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From past to present and future: the regenerative spirit of the Abiku.

This article investigates the representation of the famous West African West Africa

A region of western Africa between the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Guinea. It was largely controlled by colonial powers until the 20th century.

West African adj. & n.
 abiku phenomenon in three works by three Nigerian writers A
  • Adam Abdulahi
  • Yusufu Adamu
  • Chris Abani
  • Andy Abulu
  • Chinua Achebe (1930– )
  • Wale Adebanwi
  • Remi Adedeji (1937– )
  • Abiola Adegboyega
  • Dapo Adeniyi
  • Mobolaji Adenubi
  • Kole Ade-Odutola
  • Kayode Aderinokun
, namely, J. P. Clark-Bekederemo's poem "Abiku" (1965), Wole Soyinka's poem also entitled en·ti·tle  
tr.v. en·ti·tled, en·ti·tling, en·ti·tles
1. To give a name or title to.

2. To furnish with a right or claim to something:
 "Abiku" (1967) and Ben Okri's novel The Famished fam·ish  
v. fam·ished, fam·ish·ing, fam·ish·es
1. To cause to endure severe hunger.

2. To cause to starve to death.

 Road (1991). The article offers a socio-political reading of the abiku (the myth of a child who dies to be reborn re·born  
Emotionally or spiritually revived or regenerated.


active again after a period of inactivity

Adj. 1.
) as handled by the three writers and based on a traditional West African world view. The article investigates how the abiku motif has attracted many writers who are engaged in various agendas of cultural nationalism and identity formation, and how a close reading of their work points to their aesthetic and ideological concerns.


Our country is an abiku country. Like the spirit child, it keeps coming and going. One day it will decide to remain. It will become strong.

--Okri, Infinite Riches

Modern African literature African literature, literary works of the African continent. African literature consists of a body of work in different languages and various genres, ranging from oral literature to literature written in colonial languages (French, Portuguese, and English). , written in European languages, is characterized as being a literature that is extremely culture-specific as it relies heavily on local cultures, on African cosmology cosmology, area of science that aims at a comprehensive theory of the structure and evolution of the entire physical universe. Modern Cosmological Theories
, and on oral tradition. This cultural specificity, in most cases, projects a political intention that is hard to disregard in any attempted interpretation of a literary text. On the other hand, these two characteristics of African literature have for the past fifty years or so created a kind of literature that is not quite accessible to the Western reader who, first of all, is not well versed Versed® Midazolam Pharmacology A preoperative sedative  in African local cultures and, second, is unable to perceive the political intentions of African writers. Ultimately modern African literature has come to be regarded as an exotic kind of writing but not really serious literature. The Nigerian writer, Ben Okri Ben Okri (born on March 15, 1959) is a Nigerian poet and novelist. Having spent his early childhood in London, he and his family returned to Nigeria in 1968. He later came back to England, embarking on studies at the University of Essex. , sarcastically sar·cas·tic  
1. Expressing or marked by sarcasm.

2. Given to using sarcasm.

[sarc(asm) + -astic, as in enthusiastic.
 comments on the way the West perceives African literature: "'[t]hey say, 'oh dear, I'm reading an African novel. Ooh dear it's bound to be a bit strange--there are bound to be rituals and things'" (Taylor 34). What the West fails to understand, in fact, is that culture specificity in this case is part of the national agenda of many African writers who are keen on promoting an exclusively African literary identity despite their awareness of the problematic and implications of writing in a foreign language as in the case of writers like Chinua Achebe, Gabriel Okara Gabriel Imomotimi Gbaingbain Okara is a Nigerian writer. He was born in Bomadi in Delta State, Nigeria, in April 1921. He is a poet and novelist; his novel The Voice was published by Heinemann in the African Writers Series. , Aye Kei Armah, among others. Indeed, Anthony Appiah explains that African intellectuals are always seeking to develop their cultures in directions that will give them a role and that, unlike the European writer, the African writer asks not "who am I?" but "who are we?" (76). Thus, the resort of African writers to their oral tradition is not simply an act of anthropological retrieval of a culture that has been intentionally confiscated con·fis·cate  
tr.v. con·fis·cat·ed, con·fis·cat·ing, con·fis·cates
1. To seize (private property) for the public treasury.

2. To seize by or as if by authority. See Synonyms at appropriate.

 by the colonizer col·o·nize  
v. col·o·nized, col·o·niz·ing, col·o·niz·es
1. To form or establish a colony or colonies in.

2. To migrate to and settle in; occupy as a colony.

, as Western criticism is fond of pointing out (see Cooper's discussion on this point 51-60). On the contrary, it is more of a socio-political agenda. For even though the anthropological project may have been true at a very early stage of African literature (especially West African literature) at the hands of some writers like D. O. Fagunwa and Amos Tutuola's literary production of folkloric material during the 1940s and 1950s, yet the intentions of such writers who have attempted to document African folk culture This article or section needs copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone and/or spelling.
You can assist by [ editing it] now.
 remain to a great extent debatable de·bat·a·ble  
1. Being such that formal argument or discussion is possible.

2. Open to dispute; questionable.

3. In dispute, as land or territory claimed by more than one country.
. In fact, it could be argued that such anthropological projects had their own socio-political agenda since the historical documentation of folkloric material has indeed contributed to the process of building up the African collective memory, which the colonial power had tried earnestly to eradicate Eradicate
To completely do away with something, eliminate it, end its existence.

Mentioned in: Smallpox

The Abiku Phenomenon

This article will investigate the use of the African oral tradition to promote the socio-political agenda of African writers by focusing on the famous West African abiku phenomenon and its representation in three literary texts by three Nigerian writers namely, J. P. Clark-Bekederemo's poem "Abiku" (1965), Wole Soyinka's poem also entitled "Abiku" (1967) and Ben Okri's novel The Famished Road (1991), where the protagonist is an abiku child (see the two poems in the appendix at the end of this article). Two explanations of the abiku phenomenon will be presented, one based on common knowledge derived from the way it has been handled in various literary texts; the other based on a traditional Yoruba theory. The article will then offer a thematic analysis of the two poems and will conclude with a brief comparison with Okri's interpretation of the abiku phenomenon in The Famished Road.

