• Unit 2: Introduction to African literary traditions

    Unit 2: Introduction to African literary traditions

    What is a literary tradition? A literary tradition refers to some common features or characteristics which define the literature of a group of people at a certain period of time. These characteristics relate to the form and meaning of the literature of the particular place or time period. 

    Therefore, literary texts from one literary tradition will have themes and features, which distinguish it from texts of a different literary tradition. This means that literary traditions differ from one place to another and they keep changing across time. For example, ancient Greek literature is different thematically and stylistically from medieval European literature. Similarly, African American literary traditions are different from Asian literary traditions.

    It is not very easy to define African literary traditions. This is because Africa is a very diverse continent. Scholars of African literature do not always agree on when written literature first appeared in Africa. Even the very meaning of the term ‘African literature’ is controversial: questions about this term are many. Does it mean literature written by Africans living on the continent? What about the literature of Africans living outside the continent? Is it literature written about Africa? Is it literature written by non Africans about Africa? The answers to these questions are not clear. Nevertheless, African literary traditions can generally be divided into three. These are the pre-colonial, the colonial and post-colonial traditions.

    Activity 1

    a. In groups of four discuss what you think African literature means. How different is African literature from European literature? Present your findings to the class.

    b. Tell your group a story from your community.

    Pre-colonial African literature

    Before the colonization of Africa, the continent had a long history of literature. Most of the literature of this period was oral in nature. It was unwritten literature, which was passed down from generation to generation through memory and word of mouth. The literature of this period includes folk tales, myths, legends, epics, animal stories, songs, oral poems, proverbs, riddles and tongue twisters.  The epic is a good example of popular oral forms of literature in Africa. Some of the best known African epics include the Mwindo and Sundiata epics. In Rwanda, the Ubwiiru is a popular form of praise poetry. The following is quoted from a praise poem to Shaka, the Zulu warrior and king:


    Activity 2

    a. Describe the character of Shaka according to this poem. Discuss this with your desk mate.

    b. In groups of four, take turns to tell any folktale from your community. Afterwards, on your own, write down one of the folktales in your books.

    Activity 3

    Below is the myth of Kigwa.  This myth has been transmitted from generation to generation. Read it in your small groups in turns and then discuss it.

    The Myth of Kigwa

    Nkuba, the King of Heaven, also known as Shyerezo, had several wives. One of them, named Gasani, had stopped having children. Her palace was empty and silent, and she was sad. One day, a seer named Imhamvu came to her palace. She told the Queen, “You are about to have a baby boy!”

        “How will that come about?” Gasani replied. “I have been childless for many years now!”

       “You will have your baby, and I shall get my reward!”

       “What reward would you like?”

       “All I ask is that you take me into your household, as a servant, and give me clothing and food and lodgings, so that I can be on hand to give you further advice.”

        Gasani took Imhamvu in her service.

        One fine day, Imhamvu told her Mistress, “Have a milk jug igicuba made from the sacred wood umurinzi. When it is ready, fill it with milk, and I’ll tell you what to do next”.

        Now, it so happened that at that particular time, King Shyerezo was planning to extend his empire, by annexing some of the outlying areas. He convened his advisor and asked them to hold a divination session in order to indicate the best way of achieving this goal.

        A divination bull was selected and prepared. The diviners collected the royal saliva as divination seed, fed it to the bull, and whispered the divination question into its ear. Then they put it to sleep, opened it up, and proceeded to check the inner organs for signs.

        When the diviners had completed their readings, they went into the palace to give their report to the King. At that moment, the lady Imhamvu told the Queen, “Go to the consultation area, take the heart of the divination bull, and place it in the milk jug you have prepared. But make sure nobody sees you.”

       Gasani did as she was told. She brought the heart over, dropped it into the erythrina milk jug, fitted some woven netting around it, and suspended it above the churning gourd table.

       Imhamvu then recommended that the jug should be hidden away at all times, and the Queen should never let anyone come near it. She was to add a little warm milk every morning and evening at milking time.

        Nine moons elapsed. In the tenth moon, Imhamvu told Gasani to open the jug. And lo and behold! A baby boy was found floating on milk curds. The whole household was alerted, and all shouted out joyfully, “Gasani yabyaye! Gasani’s baby is born! Let all rejoice and make sounds of ululation!”

