THE JUMAIS (I)

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I realized I’ve been a bit too dark on here lately so I decided to dig out some happy stuff from my old reads, and I wasn’t surprised it was Chuma Nwokolo that won. The first book I read from him was The Ghost of Sani Abacha which I absolutely loved and will review next week hopefully. I readDiaries of a Dead African next and oh boy! I was in stitches throughout the read! Chuma’s wit is impressive! The balance of good humour and tragedy woven into the plot, brings a pretty simple story to life!

This is a tragic story about a father, Meme Jumai, and his sons, Calamatus (Calama for short) Jumai and Abel Jumai. It is a peek into the diaries of these three men and a plea for some sort of empathy for the last man standing – Abel. (Meme and Calama die)

Since my time has become much more limited of late, I will do this review in parts, one diary at a time.

The story starts from the top – Meme, the father. He is the first owner of this diary, and makes the first number of entries. He is a man who has suffered the hard life and sees no relief anywhere close, and he makes this clear right from the first entry, after all, it is his diary, and it was meant to be a private thing;

“The problems of my life are not the sort that one narrates to a native doctor and he laughs before he starts his treatment. My problems are the sort that the boldest witchdoctor will hear halfway and flee.”

And he ends this, after giving us a brief overview of his predicament, with;

“I should hate Meme Jumai, if I were not Meme Jumai”

Sad, no?

[If you are unsure how to pronounce the name, it is mentioned somewhere in the book that it is like the bleat of a stammering goat. Meme!]

Through Meme, we get to hear about how his wife, Ma’Abel, who left him for a Warri vulganizer, and carried most of his yams along with her, leaving him with too little to sustain him till the next yam harvest, he has to resort to carefully measuring by inch, how much he prepares to eat each day. Starvation, or the fear of dying from it, had turned him into an expert, he just had to look at his remaining yams and he could tell exactly how much, even in inches, was left.

“Fourteen days before the village harvest and only two tubers and thirteen inches of yam left at home.”

His fate is so terrible, not only does he lose everything as a result of the ‘divorce,’ his only goat dies mysteriously.

“The fearful bleating of my goat woke me up at 2am this morning. My useless heart was banging…Goat-thieves have been harassing our village recently; yet, there’re two short and cogent reasons why they just shouldn’t go near my goat. Firstly, it is my only goat; secondly, it is extremely pregnant. If they wait another month they can steal her without destroying me completely….

At first light I went into the yard where the goat was tethered and saw it lying there on the wreckage of my broken bicycle. Witchcraft and black magic!…on the inside of one leg were the marks of snakebite. The sight of the dead goat, with its violent pregnant belly, hit me more than my wife’s desertion. I hurried to the latrine and in that darkness, allowed the foolish tears to disgrace themselves.”

He isn’t even able to at least eat the meat of this dead goat.

The local government is after him for unpaid taxes, it gets so bad he had to steal once in order to eat, and that pumpkin he stole “wasn’t even sweet!” Tsk! Harvest time comes and termites have ravaged all the yams of that year, his traps are catching no meat, because well, someone is going ahead of him to empty them, he runs out of food, there is no one to help.

Look at this life! He eventually loses it, picks up his gun and heads to the village square during the harvest celebration and the worst happens. His son Calamatus (who was called to come, by the village elders) comes and finds the remains of his father.

“I went to the village square three or four times, but everything was still like cinema…this…roasted animal inside burnt-out tyre wires, is this really Meme Jumai?”

 

There a lot more I could quote from Meme Jumai’s diary enteries, but there is more to talk of ahead. I will reserve my general comments for the last part of this.

 

To be continued.

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