Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review

Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review

By Biko Agozino

Historical novels come with spoilers because the readers already know how the stories are going to end and yet the genre is popular enough to be read and reviewed like the classic movies and comedy shows that are watched compulsively on television reruns. Such novels are even more compelling than television because they are not simply entertaining but also instructive and interactive even when the subject matter is so painful that the story is one not to be told for fun. In the hands of the gifted story-teller, Dr. Chika Ezeanya, a nightmarish tragedy turns into a finger-licking un-put-down-able treat that leaves readers wishing that there were more pages to turn at the end of the historical narrative given that history never ends.Beforewessetsail

The Interesting Narratives of Olaudah Equiano is one such captivating story of captivity and sorrow that was an instant best seller when he published it in 1792 but he largely skipped over the culture and life of his people before he was kidnapped with his sister and shipped away into enslavement in the new world. After all these years, Chika has filled this lacuna in our collective memory with a prequel tale of immense beauty clothed with suspense and narrated from the point of view of the young Olaudah.

Chika displays evidence of thorough historical research on what Cheikh Anta Diop theorized as pre-colonial black Africa. The only distinction here to her credit is that Diop painted a Negritude picture of an improbable civilization that appeared so perfect that there were no villains while Ezeanya shocks the reader into accepting the obvious reality that there is no such thing as a perfect civilization in a history characterized by widespread violence and terrorism. Readers who expect to find an un-spoilt innocence in pre-colonial Africa will be disillusioned to find that there were already unscrupulous people driven by greed to seek to profit from the sorrows of their fellows. Similarly, those seeking the heart of darkness in the pre-colonial epoch would be shamed into finding a thriving civilization in the hinterland.

What Ezeanya presented in this novel is closer to the valid historiography of Walter Rodney in The History of the Upper Guinea Coast according to which it is false propaganda to assert that Africans sold their own children into slavery like commodities. On the contrary, Africans fought bravely against the raiding kidnappers while the slave-trading chiefs of the coastal kingdoms and the fraudulent priests of the hinterland made it clear that they were not enslaving their own people because they preyed on the lower classes of peasants especially in the village democracies that colonial anthropologists dubbed ‘headless societies' which lacked standing armies that could have more effectively protected their people from the raids by hordes armed with rum and gunpowder from evil European merchants.

The suspicion that one father sold his child was rightly frowned upon in the novel because it was not the norm in a civilization characterized by parental love and affection. This is understandable today in the sense that news of the abuse of children by priests, parents and guardians always come across as unbelievable and shocking but is never accepted as the rule for the society despite the unprecedented levels of greed and immorality in capitalist societies of today. Moreover, those who insist that there was slavery in Africa before the trans Atlantic slavery will discover that what passed for slavery in Africa at that time was partly due to the demand by European merchants and that it was clearly different in contents and context compared to chattel slavery because the enslaved were integrated into the households of the coastal chiefs whom they called their father, Etenyin, and whose wives they called mother, Eka, in the Efik language. The wives worked in the fields with their enslaved ‘children' and gossiped openly about who was having an affair with whom. The enslaved constantly plotted their escape back to their beloved homeland to the extent that the name of the main merchant port, Calabar, has meaning in neither Efik nor English but translates literally to ‘Let us Go Home' in the Igbo language of the majority of the enslaved.

In the narrative, Ezeanya abundantly displays one of her scholarly passions – research and advocacy for indigenous technology. For instance, the highly developed science of iron smelting and blacksmithing that the plantations of the New World coveted aggressively is carefully represented in the story against a background of courtship of young maidens who played hard to get but still yearned to be touched by the much admired apprentice blacksmith – apprenticeship being the traditional business school system that is still the mainstay of Igbo commercial competitiveness. The story also indirectly reveals the environmental un-sustainability of the blacksmithing technology that relied on the charcoaling of whole trees without a program of reforestation for future uses or the invention of gas-fired furnaces for the blacksmiths who continue to burn charcoals today.