       Gasani named her son Sabizeze, short for “Saba Imana zeze”: pray to the Gods at their moment of favour. Little Sabizeze was indeed a gift of the Gods, having been born of the heart of a divine bull, which had swallowed the seed of the King of Heaven. He was a very beautiful baby.

       A messenger went to King Shyerezo to announce the birth of his little son, but the King dismissed the news and sent the messenger away. On the eighth day, the King failed to come over and take his son into his arms and give him a name, as was the custom. In fact, he refused to have anything at all to do with the baby and his mother. And when his aides insisted, he ordered them to have the child thrown away instead: “I don’t want that child in my kingdom,” he said.

       When Gasani and her servant, the Wise Imhamvu, heard that King Shyerezo wanted the baby eliminated, they resolved to hide him away. Whenever the King would send his people over, the Queen would be secretly informed, and she would hide the child.

       As the child grew up, he became more beautiful and intelligent, and was loved and admired by all.

       News of the child’s loveliness eventually reached King Shyerezo. “Lord,” people would say, “your son is the most beautiful boy in all your kingdoms! None like him has ever been seen!” But he persisted in denying him. “Did I not order that child to be killed? Why is he still alive? Take him away and kill him! I don’t want him,” he said. But none consented to killing him, for he grew more and more handsome, and began to look more and more like his father.

      One day, a group of Elders came to the palace of Queen Gasani, and told her, “Lady Gasani, your son’s beauty has become a byword, and we have come to see for ourselves. Please allow us to see him.”

       The Queen called the boy in. When the Elders saw him, they marvelled at his looks and demeanour, for by then he was the spitting image of the King of Heaven Himself. They went to the King, and said to him, “Lord, we know you have ordered your son to be killed. However, the boy is so wonderfully like you that killing him would be like killing Your Majesty.”

       The Elders were so convincing that eventually the King consented to go over to Gasani’s place and see this little boy for himself. As soon as he set his eyes on little Sabizeze, all desire of killing him suddenly left the King, and instead, he recognised him, took him into his arms, lifted him high up, then set him on his knee, and gave him a name: Imana, Divinity.

       Although his Father had given the boy the name Imana, everyone around went on calling him by the name his mother had given him: Sabizeze. Soon, everyone realised he was very different from all the other royal children. Then a rumour about his unusual birth began to circulate in the royal household. “No wonder his Father had refused to recognise him,” people whispered. But Gasani never said a word about the matter.

       Years later, however, Gasani’s mother came to see her, and enquired about her son’s birth and the strange rumours she had heard. Then Gasani resolved to tell her the full story.

       While the Queen was recounting Sabizeze’s “processing”, one of his companions happened to overhear the whole story. He ran to his friend, and blurted the whole story out, “Son of my Lord, now I know why you are so different from the rest of us! You were born in a different way! You actually developed in a milk jug, from the heart of a sacred bull which had swallowed your Father’s Seed! Your mother found you swimming about in milk curds! I heard her tell the story to your grandmother! Very strange indeed!”

       When Sabizeze heard that, he became very angry with his mother, and said, “Ubonye Gasani ngo arambyarura! How can my mother disown me in this manner! What a shame! I cannot stay here any longer!” And he resolved never to return to his mother’s house, but instead, to leave home and go and settle as far as possible, to the farthest end of his Father’s Empire, and beyond, if possible.

       Sabizeze immediately began making preparations to leave his heavenly home. He went into his room, took his bow and quiver, called his hunter dogs, Ruzunguzungu and Ruguma (“Circling” and “Stay-put”). He went into his Father’s smithy, and took the Royal Hammer Nyarushara, and a little fire from the furnace. Then he went to find his brother Mututsi, and his sister Nyampundu, and persuaded them to come away with him.

       Then Sabizeze went to the royal stables, pens, and hen houses, selected a couple of each of the royal animals and birds, including the bull − Rugira and his cow − Ingizi, the ram − Mudende and his sheep − Nyabuhoro, the goat − Rugeyo and his mate, the Rooster − Mugambira and his hen, the White Bird − Inyange and his mate, and many others. His Pigmee Aide-deCamp, Mihwabaro and his wife joined the party. They drove the animals and birds out of the gate, to a spot which Sabizeze had identified. Then using the Hammer, he made a hole in the ground, pushed the animals and birds through it, and then followed on with his companions.

