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Whose World Will Give Us Shelter?



There is only one home to the life of a river-mussel; there is only one home to the life of a tortoise; there is only one shell to the soul of man; there is only one world to the spirit of our race. If that world leaves its course and smashes on boulders of the great void, whose world will give us shelter? — Wole Soyinka, Death and the King’s Horseman

I find the idea that worlds are not immortal deeply unsettling. Like people and things, worlds can and do get destroyed. They get smashed against things like time, history, nature, and opposite worlds. Soyinka’s words are dark, and I find their apocalyptic meaning haunting. That’s why I find it odd that they bring to my mind something quite trivial: the idea of home and far away places.

Leaving home is a tricky thing. These days the danger lies in not being able to tell the difference between home and its many globalized imitations. In a world where it has become so easy to feel at home anywhere, where missing home is becoming an alien concept since home is only a click away, I think Soyinka’s words should be taken as welcome warning. “Whose world will give us shelter” in the event that ours fall to ruin because of our wanderlust?

Hopefully, it doesn’t sound too cheesy when I say that home is a place that gives us meaning. As we move like the vagrants that we are in this highly globalized world, home is what gives us political reality not just in the sense that it is the passport we carry but also that it is the passport that we set aside when we choose to adopt a different one. Home is also the place we disavow in a bid to live the illusion that we are citizens of a transnational world. Home is that illusion that you cannot lose without losing a part of yourself. It has always struck me as funny when people dismiss the idea of home as an illusion, as if illusions do not have their own strange forms of power. Illusion or not, home is that world without which no one will give you shelter. I pray you never become homeless in the political sense of being a non-entity. That is when you realize the cruelty that underlies every political promise of inclusion. No one will give you a home if you do not already have one. That is why those who chose to abandon their homes to claim political ties with other worlds must still be thankful that they have a home to abandon.

To wander in this our grave new world without getting lost, we must have a home. Whether we are carrying it with us and hoping to return to it in a future time or seeking to get as far away as possible from it, praying never to return to it, home is something that we need to possess. No one is asking you to love your home. Just be mindful of it and work for its survival. Home is always home and granted it must always be reinvented to survive the power that subjects everything to change. Still, no amount of reinvention should make your home unworthy of your labor.


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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.

4 Responses to “Whose World Will Give Us Shelter?” Subscribe

  1. P. September 17, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    Home to me, is a “sense” about a physical place, sometimes a sense (of comfort) about familiar things. I do not know if this piece insists on a physicality to the concept of home, a geographic place, because if it does, it must contend then, that that position itself, is an illusion.
    What does it mean to have a home, and more to the point then, what does it mean to be “homeless”?
    What is the exile’s comfort? The migrant’s comfort? Where is the displaced’s comfort?
    In a miniscule scale, if i lose my abode of say 50 years in a landslide, and go to another and spend another 50 years, which one is my “home”?
    On a larger, more globally pertinent scale, if i live in one country for the first 50, and then another for the next 50, am i bound to choose either one, and by convention, the first one?
    How many physical years does it take to marinate one with the surroundings so that it could be said that they are one blend?
    First 10, 15, 20, 50?
    Or it is not a matter of years, but a matter of comfort?
    where are one’s instinct comfortable?
    An alternate submission is “home” somewhat independent of geographic or political tent-pegs, is where your instincts are comfortable.

    • Ainehi Edoro September 18, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      @P: Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I like your idea that home is more a “sense” about a place than an actual place. What I like about the questions you pose here is the suggestion that the power of this thing called home does not necessary lie in its physical reality. This is perhaps a good point to ask you and anyone else interested in the issue of home and homeliness the question: what is home? What makes a home a home?

      You mention “comfort” as one of the key features of homes–not the amount of time spent in a place, not geography, not political ties. Pretty spot on! To take things further we might ask: while comfort is a good place to begin thinking about how to understand the idea of homes, shouldn’t we be open to the possibility that home is not always the most comforting place? Sometimes the reason some homes stick with us or have such a powerful influence in our lives is because they are troubling. Homes are places that make us feel safe and loved and comforted, but homes are also dark places, that exert on us forces that we do not always understand or like.

  2. Pepper Seller October 1, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

    Home is in all the places we found love. As the great Gibran said “the depth of love is unknown until the hour of separation.” In other words, we only appreciate the beauty of home from far away.

    Words of a hustling pepper seller.

  3. Pepper Seller October 1, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    Who will watch my home place? Would will tend my garden’s trace? Who will fill my empty space? when i am gone from here. The sweetness of home is sad.

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