Another indigenous knowledge system highlighted in the story is that of mental health care. Unlike the oppressive dehumanization of the mentally ill that Freud, Goffman, Fanon, Foucault and others critiqued, the mental patient in pre-colonial black Africa remained a full member of the community whose humanity was never in doubt even while undergoing treatment at the home of the healer-priest and without any obsession about the cost of treatment quite unlike the alienating asylum powered by the profit motive that Ngugi's Wizard of the Crow rejected outright. The husband was allowed to procreate with his wife while she was being treated for a nervous breakdown whereas America recorded the hysterical fascist sterilization of tens of thousands of the poor who were deemed to be burdens on society under the ideology of eugenics. When a man claimed to hear voices and see things that other people did not hear or see, he was not locked up and when he refused to come down from a tree, his family took food and drinks to the tree from which he accurately prophesied the coming holocaust that was slavery. No one would say with Rene Descartes, ‘I think therefore I am', as if those who did not think exactly like him were not human enough. Those that Soyinka dismissed as Neo-Tarzanists who still believe that Africans lived on tree-tops could see that only a crazy African would try that even in the past while Europeans are the ones more likely to build tree-top houses today to try and save trees from being cut down by capitalist developers.

Similarly, contrary to the white-supremacist ideology propagated by Hume, Hegel, Levis-Strauss and many others that what makes Europeans more civilized than the rest of the supposedly Barbarian cultures of the world was that Europeans had literacy while the rest had oral traditions; Ezeanya correctly demonstrates, as Derrida did in Of Grammatology, that indeed writing in general was invented by Africans and is found in all cultures today. The problem could be that the colonial anthropologist was not literate in the scripts of the other and not that the native was completely illiterate. This is a direct warning against white-supremacy in the sense that any attempt to wipe away the memory of others by wiping away their scripts usually ends with attempts to wipe out their lives as the genocide against American Indian Natives and the holocaust of trans Atlantic slavery against Africans attempted long before the Nazi holocaust followed the same script. The enslaved child who accidentally revealed that he could read the secret sacred texts of Nsibiri was instantly elevated into the elite ranks of the ruling secret societies whereas the plantation owners in the new world deliberately outlawed the learning of reading and writing among the enslaved for obvious reasons.

This Achebesque narrative of Chika Ezeanya is recommended as a treat to all lovers of fascinating tales told by an entrancing artist capable of turning a painful tragedy into a memorable adventure that is guaranteed to intrude into the normal bed times of readers and insist that the pages keep turning compulsively. It is predictable that this novel will join the ranks of modern classics as permanent features on the required reading lists for students at all levels because the language is accessible enough to appeal to the general public. Readers who reach the end with a tantalizing feeling because they want to have more pages to turn and keep reading should be consoled by the fact that the young author of this novel is certainly going to deliver more from where this one came. I can't wait.

Professor Agozino is the Director of Africana Studies Program at Virginia Tech University, Virginia.

Before We Set Sail is published by The History Society of Africa and is available in both kindle and paperback at www.amazon.com and other leading book stores.

Find out more and read excerpts at www.beforewesetsail.com



1
Re: Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review
Patcho posted on 03-14-2012, 10:00:50 AM

Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review


By Biko Agozino


Historical novels come with spoilers because the readers already know how the stories are going to end and yet the genre is popular enough to be read and reviewed like the classic movies and comedy shows that are watched compulsively on television reruns. Such novels are even more compelling than television because they are not simply entertaining but also instructive and interactive even when the subject matter is so painful that the story is one not to be told for fun. In the hands of the gifted story-teller, Dr. Chika Ezeanya, a nightmarish tragedy turns into a finger-licking un-put-down-able treat that leaves readers wishing that there were more pages to turn at the end of the historical narrative given that history never ends.Beforewessetsail


The Interesting Narratives of Olaudah Equiano is one such captivating story of captivity and sorrow that was an instant best seller when he published it in 1792 but he largely skipped over the culture and life of his people before he was kidnapped with his sister and shipped away into enslavement in the new world. After all these years, Chika has filled this lacuna in our collective memory with a prequel tale of immense beauty clothed with suspense and narrated from the point of view of the young Olaudah.