       At that time, the Hammer, Nyarushara, fell from Sabizeze’s hands, spun down and landed in the northwest of Rwanda, causing a great commotion, which rocked all the surrounding areas. It fell at the foot of the volcano Muhabura, where it made a great depression, which later filled with water, thus creating the pool Gipfuna.

       The party touched down on a large rock named Ikinani, in the province of Mubali, to the north-east of Rwanda. After their landing, the Heavenly Exiles began to explore their new surroundings. They found comfortable shelters under the Rock, lit two fires, one for themselves, and another for their animals, and settled in.

       The rocky promontory was in a clearing surrounded by dense forest. There appeared to be no people around, apart from the forest animals. Over the next few days, the people of Mubali noticed smoke floating over the treetops. They were greatly surprised, and said to each other, “What can that be?” Some suggested it may be a hunting party, but none of their community ever went that deep into the forest ....

       The people of Mubali went to their king, Kabeja, and told him about the strange sighting, and he sent a scouting party into the forest. When they came to the rock, they were at first afraid of what they saw, but the Heavenly Ones reassured them and welcomed them.

       “Don’t be afraid. We are humans. We come from heaven. We are peaceful visitors, and we want to live with you as good neighbours. We hope you will be hospitable to us.”

       The scouts went back to report to their king, and they told him all they had learnt.

       The king of Mubali welcomed the Visitors, and encouraged his people to extend all hospitality to them. The local people called them Ibimanuka (descents), and named Sabizeze “Kigwa” (Fallen). The Children of Heaven called the locals “Abasangwabutaka” (Found on the land). But the proper name of the people of Mubali was “Abazigaba”.

       The Ibimanuka lived with Kabeja and his people for a long time, teaching them many things, beginning with the various uses of the fire they had brought from heaven, which proved to be a great attraction to the locals. Soon, more and more people gathered around the Ibimanuka, and became their pupils.

       One day, Kigwa, as he must now be called, told his brother Mututsi, “See, all the animals have reproduced and multiplied, while we remain as we came from heaven. Let us marry our sister, so that we too may have children.”

       But Mututsi refused to marry his sister. He said to his brother, “Go ahead, if you so wish, but I do not want to marry.”

       Then Kigwa married his sister Nyampundu, and they had a lovely baby girl, whom they named Sukiranya. Later, they had a son, and named him Muntu.

       When Sukiranya had grown into a beautiful young woman, Kigwa suggested that his brother marry her, for it was not proper that he should remain single and childless.

       “My brother, you have now been single and childless for a whole generation. Now that our beautiful daughter Sukiranya is grown up, why don’t you marry her?”

       “What! Marry my own niece? Never!”

        “I’ll tell you how we can resolve the issue. Go over across the valley, and settle on that hillside opposite ours. After a while, you’ll come to ask for my daughter’s hand. When I ask you for your ancestry, you’ll reply, ‘I am an Umwega from across the valley’.”

        Mututsi agreed. In due course, he married Sukiranya, and they had three sons, whom they named Serwega, Muha, and Mukono.

                                                (sourced at: http://dlblanc.com/Gakondo/en/Myths/Kigwa.php)


    a. What is this myth talking about?

    b. Tell your group any myth or oral narrative that you know.

    c. Why is there need to write myths today?

    d. Myths usually have a supernatural dimension. What aspects of this story relate to the supernatural?

    e. Describe the character of:

        i) Kigwa     ii) Gasani    iii) Imhamvu

    f. What does this story reveal about the political organisation of the precolonial Rwandan society?

    g. From what you know about short stories, what features of the short story genre are shared with this myth?

    h. Make a list of the non-English words in this story. What do you think is the importance of retaining these non-English words in the translated story?

    i. Although this is an example of an oral literature text, it has the potential to perform the same functions as written literature. What functions do you think this story can perform in the modern Rwandan society?

    Although the oral literature tradition belongs to the pre-colonial times, it must be remembered that oral literary forms continue to flourish in Africa today. For example, performances of oral tales are featured on radio, television, and in films. African schools continue to teach oral literature, and students often engage in storytelling and oral performances in their schools. 

        In addition, the oral literature tradition has been carried over into contemporary written African literature. Writers such as Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o rely heavily on oral forms of literary expression in their novels and short stories.

