Ntiat/Mbak Comprehensive Secondary School,
Itu Urban, Itu
The short story as a literature genre has evolved over time from its initial history in the oral tradition of storytelling. In Africa a lot of authors have perfected their writing skill in this literary genre. Contemporary African writers in recent times have brought to light fundamental issues society is faced with such as insurgency, social vices religious fanaticism, oppression of women and issues of greed amongst others. Using the formalist theoretical framework, which entails an examination of the internal workings of a text, the form or structure as well as the literary devices operating in it, this paper aims at x-raying the various short stories the author has put together in this collection of short stories. The presence of African cultural motifs in each short story as a common denominator is pointed out and discussed. The author has developed such sensibility in line with his African roots as the short stories are rich in African proverbs, traditional African beliefs as well as African names. The focus of this paper is on the “formal aspects” of Kyuka Lilymjok’s writings paying special attention to Return of the Oracle and Other Short Stories in a bid to show its “literariness”. The short stories are grouped into various sub-sections such as; tales of morality, stories on religious beliefs, feminist tales, environmental tales, and so on.
Modern African literature has its roots in the oral tradition of storytelling, the short story inclusive. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory traces the short story to myth, legend, parable, fairy tale, fable, anecdote, essay, character study and ballad traditions. It has a history among all groups of people. The short story is defined differently by different literary scholars. According to E. Sule, “the short story is distinguished from other kinds of creative writing by its concise nature, its compact language and its psychoanalytic punch” (88). Also, McNamee and others define the short story as “a short concentrated illumination of some facts of life concerned with the exploration of a major problem or situation”(59). It is thus safe to say that the short story is a brief fictional prose narrative that is shorter than a novel and usually deals with a few characters. It is usually concerned with a single effect conveyed in a single setting. This literary form encourages economy of setting, concise narrative and omission of a complex plot.
The short story has evolved in all parts of the world, Nigeria inclusive as authors have delved greatly into this form of literature and have dealt with various contemporary issues in their writings. The literary form is believed to have been birthed by the oral story telling of the olden days. These short stories record people’s experiences, social philosophies and observations about life and are geared towards righting the ills of society. A host of writers who ply this sub-genre, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chuma Nwokolo, Kyuka Lilymjok, Maria Ajima, Chinua Achebe, Buchi Emecheta, Su’eddie Vershima Agema, Abba Ikwue and Andrew Bula, have used it effectively to entertain as well as explore varied themes such as the dangers of social vices on the youth, the importance of girl child education, the dangers of early marriage on the girl child, the devastating effects of insurgency on those directly involved as well as on the society at large. This paper is centred on one of these writers, Kyuka Lilymok who has authored Return of the Oracle and other Short Stories.
Return of the Oracle and other Short Stories is a collection of short stories that deal with a variety of themes of great import in Nigeria. Kyuka Lilymjok, brings to light in his writings the split vision between men and women on what traditional religion stands for. Women saw their being told by traditional religion to shut up while men were encouraged to speak up as oppression while men saw the same attitude as discipline of women by the traditional order. The issue of morality is not left out by the author as the wrongs associated with plotting revenge rather than forgiveness is brought to light.
Literary expertise is evident in Lilymjok’s writings, who in a bid of rendering his narrative effectively employs a lot of literary devices such as rhetorical questions and African proverbs. These devices keep the reader tuned to the story as though the author and the reader are directly in physical dialogue. African names, settings as well as motifs are generously used to spice the writing ups. As is typical of short stories, the characters in each short story are few, setting is single, and subject matter single. This essay aims at summarising and analysing some of these stories and discussing common threads that runs through most of the stories found in the collection.
