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."

Isara-brittle-paper-soyinka

 

I have borrowed Isara‘s subtitle from John Mortimer‘s play, A Voyage Around My Father. The expression captures in essence what I have tried to do with the content of a tin box which I opened some four years ago, that is, about two years after Ake was written. The completion of that childhood biography, rather than assuage a curiosity about a vanishing period of one’s existence, only fueled it, fragments of an incomplete memory returning to haunt one again and again in the personae of representative protagonists of such a period. Of course my own case may have been especially acute; I was in political exile when “Essay”[ref]Soyinka’s father, Samuel Ayodele Soyinka was called S.A. or “Essay” for short[/ref] died. All plans to return home for the funeral were abruptly cancelled when I received a message from the “Wild Christian” [ref]Soyinka fondly dubbed his mother, Grace Eniola Soyinka, “Wild Christian.”[/ref] urging me to return home indeed if I wished to bury her with her lifelong partner. I recorded a message, which was played at the funeral, and stayed put in an indifferent clime.

Years later, I opened the metallic box, scraped off the cockroach eggs, and browsed through a handful of letters, old journals with marked pages and annotations, notebook jottings, tax and levy receipts, minutes of meetings and school reports, program notes of special events, and so on. A tantalizing experience, eavesdropping on this very special class of teachers of our colonial period; inevitably I would become drawn to attempting to flesh out these glimpses on a very different level of awareness and empathy from that of Ake.

I have not taken liberties with chronology, I have deliberately ruptured it. After all, the period covered here actively is no more than fifteen years, and its significance for me is that it represents the period when a pattern of their lives was set—for better or worse—under the compelling impact of the major events of their times, both local and global, the uneasy love-hate relationship with the colonial presence, and its own ambiguous attitudes to the Western-educated elite of the Nigerian protectorate.

Life, it would appear, was lived robustly, but was marked also by an intense quest for a place in the new order, and one of a far more soul-searching dimension than the generation they spawned would later undertake. Their options were excruciatingly limited. A comparison between this aspect of their time and their offsprings’, when coupled with the inversely proportionate weight of extended family demands and expectations, assumes quite a heroic dimension.

Isara then is simply a tribute to “Essay” and his friends and their times. My decision not to continue with real names, as in Ake, except in a few cases, is to eliminate any pretense to factual accuracy in this attempted reconstruction of their times, thoughts, and feelings. Like most voyages, this one has not followed the itinerary I so confidently mapped out for it; indeed it proved an almost impossible journey which came close to being abandoned more than once. “Ilesa” [ref]Soyinka is referring to Ilesa Teacher Training Seminary[/ref] is of course not simply one such institution nor Isara one such community. I hope the surviving “ex-Iles” [ref] A blend of “Exile” and “Ilesa.”— A name that Soyinka’s father and his friends called themselves  “indicating that they are simultaneously graduates of Ilesa Teacher Training Seminary and cultural exiles”[/ref] all over the nation will understand this compulsion to acknowledge in some form, and however tenuously, their seminal role in the development of present-day Nigerian minds, and will overlook the obvious lapses and areas of dissatisfaction.

W. S.

November 1988.

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.

No comments yet.

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

Teju Cole Joins Harvard’s Department of English as Gore Vidal Professor of Creative Writing

teju cole sydney morning herald

Teju Cole has joined Harvard University’s Department of English as the Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing. […]

Always Another Country | Sisonke Msimang’s North America Book Tour

sisonke msimang

Last October, Sisonke Msimang’s debut memoir Always Another Country was published by Jonathan Ball Publishers in South Africa. The account of […]

Chimamanda Adichie Adds Her Voice to Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis

anglophone crisis - image from actu cameroun

Chimamanda Adichie has added her voice to Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis, following efforts by Cameroonian novelists Imbolo Mbue and Patrice Nganang. […]

Deji Olukotun’s Novels, Nigerians In Space and After The Flare, Optioned by Major Film Company

Image from ASU Events.

Deji Olukotun’s novels Nigerians in Space and After the Flare have been optioned by major film company. The crime novelist shared this […]

Petina Gappah Is Working on a Rhodesia Trilogy Comprising a Comedy, a Tragedy, and an Epic

petina gappah

Petina Gappah is working on a series, what she calls the Rhodesia Trilogy. The Zimbabwean writer and novelist, whose short […]

Nnedi Okorafor Announces New Project Due in December, Set in the Universe of Binti and Lagoon

Nnedi okorafor - la guardia

Fresh from her trending appearance at the Emmys with Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martins, Nnedi Okorafor has announced […]

Thanks for signing up!

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

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.