    Activity 4

    Read the excerpt below from Chinua Achebe’s novel, Arrow of God, and then pick out examples of oral literature features.

    The last man to speak that day was the oldest man from Akukalia’s village. His voice was now shaky but his salute to the assembly was heard clearly in all corners of the Nkwo – marketplace. The men of Umuaro responded to his great effort with the loudest Hem! of the day. He said quietly that he must rest to recover his breath, and those who heard laughed.

      “I want to speak to the man we are sending to Okperi. It is now a long time since we fought a war and many of you may not remember the custom. I am not saying that Akukalia needs to be reminded. But I am an old man, and an old man is there to talk. If the lizard of the homestead neglects to do the things for which its kind is known, it will be mistaken for the lizard of the farmland.

      “From the way Akukalia spoke I saw that he was in great anger. It is right that he should feel like that. But we are not sending him to his motherland to fight. We are sending you, Akukalia, to place the choice of war or peace before them. Do I speak for Umuaro?”

      They gave him power to carry on.

      “We do not want Okperi to choose war; nobody eats war. If they choose peace we shall rejoice. But whatever they say you are not to dispute with them. Your duty is to bring word back to us. We all know you are a fearless man but while you are there put your fearlessness in your bag. If the young men who will go with you talk with too loud a voice you must cover their fault. I have in my younger days gone on such errands and know the temptations too well. I salute you.”

       Ezeulu who had taken in everything with a sad smile now sprang to his feet like one stung in the buttocks by a black ant.

      “Umuaro kwenu!” he cried.


      “I salute you all.” It was like the salute of an enraged Mask. “When an adult is in the house the she-goat is not left to suffer the pains of parturition on its tether. That is what our ancestors have said. But what have we seen here today? We have seen people speak because they are afraid to be called cowards. Others have spoken the way they spoke because they are hungry for war. Let us leave all that aside. If in truth the farmland is ours, Ulu will fight on our side. But if it is not you will soon know. I would not have spoken again today if I had not seen adults in the house neglecting their duty.

      “Ogbuefi Egonwanne, as one of the three oldest men in Umuaro, should have reminded us that our fathers did not fight a war of blame. But instead of that he wants to teach our emissary how to carry fire and water in the same mouth. Have we not heard that a boy sent by his father to steal does not go stealthily but breaks the door with his feet? Why does Egonwanne trouble himself about small things when big ones are overlooked? We want war. How Akukalia speaks to his mother’s people is a small thing. He can spit into their face if he likes. When we hear a house has fallen do we ask if the ceiling fell with it? I salute you all.”

    The colonial period

    The colonial period in African literature is often associated with literacy. However, you must note that written literature existed in parts of Africa before colonialism. For example, written works of literature discovered in Ethiopia are older than medieval European literature. The spread of Islam in North and West Africa also established a written tradition in these regions.

      Along the East African Coast, narrative poetry in Swahili has been recovered from as early as the Eighteenth Century. In West Africa, literature in Arabic verse has been dated to the Fourteenth Century.

      In addition, in the 18th Century Olaudah Equiano, who was a slave published his book titled The Interesting Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African. This was one of the earliest forms of African written literature to be known in Europe.

       With increased literacy in Africa during the colonial period, many writers emerged on the continent.  These include Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Sembene Ousmane, Cyprian Ekwensi, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Okot p’Bitek, Ferdinand Oyono and Amos Tutuola.   

    Characteristics of literature of the colonial period

    The following are the characteristics of the literature of the colonial period.

      1. The texts reacted against colonial oppression and expressed African nationalism.

      2. The texts sought to praise and glorify Africa’s past.

      3. The texts depicted the clash between African cultures and Western/European cultures.

      4. The texts expressed optimism in Africa’s future.

      5. Stylistically, the texts incorporated African forms of expression; that is, they used oral literature features.

    Activity 5

    The following passage comes from Chinua Achebe’s novel, No Longer at Ease, which is an example of colonial literature. Read it carefully.

    Obi’s serious talks with his father began after the family had prayed and all but the two of them had gone to bed. The prayers had taken place in Mother’s room because she was again feeling very weak, and whenever she was unable to join the others in the parlour her husband conducted prayers in her room.

