In The Wrath of the Gods, Udenta Udenta interrogates peace, communal relationship
Title: The Wrath of the Gods
Author: Udenta Undenta
Publisher: Kraft Books, Ibadan
Reviewer: Sunday Agollo
The disturbing trend of communal clashes in Nigeria is the subject of Udenta O Udenta’s novel, The Wrath of the Gods. Written when the author was a mere 13 year old boy, the book explores the worrisome phenomenon of communal clashes as a common feature of inter-community and inter-tribal relations in the precolonial Nigeria, using the case of Isiagu and Ememu, two neighboring communities in Igbo land, thereby taking Nigerian literary arts to a new direction, away from the themes of clash of cultures and post-independence political disillusionment of the past.
Set against the background of authentic Igbo culture of a tight village mythology sustained by strong traditional social, political and judicial institutional models, the book artistically probes communal conflict and the threat it poses to peace and security in Igbo land, using intellectual and dialectical approaches to excavate and interrogate the phenomenon. The starting point of the story is the excavation of communal conflict as a concrete rather than a fictional experience, which brings excessively higher costs, not only to the parties directly involved in disputes but to the society as a whole. This is done by first recalling the ancestral war fought by the traditional arch-enemy clans Ndiagu and Isimba, now being remembered through the tales and legends of the clans for its ‘brutality and mercilessness’ before going ahead to recreate the looming war between Isiagu and Ememu.
The tragic and disastrous construal of the ancient war in which farms were plundered, houses burnt, property looted, and lads and women were carried into slavery, while many of the young men had since been wandering inside the thicket of Amosu forest (pp 1-2), is designed to underscore the phenomenon of communal conflict in the society by giving it the semblance of historical truth and also serves as deterrent against future armed feuds. This is followed by a prophetic portrayal of the avoidable but looming war between the Isiagu and Ememu through factual reportage on early warning signals coming from both sides in the form of trading and counter-trading of insults and hate speeches; the collapse of the peace process brokered by the gods; and escalation of hostilities, and resultant divine judgment.
In simple terms, The Wrath of the Gods is a story of two communities that refused to abide by a peace process brokered by the gods to avoid war and bloodshed thereby dragging their land into avoidable state of insecurity and chaos. This story is anchored on the Igbo worldview in which thorny issues of state affairs and human relations are resolved within the ambit of tradition.
The people of Ememu are rumoured to had ‘called the men, gods and forefathers of Isiagu sons of a bitch and toothless monkeys sitting on hilltops, and grandsons of slaves’ in reply a rumor that the people of Isiagu have referred to Ememu people profane terms as ‘schemers with Isimba, sellers of their birthright and causers of their grandfathers’ shame’ (p.74).
These acts of name-calling are considered by either side as blasphemous anti-heritage insult and ancestral slur, and so machetes are being sharpened by both sides as part of preparations for war. But in order to checkmate the pangs or pain that such war often brought, Igbandu peace plan was invoked, whereby the leaders of the two bickering and rancorous communities swore to an oath sealed with ‘blood’ to suspend hostilities to allow the gods who are the true owners and rulers of the land, to dispense justice on the matter in dispute.
However, this sacred decision is ignored and defied by Udeozo and Nwaora – two respectable elders from Isiagu and Ememu respectively – who decide to use nativist nationalism and tribal sentiments and emotions to legitimise the issues in dispute into trans-generational conflict. And because of their reputations as men of wealth and honour, there is no limitation to their plans in conscripting, indoctrinating and radicalizing the youths into carrying out thuggery, kidnapping, arson, killings, and sundry acts of violence.
A significant point about this novel is the historicisation and memorialisation of incidents and events, especially those co-inhabiting and/or domiciled within the Igbo culture and canvas against which the story is drawn, without a descent into polemics which could have compromised artistic integrity. The mediation between fact and fiction, between history and art so wholesomely and faultlessly executed that it seem difficult attributing it to a boyish imagination. Beside using myths, proverbs, rituals, poetry, song and dance to locate the works fittingly into its spatial cum temporal Igbo setting as well as to enhance the work’s commitment and aesthetic qualities, two other evidence of technical maturity and artistic control must be mentioned here.
The first relates to the Igbandu oath peace deal, consummated before the fearsome deity Igbandu, a mercurial divinity of supreme native justice whose judgment is fair, apocalyptic and inescapable. Now under the ancestral culture it would have been unthinkable for any mortal to ignore the order of this immortal being, knowing that such order is sacred and sacrosanct and any act of violation thereof is a defilement and suicidal self-withdrawal from life itself, which everybody considers so sweet but sadly terminal. Now the violation of the sacred order of this highly feared, unforgiving deity by Udeozo and Nwaora without regard to the tragic outcome of doing so in their lives in the transition from folksy, simple or unsophisticated tradition towards a materialistic world concerned with material wealth and possessions at the expense of spiritual, moral or intellectual values.
