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Stars of the Long Night

Stars of the Long Night

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Stars of the Long Night

valutazioni:
4/5 (1 valutazione)
Lunghezza:
323 pagine
8 ore
Pubblicato:
May 30, 2012
ISBN:
9789788422792
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Set in the Niger Delta this novel tells the tale of a women's struggle for equality in a traditional patriachal society. Set against the once-in-a-generation festival at which the one chosen by the gods performs the dance of "the mother mask", Ojaide weaves a tale of suspense while displaying the traditions and religious beliefs that define the Niger Delta.
Pubblicato:
May 30, 2012
ISBN:
9789788422792
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

A renowned poet, Tanure Ojaide has won major national and international poetry awards, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Africa Region (1987), the BBC Arts and Africa Poetry Award (1988), twice the All-Africa Okigbo Prize for Poetry (1988 and 1997), and thrice the Association of Nigerian Authors' Poetry Prize (1988, 1994 and 2004. In 2016 Ojaide was awarded the the prestigious Fonlon-Nichols Award at the 42nd annual African Literature Association (ALA) conference in Atlanta. For Tanure Ojaide, "the creative writer is never an airplant, but someone who is grounded in some specific place. It is difficult to talk of many writers without their identification with place. Every writer's roots are very important in understanding his or her work." He has read from his poetry in different fora in Africa, Britain, Canada, Israel, Mexico, The Netherlands, and the United States. Some of his poems have been translated into Chinese, Dutch, Spanish and French. He is currently the Frank Porter Graham Professor of Africana Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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Stars of the Long Night - Tanure Ojaide

Stars of the Long Night

Malthouse African Fiction

Dele Afolabi, Molara's Revenge

Zaynab Alkali, The Cowebs and other stories

Chukwuemeka Ike To My Husband from Iowa

Festus Iyayi Awaiting Court Martial

Kris Obodumu Die a Little

Tanure Ojaide, God's Medicinemen and other stories

Wale Okediran Dreams Die at Twilight

Femi Olugbile Batolica!

Stars Of The Long Night

a novel

by

Tanure Ojaide

Malthouse Press Limited

43 Onitana Street, Off Stadium Hotel Road,

Surulere, Lagos, Lagos State

E-mail: malthouse press@vahoo.com

malthouse_lagos@yahoo.co.uk

Tel:+234 (0)802 600 3203

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, transcribed, stored in a retrieval system or translated into any language or computer language, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, chemical, thermal, manual or otherwise, without the prior consent in writing of Malthouse Press Limited, Lagos, Nigeria.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade, or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in writing, in any form of binding or cover other than in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

© Tanure Ojaide 2012

First Published 2012

ISBN 978-978-8422-49-5

Distributors:

African Books Collective, Oxford, UK

Contents

The Heritage of Tales

PART ONE

Dynasties of Men

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

PART II

The Moons Between

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

PART III

Seven Days

25

26

27

28

29

30

PART IV

Festival Moon

31

32

33

The Moon

34

35

The Call

36

37

38

39

40

The Day After and Afterwards

In memory of my Grandmother,

Amreghe,

the Mother Hen

The elephant does not die of one broken rib.

(Urhobo proverb)

The Heritage of Tales

How many people are sharp-eyed enough to see through the thick clouds covering the distant past? How many others can tell what brought about the big scars they now carry as a badge? Many have even forgotten the wounds that gave rise to their scars. Maybe they had sustained them by accident; or, it could be that someone more powerful than them had inflicted the wounds upon them. How many still know the way they had taken to where they are now settled? Many believe they had been thrust into where they are now by some deity who actively patterned people's lives according to their respective desires. It does not matter to such people whether their forebears had travelled through a perilous road to their current refuge. It does not matter to them what the past did to them. They only want to look ahead. But let such people beware. Where do you go, if you do not know where you are coming from; more so if you are fleeing from somewhere? How much of the present is not conditioned by the past? And what future is not the sum of the past and the present?