The abiku phenomenon is quite popular in West African oral tradition especially amongst the different ethnic groups of Nigeria, particularly the Yorubas, the Igbos and the Ijos. Due to its popularity, many Nigerian and other West African writers have drawn on this rich cultural resource as a way to express their national identities. Amos Tutuola, Chinua Achebe, Goke Ajiboye, and more recently Syl Cheney-Coker Syl Cheney-Coker (b. 1945) is a poet, novelist, and journalist from Freetown, Sierra Leone. Educated in the United States, he has a global sense of literary history, and has introduced styles and techniques from French and Latin American literatures to Sierra Leone. , Debo Kotun; and, in francophone language, Olympe Bhejy-Quenum are but a few of the writers who have handled the abiku notion in their writings. Also the symbolic level of the phenomenon and the fact that it embraces different beliefs--like the relationship between the physical and the spirit world, the idea of predestination predestination, in theology, doctrine that asserts that God predestines from eternity the salvation of certain souls. So-called double predestination, as in Calvinism, is the added assertion that God also foreordains certain souls to damnation. , and the concept of reincarnation--have made it possible for these writers to adapt it so as to project different socio-political agendas at different times in the history of their countries. This huge corpus of literature dealing with the abiku phenomenon takes more or less as its starting point Noun 1. starting point - earliest limiting point
terminus a quo

commencement, get-go, offset, outset, showtime, starting time, beginning, start, kickoff, first - the time at which something is supposed to begin; "they got an early start"; "she knew from the
 the following definition of the abiku child as:
   an individual who goes through a continuous circle of
   birth and death as a result of a primeval oath ... taken in
   the spirit world in the presence of the creator and binding
   on the living. The oath is believed to be binding on the
   one who has taken it; the individual has to live in a particular
   manner throughout his of her usually short span of
   life. The object of the oath is hidden away from ordinary
   human sight and usually buried under a huge tree, in the
   person's palm or in other impressive places. (Maduka 18)

Because of this binding pact with fellow companions in the spirit world, the abiku child, even though it is implored by its parents and community to remain alive, refuses to do so and, at the first opportunity, returns to the spirit world. This recurrent cycle of birth, death, and rebirth re·birth  
1. A second or new birth; reincarnation.

2. A renaissance; a revival: a rebirth of classicism in architecture.
 involves not only the abiku but its parents as well and especially the mother who undergoes immense pain and suffering each time her child is born, knowing that she will lose it again to its spirit companions. In an attempt to break this cycle, the parents of the abiku child, with the help of priests, diviners, or the village doctor/herbalist, perform rituals to sever TO SEVER, practice. When defendants who are sued jointly have separate defences, they may in general sever, that is, each one rely on his own separate defence; each may plead severally and insist on his own separate plea. See Severance.  the relationship between the abiku and its kindred spirits Kindred Spirits may refer to:
  • A painting by Asher Durand, 1849, see Kindred Spirits (painting)
  • A fantasy novel set in the Dragonlance universe, by Mark Anthony and Ellen Porathnovel, see Kindred Spirits (novel)
Kindred Spirit (singular) may refer to:
    . In order to do that, they have to find the spirit tokens that bind the abiku to the spirit world and destroy them. These rituals also include making scars on the body of the dead child, refusing to provide it with decent burial, and in some cases mutilating the body of the dead abiku (Maduka 18). Indeed, as Chidi Maduka explains, many people insist that they have seen abiku children reincarnated again with the same scars on their bodies which they had acquired in their former lives (18). That is why the abiku phenomenon, in the African mythic myth·i·cal   also myth·ic
    1. Of or existing in myth: the mythical unicorn.

    2. Imaginary; fictitious.

     consciousness, is a terrifying ter·ri·fy  
    tr.v. ter·ri·fied, ter·ri·fy·ing, ter·ri·fies
    1. To fill with terror; make deeply afraid. See Synonyms at frighten.

    2. To menace or threaten; intimidate.
     experience and that--maybe partly--is the reason why this spirit child is known by different names amongst different Nigerian ethnic groups. The Yorubas, for example, use the commonly known word 'abiku' which is literally translated as "one who is born to die," but there are also other terms that refer to the same phenomenon but are rarely used nowadays like, for example, 'ere,' 'emere' or 'orun' (McCabe 46).

    The Igbos on the other hand prefer the word 'ogbanje' which holds the implications of a weird, capricious capricious adv., adj. unpredictable and subject to whim, often used to refer to judges and judicial decisions which do not follow the law, logic or proper trial procedure. A semi-polite way of saying a judge is inconsistent or erratic. , callous cal·lous
    Of, relating to, or characteristic of a callus or callosity.


    of the nature of a callus; hard.
    , and sadistic sa·dism  
    1. The deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others.

    2. The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty.
     kind of behavior--which is how the abikus are perceived due to the suffering which they cause to their parents and community. As a matter of fact, the word ogbanje is metaphorically used nowadays to refer to any behavior that reflects the same traits (Maduka 18; see also Ogunyemi for further discussion on the meaning of abiku and ogbanje).

    Douglas McCabe, in an article on the oral Yoruba abiku texts, explains that the above-mentioned definition of the abiku phenomenon and the way it has been rendered in modern African literature is an interpretation that fails to take into consideration the anthropological and historical dimensions of the phenomenon (45). In his article, McCabe offers an alternative interpretation of the abiku phenomenon based on a traditional Yoruba theory, situating it in the context of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Yoruba society. He explains that abikus are thieves from heaven who come to the earth to steal. They form a sort of a club or a group--which in Yoruba is referred to as an 'egbe'--of heaven-people whose main purpose is to steal the riches from the houses, or the 'ile,' of the world people. To do that, McCabe explains that
       Abiku further the aims of their robber-band by using children
       as a cover for their criminal operation. Each abiku is
       born into an ile and poses as a child that is either sweet-natured
       and beautiful (and therefore likely to be lavished
       with good things) or sickly and disturbed (and therefore
       likely to be the beneficiary of expensive sacrifices). In
       such a way, the abiku quickly accumulates money, cloth,
       food, and livestock. Then, at a certain time and by a certain
       method prearranged secretly with its egbe, the abiku
       dies and takes the spiritual portion of its loot back to heaven.
       After dividing the spoils with its egbe, it prepares to reenter
       the world and fleece the same or another ile. (46)

    In the same manner, as with the more commonly known interpretation of the abiku phenomenon, attempts can be made to fetter the relationship between the abiku and its egbe and, therefore, put an end to the continual robbing of the ile by the abiku. To do that, the ile must discover the oath or the sealed words that bind the abiku to its egbe and which specify the exact when, where, and how of the abiku's return to the spirit world. Having done that, the ile then is able to break the bond between the abiku and its egbe by either blocking the circumstances necessary for its death, announcing that the abiku's oath has been found or by disguising the abiku so that it will not be found by its egbe when its members come to take it from the ile (which they perceive as a kind of imprisonment Imprisonment
    See also Isolation.

    Alcatraz Island

    former federal maximum security penitentiary, near San Francisco; “escapeproof.” [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 218]

    Altmark, the

    German prison ship in World War II. [Br. Hist.
     imposed upon the child). The abiku will then be forced to stay on in the world of the living but its egbe will nevertheless continue its attempts to retrieve the child (McCabe 46).