    The devil and his works featured prominently in that night’s prayers. Obi had a shrewd suspicion that his affair with Clara was one of the works. But it was only a suspicion; there was nothing yet to show that his parents had actually heard of it. Mr Okonkwo’s easy capitulation in the afternoon on the matter of heathen singing was quite clearly a tactical move. He let the enemy gain ground in a minor skirmish while he prepared his forces for a great offensive.

      He said to Obi after prayers: ‘I know you must be tired after the great distance you have travelled. There is something important we must talk about, but it can wait until tomorrow, till you have had time to rest.’

      ‘We can talk now,’ said Obi. ‘I am not too tired. We get used to driving long distances.’

    ‘Come to my room then,’ said his father, leading the way with the ancient hurricane lamp.

      There was a small table in the middle of the room. Obi remembered when it was bought. Carpenter Moses had built it and offered it to the church at harvest. It was put up for auction after the Harvest Service and sold. He could not now remember how much his father had paid for it, eleven and three pence perhaps.

      ‘I don’t think there is kerosene in this lamp,’ said his father, shaking the lamp near his ear.

      It sounded quite empty. He brought half a bottle of kerosene from his cupboard and poured a little into the lamp. His hands were no longer very steady and he spilt some of the kerosene. Obi did not offer to do it for him because he knew his father would never dream of letting children pour kerosene into his lamp; they would not know how to do it properly.

      ‘How were all our people in Lagos when you left them?’ he asked. He sat on his wooden bed while Obi sat on a low stool facing him, drawing lines with his finger on the dusty top of the Harvest table.

      ‘Lagos is a very big place. You can travel the distance from here to Abame and still be in Lagos.’

      ‘So they said. But you have a meeting of Umuofia people?’

      It was half-question, half statement.

      ‘Yes. We have a meeting. But it is only once a month.’ And he added: ‘It is not always that one finds time to attend.’ The fact was he had not attended since November.

      ‘True,’ said his father. ‘But in a strange land one should always move near one’s kinsmen.’ Obi was silent, signing his name in the dust on the table. ‘You wrote to me some time ago about a girl you had seen. How does the matter stand now?’

      ‘That is one reason why I came. I want us to go and meet her people and start negotiations. I have no money now, but at least we can begin to talk.’ Obi had decided that it would be fatal to sound apologetic or hesitant.

       ‘Yes,’ said his father. ‘That is the best way.’ He thought a little and again said yes, it was the best way. Then a new thought seemed to occur to him. ‘Do we know who this girl is and where she comes from?’

      Obi hesitated just enough for his father to ask the question again in a different way. ‘What is her name?’

      ‘She is the daughter of Okeke, a native of Mbaino.’

      ‘Which Okeke? I know about three. One is a retired teacher, but it would not be that one.’

      ‘That is the one,’ said Obi.

      ‘Josiah Okeke?’Obi said, yes, that was his name.

       His father laughed. It was the kind of laughter one sometimes heard from a masked ancestral spirit. He would salute you by name and ask you if you knew who he was. You would reply with one hand humbly touching the ground that you did not, that he was beyond human knowledge. Then he might laugh as if through a throat of metal. And the meaning of that laughter was clear: ‘I did not really think you would know, you miserable human worm!’

      Obi’s father’s laughter vanished as it had come − without warning, leaving no footprints. ‘You cannot marry the girl,’ he said quite simply.


      ‘I said you cannot marry the girl.’

      ‘But why, Father?’

      ‘Why? I shall tell you why. But first tell me this. Did you find out or try to find out anything about this girl?’


      ‘What did you find out?’

      ‘That they are osu.’

      ‘You mean to tell me that you knew, and you ask me why?’

      ‘I don’t think it matters. We are Christians.’

      This had some effect, nothing startling though. Only a little pause and a slightly softer tone. ‘We are Christians,’ he said. ‘But that is no reason to marry an osu.’

      ‘The Bible says that in Christ there are no bond or free.’

      ‘My son,’ said Okonkwo, ‘I understand what you say. But this thing is deeper than you think.’

      ‘What is this thing? Our fathers in their darkness and ignorance called an innocent man osu, a thing given to idols, and thereafter he became an outcast, and his children, and his children’s children forever. But have we not seen the light of the Gospel?’

