The unfortunate generation writes back: The signifying tears in Akeem Lasisi’s night of flight – Part 2
Denji Ladele and Dejo Faniyi inform that it was a usual ceremonial engagement predominantly held in the Ogbomoso, Oyo, Iseyin, Okeho, Saki and Ibadan areas of Yoruba land, about 60 to 80 years ago (that is, before the publication of their book of the same title in 1979).
The main epoch of this genre, from this submission, was effectively about 80 to 100 years ago. In this poetic act (which literally means ‘the tears of the bride’), the bride evokes a strong emotional current characterized by effusive tears over her impending severance from her parental home. She chants her reminiscences of childhood, the experiences of growing up with her peers, the disciplines of being a daughter, an adolescent and a lady, all preparing her for this historic moment.
In these, she chants her grief. She thanks and praises her parents for their love, care and offers of discipline and asks for their blessings before she proceeds to her matrimonial home, which, to her, inhabits a mysterious zone that may either adorn or damage her. She dreads the unpleasantness of in-laws, the tyranny of her husband where his love drains, barrenness, the trials of polygamy and the unfriendliness of a hostile neighbourhood.
There are some heart-lifting (or rather, mixed) twists to her rendition. For instance, she flaunts the fact that she is nubile, a virgin (a crucial factor of female respect). She anticipates a pleasant home and feels confident about her sexuality. The itinerant feature of the Ekun Iyawo (for the bride, in the company of her friends, must visit elders in her neighbourhood, extended family members, well-wishers) offers the bride an atmosphere of intense social integration and class elevation. Indeed, this important social endorsement of her femininity must formally have begun during the learning of this genre, which only befits a woman of honour.
According to Lasisi in a book of the same title realized through a research sponsored by the Ford foundation, “she had to go for a special training months before her wedding day. Her trainers were the mother, other matriarchs (old or young) in their locality, and her friends. She had to master both conventional/existing corpus of the bride’s poetry, and new ones that would mark her out as a creative and intelligent lady on her day of rendition.”
In its appropriation in Night of My Flight, Ekun Iyawo becomes a postcolonial artifact embracing a multiple socio-political concern lodged within an oral poetic arsenal. Divided into six parts –‘Spinster’s Eve,’ ‘Time To Say, Bye,’ ‘On the Wings of the Wind,’ ‘Upside Down,’ ‘Turning Point,’ and ‘Jemila,’- Night of My Flight engages with themes ranging from the purely individual to the characteristically cultural and public; from the gendered to the exclusively national and global. Deploying a bride who is a cultural mulatto of the traditional and post (modern), Night of My Flight assumes a poetic diary chronicling a set of signifying tears on a number of discursive items.
Central to the object of the above is a reading of marriage in relation to the contemporary urban Nigerian lady. Though conscious of the illuminations of feminist epistemology about the patriarchal architecture of most social institutions and practices in the globe, Lasisi’s bride-persona projects an African(ist) gaze that synthesizes the aspirations of the African woman’s quest for visibility as well as the kernels of her African cultural reality.
She inhabits a world grossly different from that of the western white, a space where marriage and the family are seen by woman as ratifying, rather than rupturing her subjectivity and sexuality. The bride experiences the anxieties common with ‘mature’ ladies who fear the omen of not being approached by suitors and do everything within their whims and caprices to find their men: I headed for the miracle temple/ Hoping for a cork for my fermented wine,/ A godly cork for my lingering hen./ Strategic seat/ Strategic applause/ Strategic smile on my powdered face.
After a bout with delays and denials, she heaves a sigh of relief: I found my man at the nick of fate/ When awaiting days began to tick in haste/ Tilting spinsterhood’s pendulum to nervous realms.
Lasisi’s discourse on woman and marriage in the above inscribes an African(ist) feminist apologia in the course of the contemporary woman’s struggle for visibility and audibility in her society since it is a ‘black feminism’ which, to Lisa Tuttle, ‘is rooted in black culture’.
