Title: The wraith of the Gods
Author: Udenta O. Udenta
Publisher: Kraft Book, ibadan
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
The scarecrow depicted at the tail end of Udenta O. Udenta’s The Wrath of God is very disturbing: “His hair had turned gray prematurely…His face had wrinkled, his neck, long –eyes inset. His heavy chest had flattened. His huge shoulder blades had shrunk, and he was almost hunchbacked. The veins stood out on his thighs, ankles and hands. You could count the number of bones in his ribcage.”
How time glissades! The character portraiture is that of an otherwise Isiagu’s man of valour, Ogbuefi Anene, a victim of the wrath of the gods, together with his family, his village and the neigbouring village, Emumu, after generations of their people have reneged on their oath to let peace reign and put a stop to bloodletting. Before him, others had paid deaf to entreaties, and attracted far-reaching repercussions.
The Wrath of God is a work tainted with blood and overwhelmed with grief. But it wasn’t meant to be so. If only men had listened to the voice of reason, despair would have been kept at arm’s length. But valour is overrated, so are the valiant. Never mess up with the gods –when a case has to do with supernatural forces, mortal men shouldn’t be so arrogant. It doesn’t pay, especially in the olden days when this work was set, when the gods of the land were the alfa and omega.
The Wrath of God is classified as a boyhood work of the author, but it sounds like a mature prose work written by any accomplished writer of the first generation Nigerian writer; it could have been written by a Chinua Achebe or an Elechi Amadi. The world depicted is divorced from modernity –an Igbo society before the adventurism of colonialism. In parts, it is a dark world, yet one where cultural practices illuminate the inanities of man and excesses.
If you love a work of fiction pulsating with conflicts, garnished with descriptive language, you will find The Wrath of God a good company. Udenta paints pictures as a virtuoso artist does with oil on canvas, vividly, transporting you to a world distant yet near.
The opening page of the novel goes off with hurrahs: “Narrow lines of light illuminated the huts through barely visible cracks and rafter holes. The village was bathed in silence. It was bright and sunny day. A cold and persistent wind, like the constant northern star was patrolling, flying dry leaves this way and that, swaying trees. Grotesque shadows of trees were dimly seen on the sandy earth when the Ikolo began beating, saluting the seven villages….” (p.25).
The richness of Igbo culture is portrayed by the author. The dress code of a typical titled man, like Ogbuefi Usdeozo, is depicted: he wears an anklet and ozo strings, a feathered cap and holds a staff. In his goatskin bag are contained snuff bottles, ivory spoon, palm wine gourd, drinking horn. Also, the use of proverbs in speeches distinguishes the men from the boys. For instance, in reaction to the defeat of the Isimba clan, Ogbuefi Udeozo chides, “…They don’t know that a man with small anus should not swallow an udala seed.”
Among others, the ilo (village square) serves as a place of convergence for legislative functions, while the god of thunder, Amadioha, delivers vengeance against men and women who have committed atrocities.
The plot of The Wrath of God opens with some kind of euphoria: the Ndiagu clan and its seven villages has just dispatched the clan of Isimba in a war. But this victory doesn’t last long before two villages –Isiagu and Emume –starts a war of attrition that draws magenta of blood on the communal geography. The overwhelming fatalities in this work have a correspondence with a fictional tragedy of the most emblematic ilk.
Central to the plot is Ogbuefi Udeozo and his rival, Ogbuefi Nwaora. Through him and his family, we follow the convulsions of social life in precolonial Igboland. He is a fierce fighter, noble man, a weathy tapper and farmer with three wives and many children, but he suffers from the hubris of pride and anger.
War in this society is not all about winning and returning home in jubiliation. There are booties that go with it. The rout of Isimba came with war booties in form of slaves, maidens, among others, to be shared among the conquerors, especially the elders and titled men. All these were a big price to pay for plundering the farms of his people. Victory in any war is not only claimed by the warriors –the ancestors, dibias, oracles and gods are lionised for guiding the people.
In this society, a man who commits sacrilege (nsoani) is dumped at the evil forest to perish, never to return to the community. It is a fate suffered by Okuani for killing and eating the royal porcupine. The calamity that visited Isiagu and Ememu should be blamed on the rivalry between Ogbuefi Udeozo and Nwaora. It is these two that always goad the people to take up arms. They also plot several times to humiliate each other. Above all, they renege on the oath sworn to avert further wars among the communities by planning attacks and counter attacks. When the first part of the book ends, everybody in the communities, not only them, becomes the loser.
The ire of the gods doesn’t end there. When both men leave the scene, their successors continue the war of attrition, contrary to the existing truce agreed by their fathers. Ogbuefi Anene, who has become great years after Ogbuefi Udeozo, as well as Ogbuefi Obidike, the son of Ogbuefi Nwaora, thus, end tragically for paying deaf to wise counsels. A man can forgive, but gods will always met their wraths when mortals allow hubris to becloud reasoning. This is what this fiction is all about.