Elaigwu John Owoicho
This paper is a postmodernist study of Kyuka Lilymjok’s Gods of my Fathers. It has been conceptualized on the premise that writers from the mid twentieth century have deviated from literary conventions of the Victorian age to represent their society without prescribed and preconceived etiquettes, more so, to portray the negative effects of the fast growing capitalist society and the ineffectiveness of religions to the economic and social development of society. Therefore, after evaluating the text, the paper discovered that the adoption of foreign religions without proper understanding of their philosophical emanation would limit peoples’ ability to think extensively thereby leading to social and mental retrogression. The paper concludes that hence one of the goals of literature is to conscientise the society, if the public reads the text and comprehends it very well, the message of the text is likely to broaden their visions.
Writing is borne out of thoughts and feelings of a writer. A creative writer writes to express his/her innermost self. He/she tries to unravel issues of universal importance like the decay in society, man’s inhumanity to man, among others. Restricting such writers is like caging their feelings and thoughts. A writer needs freedom of expression, freedom of creative thinking to bring out something new in a different manner. Restricting the freedom of writers to think and write their thoughts is like restricting societal development in terms of creativity. These types of restriction and prescription in the Victorian era limited many writers` creativity and in a way led to protest writings in the twentieth century.
Twentieth century literature can be said to have leaned more towards being protest oriented. Writers tired of being caged, took to protest in their writings. Twentieth century writers wrote based on their views of the world and were more experimental in literature. Writings of the twentieth century gave birth to different kinds of writings or movements of writing. Some of these movements include: modernism, postmodernism, realism, symbolism, futurism, absurdist theatre, naturalism, Dadaism, among others. These movements were piloted by writers based on their views of the world.
The theoretical thrust of this chapter is hinged on postmodernism. Postmodernism is concerned with how the ill nature of the decaying society is presented in more comical ways than tragically. Postmodernism considers humans suffering, how people are displaced by wars, religion, and exploited by capitalism but instead of presenting it tragically, presents it in a comic form.
Postmodernism emerged in the mid-1980s. It is a critical theory that emerged in the twentieth century sequel to modernism. Christopher Keeps and Robin Parmar posit that postmodernism can be distinguished in three usages. The first “refers to the non-realist and non-traditional literature and art of the post-World War II period.” The second “refers to literature and art which take certain modernist characteristics according to John Barth in The Literature of Exhaustion. ” The third refers to a “more general human condition in the “late capitalist” world of post 1950s, a period marked by the end of what Jean-Francois Lyotard calls “meta-narrative of western culture” (3).
Keeps and Parmar have three views of postmodernist literary theory. First, they look at it as literature that deviates from the previous etiquettes of writings and also as literature emanating from the first and second world wars. The second view of postmodernism by Keeps and Parmar has its root in modernism. According to this view, postmodernism is an outgrowth of modernism and therefore has certain features of modernism as much as it is different from the latter. Keeps and Parmar went on to assert that although postmodernism is not too far from modernism, there are certain areas of differences. For instance, while modernism presents its post-war and alienated characters sorrowfully, post-modernism presents its tragic characters comically in a more celebrated form. Furthermore, the postmodernist literature leaves its audience to come to a final conclusion from what has been presented, that is, it does not in any way try to impose its views on the audience. Keeps’ and Parmar’s final views about postmodern literary theory is that, postmodernism is a literature that talks about the human condition in the capitalist world. Capitalism in the postmodernist period became so intense forcing a lot of writers to pick their pens and papers to voice out the ills of capitalism in the world.
In the twentieth century after the two world wars, people became tired of capitalist ideologies and tired of religious ideology. Due to their war experiences, they began in a serious way to question the existence of God. The writings of the likes of Karl Marx played a pivotal role in the thinking that society should be ruled by those who own labour – the working class. Other scholars like Charles Darwin also played vital roles in the development of postmodernist literature. His writing about human evolution which totally negates the Biblical account of creation gave a lot of people different ways of viewing life. All of these resulted in the emergence of postmodernism as a critical theory of literature. In addition to the questioning of the existence of God, people were tired of following conventions and prescriptions of everything they do in life. They wanted a different way of thinking; a freeway not restricted or governed by anybody. As a result, many writers in literature dropped the previous conventions of writing and engaged in a new form of writing which allows them express their critical thoughts on subjects hitherto considered sacrosanct. This was a clear departure from previous writings anchored on etiquettes and deference to societal feelings. This led to the likes of Samuel Beckett producing plays that were different from previous plays. These postmodernist writings did not fit into either tragedy or comedy. For example, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, as a play, does not fully fit into traditional tragedy or comedy. Rather, it is more philosophical without particular form and questions the existence of God in a satire.