    From the above interpretation, it is obvious that there is a constant conflict between the ile and the egbe based on the meaning and implications of both. The ile represents the house, the village, and the ancestral ANCESTRAL. What relates to or has, been done by one's ancestors; as homage ancestral, and the like.  city to which one is connected, not only geographically but historically as well since it constitutes one's family and origin. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
    put differently
    , the ile represents a past that extends into the present and possibly the future. The egbe, on the other hand, represents a group of people associated together not through marriage and lineage--as is the case with the ile--but rather through a common activity which does not require them to be tied to a certain geographical location nor to a certain historical origin (McCabe 47). Therefore, the ile and the egbe
       constitute two contrasting templates of sociopolitical
       organization among the Yoruba: the male-dominated ile
       is based on marriage, lineage, procreation, geography,
       and hierarchical structures of seniority and inheritance;
       the male or female-only egbe is based on voluntary membership,
       mutual benefit, pursuit of a shared nonreproductive
       purpose, and group secrecy (the keeping of esoteric
       or specialized knowledge, practices, skills). (McCabe 48)

    Despite being rivals, the relationship between the lid and the egbe has always interpenetrated, since in many cases people had loyalties to both and, in fact, sometimes they did belong to both social structures--hence the conflict. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the ile ideology dominated Yoruba history because it was strongly tied to the Oyo Empire Oyo empire

    Yoruba state in present-day southwestern Nigeria that dominated the land between the Volta and Niger rivers in 1650–1750. Two waves of immigrants probably entered the area c. AD 700–1000, and the second wave formed a state at Oyo.
     which depended on the ile social structure in its political ruling of Yorubaland. But with the increasing contact with Europeans--through the colonial experience and the rise of smaller political entities, like Ibadan and Abeokuta, whose economies depended upon the amassing of material wealth through banditry ban·dit  
    1. A robber, especially one who robs at gunpoint.

    2. An outlaw; a gangster.

    3. One who cheats or exploits others.

    4. Slang A hostile aircraft, especially a fighter aircraft.
     and slave trade--the hegemony hegemony (hĭjĕm`ənē, hē–, hĕj`əmō'nē, hĕg`ə–), [Gr.,=leadership], dominance, originally of one Greek city-state over others, the term has been extended to refer to the dominance of one  of the Oyo Empire, with its emphasis on ancestral and geographical origin, was undermined and eventually gave way to the hegemony of the egbe ideology (McCabe 48-9). Now the pressing issue is to explain the reason for the use of this particular traditional Yoruba theory in the interpretation of the abiku phenomenon. What are its implications and how does it reflect the contemporary socio-political history of Nigeria?

    Amongst the Nigerian people, the Yorubas, unlike other ethnic groups, have always been known for their tendency to form urban communities. Most of the larger cities today like Lagos, Ibadan, and Abeokuta are in Yorubaland, and even before it was officially included under British administration (1893-1960), Yorubaland was, in fact, divided into smaller states (see for further discussion "Nigeria Political Geography treats of the different countries into which earth is divided with regard to political and social and institutions and conditions.

    See also: geography
    " in The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia encyclopedia, compendium of knowledge, either general (attempting to cover all fields) or specialized (aiming to be comprehensive in a particular field). Encyclopedias and Other Reference Books
    ). With the rise of these smaller states, a conflict between the older traditions that governed the more rural parts of Nigeria (the ile) and the new way of urban life (the egbe) started to become obvious. The conflict was further emphasized through the colonial experience and its aftermath which left many Yorubas in an ambivalent am·biv·a·lent  
    Exhibiting or feeling ambivalence.

    am·biva·lent·ly adv.

    Adj. 1.
     position, especially those of them who became the intellectuals of the nation and who were born to a rich tradition of African beliefs and concepts but bred according to according to
    1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

    2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

     imported Western ideas and concepts. Nigeria today continues to live through this conflict: with a population divided into two hundred and fifty ethnic groups, each speaking its own ethnic language, while English remains the official language of the country; half the population Muslims and about forty percent Christians, while the remainder practice indigenous religions. Significantly, Nigerian literature Nigeria has produced many prolific writers. Many have won accolades for their writing abilities, including Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Cyprian Ekwensi, ChukwuEmeka Ike, Buchi Emecheta, Wunmi Sofola, Elechi Amadi and Ben Okri.  projects this conflict, not only that which is clearly reflected in the society but perhaps also the conflict inherent within writers themselves. The abiku phenomenon and its translation into literature is a stark example of this conflict.

    In an interview, Eileen Julien comments on the potency potency /po·ten·cy/ (po´ten-se)
    1. the ability of the male to perform coitus.

    2. the relationship between the therapeutic effect of a drug and the dose necessary to achieve that effect.

     of African literature explaining that
       [w]hat really makes this literature so extraordinarily
       vibrant is that it is extremely rooted in ethnic traditions,
       in cosmologies and legends, and often it's also taking on
       international traditions. Writers like Wole Soyinka are as
       immersed in Shakespeare and classical Greek theater as
       in Yoruba mythologies. You've got Malian writers who
       are immersed in the Dogon and its traditions as well as
       the European traditions of anthropology and sociology.
       (Englert n. pag.)

    It is interesting that while Julien explains that being well versed in both traditions gives the African writer more space to negotiate both traditions--and here he touches particularly upon the situation of the exiled writer (Englert n. pag.)--he does not however comment on the conflict that sometimes exists within the writer concerning the relationship between these two traditions. Perhaps the reason why the ease of negotiating two different traditions is highlighted--also by other critics--while the conflict is sometimes overlooked is either the subtle manner in which that conflict is expressed or the fact of its seeming absence from the literary work. The case of J. P. Clark-Bekederemo's poem "Abiku" and Wole Soyinka's poem also entitled "Abiku" is a significant example.

    The comparison between these two poems has been a topic for analysis in many critical studies. Perhaps the reason for this, besides the obvious fact that they both tackle the same subject, is the manner of their first publication. Both poems appeared in print for the first time in Block Orpheus, volume number ten in the last quarter of 1961 or the first quarter of 1962 (McCabe 57), before they were included later in anthologies. So it seems that right from the beginning there was an attempt to juxtapose jux·ta·pose  
    tr.v. jux·ta·posed, jux·ta·pos·ing, jux·ta·pos·es
    To place side by side, especially for comparison or contrast.
     these two poems that portray the abiku phenomenon as perceived by two writers coining from different Nigerian ethnic backgrounds. This is, in itself, very significant because many critics have failed to see that each writer adopts a different position and consequently advocates a different socio-political agenda. They could sense a difference of attitude, of course, but in most cases the analysis tended to show a traditional interpretation of the phenomenon by the two writers (see, for example, Porter).

