By Damiete Braide
Nightfall In the Twilight, Paul Ikechukwu Onyia, Blackpony World Limited, Nigeria, 2020, pp. 176.
Paul Ikechukwu Onyia’s book, Nightfall in The Twilight, is a novel that enlightens humanity on aspects of Igbo and African culture in the olden days when the Osu caste system was rife, subjecting members to stigmatisation. It is a realistic story written in an imaginary Igbo community, Isiugwu, in Enugu State, to depict their ordeals. Determined to unveil the psychological and emotional challenges faced at that period, Paul painstakingly documents that chapter of outlawed Igbo cultural practice.
Presented in ten chapters, the book serves as a pointer to cultural values and traditions, religion and resolve towards a positive change over cultural trammels. Osu, in Igboland, are people devoted to a deity (god). They are referred to as outcasts and consequently restricted from associating with the people regarded as freeborn of the land.
As the plot unfurls, the protagonist’s family, the Nwankwo, especially Chidi Nwankwo, the first son, whose brilliance is second to none, the history/stigma of being an Osu and the death of Mr Nwakwo (the father). We follow Chidi’s selfless journey through the higher institution and National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and Chidi’s love adventure and the trauma associated with being an Osu. Chidi is unsettled by that discovery even in the university where he works as a lecturer, leading to hostile behaviours towards others as a result of his emotional instability.
More shocking is Chidi’s realisation that he can’t erect a storey building, which is an abomination in the land, him being an Osu —no outcast is permitted by the gods to erect a storey building except a bungalow. Nevertheless, Chidi continues to build the house, in disobedience to the gods. According to him, such an order from the gods does not exist in his own time where Christianity and technology are integral.
With the death of Chapter Igwe Ochudo, news of freedom brought by the Ojinito community to redeem those from the Osu stigma in Isiugwu is permeating. Despite the segregation, some of the outcasts, like Tobenna, show a remarkable resolve to excel against all odds.
The book adopts both rural and contemporary settings. The themes of the novel include love, hatred, selflessness, disappointment, disobedience, uncertainty, pain and peaceful resolution. The beauty of the book also lies in its ability to portray the Igbo language and custom perfectly through proverbs, idioms, figure of speech and songs that generation then and now can relate with smoothly while reading it. Also, the Ozo tradition was not left unnoticed as the book reveals the hierarchy of the Ozo title in the Igbo culture.
Amidst the solemnity of the story, the novel is enriched with comic relief to keep readers glued from start to finish, as seen on page 6, where one of the elders is depicted as short and fat with a potbelly that can compete with that of a pregnant woman, with his button on his suit struggling to stay together. On page 58, Chidi wishes he was a butterfly or bird and rhetorically asks which among the creatures is an Osu
Nightfall in the Twilight abounds with suspense, and the book ends with a mixed feeling of pain and happiness — two dissimilar emotions juxtaposed. Chidi goes into hiding following the death of the new king. Chidi’s disappearance causes his mother perpetual pain. Just as she hopes to have light again, sadness dims her hope. However, the happiness comes when Tobenna ensures that the caste system is abolished forever and, till today, everyone lives as a freeborn.
The book is recommended to anyone who cares about family, wishes to learn about Igbo rites, culture and tradition, as well as the genesis of the caste system. It is of immense benefit to the younger generation to keep them acquainted with their past.
The author, Paul Onyia, also facilitates management training for major training institutions in Nigeria. He has a passion for writing and teaching, motivated by his love for humanity and African culture and tradition.