AFRICAN COSMOLOGY AND OZIDISM IN EC OSONDU’S THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE
The big Ngbudu fish occasionally washed ashore is a common narrative among ethnic groups in Nigeria. Villagers are wont to talk of its variegated tastes like porcupine, antelope, African hog and other animals. That appears to fit what E.C. Osondu imaginatively set out in the novel – This House is Not for Sale (2015). It is enchanting when a writer tries to help his audience ponder and broaden their imagination.
It seems the superimposing patriarchal house of the novel located in Africa may not be fully understood with twenty first century mind alone. Truly, there are many houses in the inner cities of Lagos and other cities in Nigeria with the inscription – This house is not for sale. But this book presents a different kettle of tea altogether.
First, it reminds one of a vibrant Nigerian musician – Sonny Okosun and his Ozidi. In the late 1970/80s, he sang the song Papas land. It was a revolutionary song. It fired African liberation consciousness of that time. The song was a call for self definition. Its relevance in the past remains true for many Africans today.
The author did not want to suffer us in the raging debate of where one belongs. From the outset he locates the house and establishes that the owners are aware of their history. They know where and how they came to be. This is a big challenge to some today as they grapple to define their person and their world.
Self definition queries: who are you? How did you come to be? As we say here, Don’t engage in the pastime of robbing your body on iddo insect ( coloured insect usually found on orange, kola and ube – pear trees) imagining you will simply acquire what is essentially iddos. You can never.” Man, know yourself” is a very old maxim. That is Ozidi’s Papa’s Land mix in Osondu,s This house is not for sale.
The voice of a child – child’s narrative is what has been perfected in EC Osondu’s writings (Waiting), and put into good use here. We could hear a child’s voice silently echoing through stories. What an interesting pattern of conveying challenging, hard and painful questions! He has once again shown that voiceless voice of children can resonate in innocence, touching issues that adults have inhibitions to openly confront. Again adults should beware of their actions in the presence of their children. What they say and do will shape both their development and future.
‘Ibe said’,’ Ibe said’ starts almost every line through chapter three, or what he titles Ibe. This looks like monotony. The fact: it raises the question of how children narrate their stories. Often, some present children narratives in adult style, beginning every sentence differently to fit and suit adult proclivities. The writer decides to avoid ‘approved’ hypocrisy. It is cute, going with acute memory, innocence, candor, and straightforwardness of a real child.
Character is what makes an individual. Man is good. Man is evil. Man makes the world. Identify the person and the character tells the story. Remember the name of the person and his story is told. One is not confused why he chose individual names instead of conventional chapterization. These names stood for chapter titles – Ndozo, Ibe, Gramophone, Uncle Aya, Abule, Tata, Julius, Baby, Oluka, Gabriel, Currency, Soja, Fuebi, Trudy . They tell their story instead of using the events around them to weave the title of the chapter. Who says we should always follow a rigid, prosaic pattern ‘bind for centuries’ to fit. Can we sometimes wean ourselves of stereotype and advance the frontiers of writing? Perhaps, someday, it may grow to become conventional. Different strokes for different folks.
There are a few audible murmurings and whispers that the book is not a novel. That it is a short story. Some may ask: is it not possible that the story can be acted as drama or as a movie, perhaps with modifications, using all the characters in Grandpa House? If that happens, what do we call it? Drama?
Perspectives tend not to be so permanent in a diverging world. Many of us chorus it daily but we do not often realize it! Classificatory issue in writing is unending debate. It depends on perspectives. Again, it is the case of the same Ngbudu – behemoth floated ashore when cooked tastes differently in the taste bud of each person. Sometimes, we ask: How many can we really fix into a predetermined hole of gate keepers?
Hope keeps us going. As a great, diplomatic historian once remarked, history of mankind is filled with unfulfilled expectations. Life is about striking a balance between hopes and unmet expectations.
The preacher Jonah hopes to be taken away to heaven. The young lady stole away. She resurfaced in the house to take her abandoned child after becoming prosperous. She met with failed expectation. Julius who claims to have studied international criminology but returned without anything was a case of unmet expectation for grandpa and others in the house.
