Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Life is Colorless Without Barbarians

SHARE THIS

“Once in every generation, without fail, there is an episode of hysteria about the barbarians.” Waiting for The Barbarian

 

Life is colorless without barbarians.  Without them, there would be no  red or orange or yellow alerts. That is why every generation must have its barbarians. But the best barbarians are  those for whom you wait. Barbarians are like messiahs, always coming but never arriving. And contrary to what you might have heard, barbarians never die.

What though is the purpose of waiting? You know where barbarians live. The caves on the fringes of empire. The underwater villages that come and go with the tides. The sand dune cities, those ghostly towns that are visible only in the eye of a desert storm. You know where they hide.

You know the color of their skin, the specific hue of their blackness, black as the night in the cover of which they invade your bed and your kitchen and your soup. You know the strange shapes of their bodies. Yes, you’ve never met them. But from the signs of their coming, you have painted pretty damn accurate pictures of what their “faces of damnation” look like. So tell me, what exactly is the purpose of this waiting?

The truth is that what you fear is not their arrival.  You have nothing that they would want. Your water has been contaminated by your own urine. Your precious potatoes have all been eaten by your own scarecrows. Your daughters are so lean no one will even steal them. Look, you’ve lost just about everything. If the barbarians were to come today, there will be nothing left for them to plunder.

What you have not lost, however, is the capacity to wait. And since living is really at bottom a kind of waiting, to have nothing to wait for is to become a living dead. So you wait just so you can stay alive. So maybe you love your barbarians. Maybe you do not. But one thing is clear. Your barbarians are merely ciphers of the hope and the promise that you will live yet another day and another and another for as long as you can boast a nightmare.

For only when generations have disappeared do their barbarians appear. They arrive when there is no one left to meet them, when there are  no more tomorrows because there is no one left to anticipate them. They arrive to meet an empty world. They set down their filthy tents, and their fanny packs, and their flint stones, and their sun glasses. They sit down on the doorstep that used to be yours but that have have long since forgotten you.   Right there and then they are transformed into pioneers, founding fathers, trail blazers. But their future will not be certain until they name their own barbarians for whom they too must wait.

Photo credit: Igor Tishin: Barbarian Art Gallery

Tags: , , , , ,

Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

3 Responses to “Life is Colorless Without Barbarians” Subscribe

  1. chibuzor May 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    lovely. just brilliant. but i’ll hold furhter comment!

  2. Safranna May 23, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

    Brilliant perspective indeed! I’m intrigued… want to feast my understanding on more of your thoughts! And, full to bellyache on the silent truth of this… ~Much Respect~

  3. Ainehi May 24, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    Chibuzor, thanks man.

    Safranna: Thanks for visiting Brittle Paper and thanks for your nice note. I wonder what you mean when you say “silent truth of this.” Sounds interesting.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Derek Owusu Awarded 2020 Desmond Elliot Prize

Derek Owusu Awarded 2020 Desmond Elliot Prize (1)

British author of Ghanaian heritage Derek Owusu has been awarded the 2020 Desmond Elliot Prize for his debut novel That […]

My Sister, The Serial Killer Wins Crime Fiction Book of the Year

My Sister, The Serial Killer Wins Crime Fiction Book of the Year

Oyinkan Braithwaite’s comic crime thriller, My Sister, The Serial Killer (2018), has won the 2020 British Book Award for Crime Fiction […]

“I Have Come Undone” | Adichie Writes Moving Statement on Grieving for Her Father

chimamanda Adichie tribute father james nwoye adichie

Chimamanda Adichie’s father, Professor James Nwoye Adichie, died on Wednesday June 10, 2020. Today, the author breaks her silence around […]

Submit to Ouida Books’ New Imprint on Technology in Africa

Ouida Books is Currently Accepting Submissions for Her New Imprint LWM (2)

Lagos-based publishing press Ouida Books is accepting submissions for its new imprint LWM. LMW is the third addition to the […]

Wayétu Moore Announces New Novel Exploring Mami Wata Mythology

Wayétu Moore Announces New Novel Exploring Mami Wata Mythology

Liberian-American author Wayétu Moore is staying busy and productive. Barely a year since the release of her widely praised memoir […]

Tsitsi Dangarembga Petitions Parliament of Zimbabwe for Removal of Health Minister Obadiah Moyo

Tsitsi Dangarembga Obadiah Moyo (1)

On June 19, 2020, Zimbabwe Health Minister Obadiah Moyo was arrested on corruption charges for engaging in an illegal 60 […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.