Tales of Traditional Life and the Coming of Foreign Values and Influences
There are two stories in this category: Return of the Oracle and The Monster of Longo. Return of the Oracle is a story on the longing, at least by men, for the return of the ancestral religion and the discipline it enforced in society. The Oracle as presented by Kyuka Lilymjok represents a ruler-god or divine being that stands to enforce discipline in society. The Oracle is a patriarchy symbol. That is perhaps why men than women pray for his return. Rather than pray for the return of the Oracle, women tend to see the Oracle as a sinister presence; as an instrument of oppression. The memory of the oppression the woman in the story thinks she faces with the Oracle is so bad that she prays for relics of the shrine of the Oracle to be destroyed so that she can forget all she thinks the Oracle stands for: “The oppression of women and children”(3). In her view, the Oracle is a force whose sole aim is to keep the woman caged and in perpetual fear. While she complains about the subjugation of women by the Oracle, her husband longs for his return to put leashes on women and children’s freedom without which the twosome are now loose and wandering into farmlands to commit mischief.
In the story a woman is likened to a child who does not know the first thing to do with freedom if given to her in excess dosage. “Perhaps it was unfair, but it held women and children in check. Freedom is good but sometimes when freedom is given to a little child who doesn’t know how to carry it; it eats up his head and that of the society that gave him the freedom” (4). The woman does not relent on her stand as she prefers a religion which gives the same rights to the different genders. She believes the Oracle’s deployment of rights is lopsided in favour of men against women. “The Oracle carried a wild authority that sat lightly on men but heavily on women and children” (4).
Eventually, the Oracle returns one night sending jitters down the spines of women who have not forgotten his strict code of behaviour the other time it was around. “For the women that were familiar with the voices, they were more terrified” (7).
The Monster of Longo centres on a stranger who visited the village of Beleri many years ago. The stranger appeared to women as an attractive and desirable man and to men as a seductive and alluring woman. The Monster of Longo as shown in the short story represents the stupefying effect of foreign values and influences which are very seductive and once they kiss you, you become stupid. Even people suppose not to be attracted by it are attracted by it. ‘‘Married men and women also wanted to marry the stranger. The whole village of Beleri was on fire for the visitor” (8). Only a man from Wiko resisted the Monster of Longo in all the villages he has gone to thus only he could see the stranger as the monster he truly is. The man from Wiko represents the group of few people who refused to be swept away by stupefying foreign values and influences. .
The promise of the monster to make people beautiful turns out false. Rather than make them beautiful, he makes them stupid. “Now that the fair lady of the morning dew has kissed you, are you beautiful? …we don’t know and don’t care” (15) Since their sense of reasoning has been sucked from their skulls they can no longer comprehend simple logic. So following the passer-by’s reasoning becomes a tall order (15). If at the beginning of the day the villagers woke up ugly, at the end of it they are both ugly and senseless as a result of kiss from the Monster of Longo.
The monster boasts that while other monsters destroy flesh, he destroys minds. “I am the Monster of Longo. I do not eat flesh like other monsters; I eat brains. I am a stupefying poison that drains sense and reason from the heads of all that I kiss” (15).
In this short story, Lilymjok uses rhetorical questions which keep the reader tuned to the narrator. For instance, the passer-by asks “Where do I go?” He is not only at a loss of where to go, he is fearful of what will become of him. The Monster of Longo has been everywhere and has sapped all sense from people in all the places he has been to. It seems to him, he is alone in the old order.
The two stories under this category show not only the negative and degenerational impact of foreign values and influences on traditional African societies, but the corruptive effect of such values and influences on African values, customs and traditions. Such foreign values and influences appearing as angels of light in most cases end up demons of darkness.
Tales on Morality
There is only one story that touches on morality in this collection of short stories. This story is Hunting for Mushrooms.
Hunting for Mushrooms is a short story set in Kanya village about mushrooms and the hunt for them by children. The author uses the characters of Bende and Filili to show the dangers of not forgiving and plotting evil for a fellow human being. It is true that Bende makes a sarcastic comment regarding Filili’s laziness; but he apologizes immediately. Filili on the other hand rejects the apology and promises to take a pound of Bende’s flesh in revenge. A boy amongst them tries to pacify the furious Filili, but Filili would not be pacified. “Fighting is of no use…fighting is not good” (27). The pleas fall on deaf ears as the young boy is bent on inflicting bodily harm on his peer. “I will beat the crap out of you, so that when you get home, your father and mother will see.” (28). As fate will have it the bully, Filili is met with ill-luck.