Un-met expectations strewn the pages of these characters, as it dot generously on the history of the worlds too. After two hundred years of modern science, if anyone was told that today, Ebola will be agitating the world like where a ‘rogue state’ acquires nuclear capability, it would have been unthinkable. But here we are today, food crises, racial issues, immigration and religious dichotomies are hitting headlines. It is a world of unmet expectation. The decline in values in one way or the other contributes to failed expectations.
The values of the young man who was interested in holding salon where same sex amoral is suspected; in a society that denounces such way of life, is indicative that what goes on out there has gotten to the House!
What informed the values of a preteen and a teenager picking up monies and things sacrificed to idols and at the same time proclaim that idols are nothing? Soja collects wares of suffering women who sell on sidewalks. He extends his evil acts to other amoral activities. Where did he derive his values? Fuebi’s mother and Fide the patent medicine dealer values are worrisome, especially when placed in the context of their society that cherishes character.
Values are tumbling at home and abroad. Decay is evident by actions of individuals whose ethics are dominantly situational. Rather than x-raying the issue of value from the prism of this House , one would rather look at it from a global perspective of decline. Where issues of values are unaddressed for a long time, that society surely suffers. Don’t talk of failed communities and states, talk of failed values. While the writer may not present values as a central issue, it seems to be embedded in the book; perhaps like a serendipitous discovery.
Refusing to accept the past that shaped Africa is only unfair denial and literary bi-polar disorder. Are the people where the patriarchal house is located still practice some kind of voodoo – old and new? Is there still superstition – the traditional and the reformed? In a reformed manner you find churches where first attendees are requested to bring a household item or work tool to be blessed. Pastors and their prayer warriors talk of ‘generational curses’ and engage in dig out of juju or otumokpor in compounds. They are of course children of the same old ways.
Touching of the child by an old woman was thought to have caused the death of the child! Has such superstition gone away? Among the’ liberated’, their actions still speak volumes intoning belief in superstition. I don’t believe in superstition but to act like the proverbial ostrich feigning it no longer exist is the worst deception of all times. For some, it is convenient so as not to be tagged backward.(the African porn thing?)
While some drink tea in the cold, hot, filled or hungry is only showing how culture can be embedded and visible. A friend recently recounted how a public bus driver refused to carry his pounding mortar unless he drops a coin inside the mortar. What about putting a palm frond in the front of a hearse or car with a corpse? Why is room number 13 usually missing in some hotels in the west? As it is in Olu so it is in Igbo. East, west, and Africa are one soul in superstition, the degree is what varies.
The patriarchal house was a great house. Notwithstanding associated peculiarities, the house had a foundation and history. Grandpa being a liberal man made the house prominent. Without his omnipresent interventions that run throughout the book, the house would not have been anything greater than houses with such inscriptions in our cities. His interventions saved the house for a long time. But the shroud cannot last forever.
The cloak was man and not the house. If the occupants had ‘adjusted’ their ways may be, the house would not have been tainted with evil. Perhaps evil would not have befallen it.
It is instructive that in our personal lives we should not entertain all kinds of things that will taint it. This is also true in the way we do things in Africa. Some say we tend to entertain so many cloaks that bring ruin to the continent. Would it not make sense to be decisive enough not to endorse such cloaks? The end of evil is denunciation and ‘demolition’. Had grandpa done ALL that would have been done, perhaps, there may not be enough to write or talk about in This House Is Not for Sale. Interestingly, ‘ ifs’ make history. Grandpa actions and inactions have contributed to this work of fiction.
But Osondu left us to wonder about the wife or wives (Oloris) of the House as much was not said about them. He failed to tell us about the deep and dark roles of such women where a personage like grandpa ruled.
As he has done, our Diaspora writers should tell us more about Africa when they tell their own stories. We need more stories about Africa. They have the understanding and sometimes the courage to say it as it is.
Book Review: This House Is Not For Sale. Author: E.C. Osondu. Publishers: Harper Collins, New York. Year: 2015. Hard Cover price: $25.99. Reviewer Owude-Nsoko, Lagos, Nigeria.