Remembrance is a god that is worshiped every moment of the day. The god of memory is a jealous god that asks to be remembered with sacrifices and, in return, makes you remember whatever you have experienced. As the god of memory's favourite, what you saw would never leave you; you would recount every detail of your dreams as if the events were still unfolding before you. Series of events spread before you to see in bright light. The faces you come across once are pictured before you for all times. You keep a mental canvas on which everything you experience is boldly impressed. Once Aridon, the memory god, accepts you as a devotee, you will be blessed with memories. The echo and the sound become one, just as the shadow and the body are one figure.

Remembrance is an experienced guide. It tells you what happened in a particular place at a specific time. Be on your guard! Better be on guard than be taken by surprise. Who is armed with experience of the past will not be ambushed by surprises of the future. Who has been taught lessons knows the virtues of knowledge. How will the earth not know if somebody dies and has to be buried? The storyteller must serve the memory god.

Without memory an endowed people run the risk of losing their virtues and wealth and slipping into vulgarity and poverty. Without memory the child would burn itself a second time, a third time, and on and on till it could be fatally hurt. Without memory the wild animal that had struggled out of a trap once would likely walk into and be killed by another trap. Without memory a people who had given up kingship because of its tyranny could place one of them in a high chair again and chant names that would turn his head to declare himself king of his praise-singers. Certainly, without memory those who believed that whatever men could not achieve would be impossible to accomplish would be stuck with the problems that arrested them.

Aridon will guide me to tell my story, my people's story.

PART ONE

Dynasties of Men

1

From the very day Amraibure and his father returned from Orhokpor, where they had gone to consult the famed diviner, however weirdly things had turned out, the young man became a sniffing he-goat in town, looking for girls, as if he had not been seeing them playing around all the time.

Not used to interacting with girls, he became clumsy in his manners whenever he played with them. He smiled too broadly, his lower and upper rows of teeth clenched, as if he could endear himself to girls by doing so. He put in so much seriousness into what should be play that he took the fun out of it. There was a measure of brusqueness in his behaviour that he could not shed despite every effort on the playground to be a normal boy. He had been too long in the company of his seniors that he could not just be normal among his own age-mates again. He had been so praised for being so responsible for his young age by older people that he now realized he had to lose some of that praise to be like his fellow boys and girls. He was being driven by his feelings to seize what he wanted and, at the same time, held back by the awkwardness and roughness of not being used to the normal ways of playing.

He had heard of big boys like him dragging smaller girls into plantain plantations and pawing about them. He had learned from bigger boys that the girls giggled when boys touched their breasts. He had also learned from the same big boys that girls liked boys paying special attention to them. The practice of luring or pulling girls into lonely corners to play with intimately happened in the dark or on moonlit nights when the adults were inside or engaged in some other ways and not paying attention to the young ones playing and having fun. Most times the girls submitted to the intimate play as long as nobody saw them. Such girls were called Don't-let-my-mother-know. Out of curiosity, a few boys and girls had tasted hurriedly for the first time on the soft moist bed of plantain leaves what they were still forbidden from enjoying.

Of the girls playing in Amraibure's street, Kena's body had the most alluring features to him. Young ones from neighbouring streets often played together now in one street and then in another; they had no street boundaries at playtime. The spirit of play possessed them and they followed the flow it evoked. Kena was tall for her age and had a body more on the thin side than on the plump side. Her large eyes shone beneath a swath of lashes. Her oval face was unique among the girls of the wide dusty streets. She tied a wrapper over her chest, but that cover did not hide the big breasts that settled on her chest like twin hillocks on a narrow plain. Amraibure, in his imagination, looked through her wrapper and saw breasts that would be warm to touch. Kena distinguished herself in many ways. She had a good smile, which came out naturally, and she was as energetic as a young woman could possibly be. She danced and sang and carried herself as the leader of her age-mates. One could easily single her out of her group for her spritely nature and the natural poise with which she moved about.