While in the forest, Delu encounters a snake and screams, closely followed by Bende, who throws away his mushrooms and runs far away from where the snake is. Filili runs towards the sounds of the screams hoping misfortune has befallen Bende. “When he first heard my screams, he thought it was a fight and began running towards where we were to partake in the fight. But as he drew closer, it dawned on him it was not a fight, but a snake. He lost interest and wanted to go back. However, seeing Bende bending down where we were, he hoped the snake had smitten him. So he continued running towards us.” (30). This is where his fate takes a bad turn as he mistakenly steps on the snake and is bitten. “Filili not looking at the ground as he ran steps on the slithering snake and Filili is bitten on the foot” (31). The fate he wishes someone else befalls him and he dies before the day runs out. True to what Gula had earlier warned him about fighting, what he thought was good eventually leads to his death. The cost of unforgiveness can be deathly.
Tales on Freedom of Thought, Expression and Action
I want to be Mad is the only story in this category. The story centres on a young man who is seen sniffing delaku, a local drug in huge quantities. An old man approaches the young man and inquires about his action. He says it is because he wants to be mad. When asked why he wants to be mad, he says he does not enjoy sanity, and would rather be mad – a condition he believes will give him freedom to do as he wishes. He feels sanity is tyranny as it requires a person to abide by law and order. Also he wants to be mad so that he can tell God exactly how he feels about him.
In this short story, Lilymjok explores the theme of the inherent nature of man to want to be free in thought, expression and action. Deep inside everyone is an underlying desire in the sub-consciousness and sometimes even in the consciousness to be free to think and act as one likes. But governed by law and sanity which make them recognize the consequences of doing so, they forbear. The young man craves to be mad so that he can shake off these fetters and strictures on his thinking, expression and action.
“Law is the worst affliction I know of. It is the most idiotic institution man has ever been suffered to be subjected to. Why can’t people be free to do as they wish?”(95).
The young man wants to be able to do whatever he wants. “I want to live outside the law. As a mad man, I can spit on anyone and there is nothing the law can do to me.” (95). He wants to say whatever he wants to whoever and whenever he so desires. The freedom he wants is an uncharted one that recognizes no limits. “As a mad man I can kill anyone and not be liable for murder” (95). He also longs to tell God a piece of his mind.
Stories on Traditional Beliefs
Four stories in this collection of short stories are hinged on the traditional beliefs of the communities they are set. It is interesting to note that such beliefs cut across most African societies. The stories include; The Dance of the Spirits, The Owl and the Old Woman, Telling Death to be Reasonable, and The Death of Kyongkwa. Analyses of the stories follow.
The Dance of the Spirits centres on the narrator’s mindset on whirlwind. According to the narrator, it is believed whirlwind is the dance of forest spirits. According to his grandmother, leaves, dust, and the spirits in a whirlwind are all drunk with wine of the spirits. It is the same wine of the spirits that a mad man drinks. After a whirlwinds runs its course, the leaves are left just anywhere, though luck may bring another whirlwind that may return the leaves home.
This short story brings to life possibilities of a whole new range of explanations of whirlwinds – why they happen and what sustains them. As it is customary with traditional beliefs in African societies, different phenomena, have different spiritual backing. This is the case of a little boy whose grandmother explains to him that whirlwinds are a dance of the spirits. “In her storytelling, my grandmother used to tell us whirlwinds are the dance of the forest spirits” (38). As it progresses and gains more volume, she believes that more spirits join the dance. “As it moves along, the whirlwind is fuelled by forest spirits on its path” (40). The aesthetics of the story is enhanced and its mystery deepened by a claim that mad men also drink the wine of the spirits. The narrator’s grandmother believes mad people are happy only after drinking the wine of the spirits. “Whenever you see a mad man in a sprightly and blissful state talking excitedly to himself, he had just drank the wine of the forest spirits” (41).