The aims of postmodernist writers are to have their views of life freely expressed to their audiences in a way that they will be perfectly understood; in a way not limited by social prescriptions. The postmodernist writers were protesting against the freezing of free thinking in society. Such trend of thought can be seen in Lilymjok’s God’s of My Fathers. Gods of My Fathers is a text that dwells on the importance of free thinking to the society. It is in this light that this work intends to use postmodernism as a theory in analysing Lilymjok’s text.
Kyuka Lilymjok as a writer has succeeded in writing a text that qualifies to be fitted into the twentieth century form of writing known as postmodernism. Starting from the form to its content, the novella goes against the normal conventions of fictional writings.
The structure of the text for instance, uses “passage” in place of “chapter” and “part” normally used in novels and novellas. The use of “passage” instead of “chapter” probably comes from the postmodernist ideology that writing should be an expression of the inner man – a passage in the novella being the expression of the inner man of Lilymjok. The use by Lilymjok of “passage” instead of “chapter” clearly deviates from the convention of division of a novel or novella. By this, the author associates himself with twentieth century writers known as “rebel” writers. Writing on rebel writers, Folasade Hunsu opines that “A major feature of postmodern thought is that universality is unacceptable and that all groups have a right to speak for themselves in their own voice, and have that voice accepted as authentic” (105). The readers’ understanding of this is that, postmodern writings are against universality and it is a major attribute of postmodernist writers. Postmodernists believe that the writer has a voice, a voice that will be heard the way the writer wants it to be heard. A unique way that fully expresses a writer’s inner self.
In terms of content, Gods of my Fathers as a postmodernist text is a story that questions the non-existence of free thinking in some major religions of the world such as Islam and Christianity. Apart from this, there are so many philosophical issues raised in the text that tilt it towards the postmodernist form.
Africa as a continent had its own religions before the coming of the Christian missionaries and Islamic scholars. These people came with foreign religions that were largely unknown to Africans. By force and tricks, they made Africans abandon their own religions and embrace the alien religions of Christianity and Islam. In this text, abandoning the traditional African religions by Africans has repercussions on lack of thought and progress in Africa which the text largely dwells on.
Dendo, the protagonist chooses to forswear the religion of his people and embraced a new one – Christianity. Brainwashed, Dendo disclaims his traditional religion and falls under tribulations masterminded by his ancestors – the Gods of his fathers who are angry with his leaving his own Gods for the Gods of other people. At the beginning of the text, Dendo states that before his father’s death, the father warned him not to abandon the Gods of his fathers, but he fails to heed the warning by becoming a Christian shortly after his father’s death. This unleashes on him mysterious happenings that leave him frightened out of his wits. He recounts the first of such happenings thus:
One night while we were asleep, the roof of my house began to shake violently as if there was a violent wind outside. I was terrified the roof may be blown off. Well, it was not rainy season for me to be terrified. Violent winds that blow off roofs do not blow in the dry season. I opened the main door to my house to see conditions outside and was surprised to find there was no storm. No house beside mine was experiencing what my house was. This fact alarmed me far more than the violent rocking of the roof. For a while I hung by the main door not knowing what to do. (3)
This is the first mysterious incident Dendo encounters for neglecting the Gods of his fathers. It troubles him deeply.
Postmodernist writers question the existence of God. They do not believe in a universal God for every religion, tribe or everybody in the world. In Lilymjok’s Gods of My Father, a clear difference is made between different gods and how they began to exist. For instance, the African Gods according to Lilymjok started from its ancestors. Once one dies, it is assumed, he/she joins the ancestors, thereby becoming one of the gods. In the text, Dendo while walking in the woods between Bonte and Twangwa” “lay down under a tree and sleep swept over [him]” (7). As he is sleeping, he finds himself in a strange land where he sees his dead father in a long line of [his] forbears to the hundredth generation” (7). They are all in tears because he renounced the Gods of his fathers. He is supposed to inherit the family shrine and perform all the necessary rituals needed but he dumps it and goes for an alien religion – Christianity.