Far from being avenues of patriarchal exploitation as clamoured by Marxist and lesbian/radical feminists, these institutions adorn woman with honour and allow her to speak. Says the bride: This eve of my flight,/ I think in tongues and speak in rhymes/ This eve of my crossover,/ I am a longer pageant of eternal poems.
However, Lasisi problematizes marriage as a human event which can produce either warmth or worms, depending on the attitudes of the individuals involved in it. Here, marriage is depicted as negotiable within the intellectual ambience of hindsight and foresight involving the woman’s decisive role. Thus, the contemporary spinster who witnesses the tragic experiences of failed marriages in the society (mostly issuing from male tyranny) may seek a cave (a happy home through a critical selective process and comportment) or a cage (an unfortunate result of her uncritical decision(s)).
While the bride allows that: After this night,/ I am tied to the whims of the pike,/ To the apron string of gender thieves./ In the new world I find myself the bully is king,/ The scrotum rules waves with infernal scams.
She cautions: Bride in transit/ A pet of the road,/ I will tell the tale on the sea/ Tell the truth on hills./ If I meet a lass in a metal bird/ I pull her ears for the salient tale./ That marriage is a cave/ Marriage is a cage:/ Marriage is a racket/ In market of men
She goes on to acquaint: I have seen animal men/ Flogging their wives like goats,/ Seen callous wives/ Poisoning ‘Darling husbands’ like pantry rats.The bride in Night of My Flight is further vested with another postcolonial mission: that of decolonizing African poetry from the shackles of Eurocentric imaginative templates, while also electing for a humanist aesthetics that recognizes the contributions of every cultural and intellectual input. She however symbolically weeps and combatively seeks to deconstruct an alternative colonialism, which issues from the dominant self-righteousness of canonical grand narratives:
For the sake of my African flight/ Let us dismantle the castle of canons/And give our dear poetry a human face. We re-invent the spirit of the odes of old/ Which exude the beauty of the morning rose/ Yet survive the critical thorns of the censoring sun./ For poetry is and poetry is not:/ Coded verses/ On open palm of every hand/ Poetry is, poetry is not/ The irony of the rose/ The rose in the thorn/ Poetry is, poetry is not/ Paradox of birth,/ Parable of death/ Poetry is, poetry is not/ Folly of Hitler,/ Wisdom of Gandhi.
Her iconoclastic voice as regards a vastly de-canonized Nigerian creative space (which is also a protest against the othering of female voices within the canonical hierarchy) reverberates in the following:
The sky is tired/ Of thunder’s monotone/ Earth weary,/ Of threadbare tunes of recycled larks./ To the conservative, morning can only come after its noon and /night/ But I belong to the caste of alternative thinkers/ Seeking a new dawn in the midst of dusk/ A bold sun in a baffled night.
The discourse of the bride in Night of My Flight inevitably expands into a realm of social criticism which casts a jaundiced look at a number of socio-political inanities in the Nigerian state. One of these is the betrayal of the citizenry due to the irresponsible and empty promises of the ruling class which turn out to be mere ploys towards consolidating their often rigged mandate. Thus, there are human and structural under-developments, more crippling than there was during the colonial era. The atmosphere is characterized by administrative aloofness: But because I have been a witness to budget scams,/ When they promise water at night/ I prepare my fate for drought at dawn/ When they pledge a reign of moon/ I brace up my destiny/ For an eclipsed year.
On the dwindling health sector (a metaphor of national decadence), the bride laments: This night of my flight/ Filled with horror of unfulfilled wages/ Matrons have turned their backs on labouring wards:/ This night of my flight,/ The pope is home-sick/ But the angels are still on strike.
The crisis in the education sector descends to the absolutely ridiculous: The curriculum wobbles in/ Via the gate of the class/ Jets out through its open windows and open sky/ Then, “Who wrote Macbeth?”/ Queries the bearded satirist of the Orwellian ilk./ “Who wrote Macbeth?”/ Students swear they are not the one/ The teacher vows he, a whole graduate, could never have/ As principal swears to innocence by his gaping loins./ Up, up upside down/ The school is standing/ Upon its roof.