Telling Death to be Reasonableis a short story set in the land of Amaku. The elders hold a meeting on Sindel hill to tell death – “Lele” to stay away from the young men of the land. This advice, if warning, warning comes on the heels of the deaths of three young men in quick succession. The young men died of unknown ailments. The meeting is chaired by Badigu, an elder believed to possess the power to see death and speak to it. He tells death to leave the people alone or be forced out of the land.
Death of young people is a phenomenon that goes against the natural order of things. The elders ask rhetorical questions such as “Why should we bury our young men? Who will bury us? Oh, you want the vultures and hyenas to bury us? Who will even till the land for us?” (34). A consensus is reached to drive death out of the land since it has refused to be reasonable. This can only work however if the people are in one accord. To know if they have spoken with one voice, a stick is struck on the ground. “If we have spoken with one mind against evil in this meeting, tomorrow when we reassemble in this place, we will see the impression made by this stick even if there is storm or rain between now and tomorrow”(35) . Emphasis is laid on unity which the clan has used time and time again to chase death away when it refuses to be reasonable. “Lele has again unreasonably appeared to us in Amaku. As we chased it away in Galu, Hago and Chakka, we will chase it away in Amaku” (33).
Due to lack of unity however, the case is different on this particular occasion. The impression made by the stick is not found on the ground the next day. This means that some people are in league with evil. Another meeting is called. “It seems some of us are playing host to Lele,’ Badigu said at the second meeting, in a voice full of anger and bitterness” (35). People in league with evil are reminded of Baitan a man who was killed by a strange ailment for playing host to death when other people had agreed to chase the blight out of the land. This time the message is passed as the new impression made on the ground is seen the next day. The short story speaks volume concerning the importance of unity in the face of adversity.
The story The Owl and the Old Woman is about an owl which sits on a bembo tree and hoots. On a particular night, the owl hoots all night. Since the narrator’s father is sick, the hooting carries sinister undertones. True to fears and apprehension, the sick man dies before morning and the villagers are certain he must have been eaten by witchcraft. The villagers point accusing fingers at an old woman seen as a witch. Four women converge on a path discussing the death of the narrator’s father and its suspected connection with the old woman and the owl. While three women believe the old woman is the owl that hooted all night, the other woman believes the hooting of the owl could have just been a warning of impending danger or evil. The accusations run wild without anyone having the courage to confront the old woman, as they are all terrified of the witchcraft the woman is believed to possess.
This short story is inspired by traditional beliefs. The fact that the woman is the oldest in the village makes her to be labelled a witch. Such is the sad case in most African societies. Old age is associated with witchcraft and evil. “The old woman was about the oldest person in the village, her husband was dead and so were all her other children” (56). All these made many people suspect her of witchcraft. “Though everyone believed the old woman was a witch, no one took the matter out in the open with her” (57). Amongst the four women who stand on the path discussing the old woman, none has proof of her witchcraft. It is all speculations and rumour. “No one has proof she’s a witch…it is all speculations, rumours and gossip” (58). The negative outcome of this is the destruction of Emigi’s reputation which forces her to live a life of solitude. “Seen as a witch, she rarely interacts with the people in the village beyond her son and niece” (57). Since the people of the village have no proof, confronting the old woman is impossible. Rather than confronting her with proof of her witchcraft, backbiting and rumour peddling is resorted to. A proverb is cited to underscore the fear of the old woman among the people “Your story reminds me of the saying that those who conspire behind a strong man’s back may have to meet again on the matter” (61). Literally after the foregoing statement, the old woman appears and three out of the four women disappear into tall elephant grasses that throng the path they are moments ago.
This story shows how the beliefs of people, which might not be based on facts, can tarnish a person’s image. The old woman lives a life of solitude because she has been branded a witch. Ironically, old age in African tradition is also revered because it is synonymous with wisdom. Old people in African societies are known to use a lot of proverbs and speak in a witty manner as a result of their vast and rich life experiences.
