Ocol’s rationale for the rejection of traditional values of his people is not narrow-minded. He has a much deeper understanding of what is at stake than Lawino owing to his educational insight.
It is not confined to the valley where he once lived, the Old Homestead which is now ear- marked for ploughing up to give way for innovations.
The sweeping and painting of the house shortly after Lawino’s departure is symbolic of the demise of an ethnic social support system.
The old must give way to the new and Ocol himself is a representation of all that is new. He has a broader understanding of the negative impact of the old on the new which is an unacceptable stain on the entire African continent.
Africa, in his view, still holds to systems and cultural prototypes which should be systematically demolished. This is the object and import of his continued attack on Lawino (p 128):
What is Africa
Deep, deep fathomless
Basking in the sun,
Twitching in dreams;
Diseased with a chronic illness,
Chocking with black ignorance,
Chained to the rock
And yet laughing,
Always laughing and dancing,
The chains on his legs
Displaying his white teeth
In bright pink gum,
Loose white teeth
That cannot bite
Ocol’s poetic lyrical remarks about Africa are the sort that would earn him kudos from any Negritude poet. This is the gloried Africa of yesterday, praising its vastness, its strong white but useless teeth.
Despite its hard rock-chained poverty and disease and idleness this is the Africa that Aime Cesaire would raise to the highest pedestal in negritude poetry.
It may not be the Africa Ocol would long for but the fact that it exhumes the relics of the past (now only a mirage) which is the splendor of Africa, it serves the purpose, so it seems to them. And that is exactly what the great Negritude poet, Aime Cesaire, from the French West Indies and one who coined the Negritude name itself says about the Africa of yesterday obliterated by the invading western cultural empires:
Glory to those who invented neither powder nor
Those who tamed neither gas nor electricity
Those who have explored neither the seas nor
As Taban once sarcastically asked—so what? But this is what those black great French minds were capable of doing using a philosophy of retrogression in their fine poetry.
They, as Taban says, were able to convert their ignorance and poverty to strength. For about three decades they were joined by a host of culturally assimilated poets, Aime Cesaire himself, of French West Indies, and the former poet-president of Senegal, Léopold Sedar Senghor, and the Diops of the French West Africa of the negritude literary movement who sang the same anthem of the irretrievably ancient Africa, unfortunately.
I wish Cesaire lived in Southern Africa today to appreciate the significance of electricity and gas for development and household use.
He would easily recant his beliefs about an Africa without energy and a compass to navigate the expanse of the skies way up to the moon.
Gun powder too would have taught him a lesson or two. This seems like a digression, but it is important to call the Negritudists to mind for a thorough nourishment of Ocol’s abstract idea about Africa. Ocol is not a Negritudist; he is not Africa’s romanticist, far from it.
His view of Africa is that it is a continent of poverty and disease, a kind of toothless bulldog full of laughter and a show of white teeth but nothing else! Such a dark continent needs a remedy and Ocol proffers one for her as we will discover later (p 129):
This rich granary
Of taboos, customs,
But Africa is not just about granaries, taboos and customs, it is also replete with superstitions and unworkable solutions as Ocol attests to it (p 130):
Look at that woman
Shaking the rattle gourd
And talking to herself,
A burnt-out forest,
A pair of rockets
Shooting out from the head,
Lashing from crocodile tail;
Do you see
Sitting around her?
Terror infested faces
Gummed with tears,
Lips cracked, bleeding,
Parched deserts of drought;
The child lying
On the earth
Bombs exploding in his head,
Heavy with malarial parasites
Raging through his veins;
The mad woman
Spits on the palms
On his hands
And on his feet,
On his face
To cool him,
Spills chicken blood
On his chest
A gift to Death!
I have to seek the indulgence of the reader for a length quote in order to appreciate the barrage of images which Ocol considers to be madness that Africa nurses within her.
Here is a woman priestess or diviner with kink hair mumbling incantations and prescribing medicine to a boy down with malaria.
The child has high fever with bombs (or splitting pain) exploding in his head. But what does the mad diviner do?
She uses alcohol to smear on his body to help lower the child’s body temperature; she also uses her spittle to rub on the child’s hands and feet.
There is also chicken’s blood for the boy’s healing to seal the act. Paradoxically, Ocol concludes, and perhaps one would agree with him – such a child is a mere gift to insatiable death. Let the Negritudists venerate this type of Africa with its medicines made simple, but Ocol thinks otherwise.
In his ‘Forward ever’ and ‘Backward never’ philosophy, he offers a radical end to Africa’s backwardness (p 130):
We will round up
All these priests
And priestesses of darkness.
All the rain-makers
The men and women
Who sacrifice at chiefdom
Or clan shrines
Ocol’s Africa should be devoid of superstition; he would rather worship at the shrine of objectivity and rationality.
Ocol is the antithesis of the negritude literary movement. The black masks of Senghor, the blackness of the Diops and the rest of them have had their day.
It is high time they disappeared from the face of the earth, Africa in particular. So, Ocol’s world of tomorrow will not need priests and priestesses, herbalists, rain-makers, shrine sacrificing priests – to hell with them all!
After all, won’t the modern doctors prescribe laboratory tested medicine for the children of his generation and wouldn’t the weather gurus help his generation predict the impeding storms at the twinkling of an eye across the global?
He would rather use paracetamol to defuse the malaria- planted bombs in a boy’s head. Or, use a thermometer to check the boy’s temperature before a measured prescription of dosage for a child’s treatment. However, Ocol is not finished with all this madness in his clean-up campaign for, he says, (p 132):
We will arrest
All the village poets
Musicians and tribal dancers,
Put in detention
And myth makers,
The sustainers of
We will disband
The nest of court historians
Glorifiers of the past,
We will ban
The stupid village anthem of
Ocol’s statement is a great feast on the remains of negritude, the sanctity of Senghor’s generation of poets who glorified the court historians, the griots, and local musicians of kalimba, xylophone, banjo and kola instruments.
They are an army of the past that should face extinction. The role of the court historian was crucial for the survival of the history of a people; story-tellers passed on by word of mouth from one generation to another a horde of traditional norms and values, wisdom, art and culture.
They were also custodians of languages. But who cares? Ocol is orchestrating to put to extinction all of them and arrest them for their keenness to preserve the past that should die.
Why bother about village poets when he can summon a truck load of modern poets who write in meter and precise diction, men and woman who can do his bidding?
Where are the Tabans, Soyinkas, Clark-Bekederemos, Mukanakas, Brutus, Tennysons, Elliots, Rubadiris and Mtshalis: Ocol seems to be reminiscing. Why care about village dancers when others of his generation can execute the tango with great precision and decor?
Dear reader, we have just been to hear part of the introductory discourse of Ocol’s response to Lawino’s attacks. His resume cascades way out of the valley’s Old Homestead and right into the heart of Africa.
The entrails of the content’s spirituality, tenet and philosophy seem to erupt on the seams with Ocol’s surgical blade. It is his detailed examination of them that should keep us waiting for the next move.