Chika displays evidence of thorough historical research on what Cheikh Anta Diop theorized as pre-colonial black Africa. The only distinction here to her credit is that Diop painted a Negritude picture of an improbable civilization that appeared so perfect that there were no villains while Ezeanya shocks the reader into accepting the obvious reality that there is no such thing as a perfect civilization in a history characterized by widespread violence and terrorism. Readers who expect to find an un-spoilt innocence in pre-colonial Africa will be disillusioned to find that there were already unscrupulous people driven by greed to seek to profit from the sorrows of their fellows. Similarly, those seeking the heart of darkness in the pre-colonial epoch would be shamed into finding a thriving civilization in the hinterland.


What Ezeanya presented in this novel is closer to the valid historiography of Walter Rodney in The History of the Upper Guinea Coast according to which it is false propaganda to assert that Africans sold their own children into slavery like commodities. On the contrary, Africans fought bravely against the raiding kidnappers while the slave-trading chiefs of the coastal kingdoms and the fraudulent priests of the hinterland made it clear that they were not enslaving their own people because they preyed on the lower classes of peasants especially in the village democracies that colonial anthropologists dubbed ‘headless societies' which lacked standing armies that could have more effectively protected their people from the raids by hordes armed with rum and gunpowder from evil European merchants.


The suspicion that one father sold his child was rightly frowned upon in the novel because it was not the norm in a civilization characterized by parental love and affection. This is understandable today in the sense that news of the abuse of children by priests, parents and guardians always come across as unbelievable and shocking but is never accepted as the rule for the society despite the unprecedented levels of greed and immorality in capitalist societies of today. Moreover, those who insist that there was slavery in Africa before the trans Atlantic slavery will discover that what passed for slavery in Africa at that time was partly due to the demand by European merchants and that it was clearly different in contents and context compared to chattel slavery because the enslaved were integrated into the households of the coastal chiefs whom they called their father, Etenyin, and whose wives they called mother, Eka, in the Efik language. The wives worked in the fields with their enslaved ‘children' and gossiped openly about who was having an affair with whom. The enslaved constantly plotted their escape back to their beloved homeland to the extent that the name of the main merchant port, Calabar, has meaning in neither Efik nor English but translates literally to ‘Let us Go Home' in the Igbo language of the majority of the enslaved.


In the narrative, Ezeanya abundantly displays one of her scholarly passions – research and advocacy for indigenous technology. For instance, the highly developed science of iron smelting and blacksmithing that the plantations of the New World coveted aggressively is carefully represented in the story against a background of courtship of young maidens who played hard to get but still yearned to be touched by the much admired apprentice blacksmith – apprenticeship being the traditional business school system that is still the mainstay of Igbo commercial competitiveness. The story also indirectly reveals the environmental un-sustainability of the blacksmithing technology that relied on the charcoaling of whole trees without a program of reforestation for future uses or the invention of gas-fired furnaces for the blacksmiths who continue to burn charcoals today.


Another indigenous knowledge system highlighted in the story is that of mental health care. Unlike the oppressive dehumanization of the mentally ill that Freud, Goffman, Fanon, Foucault and others critiqued, the mental patient in pre-colonial black Africa remained a full member of the community whose humanity was never in doubt even while undergoing treatment at the home of the healer-priest and without any obsession about the cost of treatment quite unlike the alienating asylum powered by the profit motive that Ngugi's Wizard of the Crow rejected outright. The husband was allowed to procreate with his wife while she was being treated for a nervous breakdown whereas America recorded the hysterical fascist sterilization of tens of thousands of the poor who were deemed to be burdens on society under the ideology of eugenics. When a man claimed to hear voices and see things that other people did not hear or see, he was not locked up and when he refused to come down from a tree, his family took food and drinks to the tree from which he accurately prophesied the coming holocaust that was slavery. No one would say with Rene Descartes, ‘I think therefore I am', as if those who did not think exactly like him were not human enough. Those that Soyinka dismissed as Neo-Tarzanists who still believe that Africans lived on tree-tops could see that only a crazy African would try that even in the past while Europeans are the ones more likely to build tree-top houses today to try and save trees from being cut down by capitalist developers.