In The Death of Kyongkwa – the rain priest,the rain priest has been ill for a while and on the morning he dies, smoke is seen coming from the roof of his hut which is a sure-fire sign the ancestors have come to take him to the land of the dead. Prior to his death, it has rained nonstop for three days. The villagers troop en masse to pay their last respects and nothing but praise is heaped on him as he has been an efficient rain priest for the people of Akuwa Village. His priestly duties are expected to fall on Buzi, his brother since the position is hereditary. This makes the villagers apprehensive as they believe Buzi would not meet the expectations of the office because he does not possess the qualities that made his brother a distinguished rain priest. The rain priest is buried immediately and a rainbow appears to show he has been accepted into Dimai, the land of the dead.
The short story shows that good leaders are praised even after they can no longer physically hear the praise. This is the case with the rain priest who is described as a good man. He is likened to a giant tree in the forest that shields others from the scorching sun, thunder and rain. “Why is it that a big tree is rarely seen next to another big tree in the forest?” (78). This is an adage put in the form of a rhetorical question to show the rain priest is indeed one of a kind. “He lived and performed the duties of his office well” (78). The praises are not exclusive to his priestly duties as he is described as “a great man” (78) who the sky weeps for after his demise. “No wonder the sky wept so long and so deep…I can tell you that it was only weeping for Changan. He was a great rain priest. He deserves all the mourning”(78). The greatness of the late rain priest is shown in his ability to conjure rain during periods of drought. “Since he became rain priest, there was never a time the rain clan went to Midau River to plead for rain and returned without it” (78). This short story goes to prove that a good name lives on even after death. It also reflects the world view of African people that natural occurrences like rain can be controlled by man when led by the gods.
The Bees in My Father’s Traps centres on bees and the harvest of honey. Honey traps are set in earthen pots on the path bees migrate through. Migrating through these paths, they stop to take refuge and layup honey which is harvested by the farmer. The narrator’s father is different from other farmers in that he knows the need of the bees for honey and makes provision for them by not harvesting all the honey in his traps, but leaves some for the bees to survive on. This makes the bees to stay in his traps. This arrangement is likened to that of a landlord and his tenants. The narrator’s father believes that the bees talk and communicate to each other their experiences in various traps.
This short story reflects the need to curb greed and the importance of treating people and things fairly. The story discusses the need to be environmental friendly as humans rely heavily on other creatures of the earth more than other creatures rely on man. Greed is shown to be counterproductive. “He once told me that bees know the traps of greedy trappers who harvested all the money in the trap and avoided such traps” (62). Live and let live is practiced by the narrator’s father. This keeps bees in his traps to produce more honey. The narrator’s father views the bees as sharecroppers and thus the honey is supposed to be shared between the honey bees trapper and the bees, not looted. “The same way a sharecropper cultivates the land of a landowner and shares the crops grown on the land with the landowner, the same way the bees in my father’s traps share their honey with me (67). Fair treatment is meted on the bees by the narrator’s father as he leaves enough honey in the traps for the bees to live on because he feels a labourer is entitled to his pay. “They labour so hard to lay up honey which is their food, yet cannot defend their property with stings when looted because to do so is to die” (66). The supply of honey keeps coming as the farmer treats the bees with equity and fairness.
Dende Village and the Bust Dam of Chamba is the story ofthe first rain in Dende village which is quite heavy. After the rain, as is customary for children, they troop to the village river. Luck is not on their side as river Guami is not just filled with rain water but also water from a bust dam. The children are not fast enough to escape the surging dam water and are washed away except one lucky to be on top of a tree that withstands the flood. The government is sued by the village for the bust dam whose benefits they have never enjoyed since the village has no electricity nor does the dam’s irrigation system benefit them. The government lawyer counters the suit saying the village should have sued God since he allowed the flood. The government wins the case after three years and the people of Dende who had never heard about government or the court before the case end up hating the two institutions.
