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Mitigating The Silence, A (Re) view On Mawuli Adzei’s Taboo

Title: Taboo
Author: Mawuli Adzei
Publishers: Kwadwoan Publishing
Year : 2012
Pages: 245
Reviewer: Kwabena Agyare Yeboah

‘’ Places are ghosts.’’ ‘’ Memories are ghosts.’’ ‘’ To name something is to bring it to life.’’ These sentences appear in different times in Yvonne Owuor’s eloquent, language-dense debut novel Dust. Owuor provokes the amnesia of a nation in a straight-forward term, showing and naming. Mawuli, on the other hand, shuttles in subtlety in the Ghana project. Both, however, have the common trait of bearing witness to history. Something that Kwesi Brew puts it better in Ghana’s Philosophy of Survival – But we have always been here on this land of ours./ Our country is our home and will always be here at home/ To watch, listen and take our suffering/ ‘til true happiness comes naturally and without bitterness.
Taboo as a word comes from Tongan tapu or Fijian tabu which literally means ‘’prohibited’’, ‘’disallowed’’ or ‘’forbidden.’’ Taboos can either be behavioral or verbal. This essay will explore verbal taboos (in the context of the novel) which are deemed as ‘’inappropriate to say aloud or to print.’’ Say ‘’F-word’’ instead of ‘’Fuck.’’ This background is important because even though Mawuli invites us to remembrance, the title of the novel is a form of verbal taboo. In Akan verbal taboo system, there is a variety called ammodin (unmentionables). The title speaks to something without saying it. It is euphemism. It is verbal taboo. Too.
The novel opens with the death of Togbi Somadza, known in private life as Gabla Gakpanya who was the chief priest of Tugla in Sembe and the religious rift that ensued thereafter. After the failure of the Traditional religion gate to arrest his soul, he proclaimed from the land of the dead through Afa (Ifa in Yoruba) divination –
I have crossed the threshold. In vain those kinsmen at the crossroads ululate and shout my name across empty spaces. [5]
Set in the late 1950s, the ensuing religious rift is one that is familiar, especially with the Achebe-Ngugi archetype of African novels. The Gakpanya household is microcosm of what occurred in southern Ghana as Troare Household is what happened to Africa in Maryse Conde’s Segu.
Gabla left twins, Ata and Atakuma, seeds of his loin. Ata always admired the father and wanted to succeed him after his death. And he failed. Atakuma strayed to the white man’s religion, Christianity. But it was his internal conflict that he would battle with, one that started in his younger days.
How could he have forgotten to make the sign of the cross? He wondered. He felt guilty. Perhaps he hadn’t internalized the practice of frequently making the sign and invoking the name of Jesus in every propitious situation. It was the same the Tugla adherents did routinely – swearing by Tugla and pointing their forefingers heavenward. [39]
He was leaving home to study as a Christian priest. As a priest, he pursued intellectualism. He read books of virtually every human endeavor. It was not for knowledge sake. It was for validation of his (in) actions. He read Liberation theory or Christianized Marxism as its distractors call it. It was his impetus for questioning the church. He read David Rice’s Shattered Vows. He read all those who were against celibacy in the Catholic Church. He quoted and studied at length, certain portions of The Bible. He thought about Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalysis. He read reports of other priests who were perverts, homosexuals, had children et al. All were to justify his sexual nature and why he was what he was.
Meanwhile, at the turn of the millennium, many African countries had yielded to the economic pressures of the international community. The dictators of old bought new clothes from Kantamanto Market. There were to be elections. The doomsday prophets were having a free day. So were armed robbers and alleged ritual killers. Everybody forgot about the armed robbery. The real political meal was the serial killing of women. Inspector Oduro was tasked to solve the latter. The Big Men at the top were breathing fire.
It is hard to think about the main plot in Taboo, nothing gets resolved. I have never read any novel that mimics the Ghanaian life so closely. In Ghana, nothing gets resolved; we just move on. ‘’Amnesia. Collective amnesia,’’ Insp. Oduro called it.
On the pages of Taboo are glimpses into the lives of public servants who work under poor conditions yet the public expects them to perform at the highest level, the top official who is a puppet of the executive, the activist and the everyday Ghanaian people who dream dreams.
Manyo, the twins’ paternal uncle is an interesting character. On pages 16 and 33, he talked about the hypocrisy of the Christian converts. Yet, when his nephew Atakuma, later Father Shakana, sought for his help, he did not criticize him. He did what fathers do. It was not the case that the traditional religion won. No. In fact, none of them won. It is a novel about a man’s daemons told through religion.
Manyo’s endearment for his brother’s widow Ablewor enforces Catherine Acholonu’s Motherism theory as opposed to the kind of Feminism conversation that was going on during the election in the urban area.
In the real life situation, Charles Papa Ebo Quansah was convicted for the serial murder of nine women, including his girlfriend, in Kumasi and Accra in 2002. In 2004, he spoke to the press and said that he was being used as a scapegoat. Even if Charles indeed killed the nine women that he was accused of murdering, what about the twenty-five or so whose cases remain unresolved?
Like Taboo’s ending remark, the question is a simple one. Who killed the women?
If I were a bookseller, I would clutter up my desk with copies of this novel and when anyone walked in, I would ask; do you want to read some fiction? If that does not happen, something else should. When the author dies, his tombstone should read ‘’WRITING IS BURIED HERE.’’


