Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Life is Colorless Without Barbarians

“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: , , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

3 Responses to “Life is Colorless Without Barbarians” Subscribe

  1. chibuzor 2011/05/19 at 12:46 #

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

  2. Safranna 2011/05/23 at 19:40 #

    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 2011/05/24 at 18:47 #

    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

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

Monthly Newsletter!

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

Archives

Watch This Poetry Dance Film of Kayo Chingonyi’s “Kumukanda”

kayo chingonyi - the guardian

Zambian poet Kayo Chingonyi’s first full-length collection, Kumukanda, is receiving praise. The Guardian has hailed its “lyrical elegance” and “many […]

Photos | Nommo Awards 2017: How Africa’s First Ever Speculative Fiction Awards Ceremony Happened

IMG_7063

The announcement of the winners of the inaugural Nommo Awards took place at the ongoing 2017 Ake Arts and Book […]

Goodreads Awards 2017: Vote Chimamanda Adichie’s “Dear Ijeawele” and Nnedi Okorafor’s “Home” in the Final Round

Nnedi-Okorafor BELLA NAIJA

Earlier this month we announced the online voting for Goodreads’ 2017 awards. The first round saw nominations for four authors having massively […]

#AkeFest2017 | Follow Brittle Paper’s Coverage of Ake Arts and Book Festival

ake festival (1)

  Ake Arts and Book Festival is happening in Abeokuta, Nigeria—has been happening since 14 November, to end on 18 […]

Opportunity for Writers and Visual Artists | Apply for the 2017 Artists in Residency Programme

Applications are open for the 2017 Artists in Residency (AIR) programme, an initiative of Africa Centre “seeking high calibre African artists, in […]

South African Literary Awards 2017: All the Winners

The winners of the 2017 South African Literary Awards have been announced. Here they are, with excerpts from their citations. […]

Thanks for signing up!

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

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.