This short story dwells not only on a natural disaster, but also on the relationship between the government and the people. In this case, the relationship does not benefit the people. The people are shown suffering the negative effects of the government projects that benefit only a few. This story shows the oppressive tendencies of government and big industries on nature as on people. The children of Dende are drowned by a dam the village does not benefit from. “This is a rural community that doesn’t benefit from any of the uses the dam is put to. If the dam is used to generate electricity, there is no electricity in Dende village; neither has it benefitted from any irrigation the dam is used for” (74). Instead the only thing Dende has benefited from the dam is the death of its children.
Industries are blamed by the government for emission of greenhouse gases that cause global warming which cause floods. They are charged of being driven only by profit without regard for human welfare. “The question is what is causing the flashfloods? …the answer is global warming caused by emission of greenhouse gases” (71). Again, the government lawyer shifts the blame to God. “The dam was busted by an act of God, not any act of the government” (72). He goes ahead to encourage the community lawyer to sue God. But who can sue God? The government lawyer is just being sarcastic. At the end of legal proceedings, government wins the case making the people of Dende despise the court and government institutions. “After the burst dam and the court decision, the village came to know the government and the court as evil institutions” (75). Prior to this case, Dende village has not been involved with these institutions. Their first and only encounter with government and the court which should have endeared the two institutions to the village turns out to be disastrous. Thus all hope of rapprochement is lost.
Running Battles with Figo is a narration that centres on an intelligent and notorious monkey named Figo who leads other monkeys to invade the millet farm of the narrator’s father. Protective measures are taken at different times to scare the monkey away such as the construction of scarecrows on the farm land to scare away the monkeys. The method works for a while till Figo finds the scarecrows are not living things and destroys them.
This short story shows the need for adaptability to changing situations. Figo, the protagonist in the short story, is a mischievous creature new techniques must constantly be innovated to outwit. The owner of the farm who is bent on keeping his farm safe has to continuously come up with new tricks to keep at bay the herd of monkeys, led by an intelligent and fearless leader like Figo.
The first technique the farm owner employed is that of putting up scarecrows on strategic spots on the farm land. However, Figo discovers these scarecrows to be lifeless and destroys them. “It seemed it was Figo who first discovered the scarecrows were harmless, for he was the one first seen pushing and pulling down a scare crow” (17). In order to keep his large millet farm safe, the farmer comes up with another protective method which is that of setting traps. This method proves ineffective as the monkeys in a bid to outsmart humans and earn a living always evade the traps. “After the scarecrows, traps were set for the monkeys but rarely did they fall into a trap, they always trod warily avoiding all traps open and concealed” (19).
As the saying goes, desperate ailments call for desperate remedies. The farmer sets up a patrol form of surveillance which requires his children to roam the millet farm in pairs to keep the monkeys at bay. The monkeys in turn seem to take their survival tactics a notch higher by coming in larger herds the children would find difficult dealing with. “Figo was so smart and intelligent, that he could size us up” (20). True to the superior nature of humans, a new technique is employed which is to yelp like a monkey of a superior breed to the monkeys on the farm. This sends them into frenzy. “On hearing his yelping, the monkeys in the farm started running away from the farm” (23).
An intelligent, smart and resilient creature like Figo does not scare easily; neither does he stay down for long. Thus humans have to come up with new tricks daily to overpower the monkeys. “When you are up against a monkey like Figo, you must carry a bag of tricks else he would outsmart you” (24).
In the fierce struggle of survival, a being that must survive must keep on innovating new strategies of survival. Thus the monkeys led by Figo are full of new strategies to outwit humans. “Even this yelping idea I believe would work only for a while against him. When he overcomes the initial shock of hearing it and knowing it is coming from me, he would ignore it” (24).
