Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sozaboy - Ken Saro wiwa

"Although, everybody at Dukana was happy at first"

The post independent Nigeria was marred with sectarian violence lasting over three decades. Literary works around this theme had been around the world for many years from Nigeria,and even until recently ( half of Yellow sun etc). What makes this book different is that this does not glorify the struggle or violence but depicts the story of those suffered with out the least of knowledge for what the fight is for. Mene is a grown up boy, living with his mother in small village Dukana far from Lagos. People in Dukana greeted the news of ousted government by the military as they thought this will bring down corruption and those who 'chop' the money from poor people like them will be dealt with sever punishment. They welcomed any such changes with their way of celebration, drinking and dancing the whole night.  The only way they know how to react to anything, be is happy or sad occasions is by losing themselves in dance and liquor. The initial days were encouraging with the new government, but soon the old ways of 'chopping money' came back with vengeance. The difference is that now the Soza ( Military) itself is 'chopping money' from the people and they have nowhere to go.

Young Mene, paid some money to the driver of the motor bus, who ply between Dukana and the local town Pitaka daily, to be his apprentice. His mama's hard earned money was required to get the driver agree to take him as his assistant. He wanted to learn driving and get a license for himself ( he need money again to attend the test and get license). It is on one of these days, where the motor was in the garage for maintenance, he met Agnes with JJC ( Johnny Just Come - for a girl with pointed breasts ) in the local bar. Agnes is a shameless girl, talking cheap talk and had been to Lagos on work for many time. It is at this bar that he hear the talk about war and a man speaking about the need to fight the war.

The Dukana is a safe place and far from the troubles. Why does someone want to attack Dukana ? "Dukana is far away from any other better place in the world  all the houses in the town are made of mud. There is no good road or drinking water. Even the school is not fine and no hospital or anything."

 However, the Soza arrived at Dukana in their lorries and the Village Chief Birabee , weak-kneed against the Soza, summoned people and chopped them off whatever they could give. Mane's local friends, a WW II veteran, who fought 'Hitla' in Burma, and had a white woman before returning crippled to Dukana , had him filled with those glorious stories of being a Soza. His mother was against it. She did not want her only son lost in the war. All she wanted him was to marry and produce 'pickens' in many numbers. The compromise idea for Mane was to agree to marry and later leave on a mission to be a Sozaboy. But money is needed for both marriage and to join soza. It was easy to get Agnes agree for wedding though her initial reaction was “You foolish man. All your friends are making soza, you want to stay here and marry with that your thing standing like snake wey no get house” . It was much persuasion he got the permission to go and join the Soza. 

The initial training and the depute was easy and uneventful with his pride in wearing the uniform and rifle.  However the trouble soon started with an ambush on their group by enemy planes which killed most of the members. Sozaboy escaped with minor injuries and he escaped to the nearby bushes under the darkness. Caught again by a different troupe. His little knowledge of driving saved his life as he became their messenger to the various parts of the war, often doing the job all by himself.  Under these difficult conditions, where his pride of being a Soza vanished, he continue to survive only to be back with his mother and wife.  It is in one of such trips he decided to change paths and go visit Dukana to meet his mama and wife. What he sees there is destruction with not a souls in sight. It was devastation every where. It is evident that the war had reached the village and the entire village was ran away. Two old crippled soldiers hiding in the edge of the village was the only souls that remain, as they were unable to travel.

"Dokuna is not like Dokuna 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."
Now the search for his wife and mother intensified as he was directed in various refugee camps run by Red Cross and other voluntary organisations. What he sees in these places were worse than what he experienced in prisons.

"My dear brothers and sisters, I will not try to tell you how I was moving from one camp to another.Or what I saw in the camp that I went to. Because, true true as Zaza have talked, this camp is proper human compost pit and all these people they are calling refugees are actually people that they have throwaway like rubbish......I am telling you, the first time that I went inside one camp, I almost run because I think that I have reached the town of ghost, or ghost town as some people call it."
His search resulted in no finding. his wife with JJC and his beloved mother was no where to be seen. It is in one of these camps he found the pastor and the old Village chief. He with his new status of being a soza was treated differently, only to be caught ( with some tips off by the Chief and Pastor) and send to the opposite army who controlled this area. It is then he realised the nexus of those in power with the traders.
"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."
Again in prison awaiting death, they kill one prisoner per day, the only regret he has is his inability to meet his wife and mother. The fate was again on his side as soon the enemy lost the war and the war was coming to an end. The attempt to kill all the prisoners had to abandon with the end of ammo and he was spared once again. Now freed, although devastated and tired, he comes back to Dukana with the hope of finding his beloved there. However he was not welcomed as expected. The village is under the attack of Cholera and hoards are dying every minute. People shut the door to him and not willing to answer his calls. Disillusioned with this response, he once again take refuge in the destructed church trying to get some sleep. It is here he meet the old friend and understand the fate that attracted his family and the reason for the reaction from his people.

 "You see, Dukana people are saying that although you have already died, you have become ghost and sometime you can appear as proper porson and go to where Dukana people are staying and begin to ask for you mama and your wife Agnes"

The language ( the use of it) itself is a character in this book . The novelist claims this as a novel in 'Rotten English', mix of Anglican English, the Pidgin English and all those local expressions. He says these are not prevalent in the country, but used it to create the impact. There haven't been many that I know which uses the language so effectively. Ken Saro wiwa tells in his foreword,
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 Sozaboy must live, move and have not his being.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was a writer, television producer, human right activist and environmentalist. in Nigeria. He was arrested and put to trial by the Nigerian Authority accusing him of creating communal disturbance and of inciting riots. He was sentenced to death by the special court and he was hung to death along with 8 others on the 10th of November 1995.

Its a book about war, the senselessness of war, the atrocities, the human disaster or more precisely it is an anti-novel. Those who fought did not know for what they were fighting for and for whom ? They were recruited en masse and often paid meager salary living under pathetic condition. Many a times, they fought for both the warring parties. Winning or loosing war had no meaning to them.

"Well, I don't think it is good thing or bad thing. Even sef I don't want to think. What they talk, we must do. Myself, if they say fight, I fight. If they say no fight, I cannot fight. Finish."
As the last words spoken by Sozaboy, tells it all..
"And I was thinking how I was prouding before to go to soza and call myself Sozaboy. But now if anybody say anything about war or even fight, I will just run and run and run and run and run. Believe me yours sincerely"
Sozaboy is a masterpiece of African Literature.
Sozaboy (1985)

Ken Saro-wiwa  ( Kenule Benson Tsaro-Wiwa  )

188 Pages

Longman Publications
More read : War, violence and language in Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy , Felix Online Review , Solidarity,

1 comment:

ChevyBawss said...

I read the book too and I must say, in all truth, that it is quite captivating and enticing. The number of times one would let out soft chuckles or burst out laughing is in plenty.