Colonialism, The Unforgivable, The Unforgettable
Sunday Theatre, Lagos
The pangs of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Europe’s colonisation of Africa have remained recurrent themes throughout the globe. The Berlin Conference of 1884 in particular - where European nations gathered to slice Africa for themselves like pieces of chocolate - led to one of the greatest balkanisations of a people in history: colonialism.
It is to this end that a refreshing perspective of these tragic episodes is presented in this book, titled Yunhouse: Assorted London Tales About The Africa by Ad’Obe Obe. Set in primarily in London, Britain (and incidentally the major architect of colonialism) Obe captures these chilling themes of the slave trade, colonialism and racism in a compelling style. Yunhouse, as the title suggests is depicted as a ‘historical fictional reality’, a symbolic metaphor of African intellectualism, represented in a collection of voices engaged in discussions and debates about Africa. It is about African students resident in London (Camden), who made Yunhouse the abode for purging their minds on the wide subject of colonialism as experienced in their times.
As described in the book, it is a place “providing the original African Thought …where more audiences have gathered in the name of Africa than anywhere in the globe.” Thus, the place is a microcosm that reflects in retrospect, the anti-colonial stance of African students abroad. As echoed strongly in the ensuing discourse among the characters, the book questions the imperialistic adventure of Europe into Africa and the eventual decimation of the continent for decades: “There was no record”, it states: “…of any African’s presence at the Berlin Conference. Nor any evidence that Africans were ever informed or knew about the meeting. In fact, Africans got to know about the carve-up of their continent when Europeans turned up on their territorial possessions as apportioned in Berlin. The process was called the Pacification of the Natives.”
Here, as throughout the novel, Obe uses this motif to engage on the discourse of Africa and the plaguing themes, and he is thus able to bring to the fore, again, the devastating impacts of colonialism. The book goes further to highlight the issues of racism in England, for instance, the case of Ohimini of Brixton, an African student in Oxford University, who was shocked one day to discover that a parcel bomb was placed in front of his door with the racist inscription on a placard: “Nigger at Oxford, which nigger farm are you descended from?”
More tellingly, it mocks the hypocrisy of Europe and even questions the morality of the Christianisation of Africa by such an exploitative and suppressive system: “They gave us the Bible so that we can read that a White God created us to be choppers of wood and hewers of wood. That didn’t work. Now their maxim guns are reported to be evolving into atomic weapons, so the choice would be for us to put up or be vaporized. That also failed.”
So, essentially, the novel - which on one level appears to be accounts of the author’s personal experiences and commitment towards a cause, and at another level, a platform for African intellectuals in London - portrays the angst against the historical tragedies of colonialism and racism, as depicted through the characters.
Divided into three broad parts, the first part introduces us to the ideals and philosophy of Yunism, a left-wing radical anti-colonial ideology, which led to the formation of “Yunhouse”, also called the Berliner Cult; the second part deals largely with the debates and conflicts between the Yunhouse members, and members of the African Freedom Council (AFC), which represents white liberal ‘Africanists.’ The last part conveys the often-repeated yet fundamental theme of the clash of Western civilization and African traditions and values, the rebellion of the natives and activism of intellectuals, as portrayed in the restless spirits of characters like Cyril Naikule, Lekwot Abaka, Ogesayi Mawe, and others.
An engineer, writer, and widely traveled journalist, Ad’Obe Obe’s deep knowledge of Europe and Africa, has presented him in good stead to present these scathing messages throughout the novel. He employs a unique narrative technique and characterisation as well as a scanty yet forceful dialogue to demonstrate the immediacy and significance of the issues. Again, through strong imaginations of the cover concept and symbolisms, the book highlights the central focus and conflict in Yunhouse: the time tower right above the African bronze sculpture representing, as it were, the subjugation and exploitation of Africa by Europe. In addition, the portraits on the back cover reinforce the vivid imagery of the sordid experiences of the eras and thus arouse our consciousness about the gory impacts.
However, the book would have been more enriching with sufficient dialogue, more developed characterisation and a less-labyrinthine plot style. Nonetheless, Yunhouse is a revealing work that provides deeper insights into the understanding of the gnashing impacts of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism, and racism, themes which have made Europe and the rest of humanity perpetually guilty. As seen even from the opening chapter, the book rebukes the seeming resignation of Africans who tend to believe that with the end of apartheid in South Africa, nay colonialism in Africa, there was nothing more to talk about, except “to sheath the swords of anger, forgive the brutalisation, forget the dehumanization, and move on.” But “move on to what life?” it questions, rhetorically. It is a required reading for those who know Africa or seek to know the history and travails of the continent better.