Impartial Charioteer or Manufacturer of Reality?Interrogating the Fictional / Historical Governor-General in Ben Okri's Infinite Riches
Lim, David C.L., (2004) Impartial Charioteer or Manufacturer of Reality?Interrogating the Fictional / Historical Governor-General in Ben Okri's Infinite Riches. SARE (Southeast Asian Review of English) (45). pp. 19-33. ISSN 0127-046x
National University of Singapore, Asia Research Institute
Ben Okri's abiku trilogy - made up of The Famished Road (henceforth TR), Songs of Enchantment (SOE), and Infinite Riches (IR) - is set in an unnamed, unborn African nation on the verge of achieving independence from colo¬nial Britain. The word Nigeria never once appears in any of the three nov¬els, but there are good reasons to read the trilogy with Nigeria in mind.
First, the trilogy is filled with objects and animated by rituals which are very much part of Nigeria's, or at least West Africa's, lifeworld. The cal¬abashes of palm-wine, the egungun procession and the ritualistic sacri¬fices to appease the gods are just some of more obvious, concrete exam¬ples. Second, we know that Azaro, the trilogy's child-narrator, is an abiku, that abiku is a Yoruba term for spirit-child or "thief from heaven" (McCabe 2002: 46), and that belief in the abiku phenomenon is prevalent in southern Nigeria. Third, the chain of crisis moments in the trilogy is similar in many ways to real-life events in Nigeria's bloodied history. They include coups and riots, tribal massacres, famine, explosions at oil sites, the genocide of civil war and decades of hardship to come. Lastly, although there is no mention of the names of the tribes 'quarrelling with one another, disputing their myths of supremacy and their legends of the origin of all things' (SOE 20), we almost instantly think of, amongst an estimated two-hundred and fifty to six-hundred and nineteen ethno-lin¬guistic groups, the three main tribes (ethnic groups) in Nigeria: the Hausa-Fulanis, the Yorubas, and the Igbos, respectively predominating in North Nigeria, the West and the East of South Nigeria. Not unlike the warring factions described in the trilogy, they coexist as one nation on precarious grounds due to antagonistic nationhood ideals. To paraphrase Okri (1994a): the Islamist North fears the secret domination of the 'pagan' and Christian South; the South in turn fears the eternal domination of the North.
|Keywords:||Ben Okri, Nigeria, Charioteer, English literature, Nigerian authors|
|Subjects:||P Language and Literature|
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