea Obono

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In this week’s #AkumbuReviews, a translated work is the focus, in an effort to understand what the author set out to achieve.

By Akumbu Uche

In her 2011 short story, ‘The Sex Lives of African Girls’, Taiye Selasi observes that “in the peculiar hierarchy of African households, the only rung lower than the motherless child is the childless mother.” This is a sentiment that sixteen-year-old Okomo, the protagonist of Trifonia Melibea Obono’s La Bastarda (Feminist Press, 2018) understands.

Okomo is both a motherless and fatherless child. Her mother died while giving birth to her, a death the villagers in her hometown ascribe to witchcraft. And since her mother died before her biological father could pay her dowry, she is considered a bastard and belongs to her maternal grandfather. Far from being doted on, she frequently comes under her grandparents’ censure for not being feminine enough since she doesn’t like makeup, wears her hair short, and has failed to bring home a rich lover. On top of that, she is not attracted to men but women; a concept her Fang culture has no word for.

“The sex lives of African girls begin, inevitably, with Uncle.” Taiye Selasi again. However, unlike the predatory uncle in that story, Okomo finds a fellow misfit in Uncle Marcelo, a fam e mina or a “man-woman” in the local parlance, whose refusal to be a real man and reproduce, or so the villagers believe, is causing the crops to fail. It is through his friendship she begins to piece together that there are others like her who do not fit into the strictures of Fang norms.

“But Okomo is not your typical outsider-insider. Her perpetual surprise at everything around her makes her look like she was recently parachuted in.”

But Okomo is not your typical outsider-insider. Her perpetual surprise at everything around her makes her look like she was recently parachuted in. She finds it remarkable that goats wander freely around the village and that the village children are often more undressed than dressed up; her thoughts more at home on the pages of an ethnographer’s field notes than the observations of an Equi Guinean girl who has grown up in the village all her life.

Majority of contemporary, locally-set African fiction takes place in urban spaces. It was therefore refreshing to read work set in a rural community and it made me nostalgic for the village novels of the African Writers Series. Everyone familiar with those literary classics knows that in their pages, forests are not particularly habitable places. At best, they are places of enchantment as in Amos Tutuola’s fantastical ‘My Life In The Bush of Ghosts’. Or worse, as in the evil forests that dot Chinua Achebe’s historical fiction, dumping ground for the breakers of taboo. Obono subverts this trope, presenting the forest as a haven for both Okomo and the Indecency Club, the village’s underground queer community.

“At best, they are places of enchantment as in Amos Tutuola’s fantastical ‘My Life In The Bush of Ghosts’. Or worse, as in the evil forests that dot Chinua Achebe’s historical fiction”

Mirroring traditional coming-of-age initiation rites across the continent, it is also in the shady groves of the forest that Okomo has her first sexual experience with a woman and fully embraces her sexuality. Obono writes a shocking sex scene in a very casual, off-hand manner, which I found worrisome. It could very well be a true that a lot of young people’s first sexual experiences – be they homosexual or heterosexual – often fall on the wrong side of informed consent, and thus, Obono is being realistic in describing the encounter. However, given how much she plays up the villagers’ disregard for autonomy, her inclusion of such a scene feels very much like an own goal.

This is an African novel which challenges the hegemonic view that homosexuality is unAfrican, and will no doubt be regarded as an important LGBT novel. But outside of its ambition and sociological importance, it doesn’t really deliver. The heroine feels more like the author’s mouthpiece for criticism rather than a fully fleshed-out person, and despite the use of first-person narrative, I had to continually remind myself that I was reading a work of fiction, not a thesis. Fiction is all make-believe, and the author has full artistic licence, however, there is no reason why reading a good novel shouldn’t be like watching a master illusionist, the audience aware they are being deceived but at no point ever uncovering the deception. Unfortunately, there is very little sleight of hand here. La Bastarda was obviously written for discourse, rather than entertainment.

“There is no reason why reading a good novel shouldn’t be like watching a master illusionist, the audience aware they are being deceived but at no point ever uncovering the deception.”

But of course, my bias is showing, and I suspect my rigidity concerning how a novel should and should not be written, might just be the kind of thinking Obono is critiquing. Dear Reader, forgive me. My viewpoint is just that, a viewpoint; and my preferences need not be your own. As with any work of art, there are different reasons to enjoy a novel, all valid. If you are the kind of reader who looks to novels for news, you will find plenty here to supplement Equatorial Guinea’s Wikipedia entry; and if you are an arts and humanities scholar looking for a gateway to analyze issues like witchcraft, gender, sexuality, colonialism, or climate change in Africa, this will be perfect for you.

The book is translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel.

Akumbu Uche is a Nigerian writer. Her work has appeared in Bella Naija and Brittle Paper. She lives in Owerri.

