Sins of the fathers
Stephen Atalebe

Book of the month – June 2012

Book review by Samwin Banienuba (UK), International spokesman for Humanitas Afrika

Stephen Atalebe is a wordsmith and in Sins of the fathers he weaves and spins the culture of a people into an African tale of awe, intrigue and suspense from one page to the next. A kind of cultural critique he subtly challenges the reader throughout the story to take difficult positions between what is held to be culturally valid and what reason dictates to be morally right.

Akumbia is the lead character, a young boy growing up in the little village of Zambui where he has no friends except Adindongo the disabled who everybody else despised and called a moron. When Akumbia drowns in the village dam and was mistaken for dead it was Adindongo who dug him up from the grave where Akumbia was buried.

Digging up a grave was however as much a taboo as it was an abomination. The undertakers had until then ensured that rising from the dead was taken care of, and for ordinary members of the community it was unheard of. It confronts the reader with an eerie feeling that undertakers have not always successfully diagnosed death, and that they covered up their mistakes by strangling those who came off a coma. Akumbia was lucky to have a friend in Adindongo who proved the saviour despite his disability.

If the undertakers were always seen to be right in matters of death, the soothsayers were trusted to reveal messages from the gods or the ancestors to the living. One usually consulted them for remote causes of anything that happened in the family and the community. He would then make sacrifices to the ancestors as prescribed. There could not have been a more imperative reason to confer with a soothsayer than Akumbia’s return from the dead.

Akanlu is the father of Akumbia. He finds himself in the unenviable position of a man who loved his son but who belonged to a closely knit community as well. Long ago he had taken a stance never to consult soothsayers. He must have known from growing up in Zambui that you don’t attend soothsaying without some obligation being revealed to you. This time, however, he had little choice. The love of a father concerned his heart and the community weighed in with pressure.

When the gods decreed that Akumbia had to be taken to a forest and sacrificed Akanlu became the vulnerable, crudely torn between family and community. Akanlu had failed to make sacrifices to the ancestors for crimes his father had committed and this was his lot for disobeying. Akanlu’s father, Anampam, now wanted Akanlu to do the ultimate, sacrifice Akumbia to atone for the taboos Anampam broke in his life time by sleeping with another man’s wife. Akanlu was foully caught between the love for his living son and reverence for a dead father who did not live an exemplary life.

Adindongo is the epitome of loyalty to a friend. He disagreed with the verdict of the gods, the ancestors, the soothsayer, the elders and everything tradition stood for on the matter. He eavesdropped the plans put in place to sacrifice Akumbia. They would take him to the Zambui River. Once there they would ask him to cross and leave the village. Marksmen will then shoot him with poisonous arrows, when he collapses his own father would slit his throat and collect the blood for the gods to taste. No, Akumbia his friend must live and he Adindongo would see to it.

On the way to the riverside Akanlu found courage and it bubbled. It was the courage of a man in defence of reason. The courage of a man willing to die for what he believed was right. It was the courage of a man who loved his son. He drew his knife and asked for his son to be freed. In the confusion Akumbia darted off to the river where he met up with Adindongo. The two set off into the forest where Adindongo would die from a snake bite. He had paid the full price of true and unalloyed friendship.

Adindongo and Akanlu are the non-conformists in the story. They stand out for their defence of moral values, and opposed everything inherently wrong with the culture of their people. In Akumbia they both crystallised the true essence of love, one in the name of friendship and the other in the name of family. Tragically, and like the proverbial sacrificial lamb, they would both die defending those values. They are my favourites!

Then there are the mothers of Akumbia and Adindongo, each with a love unflinching for their respective sons, each helpless in a male dominated society. Abelwine, Akumbia’s mother, was not even consulted when the elders decided to administer the verdict of the gods received from the soothsayer. Yet when Akumbia returned to the village to report Adindongo’s death under the cover of darkness it was his mother he first called upon, confident he would be welcomed and nourished by the milk of a mother’s kindness.

Baba Amokasa is the archetypical vainglorious character in the story. He would go to lengths and purposes to prove he is right. A cultural fanatic, he was a regular client of soothsayers and would do whatever the belief system prescribed including sacrificing his daughter just so that he could maintain the love of his younger wife. For him sacrificing Akumbia was non-negotiable. He would personally track Akumbia down. A soothsayer had forewarned that unless this weed was killed it would grow into poison. Baba Amokasa took personal responsibility to root him out young. Will he succeed?

Sins of the fathers is an easy but compelling read! It illuminates the belief in ancestral worship and the priestly and intermediary role of the soothsayer. It is also a subtle exposé of outmoded traditions, a father’s love for his son and a clash of foreign and local belief systems. It is one of those books you cannot easily put down once you have started. I recommend it without hesitation.

Stephen Atalebe is an African student of Economics at Mendel University Brno, Czech Republic

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New arrivals

New titles in our library 12/2016

Our library has aquired a number of new and interesting books. Here is the list of the latest titles.

  • Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith
  • Fashion Cities Africa by Hannah Azieb Pool
  • Frantz Fanon: Toward a Revolutionary Humanismby Christopher Lee
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Robinson, James A., Acemoglu, Daron
  • Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures With the Ever-Living Poet by Edward Wilson-Lee
  • A History of Modern Africa: 1800 to the Present by Richard J. Reid
  • Authentically African: Arts and the Transnational Politics of Congolese Culture by Sarah Van Beurden
  • Children in Slavery through the Ages by by Gwyn CampbellSuzanne MiersJoseph C. Miller
  • Global Health in Africa: Historical Perspectives on Disease Control by Tamara Giles-Vernick
  • Rumba on the River: A History of the Popular Music of the Two Congos by Gary  Stewart
  • Women and Slavery, Vol. 1: Africa, the Indian Ocean World, and the Medieval North Atlantic by Gwyn Campbell
  • Women and Slavery, Vol. 2: The Modern Atlantic by Gwyn Campbell
  • Cahier d'un Retour Au Pays Natal by Aimé Cesaire
  • Healing Traditions: African Medicine, Cultural Exchange and Competition in South Africa, 1820-1948 by Karen Elizabeth  Flint
  • Global Education Policy and International Development: New Agendas, Issues and Policies by Antoni Verger
  • Black Skin, White Coats: Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization, and the Globalization of Psychiatry by Matthew M. Heaton
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