This tale of Fulani herdsman begins when Mai Sunsaye rescues a slave girl from the infamous, ex-soldier Shehu and takes her into his home. One of his sons, Hoodio runs off with the girl, leaving his infatuated younger brother, Rikku distressed about losing her. He asks his father to get her back for him and Sunsaye gives his word. Sunsaye is taken by the wandering sickness, known as the sokugo and finds himself wandering from village to village. The slave girl is taken by Shehu from Hoodio and she runs away from him, with no one knowing where she is. Hoodio takes on another wife. Their other brother, successful brother takes his mother and sister in another village after their own is set on fire. When their grassy plains are burnt the herdsman have to move towards the banks of the Niger. Sunsaye goes around where he finds each son in a different place. He also discovers the slave girl and with the help of a number of people, they have to find a way to rescue Rikku from the hands of Shehu.
This story of the nomadic lives of the Fulani herdsman transported me to a circle around a fire at night, listening to a croaking voice of an old person. There’s something nostalgic about it and it has that organic quality of African storytelling. It’s short and light. As much as I enjoyed the most of part it, I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I had read it in high school or just earlier in my age. This is because some of the events were a little flat, like what was supposed to be the climax, the rescuing of Rikku. It’s short-lived and could have done with a little more drama and intensity.
What I also took from it was the picture it gives of the culture and traditions of that age, some of which do still exist. The simplicity of their lifestyle, the way in which people could easily open up to strangers who have been exhausted by their long journeys and in need of rest and food. These are things that we have completely lost, with all the crimes that surround us. It’s a great classic and a perfect read for readers who prefer short and sweet, and who want to go back to that richness of African tales.
Cyprian Ekwensi was born in 1921, in Nigeria. He studied at the Ibadan University College in Nigeria and at the Chelsea School of Pharmacy in London. He was an exceptional novelist, short-story writer, television script writer and a children’s books writer. His most successful novel was Jagua Nana, published in 1961.