    Clark-Bekedermo's "Abiku"

    One of the main differences between Clark-Bekederemo and Soyinka is their ethnic background. Soyinka is a Yoruba, whereas Clark-Bekederemo is an Ijo from Kiagbodo which is described by Nduka Nwosu as follows:
       Tucked away from the seat of power somewhere in the
       northern belt of the Burutu Local Government headquarters,
       bordered by the creeks of Bomadi river and a long
       stretch of land east of Ughelli in Delta State, is the ancient
       city of Kiagbodo whose sons and daughters gathered
       recently to enact for posterity's sake, a befitting status for
       a great man of history, the legendary Ambakederemo
       Ogein, ninth generation descendant of Ngbile, the
       founder of Kiagbodo kingdom. (n. pag.)

    This ancestral and geographical origin immediately brings to mind the ile ideology explained above and sets the tone for the interpretation of Clark-Bekederemo's poem as a traditional rendering of the African oral tradition devoid de·void  
    Completely lacking; destitute or empty: a novel devoid of wit and inventiveness.

    [Middle English, past participle of devoiden,
     of any political intention. Indeed, the poem is simply a supplication addressed to the abiku child by the father, imploring im·plore  
    v. im·plored, im·plor·ing, im·plores
    1. To appeal to in supplication; beseech: implored the tribunal to have mercy.

     him/her to remain in the world of the living and forgo plans to return to its kindred spirits.

    It is written in one stanza stan·za  
    One of the divisions of a poem, composed of two or more lines usually characterized by a common pattern of meter, rhyme, and number of lines.

    [Italian; see stance.
     but internally divided into a series of movements, each portraying one of the traditional aspects of the abiku phenomenon. In the first movement, the father states the commonly known fact that an abiku is a child who is engaged in a non-ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth "Coming and going these several seasons." Having established that, the father then puts forth an argument designed to win over the child and induce it to stay on in the world of the living:
       Do stay out on the baobab tree,
       Follow where you please your kindred spirits
       If indoors is not enough for you. (5)

    In this way, right from the beginning of the poem, the uneven relationship between the abiku and the father is established, with the abiku acknowledged as having the upper hand and, consequently, able to upset that relationship. This reminds the reader of the term ogbanje and its implications of a callous and sadistic child who disrupts the order of life and the society of people s/he comes into contact with. What follows afterwards af·ter·ward   also af·ter·wards
    At a later time; subsequently.

    afterwards or afterward

    later [Old English æfterweard]

    Adv. 1.
     is the father's attempt to persuade the child that "indoors" (symbolical of the house/family/world of the living) might not actually be such a bad idea since it has worked for many of the other children and could also work out for the abiku if s/he were to give it a try.

    The father then goes on to describe in the following movement the poor condition of the house to which the abiku is invited to stay. For even though the roof leaks, and the bats and owls can easily find their way into the house at night, and the bamboo bamboo, plant of the family Gramineae (grass family), chiefly of warm or tropical regions, where it is sometimes an extremely important component of the vegetation. It is most abundant in the monsoon area of E Asia.  walls can be used to light a fire, still
       it's been the healthy stock
       To several fingers, to many more will be
       Who reach to the sun. (5)

    Having put forth his case, the father reassumes his plaintive plain·tive  
    Expressing sorrow; mournful or melancholy.

    [Middle English plaintif, from Old French, aggrieved, lamenting, from plaint, complaint; see plaint.
     voice, almost begging the child to rethink re·think  
    tr. & intr.v. re·thought , re·think·ing, re·thinks
    To reconsider (something) or to involve oneself in reconsideration.

     its plans:
       No longer then bestride the threshold
       But step in and stay
       For good. (5)

    This introduces another aspect of the phenomenon: the rituals undertaken by the parents and the community (though not always successful) to sever the relationship between the abiku and its kindred spirits. Indeed, the following lines highlight these rituals designed to break the pact between the abiku and its spirit companions:
       We know the knife scars
       Serrating down your back and front
       Like beak of the sword-fish
       And both your ears, notched
       As a bondsman to this house
       Are all relics of your first comings. (5)

    Finally, Clark-Bekederemo ends the poem with the traditional image of the abiku's mother who is caught up in a continuous cycle of suffering and pain because of her child's refusal to remain alive:
       Then step in, step in and stay
       For her body is tired,
       Tired, her milk is going sour
       Where many more mouths gladden the heart. (5)

    This traditional portrayal of the tragic experience of the abiku phenomenon, as it has been perceived by many critics (see, for example, Maduka and Quayson) may have given the impression that Clark-Bekederemo's intentions are purely anthropological, but this is far from the truth. West African literature, as argued above, is characterized by two important elements: first, it is deeply rooted in the African oral tradition; and second, that this anthropological front hides behind it a very distinct socio-political agenda. If we were to examine John Pepper Clark John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo (born April 6 1935) is a Nigerian poet and playwright who originally published under the name of J.P. Clark. Life
    Born to Ijaw parents, Clark received his early education at the Native Administration School and the prestigious
     or J. P. Clark-Bekederemo's (Bekederemo is the family surname SURNAME. A name which is added to the christian name, and which, in modern times, have become family names.
         2. They are called surnames, because originally they were written over the name in judicial writings and contracts.
     which the male lineage LINEAGE. Properly speaking lineage is the relationship of persons in a direct line; as the grandfather, the father, the son, the grandson, &c.  in the family have all decided to adopt after their grandfather, chief Mbakaderemo) literary career we would understand how the anthropological project has always been firmly linked to his political agenda. As a writer, he has been engaged mostly in what could be referred to as projects of cultural nationalism. For example, in his play All For Oil, Clark-Bekederemo explains how the British created Nigeria for the sole reason of exploiting its resources, especially the palm oil trade which substituted for the slave trade slave trade

    Capturing, selling, and buying of slaves. Slavery has existed throughout the world from ancient times, and trading in slaves has been equally universal. Slaves were taken from the Slavs and Iranians from antiquity to the 19th century, from the sub-Saharan
     when slave trading became illegal. He compares this period of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Nigeria and the controlling attitude of the British toward the current conflicting situation. According to him, only one thing has changed--and that is the substitution of crude oil for palm oil; the Royal Niger Company The Royal Niger Company was a mercantile company chartered by the British government in the nineteenth century. It formed a basis of the modern state of Nigeria.

    Sir George Taubman Goldie conceived the idea of adding to the British empire the then little known regions of
     with Shell, the Royal Anglo-Dutch Company--but "[t]he story of Nigeria is the same, the government, the foreign traders in the middle and then the people at the bottom" (Nwosu n. pag.). Commenting on the play, Clark-Bekederemo explains that his strategy has always been to revert re·vert
    1. To return to a former condition, practice, subject, or belief.

