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A dazzling collection of stories, The Prophet of Zongo Street takes readers to a world that seamlessly blends African folklore and myths with modernity. Set primarily on Zongo Street, a fictitious community in West Africa, the stories -- which are reminiscent of the works of Ben Okri and Amos Tutuola -- introduce us to wonderfully quirky characters and the most uproarious, poignant, and rawest moments of life. There's Kumi, the enigmatic title character who teaches a young boy to finally ask questions of his ...
A dazzling collection of stories, The Prophet of Zongo Street takes readers to a world that seamlessly blends African folklore and myths with modernity. Set primarily on Zongo Street, a fictitious community in West Africa, the stories -- which are reminiscent of the works of Ben Okri and Amos Tutuola -- introduce us to wonderfully quirky characters and the most uproarious, poignant, and rawest moments of life. There's Kumi, the enigmatic title character who teaches a young boy to finally ask questions of his traditions. And as Ali moves his characters to America we meet Felix, who struggles with America's love of the exotic in "Rachmaninov."
The Prophet of Zongo Street heralds a new voice and showcases Mohammed Naseehu Ali's extraordinary ability to craft stories that are both allegorical and unforgettable.
The Story of Day and Night
For four nights Uwargida did not appear at her regular spot in the courtyard, where she narrated Mallam Gizo, or Mr. Spider tales and other mythological stories to us every night. Uwargida was one of the four widowed grandmothers who lived in our house on Zongo Street, a densely populated section of Kumasi, Ghana's most prosperous city. Each of the four old women were at one time married to Father's father, the Hausa king, who died some thirty years ago, when Father himself was only eleven years old. Uwargida's name means "mother of the house," which was exactly what she was: the king's first wife and the oldest of the four wives. She was ninety-one.
The last night we saw Uwargida, she had promised to tell us "the story that began it all," the story of how light and darkness came about on earth. "It's the most chilling story ever," she had exclaimed in her raspy and rather thin voice as we escorted her back to her quarters that night. Grandmother Kande told me that Uwargida's knees were bothering her once again, and that was why she had not made it down to the courtyard in the past few nights.
"Now, don't you kids go disturbing Yaya Uwargida up there; her body has been arguing with her lately," shouted Grandmother Kande from her verandah, when she saw a host of children, myself included, sneaking our way up toward Uwargida's quarters.
"No, no, we are just going to pray for her knees to feel better," said Sumaila, our spokesperson. Grandmother Kande nodded, giving us the go-ahead. We all giggled, happy that we hadoutsmarted Grandmother Kande again, and quickly made our way up the small concrete hill that led to Uwargida's side of the big compound.
Once we were in her room, we tried to convince Uwargida that it was indeed good for her health to come out and tell us the story she had promised. "The gentle breeze will make you feel better," coaxed the sweet-mouthed Sumaila.
"It's the truth Sumaila is speaking, Uwargida," chirped in all of us, to put more pressure on the old woman.Moments later -- after a feeble attempt to drive us out of her room with her cane -- Uwargida decided to come with us. "All right, all right, but one of you should go and tell Barkisu to prepare charcoal fire," she said while struggling to lift herself off the nylon mat. (Barkisu was Uwargida's servant girl.) We grinned wildly at each other, excited that not only was Uwargida going to come out and tell us the story, but she was also going to make us her freshly roasted groundnut, the best in all of the city of Kumasi, and famous because of a secret ingredient and a special red sand she used, which gave the nuts a perfect crunch and an earthy smell.
By the time Uwargida made her way slowly down to the center of the house, more than thirty of us kids were already gathered around the charcoal fire. Some twenty minutes later, after the first batch of groundnuts had been distributed to everyone, the "mother of the house" was ready to tell us "the mother of all stories." The story of day and night.
"Gáta na, gáta nanku," Uwargida began with the traditional opening line, inviting us to give her our full attention.
"Tajé, takómó,"we responded in a loud chorus, our mouths full of groundnuts.
"Many many years ago," she continued in a soft, yet commanding voice. "During the time of our ancestors' ancestors' ancestors, when the universe was first created, there lived a childless woman whose name was Baadiya.
"At that time, all the different creations, humans, jinns, and the angels lived together in the same space, and they interacted with each other. The angels and jinns roamed about the skies freely, without any need for food,water, or air; and they lived forever. It was the same story with humans.We, too, lived forever back then, though unlike the angels and jinns, we needed food and water to survive. And also, there was neither day nor night and neither daylight nor darkness, as we have now. The universe was made up of a grayish, reddish fog, a sight that was hard to describe" Uwargida paused, as if to allow what she had said so far to sink into our heads.
"And it was in a small village in one of the lands of this universe that Baadiya lived with her husband," she continued, amid the cracking noises made by the groundnut husks being popped open. "Every woman in this village, with the exception of Baadiya, had a child. It was all the more sad, because Baadiya was a very kind woman and also her husband's first wife. But when she didn't have a child within two years of their union, the husband married a second wife, a third wife, and even added a fourth one. The husband wanted more children, and so each new wife got pregnant as soon as she stepped into his house. Before long, the three wives were jeering at Baadiya for not having a child of her own. And anytime they had a little quarrel or fight, the wives were apt to remind Baadiya of her childlessness. After a while Baadiya couldn't stand the pain and suffering any longer, and she decided to seek the help of medicine men.
"She visited all the shrines and oracles of the fetish priests in the land, seeking help, but none of them was able to assist her. They told her they had no child to give at that time. Eventually Baadiya took her cries to Kato, who was half jinn and half angel and also the most powerful fetish priest in the land ...The Prophet of Zongo Street
Posted May 29, 2011
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