In the dream, Dendo’s forbears take him to different parts of the world, showing him different religions and how their gods came about. They even tell him the benefits of the gods to their people. For instance, Shintoism – the way of Japanese Gods, is also the way of Japanese people – a way of learning from other races of the world that has made Japanese great. (19). Dendo’s father who speaks for himself and his other forbears further states that “Indians are brilliant not necessarily because their genes possess higher intelligence quotient, but because thinking required by their religion has developed their genius” (25). This shows the advantages of free thinking and benefits derived from one’s gods.
Taking him to different places of worship around the world, Dendo’s forbears first take him to Israel to see Jewish worshippers in a wailing hall in Jerusalem. The essence of this is to show Dendo that Gods like people are natives and as such every race, tribe, clan and even individuals have their own gods different from those of other races, tribes, clans and individuals. According to his father, “Gods like people are natives. They don’t belong everywhere. They belong to places, not space. The Christian God you worship is a Jew. His name is even Jewish. His name is Yahweh. While Dendo is trying to process what his father had said to something he can understand, he hears his father saying:
‘There are as many Gods as there are races, tribes, clans. In fact, there are as many Gods as there are human beings … There is God and there are Gods. There is the One in Many God. It is this God that expresses himself as the genius of a race, a tribe, a clan or an individual. Expressing himself this way, he is the God of races, tribes, clans and individuals – the Many in One God … The Bible does not lie when it says there are three Gods: God the Father – the One God in Many Gods; God the Son – the racial, tribal and clannish Gods who are the Many Gods in One God; and God the Holy Spirit – the personal Gods who are also Many Gods in One God. The racial Gods enjoy their own trinity: There is the mystical African God, the imaginative and creative Jewish God, and the thinking Asian God. The mystical African God wishes to manifest himself in the attitude of Africans but is thwarted by the dog mentality of Africans that made them abandon their Gods for other people’s Gods. The imaginative and creative Jewish God manifest himself in the attitude of Jews who abide with him. The thinking Asian God manifest himself in the attitude of Asians who abide with him.
Our attitudes are the manifestations of the Gods in us … Yes, God the Father – the One in Many God, has a purpose expressing himself the different ways he does through the races, tribes, clans and individuals. Those who worship their own Gods help the One in Many God achieve his purpose; he is happy with them and blesses them. They excel in life. Those who worship the Gods of others instead of their own Gods frustrate the purpose of the One in Many God. He is not happy with them and withholds his blessings from them… That is how it is our child. Beyond the racial, tribal and clannish Gods, there are the personal Gods. The many in one God expresses himself in the individual as in the race, tribe and clan as genius. Genius expresses itself in the individual as talent. The talent of a man is a God in him. It is that God your bible says will feed a man. It is that God that made a man a God. It is that God the Igbos call Chi – personal God. Everyone has talent. The only reason a person is born is to realize his talent. If he is not able to realize his talent at the time of his death, he is reincarnated to realize it. Once he realizes his talent, he is free of reincarnation and ascends into the spiritual realm as a spirit – a God. .. There is God and there are Gods. We, for example, are Gods – the Gods of your fathers who were humans before but had realized our talents and had ascended into the spiritual realm and are now custodians of the genius of the clan through who the One in Many God expresses himself.’ (p.24)
The message in the preceding extended citation is that Gods have where they belong and should not be worshipped everywhere most especially where the God is not a native. Because the genius of a race, tribe, clan and individual is settled by their Gods, a race, tribe, clan or individual can only excel in life if it or he sticks with its or his God. Jews, Europeans, Americans and Asians that stick with their Gods are excelling because their Gods give full rein to their genius. Africans that abandoned their Gods are excelled by others because they have no Gods to give effect to their genius.
Lilymjok’s text borders on universality; it gives religion ultimate attention. The author does not condemn any of the religions but only recommends that people should follow their various ancestral religions so that their Gods-given genius can find full expression. In doing so, they not only advance themselves, they advance the world.