The Little Boy and the Train is the story of a little boy who is so excited by the train. Each night the train rattles through a train station kilometres from the little boy’s village, he hears the sounds and sees the light through the forest. Later, the boy makes plans to go on the train during his school vacation. He sneaks from his home and heads to Bonga, a neighbouring village where a train station is. He has in his pocket twenty Kozers which he earns working on peoples farms. The train ride to Takalu is smooth and all the little boy ever dreamed a train ride would feel like. His money becomes insufficient as he has to feed; thus, on his journey back he has to sit on the roof of the train as he decides against begging for money to pay the train fare back. The train arrives and he is helped onto the roof by a man who asks him what he is doing on a train alone. He is told by the man not to go anywhere without the consent of his parents next time. He is advised to be on the lookout for low flying wires which he adheres to. Unfortunately the man who advises him dozes off for a few minutes and is thrown off the train. This makes the little boy question God why bad things happen to good people. He never goes on a train again for the rest of his life.
The short story shines light on the concept of “dignity” in contrast to “ego”. The little boy without sufficient money to buy a ticket decides to go on the roof of the train instead of begging. Before doing this however, he debates in his mind whether to blow his cover by going to beg money from a man from his village who is in the station but has not seen him or he should not go to the man and beg. He eventually decides not go to the man and beg. “…the man might not have money to give him, he thought. If this turns out the case, he would have broken his cover for nothing” (50). He is helped to the roof of the train by a man who is on the roof of the train because his money has been stolen and he would rather risk his life on the roof of the train than beg for money. “I have never begged in my life, not because ‘‘I think begging is immoral …. I think begging is the biggest shame” (52). The man is concerned the little boy had begged for help but was turned down. The man is a firm believer that begging for help is wrong. The question that looms large in the story is whether ego is really worth dying for as the man in the story apparently died for his ego?
Apples and Oranges centres on two friends, Miama who hates oranges and Tinko who hates apples. Asked why Tinko hates apples he says they remind him of snakes and evil. Miama on the other hand hates oranges because they are everywhere and they are sucked in a ridiculous manner. They go their separate ways as they cannot agree to tolerate their differences.
The story is about irrational hatred. It illuminates the reality of man’s inability to tolerate another person’s dislikes. The two friends are torn apart by their hatred for fruits the other person loves. “This is where we go our separate ways then” (104). The story teaches that for people to live amicably, there should be a compromise which involves them looking past each other’s flaws and dislikes as two humans may not all the time like the same things. So people should be able to tolerate each other by living with each other’s likes and dislikes.
Short stories are anecdotes of life experiences in society as much as proverbs are. In them reside the lessons and wisdom men have distilled from life in the course of time. A common thread that runs through Return of the Oracle and other Short Stories is experience of life in Africa through living on the continent. With a rich background in African tradition of art and African traditional worldview, the stories dwell on issues facing contemporary African societies. The author true to his African roots, in language and content, tells short stories that ripple with African sensibilities and bewitch with the continent’s beautiful rainbow colors. The stories are spiced with chiming and shimmering African proverbs that take one to the prestine, undefiled past of the continent. For instance, in the short story ‘The Owl and the OldWoman’,a proverb is used to portray the old woman as a force no villager can confront. “Those who conspire behind a strong man’s back may have to meet again on the matter” (61). In The Death of Kyongkwa,a rain priest is portrayed as a tree without equal: “Why is it that another big tree is rarely near a giant tree in the forest?” (78). The use of rhetorical questions creates a bond between the author and the reader. These questions create poses that take the reader away from the stories to the author and back to the stories again. The use of proverbs spices and seasons the stories so well that they are not only tasty but easier to chew and digest. The author employed both the first person narrative and the omniscient narrative point of view in telling the stories.
A defining feature of an African narrative present in Lilymjok’s collection of short stories are typical African beliefs such as the hooting of owls believe to symbolize death, and belief that old people are witches and wizards. The Owl and the old Woman is replete with these beliefs. The appearance of a rainbow after the burial of a rain priest signifying his acceptance in the land of the dead is another typical African belief in The Death of Kyongkwa.
Furthermore, in line with the Afrocentric outlook of the author, indigenous African names are used. The stories are so tatooed with different African names that they carry African tribal marks. All these features in the stories carry spices of reality that add flavor to the writings of the author and make them pleasurable to an average reader.
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Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin, 1998. Print.