Omatseye explores prejudice and consequences in Crocodile Girl
Crocodile Girl is a complex story, which takes place in a village outside Warri, Nigeria, written by SAM OMATSEYE, a journalist, who has turned his attention to his creative spirit and has written fine poetry, prose and plays, with My Name Is Okoro, his most recent novel. Crocodile Girl is a story of life and death, how the past can haunt one and how one creates his future. In a conversation with LAURA ANGELA BAGNETTO, author of Crocodile Girl, Sam Omatseye, gives insight into the novel
The book starts with lots of action. There is a link to ties in Nigeria and the U.S., and slave trade. It’s a lot to process; there is so much going on. What was the inspiration for your book?
Crocodile Girl is about prejudice and how it can corrodes the society. The story of Crocodile girl was told to me by my father. There was actually a situation in his own village, when he was growing up. There was a woman, who was so beautiful she could not be thought to be human. So, they said that at night she went into the river and became a crocodile; so, that was the prejudice that was cast on the woman. So, that was where I took the story. I was in the U.S., when I started thinking about this novel; I decided that I would use that material to track prejudice and also look at African history and how prejudice, even within African history, especially with slavery, also affected relations between black and black as against white and black.
Most of the story takes place in Orogun village and it’s interesting because prejudice goes back so far that there is a lot of prejudice between the village elders. And this one woman named Alero, can you tell us a little bit about that without revealing everything?
Alero is a very interesting character to me because I see her as the fulcrum of the whole narrative. She is the one, who is beautiful and charming and she is the one, who has to suffer because of her beauty. And she is the one, who has a relationship with the white visitor, Tim, and she is the one, who suffers because of that. The story of the prejudice is here. She simultaneously reflects it and she reflects on the prejudice that she suffers.
There are two distinct things that come up in the story of Alero and Tim, which is summed up in one part of the book and this is a quote, “beauty is part of the tragedy; the real tragedy is history.” So, is this a reflection on slave trade?
In the olden days, there was prejudice within the black society, because historically, people tended to glorify Africa’s past like the white just came to Africa to pick slaves, but there were people, who were profiting from the slave trade and they were blacks who made it possible for the white amn to thrive. So, it was part of that narrative that I was trying to track.
The other issue is beauty, because one of the main characters, Alero, is constantly told how beautiful she is. Her being a nurse is disregarded and she is almost two-dimensional. People see her beauty as a curse for being the daughter of the crocodile woman. It defines her, which is really sad because obviously she has more depth than that.
Yes; that’s the interesting thing that happens to her because she is seen as beautiful but she does not think she is beautiful because there is nobody to appreciate, who she is and just when she is supposed to enjoy her life, it becomes manifest again in the city and she has to come back to her default home, which is no home at all.
There is a lot of action, and there is some depth involved also. It’s a very complex plot because the reason why Tim, the American guy, who comes to Orogun in Nigeria through another man, Itse has quite an interesting story as well but he becomes a foil to the whole narrative. Can you tell us why Itse is so important?
Itse is the link between Alero and Tim and he is the reason why Alero allowed Tim to come to Africa but unfortunately, Itse is not able, because of what happened to him, and he becomes the background around which the narrative of Tim and Alero is woven and how the whole story in the village, including the old man, takes off.
My favorite character in the book was the veteran.
Yes; he is my favourite character in the book, too.
He is wise and because he speaks good English. He could step in between both the elders and the westerners, who come to see what’s going on and he has a lot of knowledge in many ways. He is missing a hand because he fought in a war, and he is a great guy, and he has a lot to say and he does not say a lot at the same time. Can you tell us about him?
He is the liberator of the tale; he is the one that catalyzes the narrative because it is on him that the story about how to get to the forest takes place and it is him who makes Tim get adjusted to the environment. It is he who can challenge the local elites, the traditional elites without consequences. So, it is around that man that the whole narrative hinges. He belongs to that generation and he is also a rebel to that generation.
Are you working on anything new?
Yes; I am working on another novel. It has a sort of resemblance to this but it is quite a different story.
• Original footage from rfi
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