As a postmodernist writer, Lilymjok does not present his message driven novella to his audience tragically, but rather in a comic manner – a kind of self-reflection. Unlike modernists who try to present issues tragically to attract sympathy, the postmodernist presents serious issues in a less serious manner. Lilymjok presents his message to his readers in a way that avoids tragedy and does not force belief but rather leaves it for the reader to make his or her own choice and conclusions. Dendo the major character, who abandoned the Gods of his fathers is merely haunted but not killed by the Gods. After going through the trance, he wakes at the end of the text. Lilymjok puts it thus:
My heart lurched and I woke up with a start. It was dark. Night had since fallen. It seemed I had slept for a long time. In deep thoughts, I began walking towards where I parked my car. The more I thought over what I went through while sleeping in the forest, the more I was convinced it was not a dream, but a revelation. If it was a revelation, gods of my fathers, what can I do? How do I uproot an alien god with deep roots in the lives of your descendants and plant you in his stead? (49)
Thus, the text does not end sorrowfully because the major character, Dendo wakes up after the long mysterious sleep in the forest and starts thinking of what to do about the revelation he had. More so, there is no loss of life in the text or any form of physical or extreme psychological torture leading to tragedy.
According to Hunsu, “postmodernist clamour for equality in gender, religion, class and race among other things. Morality as well as truth is relative” (86). Postmodernist writing sometimes is hardly distinguished from non-fictions. This is because of the way serious issues are presented in the form of analyses and general discussion. It is in this light that Lyotard posits that “[i]n postmodernists literature there is little or no difference between fiction and non-fiction” (86). Lilymjok presents a universal idea in such a complicated manner. After a first reading of Gods of my Fathers, the reader finds it difficult where to really categorize the text whether it is fiction or non-fiction. This is because; it is more philosophical in thrust than fictional.
Refusing to worship one’s Gods and to speak one’s language has negative consequences Dendo’s father speaking for his other forbears posited. Lamenting the negative consequences of Africans abandoning their religions and languages, his father says: unlike the Japanese intellectual tree that bears fruits because Japanese have stuck to their Gods and languages, the African intellectual tree bears no fruits because Africans have abandoned their Gods and languages for alien Gods and languages. He further posits that:
This is the case because you can’t cut off the small branches of a mango tree, then engraft those of a tenge tree and expect the tree to still produce mangoes. Alien religion and alien languages are small branches of the tenge tree engrafted on the African mango tree and therefore it can’t produce mangoes. (40)
All of these advocates for African religion and languages with a clear understanding that African religion and languages are supposed to be followed and spoken by Africans for the development of the African society, and indeed the world. The mystical African genius, if developed, can lead to a revolution in the transport industry for example. If developed, it would have: ‘‘been moving living people and goods about instead of planes and other automobiles thus saving the world the financial, time and environmental cost of moving people and things by automobiles, and thus spare the world the crude mechanics of modern technology. Moving people and things by mystical means would have also saved the world loss of lives and properties occasioned by automobiles crashes’’ (p.38).
Gods of my Fathers is a novella that regales with philosophy. Its text is suffused with philosophy which drips through the pages wetting the appetite of the reader. The text indeed is more philosophical in nature than fictional. Rather than espouse philosophy in a textual form, the author adopts the story form to espouse it. Using power literature, the author more effectively communicates a message that is normally communicated through knowledge literature. Weak on characterization, the novella Gods of my Fathers, is strong on message.
In waxing philosophical in Gods of my Fathers, and many of his other works, Kyuka Lilymjok does not disadvantaged his works; he advantaged them. At all times, philosophy wears well with literature. In fact there is philosophical fiction. Some of Shakespeare’s works may be so regarded. Most of his plays owe their endurance quality to the philosophy that sounds through them. Philosophy being timeless and ageless, it remains long after the wind and rain of time have wiped out the story line.