The Storyteller

by   Alfred Yayra Kpodo

Things have never really been the same again. He went up north and she went down south. According to her, he has lost it. He has lost what she wanted; the very thing that energized her and brought  her alive. She didn’t remember when they last had any quality time in a world where everything was quantified. He was jarred and getting lost in his world; dealing with his devils. He was up against everything except himself. He hasn’t lost the magic that fixated  her and  the charm befitting a prince. Only that no one had told her that reality was harsh. She has shut her eyes to the occurrences around her and has given up on life. However, she clung and became friends with hope; an attribute she needed so badly in that dire moment.

Hope would come around anytime, even uninvited. Hope told her it was going to be alright. It also told her to take it easy and hang in there. Lastly, hope assured her that her man has not lost the magic of loving her the way she wanted neither has he lost the art of telling her stories. Even though she didn’t believe it, she smiled at the insight of it.

The insight of it  energized her and brought back fond memories. So she reached out for her backpack and stuffed it with a Walkman, a pen and a paper, a couple of assorted fruit bonbons from the dining table  and her phone she had switched off all day. She  headed for their favourite spot at the beach to have a quiet time. For a change, she was going to do what she hasn’t done before. She wanted her man and she was  going to do everything  just  to have him.

She was going to try her hands at penning down her feelings in simple terms. She was  no award-winning writer. She was  just a lover who wanted  things better than they were.

Just before she set out to write a sestet for him, she felt some eyes boring into her. She frantically looked around  but saw nothing so she began writing,

My bony ebony
If only I can see you
I will not be this blue
And we might just sail through
just as wishes will not be horses
I can never get over your kisses

As soon as she dotted the last sentence, the apparent feeling manifested. He has come looking for her after calling her phone all day. He hugged her from behind and a combination of fear and a clout of mixed feelings of whether to be indifferent or hug back came to the fore. But before she could actually think, her body, spirit and soul have taken over her  reasoning  and she hugged back. He then pulled a mail envelope from the back pocket of his branded Akademiks denim Jeans. While the moment was still tensed up,  he gently shoved it into her already opened hand.  “Here”, he started to walk away.

She quickly opened the envelope and shakily removed the pad  but it was tightly folded. She unfolded the first one and it was blank. Second one and it was the same. This, coupled with the fact that the distance between them was widening was not amusing. She was becoming apprehensive. The suspense heightened till the fifth one  which was coincidentally the last one. This had something scribbled on it.

I haven’t lost my story telling abilities to you  and I’m still your man. I will forever be your prince charming and I want you to now and always be mine. Call me when you are ready and let’s make up. Come see me and let’s change the world!

And now, with her lit eyes, she didn’t even know if she should just jolly after him or sit back and refine her poem for him.



 Alfred Yayra Kpodo was born and bred in Accra, Ghana.  He blogs at http://www.alfredkpodo.blogspot.com.