      Obi used the very words that his father might have used in talking to his heathen kinsmen. There was a long silence. The lamp was now burning too brightly. Obi’s father turned down the wick a little and then resumed his silence. After what seemed ages he said: ‘I know Josiah Okeke very well.’ He was looking steadily in front of him. His voice sounded tired. ‘I know him and I know his wife. He is a good man and a great Christian. But he is osu. Naaman, captain of the host of Syria, was a great man and honourable, he was also a mighty man of valour, but he was a leper.’ He paused so that this great and felicitous analogy might sink in with all its heavy and dreadful weight. ‘Osu is like leprosy in the minds of our people. I beg of you, my son, not to bring the mark of shame and of leprosy into your family. If you do, your children and your children’s children unto the third and fourth generations will curse your memory. It is not for myself I speak; my days are few. You will bring sorrow on your head and on the heads of your children. Who will marry your daughters? Whose daughters will your sons marry? Think of that, my son. We are Christians, but we cannot marry our own daughters.’

      ‘But all that is going to change. In ten years things will be quite different to what they are now.’

      The old man shook his head sadly but said no more. Obi repeated his points again. What made an osu different from other men and women? Nothing but the ignorance of their forefathers. Why should they, who had seen the light of the Gospel, remain in that ignorance?

       He slept very little that night. His father had not appeared as difficult as he had expected. He had not been won over yet, but he had clearly weakened. Obi felt strangely happy and excited. He had not been through anything quite like this before. He was used to speaking to his mother like an equal, even from his childhood, but his father had always been different. He was not exactly remote from his family, but there was something about him that made one think of the patriarchs, those giants hewn from granite. Obi’s strange happiness sprang not only from the little ground he had won in the argument, but from the direct human contact he had made with his father for the first time in his twenty-six years.

    Practice Exercise 1

    a. State the difference between the excerpt you have just read with the myth of Kigwa.

    b. Using evidence from the excerpt, explain how reading of the Bible affected literature of the colonial period.

    c. According to the passage, what is the meaning of osu?

    d. Literature of the colonial period expressed a clash between Christian and African values. Explain this with evidence from the excerpt you just read.

    e. In what ways does Obi represent the new and emerging African values?

    f. Describe Obi’s father’s character according to this excerpt.

    The post-colonial literary tradition

    After the end of colonialism in Africa, many African writers continued to write about the issues that concerned the continent. As explained earlier, most African writers continued to use oral forms of literature in their texts. Thematically, most post-independent African writing expresses disillusionment with African countries and leadership. Their writing expresses the betrayal of the dreams that African people had at independence.

    Activity 6

    Read the following short story by Chinua Achebe. Compare the theme in this story with the theme in the excerpt from his novel, No Longer at Ease, which you read earlier.

    Civil Peace

    by Chinua Achebe

    Jonathan Iwegbu counted himself extraordinarily lucky. ‘Happy survival!’ meant so much more to him than just a current fashion of greeting old friends in the first hazy days of peace. It went deep to his heart. He had come out of the war with five inestimable blessings – his head, his wife Maria’s head and the heads of three out of their four children. As a bonus he also had his old bicycle – a miracle too but naturally not to be compared to the safety of five human heads.

    The bicycle had a little history of its own. One day at the height of the war it was commandeered ‘for urgent military action’. Hard as its loss would have been to him, he would still have let it go without a thought had he not had some doubts about the genuineness of the officer. It wasn’t his disreputable rags, nor the toes peeping out of one blue and one brown canvas shoes, nor yet the two stars of his rank done obviously in a hurry in biro, that troubled Jonathan; many good and heroic soldiers looked the same or worse. It was rather a certain lack of grip and firmness in his manner. So Jonathan, suspecting he might be amenable to influence, rummaged in his raffia bag and produced the two pounds with which he had been going to buy firewood which his wife, Maria, retailed to camp officials for extra stockfish and maize meal, and got his bicycle back. That night he buried it in the little clearing in the bush where the dead of the camp, including his own youngest son, were buried. When he dug it up again a year later after the surrender all it needed was a little palm-oil greasing.

      ‘Nothing puzzles God,’ he said in wonder.

       He put it to immediate use as a taxi and accumulated a small pile of Biafran money ferrying camp officials and their families across the four-mile stretch to the nearest tarred road. His standard charge per trip was six pounds and those who had the money were only glad to be rid of some of it in this way. At the end of a fortnight he had made a small fortune of one hundred and fifteen pounds.