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Marvel working on ‘Daredevil’ TV series for Disney+

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After a super-brief crowd-pleasing cameo on ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’, fan-favorite superhero ‘Daredevil’ will be returning in a television series on the Disney+ platform.

By Mariam Abdullahi

While rumours have been raging about the possibility of a Disney+ series about the Man Without Fear being in the works, they have been particularly fuelled by the fact that two of the stars of the Netflix ‘Daredevil’ series, Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio, have appeared in recent Marvel projects.

Cox played Matt Murdock, the secret identity of Daredevil, in the film ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’, while D’Onofrio reprised the role of Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin, in the Disney+ series ‘Hawkeye’.

Per a report on Variety, the project is picking up steam with the hiring of key production people, though Marvel has yet to officially announce anything.

Fans have been demanding for more Daredevil since the successful Netflix series was cancelled in 2018 after three seasons, but the deal with Netflix included a clause that prevented any characters from the Marvel-Netflix shows from appearing in any non-Netflix projects for two years after cancellation.

The move came as Disney looked to bring its Marvel heroes under one umbrella, with multiple Marvel Cinematic Universe shows having since debuted on Disney+. A trailer for the ‘She-Hulk’ series starring Tatiana Maslany dropped earlier this week.

More to come.

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Four of Nnedi Okorafor’s books are finalists for Locus Awards

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As the awards and nominations keep piling up for fan-favorite writer Nnedi Okorafor, four of her books have been announced as finalists for the prestigious Locus Awards’ 2022 edition.

By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu

The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the top ten finalists for this year’s Locus Awards, and the final winners will be announced on June 25, during the virtual Locus Award Weekend. Four books by Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor are on the list. Her books on the list of finalists are Noor (DAW) for Best Science Fiction Novel, Remote Control (Tordotcom) for Best Novella, The Black Pages (Black Stars) for Best Novelette, and the graphic novel adaptation of After the Rain (Abrams ComicArts/Megascope) by John Jennings, with art by David Brame.

Okorafor is a leading writer of science fiction and fantasy with a breath-taking body of work spanning close to two decades. She is also known for coining the term ‘Africanfuturism’ and defining the subgenre itself.

Okorafor is a leading writer of science fiction and fantasy with a breath-taking body of work spanning close to two decades. She is also known for coining the term ‘Africanfuturism’ and defining the subgenre itself. An unapologetic champion of diversity, inclusion, and originality in SFF, her works are often praised for inventiveness and innovation.  

Over the years, Okorafor has won some of the most prestigious awards, including three Hugo nominations, one for each of the books in her well-received and critically-acclaimed acclaimed Binti trilogy, which the first book won in 2016. She has also won a Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, three Nebula Awards, as well as an Eisner Award and Hugo win (with artist Tana Ford) for the LaGuardia graphic novel, among several others.

Founded in 1971, the Locus Awards are conferred by the Locus Science Fiction Foundation. The 2020 awards are spread across 16 categories, with winners determined by polling magazine readers.

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Poems about gagged lips and lone voices: A review of Peace Longdet’s ‘Enablers’

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A look at the new poetry collection ‘The Enablers’ reveals a work that is at once layered in a most subtle way, as well as powerfully effective.

Title: The Enablers | Author: Peace Longdet

Genre: Poetry | Pages: 67

Publisher: Sevhage Publishers | Year of Publication: 2022

Reviewer: Bizuum Yadok

Every poet has a responsibility to communicate feelings, experiences, fears, aspirations, values and dissatisfaction on behalf of herself or her society. This form of communication is usually aimed at either creating awareness or igniting a radical solution. Whichever way, while at it, the poet always entertains and extracts emotion from her audience. Many scholars agree that the bulk of African literature, from colonial times (and especially in writing), is essentially a response to wide-spread tragedy, and as such it is usually characterised by protest; protest against colonialism, protest against the megalomaniacal claims of independence, protest against military juntas, protest against mammoth corruption colouring democracy, and protest against terrorism or other forms of man’s inhumanity to man.

Dr. Peace Longdet is ushered into the league of protest poets by her significant debut collection of poems, Enablers. Her poems are not just relevant but timely in a presently deteriorating society like Nigeria where dissenting voices are gagged, if not silenced permanently. It has reached a point whereby any person criticising the lackadaisical attitude of the government, especially with regards to insecurity, nepotism, and corruption, is hastily termed as a saboteur. Freedom of expression has now become a mere rhetoric and quite far from practice. However, poets like Peace Longdet have refused to be hushed. If their voices will not be heard, then their agitation will find expression in print. Her Enablers comes as a worthy example of artists’ weapons that are meant to cure societal ills while confronting social injustice at the same time.