When Ogbuefi Udeozo confronts a young man who pushes him in the market with the question, ‘Young man, have I any quarrel with you before or is it the wildness of youth,’ the blood shot, bearded young man defiantly looks at him from ‘toe to head, stopped at his Ozo anklet, laughed and bawled back, ‘I don’t want a foolish elder to be boozing around here before me, the old hierarchy has broken down. We are now on our own, no more, no less,’ which suggests that he is well aware that the issues of the moment such as social welfare and economic security are more important than spiritually or morally enforced peace, because its shortage is reduced and suffering too is reduced, and the needs of the people receive commodious attention under a materialistic ethos than under a traditionally sanctified patriarchal leadership that watches helplessly while ‘our village is suffering.’
The second has to with effective characterisation. The characters in the novel seem real and lifelike; and each and every of them is imbued with life-force to act and react, with existential capacity to create and enforce self-values that drive his personal motives, aspirations or ambition, and initiate and respond to external pressure or influence based on their personal dreams. In this wise the main characters of the novel are deftly delineated and contextualised. Rich and respected Ogbuefi Nwaoro is ‘full of fire, hot-eyed’, belongs to transitional generation of violence and social affliction who does not want the ancestral enmity between their village and their neighbors to come to end. Hence he mischievously looks for conflict to create divisions that will polarize his clan. Apart from schooling and indoctrinating his eldest son not to abandon the culture of violence, he always plans and schemes for strategies to lure his own village into bitter animosity with archrival Ogbuefi Udeozo’s village. On this note, he chose to die in blood rather than live under an oath of peace.
Ugbuefi Udeozo too internalises conflict and violence in philosophical terms, as the main principle of human interaction in the society, and proceeds to impart this belief unto his own children. To him, a peaceful and healthy world is a mirage, because, irrespective of divine judgment, ‘human beings must quarrel and face the world like the cloudy-like anger of the working corpses’ despite the postulates of the world’s ‘immanent forces of metaphysical beings’ (p.72). After an allegorical tale to instill the principles of upheaval and bitterness in his sons, Ogbuefi Udeozo concludes: ‘My sons, the tale has ended, but one thing more, Nwaora is the man, Ememu the clan, but you shall not wait for the gods alone to fight your battles when your limbs are still flexible and strong. The battle shall not end in our age. He has a son more [sic] worse than him. You two are mine …’ (p.121).
These two personalities are thus indicted by the young author as ‘barbarians, vandals and cannibals who invest in human blood’ (76). The hate-speech they promote, the ill-will and bitterness they pass onto their children, their capacity to inflame public emotions which manipulate communal lore to their own advantage, are all responsible in fanning the embers of distrust, disunity and hatred between their two neighboring communities.
Consequently, Isiagu and Ememu have been militarily, spiritually, morally and economically weakened by fighting, which brought them nothing better than human capital depletion, famine and hunger, decline in productivity as well as a drastic collapse of the moral and spiritual centre of the society. As the flurry of a volatility and vanishing conscience are let loose, delinquency, opportunism and lawlessness take centre stage, pushing the entire society to the brink of confusion, anarchy and chaos. The ontological basis and foundation for easy life, prosperity and happiness in the society has been destroyed by hedonism, materialism and greed, and this has foisted on the people a new life of anxiety, suffering and gloom. This has changed the mythology of the clan as a cohesive society where divine authority guarantees peace and justice to a chaotic society, constantly heaving with disagreement, disharmony and conflict.
And at the end, the futility of war is dramatised as an undoing metaphor by both sides. Isiagu and Ememu have fought and re-fought their war with scandalous loses and damages on both communities, yet victory is far from being attained by either side. As Ogbuefi Anene ponders this futility amid personal sense of defeat and helplessness, Isimba clan, the ancestral arch-enemy of the Ndiagu clan, are at the gate of Ememu burning houses and despoiling their land, sons and daughters, in yet another war of land grabbing, looting, and imperialism.
Readers will be intrigued by its fascinating story again and again. The rising phenomenon of communal clashes and their effects, which are fast becoming the trend in communal relations in our country today, is explored with depth and perspicacity. And the vision of the author will certainly not be by-passed: those who think violence rather than dialogue and consensus are the best options in the resolution of disagreements and conflicts should note that violence is never the monopoly of one person or group; they should consider other alternative options of conflict resolution and peace-building before starting a fire that they afterwards cannot easily put out.
The linguistic, structural and stylistic weaknesses of the book do not in any way vitiate its artistic, literary quality as they are absolutely what one finds in a work issuing from a fledgling imagination. Generally, the book is good, worth reading mellifluous prose of open frankness and agonising realism in which is successfully plotted the phenomenon of communal clash, reveals the tangents of misery and gloom issuing from war, and anger splashed on the human vampires who hide under the dark cover of ethnic, tribal or sectarian irredentism and spill the blood of unsuspecting fellow human beings to advance their own individual ego, inordinate ambition and personal glory.
Sunday Agollo can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org