    2. To undergo genetic reversion.
     to the past in an effort to mirror the present (Nwosu n. pag.).

    Indeed, this seems to be his strategy throughout, for besides his creative writing, Clark-Bekederemo is also concerned with recording popular oral African folk epics. He has collected and translated the Ozidi Saga, one of the most popular folk epics from the Ijos of the Niger Delta The Niger Delta, the delta of the Niger River in Nigeria, is a densely populated region sometimes called the Oil Rivers because it was once a major producer of palm oil. . The book was first published in 1977 and won him a distinctive position in African and Western literary history. In his preface to the book, Clark-Bekederemo explains that "[t]he word epic is used here with all due deference to those scholars who doubt the existence of the genre in Africa" (Okpewho 1). His words actually take us back to his rendition ren·di·tion  
    1. The act of rendering.

    2. An interpretation of a musical score or a dramatic piece.

    3. A performance of a musical or dramatic work.

    4. A translation, often interpretive.
     of the abiku phenomenon. It is obvious that the starting point for him is always the African cultural heritage, which he tries to bring forward and shed light on, in an attempt to fight back the continual attempts to suppress African history. The fact, then, that the poem handles one of the most common phenomena in the African oral tradition in a very traditional manner is in itself a political message and very much part of Clark-Bekederemo's strategy, which is to sustain the ile ideology that is based on a structure of ancestral hierarchy, familial familial /fa·mil·i·al/ (fah-mil´e-il) occurring in more members of a family than would be expected by chance.

     origin, and extended lineage. To him, this is the only way to preserve the African identity. Therefore, the intentional absence of the egbe from this traditional picture emphasizes his belief in the ile ideology as the one and only acceptable worldview world·view  
    n. In both senses also called Weltanschauung.
    1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.

    2. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.
    . This is the opposite of what Soyinka does in his poem also entitled "Abiku." For the missing--or, rather, hidden--conflict between the ile and the egbe in Clark-Bekederemo's poem is emphasized in Soyinka's poem and remains to the end unresolved.

    Soyinka's "Abiku"

    In his interview with Jane Wilkinson, Soyinka explains that his relationship with the abiku phenomenon goes way back to his childhood, "you have to understand that I grew up with abiku ... Abiku was real, not just a figment fig·ment  
    Something invented, made up, or fabricated: just a figment of the imagination.

    [Middle English, from Latin figmentum, from fingere,
     of literary analysis" (107). Indeed, in his autobiography, Ake: The Years of Childhood, Soyinka talks about one of his playmates, a girl called Bukola, whom he describes as an abiku child who was always rebellious re·bel·lious  
    1. Prone to or participating in a rebellion: rebellious students.

    2. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a rebel or rebellion: rebellious behavior.
     against her parents' authority. Bukola, he explains,
       was not of our world.... Amulets, bangles, tiny rattles
       and dark copper-twist rings earthed her through ankles,
       fingers, wrists and waist.... Like all abikus she was privileged,
       apart.... It made me uneasy. Mrs. B. was too kind
       a woman to be plagued with such an awkward child [a
       child who threatened to die if she was not given anything
       she wanted]. (16-18)

    Soyinka's preoccupation with the phenomenon of the abiku child remained with him, maybe subconsciously sub·con·scious  
    Not wholly conscious; partially or imperfectly conscious: subconscious perceptions.

    The part of the mind below the level of conscious perception. Often used with the.
    , especially during his stay in London (1954-1960) which is where he composed his poem. The circumstances of its composition are indeed very significant. Soyinka explains that he was feeling very nostalgic during his stay in London and one day he entered the studio of one of his friends, the West Indian West In·dies  

    An archipelago between southeast North America and northern South America, separating the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean and including the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Bahama Islands.
     actor Lloyd Record, and saw a painting there:
       I came into his studio one day and--there it was--a
       painting of "Abiku"! I entered the studio, stared and
       shouted Abiku! He stared back at me, not knowing what
       the hell I was talking about. (McCabe, 58)

    He admits that this feeling of nostalgia for his homeland instigated him to compose com·pose  
    v. com·posed, com·pos·ing, com·pos·es
    1. To make up the constituent parts of; constitute or form:
     this poem:
       After all, I had been away from home--for the first time
       ever, and for over three years at that time. Any object, voice,
       smell, sky-line, was available for conversion to my catalogue
       of missed or repressed images ... a few weeks later, I
       consoled myself by writing the poem "Abiku." (McCabe 58)

    Two things are quite significant in what Soyinka says: first, that the reason for writing the poem was his feeling of nostalgia for his homeland--expectedly so; second, it is also interesting that the feeling of homesickness was translated into a literary text about a phenomenon concerning death and not really about any of the symbols usually connected with one's country. However, resorting to the oral tradition to express feelings of longing for Nigeria gives the impression that Soyinka thinks of his motherland moth·er·land  
    1. One's native land.

    2. The land of one's ancestors.

    3. A country considered as the origin of something.
     in historical terms. The historical context in this case is multi-layered (see Osundare). There is the age-old belief in the abiku phenomenon which is part of the West African worldview; there is also the oral literary tradition of that phenomenon which Soyinka was versed in by virtue of his Yoruba ethnic background and the long tradition of storytelling Storytelling

    semi-legendary fabulist of ancient Greece. [Gk. Lit.: Harvey, 10]


    Baron traveler grossly embellishes his experiences. [Ger. Lit.
    ; and, finally, there is Soyinka's own personal history with the phenomenon. Indeed, the opening lines of the poem establish this historical context by highlighting the aspect of time, the abiku "calling for the first and the repeated time" (28) which is the same thing that Clark-Bekederemo does in the opening line of his poem, "[c]oming and going these several seasons" (5). This gives the impression that Soyinka's poem is going to be another traditional interpretation of the abiku phenomenon, probably not much different from Clark-Bekederemo's. In fact, the first two lines in particular echo, not only Soyinka's own description of Bukola, his childhood playmate, but also a long tradition of abiku descriptions:
       In vain your bangles cast
       Charmed circles at my feet; (28)

    No sooner is this traditional atmosphere established--which, like Clark-Bekederemo's poem, recreates the ile ideology with its emphasis on history, origin, tradition, and heritage--than it is shattered shat·ter  
    v. shat·tered, shat·ter·ing, shat·ters
    1. To cause to break or burst suddenly into pieces, as with a violent blow.

     with the introduction of an opposite ideology that advocates principles of individualism individualism

    Political and social philosophy that emphasizes individual freedom. Modern individualism emerged in Britain with the ideas of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham, and the concept was described by Alexis de Tocqueville as fundamental to the American temper.
     and self-definition rather than communal definition:
       I am Abiku, calling for the first
       And the repeated time. (28)