Amraibure was enthralled by her luscious body and liveliness and felt he did not need to go farther than his immediate streets to look for someone to be his girlfriend. Go where, he asked himself, when she of the big breasts and the smooth skin, the rice teeth and warm smile, the leader of the girls, was close by for him to choose? Why go into the forest and be subjected to briars and thorns, he also asked himself, when he could find in his backyard what he wanted? But he did not really know what he wanted to do with her. Coming together in the playground would start the process of intimacy, he hoped.

The chance he wanted and anxiously waited for soon came. The spirit of play created the opportunity he waited for: a moonlit night. On such nights, boys and girls played together, unlike on dark nights when boys played with boys and girls with girls. The moon freed boys and girls from their gender compartments into the open space it burnished with its brilliance. The moon created a boundless arena for young boys and girls to tease their fancy and cross lines that it blurred with light. On the moonlit night, playing hide-and-seek, Amraibure entered the game with the sole purpose of pursuing Kena into the dark plantain plantation. He wanted to touch her. He wanted to pay special attention to her and wanted her to know that.

It came to his turn to seek her, as she ran to hide, and his heart beat a fast but strangely rhythmic drum. It did not appear that he had planned and rehearsed this scenario on the playground for so long as he had done the past one month. He had thought that once the opportunity came, he would follow his laid-out plan smoothly. He had the plan of the hunter who easily shot the game and celebrated his kill. However, now at the crucial moment, the details of his plan had gone out of his head. And so, nervous and confused, he chased the smaller framed Kena into the shrub as he expected her to run to for hiding.

She ran gracefully and not with the speed of one running from danger to hide, as she was expected to from the spirit of kene-kene game that could cause her to break her mother's plates if caught, and that further confused Amraibure. It was as if she was luring him into the dark, where she would spring a surprise at him by disappearing out of sight. She with her shadow remained visible in the moonlight, as if taunting him to follow her directly as far as she dared to go that night. And directly he followed her in the chase. As soon as she was in the moonlit shadows of plantains, he caught up with her. He was breathing fast; she was breathing normally, hardly affected by the running. He held her by the cloth tied to her waist, rather than just tagging her by the shoulder to indicate that he had caught her, as required by the rules of the game.

His heart beat faster, as if he had been chased there by a wild dog or some other vicious animal. He tried to calm himself as he thought about what he should do next. All his carefully prepared schemes had vanished. Even before his mind was made up about what to do next, he grabbed the wrapper tied round her waist and tried to tear it off her body, but she laughed teasingly because she knew that he couldn't from the tough way she had knotted it. And she did not think that he would be so stupid anyway to tear the cloth from her waist. What was he going to do by attempting to strip me naked? she asked herself.

They had not been familiar and so she could not guess what he was after. As Amraibure was struggling, unexpectedly sweating like someone doing a most arduous task, she sprang a surprise. In a flash she stripped, and asked him, What do you want to remove my cloth for, you stupid boy? She tied the wrapper back as soon as she had waved it before him. The bait had disappeared in a flash. In that lightning moment, Amraibure imagined in the blazing moonlight what a naked maturing girl looked like. A cherry plant with tempting ripe fruits lowered for him to pluck by the spirit of play! Of course there was no time to pluck any fruit. The beauty of the moment froze his hands from moving, not to talk of stretching to pluck what was meant to chastise him for his daring manner. The shadows displayed the plantains with their branches, leaves, and fruits, and they all wavered a confused canvas in the light night wind. He wished it was daylight for him to have seen clearly the fresh and alluring body he had been craving for. He had wanted to hold Kena down and do what his dreams had taught him to be a thrilling experience, but things had happened so fast that he could not imagine how long it had taken. He, like a warrior, appeared ambushed by an unarmed but powerful girl he could not conquer.