Similarly, contrary to the white-supremacist ideology propagated by Hume, Hegel, Levis-Strauss and many others that what makes Europeans more civilized than the rest of the supposedly Barbarian cultures of the world was that Europeans had literacy while the rest had oral traditions; Ezeanya correctly demonstrates, as Derrida did in Of Grammatology, that indeed writing in general was invented by Africans and is found in all cultures today. The problem could be that the colonial anthropologist was not literate in the scripts of the other and not that the native was completely illiterate. This is a direct warning against white-supremacy in the sense that any attempt to wipe away the memory of others by wiping away their scripts usually ends with attempts to wipe out their lives as the genocide against American Indian Natives and the holocaust of trans Atlantic slavery against Africans attempted long before the Nazi holocaust followed the same script. The enslaved child who accidentally revealed that he could read the secret sacred texts of Nsibiri was instantly elevated into the elite ranks of the ruling secret societies whereas the plantation owners in the new world deliberately outlawed the learning of reading and writing among the enslaved for obvious reasons.


This Achebesque narrative of Chika Ezeanya is recommended as a treat to all lovers of fascinating tales told by an entrancing artist capable of turning a painful tragedy into a memorable adventure that is guaranteed to intrude into the normal bed times of readers and insist that the pages keep turning compulsively. It is predictable that this novel will join the ranks of modern classics as permanent features on the required reading lists for students at all levels because the language is accessible enough to appeal to the general public. Readers who reach the end with a tantalizing feeling because they want to have more pages to turn and keep reading should be consoled by the fact that the young author of this novel is certainly going to deliver more from where this one came. I can't wait.


Professor Agozino is the Director of Africana Studies Program at Virginia Tech University, Virginia.



Before We Set Sail is published by The History Society of Africa and is available in both kindle and paperback at www.amazon.com and other leading book stores.


Find out more and read excerpts at www.beforewesetsail.com



..Read the full article
Re: Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review
Denker posted on 03-15-2012, 06:16:11 AM
mallam patcho, dat you prognose and understand through your effort to interpret a comment through its relationships to its various contexts as regard to ezeanya is not a big deal after all she's not writing a criminal roman...vivamus
Re: Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review
Majob1st posted on 03-15-2012, 08:04:07 AM
I know the history so perhaps I'll buy this book.
Re: Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review
Patcho posted on 03-15-2012, 11:22:40 AM
Denker:
Can we have a discussion here?
It is not about my understanding of the "various contexts" but about her approach: always us against them. There is no even any ""various contexts" in this Biko Agozino. What we have are examples built on us against them and without doubt, Ezeanya's book is same.

Directly to the issue, what place has great history when current generation portrays otherwise? Africa and Africans are no force to be reckoned with even in their own continent. Sinews do not flow in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt. How have our African cousins, the descendants of slaves faired in USA? It is the same story. How many black owned businesses are quoted in New York stock exchange? How many blacks are Governors? The youngest Governor in USA is South Carolina Governor Haley in her 30's. Another is in Louisiana elected in her 30's: both Indian Americans. Note that Indian Americans are less than 1% of USA population. Blacks with 13% of the population have only one Governor in Massachusetts.

If we were so great as the Ezeanya's try to showcase us, is the problem now generational? What is wrong with our DNA? The present evidences do not support how good Africans were and all that. All you need do is look at how leaders treat its people today. Individual goodness may abound {much like many African/ African-American PhD's and yet, NO SHOW} but collectively, Institution makes a people.

Is great history of a people deceiving and stupid?

Africa has passed the time of 'how great we were.' Now, its about what a waste land we've always been.
Re: Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review
Ramses osiris posted on 03-16-2012, 06:24:43 AM
This is one book I´m definitely going to buy - and read! The intriguing story of Olaudah Equiano rekindled with the exciting, narrative skills of Chika Ezeanya should arouse the interest of every Black History conscious African. Serious, and yet entertaining.

