BOOK REVIEWTitle: Too Long a Night
Author: Dapo Adeleke
Publisher: New Africa Book Publishers, Ibadan
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
Tempora mutantur reminds us that times are changed. They are either changed for the better or for the worse. If a hex is working on a society, there is little room to kill the fatted cow. Misery is gratis. So it is in Dapo Adeleke’s historical novel, Too Long a Night, where the sky is overcast with unending doom and the gloom.
This novel isn’t for the fainthearted. Its tapestry unspools a glowering mystery that get the reader by the minute, as it enters the underbelly of precolonial Yoruba civilisation. In details, it interrogates the dispensation of justice by the Ogboni cult, how a traditional society responds to the desecration of the land and the comeuppance that trails overweening ambition.
The fiction is woven around a spatial setting. The village of Abule Waasinmi, where Akirogun, his warrior father, fled to and where he was raised to adulthood, is pivotal to the matrix of fictional crisis. But it is in Langbodo that the chickens go to roost and where the perils of hubris are unfurled. Here, also, the workings of ancient traditional Yoruba traditional hierarchy is scrutinised in details.
Adeleke teems Too Long a Night with a number of interesting characters and a bunch of felons as a traditional society verges onimplosion. The returnee villager, Amusan, leads the pack of those fighting for redemption in Langbodo. Others include the diviner, Ifabiyii; the Baale of Langbodo himself; the good man, Amao; the generalissimo, Basorun; the head of market women, the Iyalode, and some fearless women like Anike. The bata drummers raided everybody’s spirit with their drums.
In this society, the traditional hunters do not only hunt for games –they also protect the town at night from attackers and thieves. The men are burdened with the responsibility of farming and providing for the family, and the more sons they get, the more hands to toil for the rainy days. The women complement their husbands in the farm while also engaging in trading. It is idyllic.
The role of the council of elders is well defined: it works with the Baale to ensure the community is administered properly. Whenever any issue is beyond them, they invite the diviner to unravel the mystery. The kingmakers, on the other hand, are entrusted to recommend a new king but with the ratification of the diviner, who communes with the gods of the land.
The Ogboni cult, in a way, serves as a check and balance to the society. When issues of misdemeanors are brought to the cult, it administrates justice, sometimes with extreme repercussions, like beheadings. But, at a certain point in the novel, things begin to fall apart with its usurpation of powers and disruption of a longstanding social order, leading to strife and rebellion.
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These cultists, as we read in the novel, are quite bohemian and mystic. Needless to say, one of its most powerful elites, in his drive to be dominant, turns a dreaded group to a gimcrack sale to be rejected by the commoners.
To a great deal, Adeleke appropriates Yoruba language in the diction of the fiction. Your vocabulary is constantly swelled with new words and conventions. For instance, “Alagba e jokoo, elders, take your seat” (p.7). Proverbs are also worked into the narrative. The fiction also enjoys minute descriptions to make the foreign reader follow the locale: “The Baale’s court, surrounded by a wall of red-mud with a slopping fern-and grass-thatch, sat on a large expanse of land. Behind the massive house, called the Ile nla, were three rows of four houses each… Igi nla was a mysterious tree that had defied drought, famine and tempestuous winds” (-26).
The plot of the novel is in three linear parts: The Warning, The Waning Light, and The Eclipse. Each marks a gradation in the trajectory of traditional life in Too Long a Night. When the story begins, there is betokening of what is to come: “The dull morning sun came out slowly through a dense black haze that hung over Langbodo, a sprawling town between Ibadan and Osogbo” (p.5).
Land is a most treasured possession in African society. Though Amusan was raised in Abule Waasinmi, he wasn’t entitled to own a land there. Again, when his father, Akariogun fled Langbodo for Abule Waasinmi, part of his land at Ogbogbonduwas taken over by the Ogboni chief, Baba Ajanaku, and the other by Amao.
When Amusan returns to Langbodo, Amao agrees to return his share of the land to him, which marks a turning point in the narrative as the Ogboni chief sees it as a betrayal, and kills him. The Baale also dies in mysterious circumstance, paving the way for Ajanaku to become the new ruler, contrary to the divination of Ifabiyii, who embarks on an exile subsequently.
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The reign of Ajanaku as the Baale witnesses unprecedented arbitrariness and harassment of hapless subjects. But nature fights back by delaying the rains and ushering widespread sicknesses and unexplained deaths. At the end, the people revolt, and the power usurper couldn’t live to tell the story.But the love strand involving Amusan and Segilola, Ajanaku’s a daughter, promises a new vista.
However, one wonders why the translation of vernacular words in the novel comes on the opening pages of the fiction. A reader is meant to deduct meanings of some strange words and not to be spoon-fed. A list of characters is also odd for a work of fiction. There are occasional mix-ups in indentation in the novel between traditional paragraphing and blank paragraphing. But, no doubt, this is an astounding, revelatory, well researched work of fiction. Dapo Adeleke has justified his hibernation on the Nigerian literary scene for a while with a masterly wrought, fictional artifice.