But Kena was not done with her surprises. She took a step backwards and Amraibure felt she was going to run again and he would pursue her further. He would pursue the antelope into the heart of the forest until he could aim a good shot. He would pursue the game until it collapsed before him. But Kena, sleek like an antelope, was no antelope in the hunt. Again in a flash, Kena came forward and pushed him away from her with such vehemence that would knock down a wall. He staggered backwards and intoned the wrestling formula of Never! as he struggled to prevent himself from falling but holding to the ground. He did not fall flat but his hands had touched the ground. This was not what the big boy had expected. He was defeated, he knew. This was a secret he knew both of them would keep to themselves for the rest of their lives, he thought. He left the playground dispirited and went to bed that night with so much to reflect on.

That was how Kena earned his respect. Amraibure started to have a secret fear of Kena. On that night, what did she mean with her stripping momentarily? It was a lightning flash that dazed him. Where did her power come from to push him away, as if she were a lioness and he a club-footed deer? He knew they had reversed roles.

2

Amraibure had only realized he was grown up after he had started to ejaculate in his dreams. He could not tell what really happened to him at night while asleep but always woke up in the mornings of such dreams wet with sticky grime by his groins. It was like a starchy liquid from inside his body, he realized, that with time dried on his body. He had followed his father for so long participating in ritual ceremonies that he had got no time to play with his age-mates and gossip about such things that happened to young ones of his age. He had left behind much of his childhood without experiencing it, which was a sad loss to him. There are losses that cannot be recovered or replaced however hard one works. Such was Amraibure's loss of children's experience while in the midst of elders.

Though he had stopped serving Omoyeye for several years, it had not occurred to him that he was grown up. When younger a while ago, after every evening meal, he had gone to the wall by the door entrance to paste to it pieces of remnant meat or fish from his meal. He was imitating the elders, who served their ancestors but with bigger offerings. Then Amraibure did not quite know what he wanted, but he had expected Omoyeye, god of children, to protect and guide him. He was fascinated by the idea of leaving something for an unknown being to consume so as to help him. To him, Omoyeye might as well be the god of wrestling that he would invoke to assist him to throw down whomever he challenged on the wrestling ground, where he was very good. Omoyeye might also as well be the god of orphans and by serving him, the god would provide for children without food to eat. He loved the ritual at the end of the meal, something he passionately believed in—having the support of the wrestling god and providing food for the god of orphans to feed needy ones.

When the night experience had become so frequent that he was ejaculating twice, and almost on a daily basis, he could no longer keep his fear from his father. In his mind he wrestled with the hazy figure to recognize her but she would not show her face. He felt he was in deep trouble and had to act fast to release himself from the grip of the nightly intruder.

I am having very bad dreams, Amraibure told his father when the opportunity came.

His father was alone weaving fishing nets in the evening when he came to him to bare his troubled mind. Under the almond tree in the compound, he tried to observe how his father wove the intricate net that caught fish in the creeks. His father's cone nets caught the smallest fish in the creeks, the type of fish used in preparing pepper soup. His father had stopped humming a song, a practice he carried on while weaving his nets.

What do you mean by bad dreams? Are you happy, laughing, or celebrating in your dream? Odibo asked his son.

No, father. It is something different, he said.

Thank God! That gives me relief because it is a bad omen to be happy in a dream. It is equally bad for one to be laughing and celebrating in a dream. What is it then that you are afraid of? the father asked.

Many nights, and in the past nights it has been a daily occurrence, once I fall asleep, I am pulled by a force I don't know on top of a woman, Amraibure explained.

What happens after that? the father asked.

I don't really know what happens but I wake with sticky grime in my groins.

Odibo knew that his son was now mature enough to sleep with a woman. But why should a faceless woman force him upon her? he asked himself. If he found himself on top of a known woman, then that would be an ordinary dream of an adolescent boy, he reflected. But, as for a faceless woman, he had no doubt that a succubus, some witch in the family, had been coming to make love with his son. To him, this was a serious case since this witch could sap away the young man's virility. God forbid that, he told himself. It would be a disaster to have a eunuch for a son, he thought.

I must tell you that it is a dangerous thing happening to you. If it continues happening, let me know so that we do something to stop it, he told him to comfort his frightened son.

