Date: 13 May 2017 07:06
At a teenager’s funeral recently, a 72-year-old man cursed death as an evil wrestler because it had “cracked and dumped the skull of a baby in to the grave. Why didn’t the killer take my life instead of this innocent boy’s?’’
As he mourned, he cautioned politicians awaiting their turns to speak: “Please don’t be like death. Don’t wrestle your opponent to the ground. Don’t kill him or her the way this boy has been butchered by a mad matatu driver. Wrestling is social fun, not a death-game.”
As happens in most funeral ceremonies, loud exchanges continued unabated among the seated even as other mourners shouted their way through the microphone.
“Aren’t we always expecting a winner in any wrestling bout?” I asked the old man.
He waxed literally and made quick reference to Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel. He marvelled at old Baroka’s wrestling abilities. The Lion of Ilujinle, as he is otherwise known, wins the wrestling match in the play but does not murder his opponent. He wins love, not hate and death.
Sidi, the jewel of the village, is so overwhelmed by Baroka’s prowess that she falls for him instead of the much younger and single Lakunle.
A British-educated man, Lakunle seeks Sidi’s love through the use of bombastic English words that don’t impress her. As a modern Nigerian, he administers a kiss that is meaningless to her. Moreover, he imagines that “breakable plates” are special and modern enough to win the jewel’s heart and triumph over Baroka.
The upshot and paraphrase of the old man’s narrative and argument was that wrestling is a language that shuns destructive action and conclusion. Contestants do not break one another; they hug. The victor does not crack the ribs and skull of the vanquished.
He made references to history, tradition and culture to back his stance and particularly singled out names of real and functional killer — wrestlers whose descendants were deranged village morons.
Nay a wrestler who does not necessarily kill but never allows himself to lose even once like Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is doomed.
It is inhuman to monopolise victory because the winner breaks too many spirits and wills. To make fellow human beings feel powerless is to kill their will to live and thus convert them in to living-dead. That is why the people of Okonkwo’s Umuofia were unable to resist the white man. When he invaded to conquer, Okonkwo’s indomitable power and performance has already unmanned, disempowered and killed their fighting spirit.
I asked the old man where he learned and honed skills in literary reading and interpretation. He dropped names like Ngugi wa Thiongo, Taban Lo Liyong, Okot p’Bitek and a very young Chris Wanjala as some of his mentors.
He didn’t forget his wrestling line of argument and identified Taban as a leading fighter whose mission was almost exclusively to knock every opponent or rival in to the literary graveyard.
Okot and Ngugi, according to him, were more famous because they never sought to pulverize their fellow writers and thinkers. The two gracefully stood between victory and defeat and didn’t dampen others’ hopes and dreams. In other words they lost and won like everybody else.
“I mean to say that writers are competitors who are always trying to outdo one other with quality writing,” he opined as politicians outshouted and out-insulted one another to win the audiences support in the August 2017 general elections.
He then named a politician who was caught on camera wrestling with a rival. One knocked down and stood over the other and social media picked it all with relish.
“Our coming elections shouldn’t be like this one where a candidate seeks to literally eliminate the other. It is a game, not a murdering or attempted murder. The politician standing over the other is like the bullet-headed Buntui in Ayi Kwei Arman’s The Healers, who turns communal games like wrestling into death-seeking exercises.
Politicians shouldn’t confuse human corpses with votes and power. This boy died through freak motor accident; it was as if a bullet caught him while he crossed the road the way politicians slap one another with insults, rungus and many other ammunitions as they cross one another’s path.
Peter Amuka is a professor of literature at Moi University an presently the Principal, Bomet University College. Email: [email protected]