    It becomes obvious fight from the first stanza then that Soyinka--who was born to an ethnic Yoruba background and brought up in urban communities like Ibadan and Abeokuta--is negotiating a personal as well as a national conflict between an old and a modern way of life, which became especially clear during the politically turbulent era preceding the independence of Nigeria from British colonialism colonialism

    Control by one power over a dependent area or people. The purposes of colonialism include economic exploitation of the colony's natural resources, creation of new markets for the colonizer, and extension of the colonizer's way of life beyond its national borders.
    , which is also about the time when the poem was composed (see Soyinka's Nobel lecture "This Past Must Address Its Present"). In Infinite Riches, Ben Okri talks about this same conflict when he describes a group of people at a dinner:
       They argued about divisions of power, tribal rivalries,
       territorial control. They quarreled about their loyalties, their
       achievements, their interpretations of the new African
       way, age-old disagreements surfacing. The air resounded
       with the clash of their myths and ideologies. (225)

    Throughout the eight stanzas of Soyinka's poem, there is this ongoing conflict between the abiku, who represents the individual, and the community which has tried in vain vain  
    adj. vain·er, vain·est
    1. Not yielding the desired outcome; fruitless: a vain attempt.

    2. Lacking substance or worth: vain talk.

     to sever the child's connection with the spirit world but has failed. In fact, the abiku ridicules all their efforts, taunting them instead:
       Must I weep for goats and cowries
       For palm oil and the sprinkled ash?
       Yams do not sprout in amulets
       To earth Abiku's limbs. (29)

    And as if that is not enough, in a typically arrogant manner, the abiku offers advice and suggests ways that might help in recognizing him/her when reborn:
       So when the snail is burnt in his shell,
       Whet the heated fragment, brand me
       Deeply on the breast--you must know him
       When Abiku calls again. (29)

    It is easy to argue at this point that there is nothing unusual in Soyinka's portrayal of the relationship between the abiku and its parents and community. It is in accordance with the traditionally recognized behavior of both. And, in fact, this is true to a great extent. There is always a conflict of interest between the abiku who never wants to be born in the first place and who does his/her utmost to return to the spirit world as soon as it is feasible and, on the other hand the interest of the parents in retaining their child by trying to sever its relationship with its kindred spirits. What is exceptional though in Soyinka's interpretation of the abiku phenomenon is the self-assertive attitude of the abiku, the sense of individualism and self-adulation:
       I am the squirrel teeth, cracked
       The riddle of the palm; remember
       This, and dig me deeper still into
       The god's swollen foot. (29)

    Many critics, on the other hand, have sensed that Soyinka is adopting a non-conformist attitude, as he does in many of his literary works (see, for example, Quayson 124). This non-conformity is sometimes depicted de·pict  
    tr.v. de·pict·ed, de·pict·ing, de·picts
    1. To represent in a picture or sculpture.

    2. To represent in words; describe. See Synonyms at represent.
     in the poem in the mixture of the genre of the riddle riddle, puzzling question, specifically one that consists of a fanciful description or definition of something to be guessed. A famous riddle was asked by the Sphinx: "What goes on four legs in the morning, on two at noon, on three at night?" Oedipus guessed the , which is a very popular form in African oral tradition, and the subgenre sub·gen·re  
    A subcategory within a particular genre: The academic mystery is a subgenre of the mystery novel. 
     of the dramatic monologue dramatic monologue
    A literary, usually verse composition in which a speaker reveals his or her character, often in relation to a critical situation or event, in a monologue addressed to the reader or to a presumed listener.
     (Maduka 25). Stylistically also, the poem has been seen as departing from the Romantic convention of expressing one's experiences in one's own voice, as McCabe explains:
       Soyinka's "Abiku" marks a radical break from this convention--a
       break toward the cryptic, compact, intricately
       allusive, and anti-Romantic language that would mark
       much of his subsequent verse and drama. (58)

    Indeed, compared to Clark-Bekederemo's poem. which is straightforward and easy to understand, Soyinka's poem is very symbolic and the meaning is sometimes hard to get. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh stanzas, for example, when the abiku invokes the mother, Soyinka expresses her suffering and pain in highly symbolical images, as in "the ground is wet with mourning," implying the shedding of tears at the abiku's death, and
       ... Mothers! I'll he the
       Suppliant snake coiled on the doorstep
       Yours the killing cry. (30)

    It can be argued then that the use of such cryptic cryp·tic
    1. Hidden or concealed.

    2. Tending to conceal or camouflage, as the coloring of an animal.
     and symbolic language (1) A programming language that uses symbols, or mnemonics, for expressing operations and operands. All modern programming languages are symbolic languages.

    (2) A language that manipulates symbols rather than numbers. See list processing.
    , as well as the combination of the oral riddle and the dramatic monologue, highlights the conflict between two traditions, African and Western. Furthermore, it highlights a conflict between two ideologies: Yoruba communal tradition and Western individualism. This becomes significantly clear if we consider the continual shift throughout the poem between the first and the third person, between the "I" and the "Abiku." The poem ends with both voices still struggling against each other. The conflict remains unresolved between the community that wants to hang on to its abiku and the ruthless spirit child who rejects their attempts to remain alive:
       The ripest fruit was saddest;
       Where I crept, the warmth was cloying.
       In silence of webs, Abiku, moans, shaping
       Mounds from the yolk. (30)

    The Yoruba traditional theory of the ile and the egbe is, therefore, clearly manifested in Soyinka's poem, projecting a community that finds its strength in holding on to its past traditions and beliefs and the individual who rejects this historical past with all its implications, moving away and adopting a modern way of life instead. It is indeed symbolical of the unresolved conflict in which Nigeria still finds itself and which is ultimately the reason why it is unable to move forward.

    Talking of national cultural identities in the postcolonial post·co·lo·ni·al  
    Of, relating to, or being the time following the establishment of independence in a colony: postcolonial economics. 
     era, Stuart Hall Stuart Hall may refer to: People
    • Stuart Hall (presenter) (born 1929), British radio and television presenter
    • Stuart Hall (cultural theorist) (born 1932), British cultural theorist and first editor of the New Left Review.
     explains that
       [s]ome identities gravitate towards ... 'Tradition,'
       attempting to restore their former purity and recover the
       unities and certainties which are felt as being lost. Others
       accept that identity is subject to the play of history, politics,
       representation and difference, so that they are unlikely
       ever again to be unitary or 'pure.' (Qtd. in Cooper 55)

    These seem to be the two positions of Clark-Bekederemo and Soyinka in their respective poems. Each poem reflects a different socio-political agenda. Whereas Clark-Bekederemo advocates history and tradition as the only way to preserve the strength of the African identity, Soyinka, perhaps by virtue of his own experience, perceives a different image, one based on conflict between past and present and the implications of this conflict upon the African identity. It is very interesting that Soyinka's poem, written almost fifty years ago, is still a true reflection of the post-independence Nigerian society as it is today. In fact, this is the starting point for Ben Okri's novel The Famished Road. Written in 1991, the novel tackles the same historical period covered by Clark-Bekederemo and Soyinka when they composed their respective poems, Nigeria on the verge On the Verge (or The Geography of Yearning) is a play written by Eric Overmyer. It makes extensive use of esoteric language and pop culture references from the late nineteenth century to 1955.  of independence facing social and political turmoil. But Okri does not remain locked in that historical framework because his novel breaks the dilemma between past and present and moves beyond the past to project a future for Nigeria.