      Then he made the journey to Enugu and found another miracle waiting for him. It was unbelievable. He rubbed his eyes and looked again and it was still standing there before him. But, needless to say, even that monumental blessing must be accounted also totally inferior to the five heads in the family. This newest miracle was his little house in Ogui Overside. Indeed nothing puzzles God! Only two houses away, a huge concrete edifice some wealthy contractor had put up just before the war was a mountain of rubble. And here was Jonathan’s little zinc house of no regrets built with mud blocks quite intact! Of course the doors and windows were missing and five sheets off the roof.

       But what was that? And anyhow he had returned to Enugu early enough to pick up bits of old zinc and wood and soggy sheets of cardboard lying around the neighbourhood before thousands more came out of their forest holes looking for the same things. He got a destitute carpenter with one old hammer, a blunt plane and a few bent and rusty nails in his tool bag to turn this assortment of wood, paper and metal into door and window shutters for five Nigerian shillings or fifty Biafran pounds. He paid the pounds, and moved in with his overjoyed family carrying five heads on their shoulders.

      His children picked mangoes near the military cemetery and sold them to soldiers’ wives for a few pennies, real pennies this time, and his wife started making breakfast akara balls for neighbours in a hurry to start life again. With his family earnings, he took his bicycle to the villages around and bought fresh palm-wine which he mixed generously in his rooms with the water which had recently started running again in the public tap down the road, and opened up a bar for soldiers and other lucky people with good money.

       At first he went daily, then every other day and finally once a week, to the offices of the Coal Corporation where he used to be a miner, to find out what was what. The only thing he did find out in the end was that that little house of his was even a greater blessing than he had thought. Some of his fellow exminers who had nowhere to return at the end of the day’s waiting just slept outside the doors of the offices and cooked what meal they could scrounge together in Bournvita tins. As the weeks lengthened and still nobody could say what was what, Jonathan discontinued his weekly visits altogether and faced his palm-wine bar.

       But nothing puzzles God. Came the day of the windfall when after five days of endless scuffles in queues and counter-queues in the sun outside the Treasury he had twenty pounds counted into his palms as exgratia award for the rebel money he had turned in. It was like Christmas for him and for many others like him when the payments began. They called it – since few could manage its proper official name, egg-rasher.

       As soon as the pound notes were placed in his palm, Jonathan simply closed it tight over them and buried fist and money inside his trouser pocket. He had to be extra careful because he had seen a man a couple of days earlier collapse into near-madness in an instant before that oceanic crowd because no sooner had he got his twenty pounds than some heartless ruffian picked it off him. Though it was not right that a man in such an extremity of agony should be blamed, yet many in the queues that day were able to remark quietly on the victim’s carelessness, especially after he pulled out the innards of his pocket and revealed a hole in it big enough to pass a thief’s head. But of course he had insisted that the money had been in the other pocket, pulling it out too to show its comparative wholeness. So one had to be careful.

       Jonathan soon transferred the money to his left hand and pocket so as to leave his right free for shaking hands should the need arise, though by fixing his gaze at such an elevation as to miss all approaching human faces, he made sure that the need did not arise until he got home.

       He was normally a heavy sleeper but that night he heard all the neighbourhood noises die down one after another. Even the night watchman who knocked the hour on some metal somewhere in the distance had fallen silent after knocking one o’clock. That must have been the last thought in Jonathan’s mind before he was finally carried away himself. He couldn’t have been gone for long, though, when he was violently awakened again.

      ‘Who is knocking?’ whispered his wife lying beside him on the floor.

      ‘I don’t know,’ he whispered back breathlessly.

      The second time the knocking came it was so loud and imperious that the rickety old door could have fallen down.

      ‘Who is knocking?’ he asked then, his voice parched and trembling.

      ‘Na tief-man and him people,’ came the cool reply. ‘Make you hopen de door.’ This was followed by the heaviest knocking of all.

      Maria was the first to raise the alarm, then he followed and all their children. ‘Police-o! Thieves-o! Neighbours-o! Police-o! We are lost! We are dead!

      Neighbours, are you asleep? Wake up! Police-o!’

