Monday, March 22, 2010

Retelling Tragic Tales of Womanhood

A Review of Kehinde Ayeni’s Feasts of Phantoms
By Folorunsho Moshood
Publisher: Genoa House
Number of pages: 342

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been identified as the greatest act of brutality against womanhood everywhere. It kills the woman as a result of the excruciating pain, physical torture, psychological trauma and complications arising from it. One of the reasons put forward to justify FGM is that it is a device used in curbing promiscuity in women. FGM is the cutting of the external tip of the clitoris, which may create a hole in the vagina, leading to Vesico Vagina Fistula (VVF) or Vesico-rectal fistula (VRF) - the leakage of urine and feces through the vagina.

In some parts of Nigeria, this practice is done to celebrate the arrival of the girl-child into womanhood with funfair in a carnival-like atmosphere. In some instances, the woman dies right from the formative stage of the girl-child.

Kehinde Ayeni’s Feasts of Phantoms, written mostly in third person narrative educates the reader on FGM and its devastating effects on women. It also deals with rape, abortion, prostitution, polygamy, homosexuality and teenage pregnancy. These themes are woven around the tales of love, hatred, pleasure, pain, friendship, enmity, loyalty, betrayal, kindness, wickedness, life and death, thereby conceiving many antitheses simultaneously to create unthinkable events with strong elements of conflict, irony, tragic tension, suspenseful emotion and unexpectedness.

It is not an act of serendipity that the novel begins with the news of the death of two girls and ends with the birth of twins.The novel, which comprises forty-eight chapters, is divided into two parts – the past and the present. The past events are type-written by Ranti, the protagonist on her laptop as a strategy to get out of writer’s block, a stumbling block against packaging a proposal for funding on the effects of FGM. The present events comprise what Ranti and her friends are currently passing through. Though full of antitheses that bring to the fore contradictory creativity, the past and the present are not used as opposites; they are connected like ends of a circle that meet and become seamless.

The birth of Esho begins the gory tales of the past. Her mother, Wura, dies giving birth to her. At tender age, she flees Alebido Ekiti after killing her father, her first rapist. She arrives at a Convent in Ilesa and there, in the bush, she kills her second rapist, a mad man who impregnates her. The fear of losing her baby to the orphanage makes her flee Ilesa. She finds herself at the Oshun shrine in Oshogbo where she delivers her baby, Oshun named after the goddess. She flees the shrine with Oshun because her fertile body is needed in the service of the goddess- infertile men need to sleep with her to become fertile. From the shrine in Oshogbo to Iwo, the tale is similar. She works in a restaurant in Iwo where an old Imam approaches her for marriage. Due to the pressure from her Boss who wants her to marry the Imam, she flees Iwo strapping Oshun to her back. She arrives at Bere in Ibadan where she nurtures Oshun into a beautiful girl.

Since the ‘gods’ fail to protect her in all her trips, she becomes an existentialist who carries a knife about. In Bere, Oshun grows to become a nymphomaniac who starts dating men, especially Akanbi, as revenge against Esho for killing her father. Oshun’s waywardness produces two children – Lana, a boy and Iranti, a girl. But Akanbi, the father of the children rejects them setting the stage for a mortal conflict between him and Esho. The third pregnancy also Akanbi’s claims the life of Oshun who dies in her sleep at the age of twenty-one.

Throughout her childhood and school days, Ranti completely takes to heart the bad and good lessons drummed into her by Esho. Some of these lessons live with her as a medical doctor. Esho, driven by fear of what has become of women in her lineage, carries out FGM on her obedient granddaughter thereby killing the woman in her. All the women in her lineage have one thing in common; they are beautiful and so they are ‘playthings in the hands of men’. Ranti gets into many instances where she believes that ‘Esho treatment’ is the best for rapists.

Esho nearly changes her philosophy seeing the opposites in Ranti’s friends and their families, but she’s deeply rooted in existentialism and shuffles off the mortal coil in that spirit after killing Akanbi, the last tormentor of Ranti. The lessons from Esho, the brief brotherly care and educational encouragement from Lana, who dies of tetanus infection, and the kindness, loyalty and love from her friends- Moradeke, Gboye, Depo, Boris, Grant and Abe- equip Ranti for the battles of life wage by Akanbi, Sahara, Gen. Jamba, Jide, Tolu and Brian. Everywhere she goes, she wins. Her final victory against anxiety, depression and hallucination, which makes her a real woman, is crowned with the birth of twins named Wura and Esho by Depo, their father and her gay companion.

Feasts of Phantoms

a novel by Kehinde Adeola Ayeni
-- ISBN 978-0981393926
Available your local bookstore, a host of online booksellers and directly from Genoa House

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