    Okri's Abiku

    Commenting on what he does in The Famished Road, Okri explains that the book is about hope:
       One should be very, very serious when one is going to talk
       about hope. One has to know about the very hard facts of
       the world and one has to know how deadly and powerful
       they are before one can begin to think or dream oneself into
       positions out of which hope and then possibilities can come.
       It's one of the steps I try to take in this book. (Wilkinson 88)

    In The Famished Road (1991), Okri, ethnically an Urhobo, projects two abiku children: Azaro, the narrator NARRATOR. A pleader who draws narrs serviens narrator, a sergeant at law. Fleta, 1. 2, c. 37. Obsolete.  of the novel, and his friend Ade. Azaro and Ade are opposite characters so that the hope, which Okri talks about, stems from a discrepancy in the portrayal of both characters. Ade is a typical abiku who never wanted to be born and who eventually returns to the world of the spirits in Songs of Enchantment enchantment: see magic.
    See also Fantasy, Magic.


    fairy godfather to Italian Cinderella. [Ital.
     (1993), the second book in Okri's trilogy A company founded in 1979 by Gene Amdahl to commercialize wafer scale integration and build supercomputers. It raised a quarter of a billion dollars, the largest startup funding in history, but could not create its 2.5" superchip. . In The Famished Road Okri characterizes him:
       Ade did not want to stay any more, he did not like the
       weight of the world, the terror of the earth's time. Love
       and the anguish of parents touched him only faintly, for
       beyond their stares and threats and beatings he knew that
       his parents' guardianship was temporary. He always had
       a greater home. (486)

    The attitude of Ade and his parents is typical of the abiku phenomenon, and on first encountering Azaro, the second abiku child in the book, the reader gets the impression that the situation of both children is the same. Azaro also, like other abiku children and like Ade, did not want to be born:
       There was not one amongst us who looked forward to
       being born. We disliked the rigours of existence, the unfulfilled
       longings, the enshrined injustices of the world, the
       labyrinth of love, the ignorance of parents, the fact of
       dying, and the amazing indifference of the living in the
       midst of the simple beauties of the universe. We feared the
       heartlessness of human beings, all of whom are born blind,
       few of whom ever learn to see. (The Famished Road 3)

    Moreover, Azaro is born with memories of his past lives, he has very strong ties with his spirit companions, and the community looks upon him as a child with miraculous mi·rac·u·lous  
    1. Of the nature of a miracle; preternatural.

    2. So astounding as to suggest a miracle; phenomenal: a miraculous recovery; a miraculous escape.

     abilities. Indeed left at that point, Azaro could certainly be another typical interpretation of the abiku phenomenon. Margaret Cezair-Thompson, for example, describes him as an abiku child who is "a distinctly African archetype archetype (är`kĭtīp') [Gr. arch=first, typos=mold], term whose earlier meaning, "original model," or "prototype," has been enlarged by C. G. Jung and by several contemporary literary critics. " (3). But Okri deconstructs this traditional image by allowing Azaro to choose life over death. In doing so, Azaro breaks the vicious cycle Noun 1. vicious cycle - one trouble leads to another that aggravates the first
    vicious circle

    positive feedback, regeneration - feedback in phase with (augmenting) the input
     of birth and rebirth, which has caused much suffering for his family, and instead attempts to fulfill a social obligation toward his community. He explains that his reasons for choosing life over death
       may simply have been that I had grown tired of coming
       and going. It is terrible to forever remain in-between. It
       may also have been that I wanted to taste of this world, to
       feel it, suffer it, know it, to love it, to make a valuable
       contribution to it, and to have that sublime mood of eternity
       in me as I live the life to come. But I sometimes think
       it was a face that made me want to stay. I wanted to make
       happy the bruised face of the woman who would become
       my mother. (The Famished Road 5)

    Having made this choice, Azaro is consequently caught up in a struggle with his spirit companions who attempt to dissuade TO DISSUADE, crim. law. To induce a person not to do an act.
         2. To dissuade a witness from giving evidence against a person indicted, is an indictable offence at common law. Hawk. B. 1, c. 2 1, s. 1 5.
     him form the decision he has taken and when they fail to do so, try to abduct abduct /ab·duct/ (ab-dukt´) to draw away from the median plane, or (the digits) from the axial line of a limb.abdu´cent

     him and take him back to the world of spirits. The rest of the novel narrates the adventures of Azaro with his spirit companions which continue in the two other books of the trilogy.

    Clearly Okri offers a different interpretation from both Clark-Bekederemo and Soyinka. They all start from the same historical standpoint which is the African oral tradition but whereas Clark-Bekederemo sticks to that position, and Soyinka projects an oppositional relationship between history and modernity, Okri deconstructs history and offers instead a progressive reading of the future that does not exclude the past but moves beyond it. In other words, Okri advocates history as a natural step toward a present and more importantly toward a future: and perhaps that is what he means when he describes the novel as "a flow of life.'" It is important to note that Okri never denies history, as a matter of fact, but he explains that in our age in particular we have to try and change our pre-concepts of what we think is history, "to alter the way in which we perceive what is valid and what is valuable, different measures and different values" (Wilkinson 87). And this is what he does in his novel when he goes beyond the traditional theory of the ile and the egbe and the existent ex·is·tent  
    1. Having life or being; existing. See Synonyms at real1.

    2. Occurring or present at the moment; current.

    One that exists.

