The barracks residential area is made up of the officer’s quarters, the sergeants’ quarters and the corporals’ quarters, the first being the elite part…
Yanor Kukwa, 2018
BILDUNGSROMAN takes us back in time, when life was like a roller-coaster ride, full of thrills and frills, for the young. Barrack Boy is a new coming-of-age novel by Yanor Nyigbem Kukwa where the psychological and moral growth of the boy, Terna, is told as he grows up in military barracks.
Kukwa’s novel offers a refreshing tale, considering its setting, a world people by soldiers and their families. Interestingly, the stern face often presented by soldiers at battlefields and in the streets isn’t what you see in the barracks. Their families, like others in the society, also undergo vagaries of life. Everybody smiles and freaks, and life isn’t regimented.
Kukwa’s novel attempts to make us understand what life is like in the barracks, especially how children of army officers grow up and relate with one another bereft of tense atmosphere. Spontaneous quarrels, adventures, fisticuffs, pranks, games are all workaday realities here.
In the novel, the reader, who isn’t Tiv, has a chance to learn new Tiv words and, above all, the culture of the people. The author infuses folktales into the narrative, and there are myths that beggars belief sometimes, hence, reinforcing the African oral tradition. So, besides life in the barracks, the novel advances cultural motifs. Remember the Tse-Kucha, the market day.
The coming-of-age story begins with kill-and-go. Get it off your mind –this isn’t about bloodletting but the last day of the term when schoolboys settle old scores at Army Day Children School, Makurdi.
Here, we are introduced to Terna, a ten-year-old who took the first position in Form 5A, who equally trips Akpa the bully to the ground, to complete a happy day.
As the story unfurls, Terna’s father, Samuel Lanshima Agwadam, has been in the army for twenty years. But this story isn’t about him, though the author tells us a little about him, how he moves from the Third Mechanised Brigade, Bukavu Barracks, Kano, to 72 Airborne Brigade, Makurdi. His wife has seven children, of which Terna is the third.
The author tries as much as possible to make us aware of how the barracks look like. The barracks residential area is made up of the officer’s quarters, the sergeants’ quarters and the corporals’ quarters, the first being the elite part of the barracks occupied by beautiful houses and serene atmosphere.
Mammy Market can also be found in the barracks, which is open to members of the public. Hawking, we are told, is a pleasant pastime of the barracks kids. When Terna gets the opportunity to travel home to the village, Mbaataiwa, for holidays, he finds a paradise. Going to the farm, for one, fascinates him, as well as going to the village stream, Aungwa, to swim. Hunting tops the fun chart for him.
If you don’t eat rats, you are missing, maybe. The adventurous villagers of Mbaataiwa don’t joke with the yongough. Soup can be prepared with them, and they can also be eaten as snacks. Talk of one man’s eat and another man’s poison!
The novel has a loose plot, so the narrative is episodic. We read about yabbing contests, which take hours; but they are more of empty gabfests. We also see the kids swimming in a stagnant pond. Anything can be fun as long as it doesn’t fan the embers of hatred.
Often times, the kids are left to their own devices on Saturdays during the weekly sanitation exercise. To “go mango” means to steal from a distant mango orchard. Get caught, and you are the fall guy. Mango’s fall from the treetop ends on a sorry note: death.
Children emulate adults, and in the barracks; young Terna and his friends learn how to smoke cigarettes while on an errand to the Mammy Market. If they had the chance, they would have tried burukutu. We are told that, every day, one or two of the kids’ fathers would be send to the guardroom for erring.
Match past triumph, acting mock films and academic advancements continue for Terna, as the story continues. At the end of the narrative, his father is discharged from the army after twenty-five years of soldiering, and he has to relocate his family to Gboko to begin a new life.
Life in the barracks is well depicted by the author, and full of fun, no doubt. However, Barack Boy lacks a defined conflict and resolution characteristic of a novel. This leaves the reader guessing whether the author set out to write a biography recollected in fits and starts than a novel with all the highs and lows of plotting.