But the phenomenal plague afflicting the education sector, which is felt in every facet of national life, is not only the consequence of unfocused planning, but more crucially, the scourge of an illiterate leadership. The bride regrets: This is the season/ This, the treason/ When a graduate is cheaper/ Than a basket of chaff/ The school, a weeping night/ Of its glorious morn.
She continues: This season of the anti-Christ/ This treason of the anti-book:/ I know a federal University/ Where a general is chancellor,/ Brigadier is vice/ And one epic noon/ A major zoomed onto the trembling varsity/ Flogged a troublesome prof like an erring serf!/ Up, up upside down/ The country is standing/ Up its roof.
In the final analysis, this conscience-scurrying bride avers: What is my country?/ My country is a riddle,/ my land a myth/ My country is a no man’s child/ He has the teeth of locust beans./ His green is grey/ His white is washed/ Tattered and battered his coat of arms/ His head a national stadium of giant lice.
Despite the sordid images of a failed nation depicted by this text’s bride, there are grateful chants sung to celebrate some individuals considered praise-worthy in the society. The first in this category are the bride’s parents, who represent the ideal parentage the country can not offer. The second consist of individuals whose contributions to the society have been avant-gardist and in a huge sense, unorthodox. They include the living and the dead, the known and the unknown, the small and great, men and women. These consist of Oluwakayode Oladepo, the author’s late primary school teacher and mentor; Bola Ige, the Nigerian Justice Minister assassinated in 2001; Kudirat Abiola, the martyred activist and wife of the late never- to- be President of Nigeria, Chief Moshood Abiola; Gani Fawehinmi, a colossal Nigerian Human Rights lawyer and activist; Akachi Ezeigbo, a notable Nigerian female novelist and lecturer; Toyin, one of the author’s ‘songbirds’ (female performance poets); Adekunle Ajasin, a late former governor of Ondo State of Nigeria; and Eddy Aderinokun, a Nigerian bank’s Chief Executive and lover of the Arts.
The bride also acts as the author’s persona in appreciating nature, cultural varieties, regional peculiarities and some democratic institutional establishments. Comments on global issues also attract the bride’s attention. The bride- persona in Night of My Flight may thus be seen as a male author’s statement on woman’s integral importance in society and a metaphor of challenged socio-political aspirations.
Lasisi’s artistry in Night of My Flight allows the response of the bridegroom in ‘Jemila.’ This, thus, effectively makes the collection a dialogue. The groom, among other things, concedes his state of existential shallowness, aridity and lack of fulfillment in a rhetoric that tends to deconstruct male centredness in the ideal socio-cultural space and assigning the realization of male self-discovery to the complementary impact of woman: Sometimes through the lens of faith/ I dared to peep into space/ To see my fate-/ A classical farce in classical vain./ That was yester-night, Jemila, which today, seems like a century’s/ flight/ Now I can tell the dividends of tarrying in love/ As you have come in, an element of air,/ Ventilating the rowdy sediments of my stuffy sky.
From the foregoing, Night of My Flight arguably inscribes a novel dimension in Nigerian poetry with its seminal intercourse with Yoruba orature, its discursive and multi-thematic gaze, its fluid inter-textual rendering and its signal statement on woman’s integral position in the still evolving Nigerian nation state.
It persuasively invites a timely critical intervention that would objectively appraise the signifying peculiarities and difference(s) of the third wave Nigerian literary commitment and also challenges this present generation to present its own critics.
Arguably, the lamentable lack of the latter is the unfortunate major failure crippling this generation of Nigerian creative outlook. And though evincing occasional slips in the handling of determiners, Night of My Flight demonstrates an immense capacity of suspending the reader in a state of rhetorical hypnosis, which makes one wonder if the attacks on the new generation Nigerian writer are not actually meant for the critic, who is, to a great extent, absent.
Hopefully, if the Nigerian critic of the third generation era assertively emerged and aggressively took the pains of making a spirited critical inventory of the contemporary texts, biases and artistic outlooks of the moment’s Nigerian writing, we shall be able to see that there exists a very noteworthy development in the present dispensation with a statement of its dominant characteristics and difference.
• Yomi Olusegun-Joseph teaches literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
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