Thinking Nigeria, remembering Ajantala
There is no way one will ponder on this land and its striking strangeness and those of us privileged to read D.O. Fagunwa’s classic, Igbo Irunmale will not remember very well and link the story of Ajantala. The evil child who comes complaining of the filth of the world in which he is born and threatening not to stay long here. You remember his parents were warned of the consequences of allowing this child to be born but the desperate ones wanted just any fruit of the womb?
You remember the plague that announced his coming and the destruction and deaths that trailed his arrival? Have you forgotten how he despoiled the land, breaking bones, burning shrines? You remember this child complains about all and everything around him as he deals with daring elders with swift severity? And I remember how the storyteller (through a translator) narrates the fate that befalls the great Babalawo who tries to unlock the secrets of this misfortune:
“That child is extremely evil”, the witchdoctor gasped. “Ever since I was born I have never met with as much troubles as I did today. I have never been beaten so much in my life; the child nearly beat me to death.”
“Was it that bad?” one of his friends asked “Did you not take all your magic charms with you?”
‘What magic charms?”, the witchdoctor sneered.” He took them all away”
“What about your clothes? Did you go there naked? Did he also take away your cap?”, someone else wanted to know. That got the witchdoctor very angry
“Stop asking me foolish questions”, he shouted at them” “Did I not just tell you how he took all my clothes and magic charms away, and here you are asking me about my cap.
If I did not run, do you think he would not have taken my trousers also? If there is anyone of you going the way of that evil child’s house my advice to you is to make sure that if you do meet him, run as fast as you can else your death is near. And if you do come running to my house, I will certainly push you back outside” he said to all of them.” That is the high point of the Ajantala story.
It is a point of despair and utter hopelessness. It is a point when you know that this affliction defies all medication and the cure-all master solution provided by the society is rubbished to the utter shame of all.
There are two polar moral concepts in Yoruba land. A man is either a good man or a bad man. Every mother parades his child as the very best- the best roughly means a child of character, one who exemplifies the very best in human conduct, an Omoluabi. The very opposite is that which Fagunwa artistically put into the characterisation of Ajantala.
No one wants the latter. Ajantala is the very immanence of evil. He speaks the very day he is born, cuts his own umbilical cord, washes himself clean and proceeds to eat all the food in the house. Ajantala cares not if every other person in the house goes broke, hungry and deprived, as long as his thirst is assuaged and his hunger for every good thing is satisfied. He personifies the primal evil that no one is courageous to confront. Those who tried it in the past had broken ribs.
No one in Africa would wish an Ajantala for a child. But Ajantalas are everywhere today suffusing us with aching cries of the waif and defecating on the door mat of rectitude. They are unreproachable and unapproachable because they are the conquerors of this land. They are kings no one queries and the only pronoun they use is “I”. They do not know “we” exists and, infact won’t mind casting such into the furnace of their anger. Ajantala’s voice is the most shrill in his moments of silliness. The land knows but it will not talk. The land, when it sees days of judgement approaching does not talk, it waits patiently like the Oyo-mesi, smiles at the naughtiness of the unwise. When the impudent forces elders to wipe their feet on the soiled foot mat of honour, they laugh knowing he will come back to that very point of filth to wipe his mouth.
Ajantala does not care if throwing stones into the market place hurts anyone. He has no special person to consider. Throwing stones at a gathering of honour is to him a normal exercise of sporting rights. He has no inhibition in pursuing the good with evil weapons. He is possessed of those spirits that do not cohabit with societal equilibrium. He is no good.
He prides in his ability to cow others. When he beats, he beats unconscious. When he engages you, he gets you worsted. Hear the story teller again:
“And looking over his shoulder, he saw a group of men watching a game of checkers; and so he abandoned the fight, took over the checkers challenge and won six games in a row .His older brother watching all this was so amazed; he opened his mouth too wide and his face split right to the back of his head.
So did Ajantala become a terror to all.” Now, can we honestly say there are no Ajantala tormenting us all? Boko Haram, MEND and several colliding and cancelling conspiracy theories! Can you look at all levels of government and come around and say, nay, none so crude, rude and vile to get us thinking about how to get an Ajantala out of our lives? But how did he end? He was such an enigma that he could not be killed. Fagunwa says it took God’s intervention to rescue the people from Ajantala. He was recalled to heaven.
It is even so soul shredding when you realise that in Nigeria, Ajantala may also transmute to the system. It may not necessarily come in flesh, muscles and bones. When it comes as the system, it negates all that is good and noble in the society. It makes laws to bind others against its own excesses. Like Jonathan Swift says in Gullivers Travels, its interest in making laws lies in breaking them and sacrificing others to its god of injustice.
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