Title: Crows of the Yellow Steam
Author: Odili Ujubuon
Publisher: Coast2Coast Publishing
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
Odili Ujubuonu first announced his presence as a writer of note with Pregnancy of the Gods, which was an instant success with its folksy style. He followed it up with Treasure in the Winds and Pride of the Spider Clan, all works rooted in Igbo culture and cosmology. His latest novel, Crows of the Yellow Stream, follows in the same tradition but speaks more of a more prodigious talent weaving a masterly epic.
The author is a product of a traditional environment, and his work often seeks to interrogate this environment, especially that which existed long before he was born. Reading Ujubuonu is like watching a deluxe edition of Discovery World Channel where a rustic universe is unearthed with all its charms. Ujubuonu comes across as a foraging insect, constantly digging into the past for answers, which is why he is in a class of his own when it comes to epics. His imagination seems to be dancing to some ethereal prompting and his depictions often beggar belief.
In Crows of the Yellow Stream, the author explores what life could have been in an African community before humans took that very community and lived there. The novel revisits the concept of the superhuman and its shortcomings. But the author never leaves the reader in doubt that man has always been friends with the environment.
A close reading of this novel highlights Ujubuonu’s reexamination of Igbo dualism. The Igbo believe in coexistence and that where one thing stands, another always stands, as well, either to complement, oppose, or support the other.
This is what plays out in the life of one of the main characters in the work, Dim, who was made to marry a half human-half leopard wife. In this couple, we find a perfect interpretation of the Igbo dualism, as they strive to influence the society to lead a life of complementary, as opposed to the imperialistic nature of man. Even Achebe told us that duality “makes the Igbo world an arena for the interplay of forces…”
Ujubuonu’s Crows of the Yellow is a perfect example of this interplay of forces, involving man versus man, man versus animal, and man versus spirit. In between this interplay of forces, there is an Odilistic delineation of checks and balances through the intermediaries of dibias working in tandem with oracles, totems, ogbanjes or natural elements. Human excesses are, thus, met with ideal recompense.
The entire work is a study in how man relates with nature and how nature conditions man to its whims. It is a world divorced from western civilisation, but its pristine beauties are phenomenal. The crows here assume a special place in the communal pantheon as emissaries of the gods, interfacing with humans with speechless messages, and the Yellow Stream itself becomes a resource for cleansing, empowerment and veneration. Both are vital to the Odoro civilisation. Of course, nature was there before man.
This novel is tailored with a web of intrigues. From the beginning, the plot directs us to a man versus animal conflict. The leopards kill humans and humans kill leopards. The afa oracle has named the brave hunter, Dim, as the chosen one to bring about truce between the warring parties by marrying the leopard girl, Nneuwa, whose cave mother, Nnenne, holds the ace in the animal kingdom. This sounds like the stuff of folktales, but, in the Ujubuonu universe, the impossible doesn’t exist. Don’t forget, “Dim had spent his early life studying this family of cats, thanks to Nnaanyika. Under the great hunter’s guidance, Dim mastered the skills, features, habits and habitats of the leopard” (p. 25). It’s easy, therefore, for him to marry the leopard girl, Nneuwa. It’s interesting how the crows guide Dim to discover some mysteries in the bush by being unsolicited heralds. That’s an example of nature befriending man.
Through Nneuwa, Dim learns much about leopards and how grieved they are when they are killed by humans. Ujubuonu’s novel reveals how communities were founded in those days, like when Dim relocated to the plateau and invited others to join them, thus, the birth of the Umuisiani community. The author keeps the reader on edge with Nneuwa’s disappearing acts on the plateau and the revelations that trail them. The meeting between Dim and Nnenne, Nneuwa’s mother and mother of the animals, tells so much about pacification and its tenors, trust and distrust and the essence of cohabitation among creatures.
Explaining the potential of humans to make the most of their environment, Ujubuonu depicts the rapid growth of Umuisiani in the new locale where they “farmed Odoro’s undulating land with the intensity and patience of agrarians” (p. 85). The truce brokered by Dim and Nnenne yields some positive results between man and nature before the peacemakers go the way of all flesh, leaving Odoro in the hands of a new generation.
This narrative is sustained further by intrigues, mysterious deaths occasioned by power plays and retributive justice, the most spectacular being the comeuppance gotten by the dreaded Nehuku warrior, Agbadana, and the scheming Egbunike, and the vindication and elevation of Ikpeama as the chosen one of the society.