      This went on for a long time and then stopped suddenly. Perhaps they had scared the thief away. There was total silence. But only for a short while. ‘You done finish?’ asked the voice outside. ‘Make we help you small. Oya, everybody!’

      ‘Police-o! Tief-man-o! Neighbours-o! We done loss-o! Police-o! ...’

      There were at least five other voices besides the leader’s.

      Jonathan and his family were now completely paralysed by terror. Maria and the children sobbed inaudibly like lost souls. Jonathan groaned continuously.

      The silence that followed the thieves’ alarm vibrated horribly. Jonathan all but begged their leader to speak again and be done with it.

      ‘My frien,’ said he at long last, ‘we don try our best for call dem but I tink say dem all done sleep-o ... So wetin we go do now? Sometaim you wan call soja? Or you wan make we call dem for you? Soja better pass police.No be so?’

      ‘Na so!’ replied his men. Jonathan thought he heard even more voices now than before and groaned heavily. His legs were sagging under him and his throat felt like sandpaper.

      ‘My friend, why you no de talk again. I de ask you say you wan make we call soja?’


      ‘Awrighto. Now make we talk business. We no be bad tief. We no like for make trouble. Trouble done finish. War done finish and all the katakata wey de for inside. No Civil War again. This time na Civil Peace. No be so?’

      ‘Na so!’ answered the horrible chorus.

      ‘What do you want from me? I am a poor man. Everything I had went with this war. Why do you come to me? You know people who have money. We ...’

      ‘Awright! We know say you no get plenty money. But we sef no get even anini. So derefore make you open dis window and give us one hundred pound and we go commot. Orderwise we de come for inside now to show you guitar-boy like dis...

      ’ A volley of automatic fire rang through the sky. Maria and the children began to weep aloud again.

      ‘Ah, missisi de cry again. No need for dat. We done talk say we na good tief. We just take our small money and go nwayorly. No molest. Abi we de molest?’

      ‘At all!’ sang the chorus.

      ‘My friends,’ began Jonathan hoarsely. ‘I hear what you say and I thank you. If I had one hundred pounds ...’

      ‘Lookia my friend, no be play we come play for your house. If we make mistake and step for inside you no go like am-o. So derefore ...’

      ‘To God who made me; if you come inside and find one hundred pounds, take it and shoot me and shoot my wife and children. I swear to God. The only money I have in this life is this twenty-pounds  egg-rasher  they gave me today ...’

      ‘OK. Time de go. Make you open dis window and bring the twenty pound. We go manage am like dat.’

      There were now loud murmurs of dissent among the chorus: ‘Na lie de man de lie; e get plenty money ... Make we go inside and search properly well ... Wetin be twenty pound? ...’

      ‘Shurrup!’ rang the leader’s voice like a lone shot in the sky and silenced the murmuring at once. ‘Are you dere? Bring the money quick!’

      ‘I am coming,’ said Jonathan fumbling in the darkness with the key of the small wooden box he kept by his side on the mat.

      At the first sign of light as neighbours and others assembled to commiserate with him he was already strapping his five-gallon demijohn to his bicycle carrier and his wife, sweating in the open fire, was turning over akara balls in a wide clay bowl of boiling oil. In the corner his eldest son was rinsing out dregs of yesterday’s palm wine from old beer bottles.

      ‘I count it as nothing,’ he told his sympathizers, his eyes on the rope he was tying. ‘What is egg-rasher? Did I depend on it last week? Or is it greater than other things that went with the war? I say, let egg-rasher  perish in the flames! Let it go where everything else has gone. Nothing puzzles God.’


    a. The phrase “nothing puzzles God” is used repeatedly in this story. It emphasises the resilience of Jonathan Iwegbu and his family. List down the things that Jonathan and his family do which show their resilience.

    b. Discuss some of the problems facing post independent African countries as revealed by this story.

    c. Identify the use of non-standard English. Why do you think Achebe uses pidgin in this story?

    d. Although this is a story that tackles serious issues, the author tells it humorously. Pick out examples of humour and discuss how it makes an otherwise serious story light-hearted.

    e.  Civil Peace is based on the civil war which took place in Nigeria after independence. From your general knowledge of Africa, which other countries have experienced civil war after independence?

    f. Why do you think this story is titled Civil Peace instead of Civil War?

    Unit 1: Review the key aspects of proseUnit 3: Literary techniques in novels