    Adj. 1.
     conflict between them, offering instead a different reading. Accordingly, Okri sees Nigeria as an abiku child, but significantly not an ogbanje, rather a resilient abiku who has taken the tough decision to remain alive (it is important to note that Azaro willfully willfully adv. referring to doing something intentionally, purposefully and stubbornly. Examples: "He drove the car willfully into the crowd on the sidewalk." "She willfully left the dangerous substances on the property." (See: willful)  chooses life over death and is not forced to remain alive through the rituals which his parents undertake to sever his relationship with his spirit companions). The implication is that Nigeria too can be a resilient abiku but only if it transcends a history and a present of nothing but conflict. In Infinite Riches, Okri states this very clearly:
       Old ways are dying.
       We who live through turbulent mysteries
       Do not know that a whole way is passing.
       We do not know the things to come. (393)

    But the reader is left in doubt if such a future is indeed viable. In his own way, Okri is aware that Africa is locked in a past that has informed a present out of which deliverance Deliverance
    See also Freedom.


    epithet of Zeus, meaning ‘releaser.’ [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 292–293]

    Bolivar, Simón

    (1783–1830) the great liberator of South America. [Am. Hist.
     seems to be a far cry from what he advocates. There is a sense of resignation in
       We go on living as if history is a dream.
       The miracle is that we go on
       Living and loving as best we can,
       In this enigma of reality. (393)

    Of the three literary texts investigated in this article--J. P. Clark-Bekederemo's, Wole Soyinka's, and Ben Okri's--clearly Soyinka's poem "Abiku" remains an authentic reflection of the Nigerian socio-political dilemma. It is also clear that the abiku phenomenon is a very rich cultural resource that has lent itself to many interpretations across the years Across The Years is one of a few ultrarunning festivals still taking place in the USA. Founded in 1983 by Harold Sieglaff the race has changed over the years in location as well as organisation. Today the race is held at Nardini Manor about 45 minutes from downtown Phoenix, AZ.  and by different writers. Given the fact that the phenomenon, as mentioned before, is about predestination, rebirth and reincarnation reincarnation (rē'ĭnkärnā`shən) [Lat.,=taking on flesh again], occupation by the soul of a new body after the death of the former body.  (and in a way the relationship between mother and child), and that African literature (although it is hard to generalize generalize /gen·er·al·ize/ (-iz)
    1. to spread throughout the body, as when local disease becomes systemic.

    2. to form a general principle; to reason inductively.
    ) continues to be part of a nationalist project of decolonization decolonization

    Process by which colonies become independent of the colonizing country. Decolonization was gradual and peaceful for some British colonies largely settled by expatriates but violent for others, where native rebellions were energized by nationalism.
    , it is no wonder that the mythic level of the abiku phenomenon has and continues to attract many writers who are engaged in various agendas of cultural nationalism, identity formation, and historical displacement and alienation alienation, in property laws: see tenure.

    In the social sciences context, the state of feeling estranged or separated from one's milieu, work, products of work, or self.
    . This article has tried to contribute to the regenerative re·gen·er·a·tive  
    1. Of, relating to, or marked by regeneration.

    2. Tending to regenerate.

     spirit of the African oral tradition and how it continues to inform modern African literature through the investigation of one very popular example, that of the abiku phenomenon.

    Abiku *
    J. P. Clark-Bekederemo
       Coming and going these several seasons,
       Do stay out on the baobab tree,
       Follow where you please your kindred spirits
       If indoors is not enough for you.
       True, it leaks through the thatch
       When floods brim the banks,
       And the bats and the owls
       Often tear in at night through the eaves,
       And at harmattan, the bamboo walls
       Are ready tinder for the fire
       That dries the fresh fish up on the rack.
       Still, it's been the healthy stock
       To several fingers, to many more will be
       Who reach to the sun.
       No longer then bestride the threshold
       But step in and stay
       For good. We know the knife scars
       Serrating down your back and front
       Like beak of the sword-fish,
       And both your ears, notched
       As a bondsman to this house,
       Are all relics of your first comings.
       Then step in, step in and stay
       For her body is tired,
       Tired, her milk going sour
       Where many more mouths gladden the heart.

    * Clark, J. P. "Abiku." A Reed in the Tide. London: Longman, 1965. 5.
    Abiku *
    Wole Soyinka
    Wanderer child. It is the same child who dies and returns
    again and again to plague the mother--Yoruba Belief.
       In vain your bangles cast
       Charmed circles at my feet:
       I am Abiku, calling for the first
       And the repeated time;
       Must I weep for goats and cowries
       For palm oil and the sprinkled ash?
       Yams do not sprout in amulets
       To earth Abiku's limbs.
       So when the snail is burnt in his shell
       Whet the heated fragment, brand me
       Deeply on the breast. You must know him
       When Abiku calls again.
       I am the squirrel teeth, cracked
       The riddle of the pain. Remember
       This, and dig me deeper still into
       The god's swollen foot.
       Once and the repeated time, ageless
       Though I puke. And when you pour
       Libations, each finger points me near
       The way I came, where
       The ground is wet with mourning
       White dew suckles flesh-birds
       Evening befriends the spider, trapping
       Flies in wind-froth;
       Night, and Abiku sucks the oil
       From lamps. Mothers! I'll be the
       Suppliant snake coiled on the doorstep
       Yours the killing cry.
       The ripest fruit was saddest;
       Where I crept, the warmth was cloying.
       In the silence of webs, Abiku moans, shaping
       Mounds from the yolk.

    * Soyinka, Wole Soyinka, Wole (wō`lā shôyĭng`kə), 1934–, Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, and political activist, born Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka. . "Abiku." Idanre and Other Poems. London: Methuen, 1967. 28-30

    Works Cited

    Appiah, K. Anthony. In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. London: Methuen, 1992.

    Cezair-Thompson, Margaret. "The Road of The Famished Road and its 'Abiku' Traveller: Irony, Dis/placement In Ben Okri's Decolonized Vision of Nigeria." Unpublished essay, 1993.

    Clark, J. P. "Abiku." A Reed in the Tide. London: Longman, 1965. 5.

    Cooper, Brenda. Magical Realism magical realism
    A chiefly literary style or genre originating in Latin America that combines fantastic or dreamlike elements with realism.
     in West African Fiction: Seeing with a Third Eve. London, New York New York, state, United States
    New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
    : Routledge, 1998.

    Englert, Lucianne. "African Literature: A Topic as Vast as a Continent." Research and Creative Activity 21.3 (January 1999). <>. July 15, 2003.

    Maduka, Chidi T. "African Religious Beliefs in Literary Imagination: Ogbanje and Abiku in Chinua Achebe, J. P. Clark and Wole Soyinka Akinwande Oluwole "Wole" Soyinka (born 13 July 1934) is a Nigerian writer, poet and playwright. Some consider him Africa's most distinguished playwright, as he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, the first African since Albert Camus so honored. ." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 22.1 (1987): 17-30.

    McCabe, Douglas. "Histories of Errancy er·ran·cy  
    n. pl. er·ran·cies
    The state of erring or an instance of it.

    1. the condition of being in error.
    : Oral Yoruba Abiku Texts and Soyinka's 'Abiku.'" Research in African Literatures 33.1 (Spring 2002): 45-74.

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    To impart new life or vigor to: plans to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods; tried to revitalize a flagging economy.
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    Author:Soliman, Mounira
    Publication:Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
    Article Type:Critical Essay
    Date:Jan 1, 2004
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