And then, These witches must not be allowed to make my only son miserable, he said to himself. This was how Amraibure came to fear witches. Before then, he had not felt they could ever hurt him. Though young, his ears had caught the frequent talk about witches who poisoned people they were envious of. Most witches were mindless, he now realized, since they could routinely harm innocent people. He could not think of anybody he had offended to deserve the nightly visitation. He started to shake with fear when he thought about witches, but he controlled himself in public. The greatest craft witches have is surprise, he had learned from the elders he had been following. He thought of witches as hunters who hid themselves so well before the game, aimed at a vital part of the body, and shot just once at where it killed.

Amraibure went to bed with the fear of witches. He started to hear the hooting of owls, which, before then, had never come close to the house at night. Deep into the night he heard strange hisses of the wind, which he interpreted as evil spirits or the breathing of witches roaming the night. He tossed in bed for long, and, in the brief sleep, the faceless being that he now took to be a witch always came to set him in that mood that left him damp. The occurrence of the visitation had not abated with time. He discovered that there were problems that time did not solve but had to be tackled head on. He was so petrified by the visitations of the witch that he had to do something about it.

He reported back to his father about the continuing night experience. The father realized he had to take immediate action to stop the deteriorating situation. He would rather like his son to suffer from fever and cuts than a witch making love with him.

Son, don't be worried. Your problem will be solved. Ejenavi should know the cause and prescribe an effective remedy for the problem, he assured his son.

I know, father, was all Amraibure could say.

Nobody can hurt you as long as I am alive and they know it, Odibo said, as much to himself as to his son.

I am sick and tired of this problem, Amraibure said.

You shall be fine after Ejenavi has seen you.

Father and son set out for Orhokpor with the intention of consulting the diviner that Odibo had known for over three decades. On his own, Odibo had gone to see Ejenavi many times while feeling unsure about certain happenings in his life. No adult man was free from some family troubles, he had realized, and he went to either receive charms to counter any evil forces against him or fortify himself against any rival, enemy, or evil person. This time, he felt the bug of a witch should be squelched before it grew too big to do his son irreparable damage.

Orhokpor was far enough from Okpara for them not to be noticed. There were certain things, Odibo believed, that should be kept secret. When personal problems were publicized, witches would know one's weak points and could exacerbate them, he believed. Nobody else should hear about this. He, who was as close to the gods as anybody could ever be, would be ridiculed if it became known that his son was a victim of a succubus.

The diviner welcomed them cheerfully; he knew Odibo very well. As Odibo introduced Amraibure as his only son, the diviner gazed at the young man. He shifted his gaze from the head downwards. He nodded, as if confirming a suspicion. He then turned from the son to his father.

You have a young man big enough to impregnate a woman. He needs to have a young woman for a wife, Ejenavi said.

Odibo was startled by the diviner's observation and did not respond before another question from him.

What are you waiting for?

He has to grow up first, Odibo replied.

Grow to have a beard before becoming the man he already is? Not nowadays. Let him take a young woman now before he begins to discharge on his bed. He should be doing that already. That's not good for a strong young man. Let the witches not seize upon that to ruin him.

Odibo snapped his forefinger and thumb to signal his rejection of such misfortune for his son. Amraibure made a similar sign almost simultaneously as his father.

Odibo and his son felt they needed no further consultation. After all, the father had thought about this possibility without airing it and his fears had been confirmed. He told the diviner that they had been passing by and he had wanted to stop by and introduce his big son to him.

You don't have to go farther than where you find what you seek, the diviner told him.

The diviner's riddling words surprised them, as if he was reading their minds, but Odibo felt he did not need to acknowledge what he had come there for, even if the diviner knew without being told. Amraibure had to follow his father's lead as he stepped out and they left for home.

3

Only two weeks after the visit to Ejenavi, Amraibure's encounters with the strange spirit at night had not only reduced considerably but ceased. The diviner had prescribed no medicine to be taken. Nor had he prescribed a sacrifice, which Odibo and his son would have performed enthusiastically with a cock or goat. Amraibure assured himself that his sudden cure was not related to the diviner. Rather, he attributed the welcome relief

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