Author: Mawuli Adzei
Publishers: Kwadwoan Publishing
Year : 2012
Reviewer: Kwabena Agyare Yeboah
‘’ Places are ghosts.’’ ‘’ Memories are ghosts.’’ ‘’ To name something is to bring it to life.’’ These sentences appear in different times in Yvonne Owuor’s eloquent, language-dense debut novel Dust. Owuor provokes the amnesia of a nation in a straight-forward term, showing and naming. Mawuli, on the other hand, shuttles in subtlety in the Ghana project. Both, however, have the common trait of bearing witness to history. Something that Kwesi Brew puts it better in Ghana’s Philosophy of Survival – But we have always been here on this land of ours./ Our country is our home and will always be here at home/ To watch, listen and take our suffering/ ‘til true happiness comes naturally and without bitterness.
Taboo as a word comes from Tongan tapu or Fijian tabu which literally means ‘’prohibited’’, ‘’disallowed’’ or ‘’forbidden.’’ Taboos can either be behavioral or verbal. This essay will explore verbal taboos (in the context of the novel) which are deemed as ‘’inappropriate to say aloud or to print.’’ Say ‘’F-word’’ instead of ‘’Fuck.’’ This background is important because even though Mawuli invites us to remembrance, the title of the novel is a form of verbal taboo. In Akan verbal taboo system, there is a variety called ammodin (unmentionables). The title speaks to something without saying it. It is euphemism. It is verbal taboo. Too.
The novel opens with the death of Togbi Somadza, known in private life as Gabla Gakpanya who was the chief priest of Tugla in Sembe and the religious rift that ensued thereafter. After the failure of the Traditional religion gate to arrest his soul, he proclaimed from the land of the dead through Afa (Ifa in Yoruba) divination –
I have crossed the threshold. In vain those kinsmen at the crossroads ululate and shout my name across empty spaces.
Set in the late 1950s, the ensuing religious rift is one that is familiar, especially with the Achebe-Ngugi archetype of African novels. The Gakpanya household is microcosm of what occurred in southern Ghana as Troare Household is what happened to Africa in Maryse Conde’s Segu.
Gabla left twins, Ata and Atakuma, seeds of his loin. Ata always admired the father and wanted to succeed him after his death. And he failed. Atakuma strayed to the white man’s religion, Christianity. But it was his internal conflict that he would battle with, one that started in his younger days.
How could he have forgotten to make the sign of the cross? He wondered. He felt guilty. Perhaps he hadn’t internalized the practice of frequently making the sign and invoking the name of Jesus in every propitious situation. It was the same the Tugla adherents did routinely – swearing by Tugla and pointing their forefingers heavenward.
He was leaving home to study as a Christian priest. As a priest, he pursued intellectualism. He read books of virtually every human endeavor. It was not for knowledge sake. It was for validation of his (in) actions. He read Liberation theory or Christianized Marxism as its distractors call it. It was his impetus for questioning the church. He read David Rice’s Shattered Vows. He read all those who were against celibacy in the Catholic Church. He quoted and studied at length, certain portions of The Bible. He thought about Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalysis. He read reports of other priests who were perverts, homosexuals, had children et al. All were to justify his sexual nature and why he was what he was.
Meanwhile, at the turn of the millennium, many African countries had yielded to the economic pressures of the international community. The dictators of old bought new clothes from Kantamanto Market. There were to be elections. The doomsday prophets were having a free day. So were armed robbers and alleged ritual killers. Everybody forgot about the armed robbery. The real political meal was the serial killing of women. Inspector Oduro was tasked to solve the latter. The Big Men at the top were breathing fire.
It is hard to think about the main plot in Taboo, nothing gets resolved. I have never read any novel that mimics the Ghanaian life so closely. In Ghana, nothing gets resolved; we just move on. ‘’Amnesia. Collective amnesia,’’ Insp. Oduro called it.
On the pages of Taboo are glimpses into the lives of public servants who work under poor conditions yet the public expects them to perform at the highest level, the top official who is a puppet of the executive, the activist and the everyday Ghanaian people who dream dreams.
Manyo, the twins’ paternal uncle is an interesting character. On pages 16 and 33, he talked about the hypocrisy of the Christian converts. Yet, when his nephew Atakuma, later Father Shakana, sought for his help, he did not criticize him. He did what fathers do. It was not the case that the traditional religion won. No. In fact, none of them won. It is a novel about a man’s daemons told through religion.
Manyo’s endearment for his brother’s widow Ablewor enforces Catherine Acholonu’s Motherism theory as opposed to the kind of Feminism conversation that was going on during the election in the urban area.
In the real life situation, Charles Papa Ebo Quansah was convicted for the serial murder of nine women, including his girlfriend, in Kumasi and Accra in 2002. In 2004, he spoke to the press and said that he was being used as a scapegoat. Even if Charles indeed killed the nine women that he was accused of murdering, what about the twenty-five or so whose cases remain unresolved?
Like Taboo’s ending remark, the question is a simple one. Who killed the women?
If I were a bookseller, I would clutter up my desk with copies of this novel and when anyone walked in, I would ask; do you want to read some fiction? If that does not happen, something else should. When the author dies, his tombstone should read ‘’WRITING IS BURIED HERE.’’