Africa´s greatest tragedy is the ignorance of her past. That´s at least one good reason to support and encourage our Chikas, know our history and have fun doing it!

QUOTE:
Directly to the issue, what place has great history when current generation portrays otherwise? Africa and Africans are no force to be reckoned with even in their own continent. Sinews do not flow in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt. .......(Patcho)


If all of us, especially the rulers, were aware of our "great history", our present situation would be totally different! You would NOT have Boko Haram and Arab Islam in the North. You would not have 419 Pastors and Jonathan, kneeling for a White Jesus. Look at the continents who KNOW (and embellish) their history!

QUOTE:
How many blacks are Governors? The youngest Governor in USA is South Carolina Governor Haley in her 30's. Another is in Louisiana elected in her 30's: both Indian Americans. Note that Indian Americans are less than 1% of USA population. Blacks with 13% of the population have only one Governor in Massachusetts.


At least, we have a Black President. Obama.

QUOTE:
If we were so great as the Ezeanya's try to showcase us, is the problem now generational? What is wrong with our DNA? The present evidences do not support how good Africans were and all that. All you need do is look at how leaders treat its people today. Individual goodness may abound {much like many African/ African-American PhD's and yet, NO SHOW} but collectively, Institution makes a people.


Nothing wrong with our DNA. You underestimate the power of history and the psychology of inferiority/superiority complex. 2000 years of enslavement (physical and MENTAL), colonization, neo-colonization, exploitation, history falsification do leave a huge dent in our psyche.

Our job now is to undo all that damage! That´s why we need the Ezeanyas and the Bamagujes. And if you don´t mind, I also belong to this group.

Too many of us get stuck with the negatives. We are trying to elucidate and provide solutions. Will you join us?
Re: Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review
Patcho posted on 03-16-2012, 07:40:16 AM
"2000 years of enslavement (physical and MENTAL), colonization, neo-colonization, exploitation, history falsification do leave a huge dent in our psyche."

The mind is poor and not elevated when it cast aspersions based on blame game. Sorry!
Re: Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review
Brotherkeeper posted on 03-16-2012, 17:24:47 PM
Rameses, I share your considered view point and swiftly moved to Amazon dot com to place my order for a copy of Before We Set Sail....there is nothing more empowering as a Pan Africanist, than active endorsement of the "Alternative view", noting where the rain started beating once's back and consciously stepping up to the plate!

I read Olaudah's book whilst still on a quest of self discovery, I have since engaged in many interesting discussions about his account of the home he left behind, I am eager to read this embellishment of Olaudah's faded recollection of my history!
Re: Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review
Patcho posted on 03-16-2012, 21:41:03 PM
A comment by Mr. Ejike OKPA:

"Critical look at Diaspora Africans remittance to Africa. According to figures from World Bank, annual remittance flows to Africa are in excess of $40billion and are growing at more than 10% year on year. Additionally, there is an estimated $35 billion of annual savings held by the African diaspora.

"Assuming the amounts are correct, it equates to about $4 per African living on the continent considering its population of almost one billion. By the potential savings of Africans abroad, that is about $11,670 each. Why should anyone get excited about such numbers?

"The country of Israel that came into existence in 1948, today has 70 companies listed on NASDAQ, with venture capital and investment flows more than all national annual budgets of African nations. And Israel's population is less than all persons that live in Lagos. No African based company is listed on NASDAQ. Prove me wrong.

"Remittance is usually money immigrants send to their family members and typically for personal consumption. While such has impact, it does not help cure the deficiency in weak and porous national economic development agenda of most African nations. When there is FDI - foreign direct investment, specific to sectors done on return on and return of capital, assisted by national interest rate on borrowing that is in single digit, Africa may begin to see real and effective growth.

