For Cyprian Odiatu Duaka Ekwensi (1921-2007)
Deep in America’s grinding labor mines, my memories hear my childhood chiming the Angelus. I pause to luxuriate in the coming pleasure of tugging at the camphor smell of mama’s wrapper. The bugler stands, starched khaki clean, on the hill of many wars, horns hollering Taps for a warrior struck one last time by the sokugo. Our dispatch-rider, high on joy, and apeteshie, stands tall on giant Fanta bottles of ogogoro balanced on his Triumph motorcycle. Uniformed myrmidon of the coming darkness, dispatch rider of generations of Africa’s worst despots takes a break from ushering yet another coming of yet another dictator and performing somersaults on the motorcycle of many memories, and confirms the final journey of the warrior, Cyprian Ekwensi. Here in America, we shiver at attention in our blue suits – alien regalia offspring of our ancestors apologizing in alien regalia.
I write this for Cyprian Ekwensi, loyal teacher, who moved on to the pantheon of our ancestors several moons ago. We celebrate the life of a great soul, Cyprian Ekwensi, rising one last time in joyful defiance of the call of the sokugo. The sokugo? Ah, if you have never read Burning Grass, find a copy and read of Mai Sunsaye’s restless journey under the arresting spell of that mesmerizing wandering disease, the sokugo. We also salute the living, great warriors of a raging battle for the heart and soul of Africa. I salute Chukwuemeka Ike, T.M. Aluko, and John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, seer-poets with a deep abiding love for and pride in Africa. It was probably a function of their time – you just knew you were not going to be rich from writing but in the name of our ancestors you were going to enjoy doing it. These visionaries wrote for a precocious generation (mine) that went through books with the same intensity with which today’s children flip through the pages of the Internet. The pressures on these writers of Africa were enormous; readers were impatient for entertainment and education and they just could not get enough of their stories. And they delivered story after story, as they painstakingly transferred them long-hand from foolscap papers onto the typewriter. In their time, the god of mischief was still cooking up the wonder that is now called the Internet. And as children, we sat at the foot of these teachers and listened with rapt attention, in awe, to the stories of these gentle warriors
The Sokugo is a metaphor for the movement of change. The first step is for the writer to accept some ownership for the circumstances Africa finds itself. Show some respect for Africa, actually model respect for Africa and everything African. Immersing ourselves in a contrived culture of despair may earn us fame and fortune but the damage to Africa is permanent and incalculable. The Stepin Fetchit character occupies a prominent place in contemporary African American folklore. It is all about investing in self respect and dignity. It will pay off in the long run; it certainly won’t hurt. The world we live in is a different world from that inhabited by the youths of Achebe, Ekwensi and Soyinka. It is a world at once large and small.- there is an impish deity up there re-arranging relationships. Our ancestors did not go to the moon because they did not need to. There was no clutter in their lives because they knew the benefits of clarity in everything physical and spiritual. Their meals were simple and in the seeming simplicity of their lives, life triumphed in joy and song over the tribulations of the day. And then the walls came tumbling down, brought down by white masquerades. And things fell apart, crushed under foot and the totems of our gods spat on the virility of their old masters. And wise men became idiots and our poets and poetesses were proclaimed illiterates because they shunned alien hieroglyphics.
We mourn the loss of order. We are still here, children of the teacher, sitting at the foot of these griots and listening with rapt attention for the return of the stories of these gentle but solid warriors. Teacher, thanks for everything. And now I must sit down.