In Gods of my Fathers, Lilymjok underscores how Christianity and Islam are standing in the way of the evolution of a positive mystical genius exclusively bestowed on Africans by the Many in One African mystical God:
Without doubt, Christianity and Islam are frustrating the evolution of a positive African mystical genius. If all Africans were within the African genius, certainly the futility of the negative mystical genius would have been such that most Africans would have been driven into the positive mystical genius. (36)
In different ways, the author tries to show each race, tribe, clan or individual is meant by its or his Many in One God to stick to its or his own Gods who then will give full expression to the genius of the race, tribe, clan or individual. Accordingly those who follow their own Gods realize their genius and amount to much in life while those who don’t follow their own Gods cannot realize their genius and cannot amount to anything in life. Thus the Jews, Europeans and Americans following Yahweh – their imaginative and creative God are great, so also Asians following the Asian thinking God. Africans are nothing because unlike other races, they have refused to follow the African mystical God. If they were following the African mystical God, they would have evolved mystical means of transportation that negates the need for automobiles by transporting people and goods through mystical means similar to those Dendo and his ancestors were being moved around the earth and even to the moon in Dendo’s trance.
Another significant and symbolic event in the text is the Wolf dance. Here, Lilymjok uses wolves to demonstrate the importance of actualization of genius. To realize one’s genius, one must follow his God – racial, tribal, clannish or personal. His genius is given to him by his God and the God that gives the genius is the only God that can enable him realize his genius. The God will only allow him realize his genius if he is worshiping the God.
According to the text, the wolf’s genius lies in a pack” (44). Without the pack, a wolf is nothing. A wolf achieves its best only in a pack . . .” (44). The author further states that:
[a]lone, a wolf is a coward. But in a group, a wolf is a symbol of courage. In pack, a wolf can attack the elephant knowing the pack is there to assist it. Without the pack, a wolf is weary of attacking an antelope. A wolf is only a limb of his clan. A wolf cannot live outside community. In fact; the life of a wolf is not in it but in its community. Community is to the wolf what the shell is to the tortoise. Without the shell, the tortoise is dead. (45)
Outside the main theme of a wolf realizing its genius through the pack, unity which a pack of wolves symbolizes is something humans as wolves need to progress. Like the wolf expresses itself better in a pack, humans as individuals will express themselves better in communities instead of the individualistic promptings of capitalism.
The wolf dance shows the importance of ancestral inheritance, that is, culture handed down from generation to generations. The text depicts it thus “. . . it is for this reason that procreation is very important to wolves. It is for this reason that wolves refuse to be domesticated. The wolves’ funeral dance in the moon is to mourn the death of a wolf and to celebrate the birth of two wolves to be born to replace the dead one” (45). This displays to the readers how wolves have refused to drop their own way of life for an imposed one by refusing to be domesticated unlike Africans who have abandoned their ways of life and embraced western ways of life that have made them strangers to themselves.
While the wolf that refused to be domesticated is likened in the text to a Japanese or Indian, Africans who have submitted to domestication are likened by the author to a dog. “The wolf is an Indian and a Japanese” (41). This implies that, even though these races had contact with Europeans, they did not abjure their own way of life, most especially in relation to religion. They believe so much in their own ways of life and this has contributed to their progress and respect in the world. Africans unlike Japanese and Indians are dogs who abandoned their own ways of life to copy those of others. This has led to lack of progress and respect for Africans in the world.
Lilymjok’s text examines the repercussions of abandoning one’s native religion which is intrinsic to one’s wholeness, and adopting a foreign one which prevents one from realizing his genius and making a contribution to the development of the world. By category, the text fits into the postmodernist tradition by mocking or questioning the existence of a central God who does not respond to human predicaments immediately. Its form is completely against the normal tenets of narrative segmentation adopting the use of passages instead of chapters and most of the actions occur in a trance. However, hence one of the goals of literature is to conscientise society, the paper believes the text is geared towards broadening the vision and loosening the intellectual bondage of whoever reads it. African peoples are in dire need of liberation from religious bondage and strictures so that ideas that can open the way for its development can flower and flourish. The paper considers Lilymjok’s Gods of My Fathers a unique, timely and important text capable of freeing the African psyche for creative thinking that can open the doors to development. The novella subtly and sometimes brashly tells Africans to be genuinely themselves and not counterfeits aping others in religion and just about any other thing. The current situation in which Africans are so poor as not even to have their own gods and languages is ridiculed by the author with the hope that Africans will rediscover themselves and be themselves as other races are themselves. In this, the author seems to say, lies African salvation and the means for the continent to make a contribution to world civilization and progress.
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