"When interest rate on borrowed capital is in high double digits and hardly any amortizing loan on a long term, personal and corporate financing are seen as not supporting economic development. African nations have been confused and often misled by World Bank and IMF prescribed solutions. Considering that Kenya in 1975, was first African nation to benefit from IMF program, how come 37 years hence, Kenya annual budget is less than $20b and Nigeria the most populous African nation with 160m, only has mere $32b federal budget, for its 2012 spending?

"The currency wars visited on Africa that devalued its currencies to the extent that no African nation has a single digit exchange rate to either the dollar or pound/euro, an indication Africa is screwed.

"While the West insisted on Africa democratizing as a means to economic development: Good intention. However, it did not make such insistence on China and all nations in the Middle East. Here are some examples, China refused its currency to be devalued or peaked to either the dollar or pound/euro, making China strong. And China is a communist nation developing faster and better than the world largest democracy India, which is still a basket case. Flip to Middle East, they all are monarchies, no democracy but their currencies when exchanged to the dollar or pound/euro, is a multiple higher than the hard currency. Africa became the laboratory for experiments on how to manipulate a nation's currency to make them dependent, and they swallowed line, hook and sinker.

"Until African nations insist on removing exchange rate fluctuation because there is really no science and or hard core formula to deriving the rate compared to another country's currency, they will never emerge.

"When Nigeria's Naira was stronger than the dollar and was at the same rate as the pound in the 70s up until mid 80s, Nigeria was on a roll: Foreign skills and manpower flowed to the country, and Nigerians upon completion of education abroad headed home to help develop their nation. What develops a nation is skill labor and not mere cheap money like Diaspora remittance', it is a fuzzy math.

"But once Nigeria was sold on lousy SAP - Structural Adjustment Programme of World Bank and IMF, its economy went to hell and began a free fall. In 1985, a Nigerian flying to US, paid about N700, then an equivalent of $1,300. Today, same Nigerian flying to US, pay something in the neighborhood of N247,500. Calculating the rate of change suggests annual change of 24.28%; compounding. How can a nation survive such a rate of change which has eroded their national savings and wealth?

"By encouraging Africans to remit money, it says go to the West and slave on modern pay as a 'glorified slave', and send some home when and if one can.

"Saudi Arabia exports oil to the world and US mainly.
Nigeria exports oil to the world and US mainly.

"However, an American going to Saudi Arabia needs about $3m to be a millionaire in Saudi currency. Same American going to Nigeria, needs mere $7,000. What is wrong with that picture?

"Saudi Arabia is a monarch and they are not going to be a democracy in our lifetime. Nigeria is a democracy with 160m, high college educated persons than Saudis, how come it is a basket economy?

"Nigeria has to say 'no' to World Bank and IMF prescriptions except such prescriptions will enhance its national economic development agenda and not jeopardize its population's well being. For too long, African nations have succumbed to foreign delivered prescriptions which often are laboratory experiments by PhD folks who are trying to justify their thesis or play in a continent they believe is unsuspecting of voo-doo economy prescriptions.

I"t's time Africans called off the baffle and seek organic development agenda. When others tells one what to do, they better believe, it is to suit the teller's interest and agenda. Come to think of it, there is no university in the world an African has not excelled in. If that is the case, why listen to persons some Africans scored better academically? It's an insult and a thought that should every African rise and be counted.

"A nation's destiny lies in their hands, as they must be the architect and developer, and only invite those who want to invest or partner with them, to join in."


EE OKPA
Dallas, Texas
______________________
Re: Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review
Prof penkelemess posted on 03-19-2012, 07:09:51 AM
Can you stop xour commentaries NOWE-now, please.

I want to, need to read Chika first!

reading Prof
Re: Before We Set Sail by Chika Ezeanya: A Book Review
Bill Carson posted on 04-06-2012, 03:10:46 AM
Allah is Great!!! Got my copy delivered yesterday on time for the Easter Break..... Read a few pages and seriously salivating (can't wait to give a full review)...... Nna see Agbala Awka (kai, this Chika narration will give Achebe a run)
1
Please register before you can make new comment