The first poem in the collection, “Thoughts in Print”, aptly welcomes the reader to a potpourri of thematic concerns mostly tilted towards protest against ineptitude of leaders and collaboration of followers marked by complicitous participation, herd silence and ignorance. The 9-lined poem reads:

Treading, yet knowing

The ground is unholy,

Giving, yet knowing

The gift is abominable,

Taking, yet knowing,

The gift is temporal

Dreaming, yet knowing

The morning breaks

At Last!

Nearly all who conspire to create an ailing society are present in the poem above. Ironically, they are in the full knowledge of their contributions whether by treading on unholy grounds, giving abominable gifts (e.g bribes) or taking fleeting gifts. In any of the cases, they are always in the state of “knowing”. It is rather absurd that the same set of people are dreaming – perhaps for a better place – yet still “knowing” that “morning breaks” when their secret acts come to light and the end result is an anarchical society. The poet’s projection of effect, from the cause, using the principle of economy, is nicely captured in the brief poem which lays a good foundation for string of angry poems such as, “Gagged”, “Hallowed Gong”, “Terror”, “Few”, “Killings”, “Blessed Yet . . .” among others.

In some of the poems, the poet doesn’t just expose injustices but also firmly resolves to meet her obligation as a person. For example, the poem, ‘My Pledge’ offers a more radical, even militant, perception of herself in the sense that she uses the ‘Tigress’ as metaphor for her self-concept. She reiterates, “I am a tigress” in lines 1, 12, and 18 to assert her manner of confronting any factor that seeks to subjugate women, using the weapons of her physical, mental and emotional strength represented by claws, teeth and speed of the tigress. Consider the first six lines of the poem:

I am a tigress

Armed to breathe with my claws

My claws the pen

To speak with my pen

To drum with my claws

The rhythms are coals of fire

Pouncing in the direction of the hunter

A tigress has been proven to be more vicious than the tiger. From Longdet’s description though, we do not see the poet as a wild animal but a mentally armed and ready-to-fight phenomenal woman. Thus, she shifts from the semblance of the prey to become the predator. At this point, it doesn’t matter who the hunter (enemy) is, but that tigress is willing to launch an attack to protect her cubs (hapless women and children) as seen in lines 8 & 11, ‘The cubs depend on my razor-sharp teeth/ . . .For the cubs must know the myth of the hunter.’ She restates her point in lines 18-20 with her emphasis on attack as a form of activism which is quite necessary in a jungle-like nation:

I am a tigress

My passion is my weapon

To speak up in the land of the dumb.

A similar conviction like that of the above can gleaned in lines 17-21 of the poem, “Wandering Loner”, where she says:

This fire must burn!

It is a quest like an enchanted Diva,

Prowling with the words of fire

To wake them from sleep

To give them a voice

The reoccurrence of the word “fire” in this poem, just like in her other poems, connotes the fury or righteous anger that the poet is filled with and it is employed in the pursuit of justice. She doesn’t just create awareness but lends her voice to the voiceless so that more voices of protest could be heard. In the same vein, the poet makes loud her commitment to positive change in lines 21-30 of the poem, “The Voice”, by saying:

I do not possess the power to stop the carnage but

I will stand high on this space;

To utter

To oppose

To shout

To protect

To heal

To reawaken

All that I am and all that I can

There is an inexhaustible list of the violent killings across Nigeria prior to and especially during the tenure of President Buhari, who had earlier promised to put a stop to all kinds of terrorism orchestrated by Boko Haram, Fulani Militia also known as bandits, and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). He fails woefully in tackling terror and almost all other arms of government combined are reluctant to point accusatory fingers at him. However, Peace Longdet bravely holds the government by the balls, reminding it of its fake promises in poems like, “Deceit”, “Haribu”, “Sleeping Shepherd”, “Double Standard”, and “Quest”. Her fearless confrontation of the powers that be are not even encrypted in the poetics of modernists, rather it is concise and readily accessible to every reader. In this regard, I concur with the literary critic, Paul Liam, in his statement that, “Longdet is a poet for every reader.”

It would be unfair to state that Longdet’s collection is all about protest as some poems are private and they depict supposedly personal or second-hand experiences. Poems like, “Memories”, “Unleased”, “Son of the Wind”, “You Drank”, “Entagled Wind”, and “The Vow”. This collection of 57 poems offer a variety of societal topics in dire need of an elaborate discourse and sometimes follow-up action. The poet pays little attention to sound devices but the optimal imagery makes up for the spice the sound devices might have rendered. Most of the poems are short and captivating as though the words were calculated before each poem was composed.

Like Lebanon’s Khalil Gibran, Nigeria’s Niyi Osundare, or South Africa’s Oswald Mtshali, posterity will keep making reference to Peace Longdet as a phenomenal poet who supplied her intellectual arsenal to fight against all forms of oppression and injustice. Enablers is a book of poetry that will require very little effort of salesmen because it will sell itself by the quality design, print and content therein.

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