By Yinka Fabowale
African Mentality (An Anthology) is a newly published collection of short, interesting, moral-teaching stories by Victor Omotayo, a Nigerian poet, historian and educator.
In 20 engaging narratives told in crisp, straightforward prose, the author tries to impress on the reader a universal didactic message that there is a reward for everything a man does under the sun, good or bad, using situations and experiences peculiar to African life and society as illustrations.
Among the themes and issues explored in the volume are trust and betrayal in love, family and business relationships, social injustice, abuse of power, misrule, nepotism, corruption, deception, religious commercialism and profiteering, juvenile delinquency and deviancy, professional sharp practices, forthrightness, dedication, endurance and faith in the face of challenges.
From the title story, African Mentality to others like Be Nice to People on Your Way, Reward of Honesty, Reward of Kindness, Reward of Stealing, Tables Will Turn, You Reap What You Sow, and Negligence of Duty and others, the author persuasively shows that there is no escaping the consequences of one’s actions, and that sooner or later, an individual is bound to reap the fruits of the seeds he has sown or is still sowing.
In African Mentality, for example, we saw how at old age, Durojaye, the spoilt and only surviving one of his parents’ 17 children, paid the price for heeding the selfish advice of his doting mother to acquire a harem of wives and have many children all of whom he neglected as he led a frivolous life. There’s no one to care for him when he was struck by a stroke, as all his family members had abandoned him, and he had to depend on outsiders to help him with house chores he never learnt how to do while growing up. But his family forgave him following pleas by friends.
Be Nice To People depicts how Ade, a village boy, brought to live with his ‘uncle’ in the city was mal-treated by the uncle’s wicked wife and her ill-bred children, who practically turned him into a slave. When he died, the ‘uncle’ willed all his wealth, business and other possessions to Ade, who, it turned out was son to the deceased, a fact that had been kept secret!
Besides the advice to be kind, the story also teaches the need to be magnanimous and endure trials or persecution as Ade’s love, perseverance and diligence in serving his ‘uncle’ and his family not only paid off, but helped him to easily embrace and take care of his step-mother and siblings, as instructed by his late father!
In The Name Of God and Result of Laziness are commentaries that decry trends whereby some unscrupulous persons the book describes as ‘pastorpreneurs’ turn church into business venture, exploiting unwary peoples’ gullibility to rip them off. Among the tactics are giving members honorary positions to attract them as well as guarantee continuous attendance and allowing the payment of tithe in installments. However, the stories show how inordinate ambition, selfishness and craze for materialism end up destroying the ostensibly ‘smart’ schemes and their owners. The church crumbled after the overtaxed church members grew tired of the antics of the founder and his son whom he appointed his deputy and successor, leaving one after the other in the first story, while in the other, a plan by two indolent friends, Paul and Peter to perform a false miracle to boost the popularity and membership of a church they co-founded and thereby make quick money ends in doom and ignominy for both men. Paul could not perform the miracle on his supposed mad partner-in-crime, as the latter, who has been feigning madness in a neighbouring village where the crusade is to hold, has in the meantime become permanently insane due to a spell an offended witchdoctor cast on him. The crowd jeers and boos the pair, putting an end to their church.
Not all the stories have outcomes of negative character though. Others such as Reward of Kindness, Reward of Honesty, and Table Will Turn underscore the fact that good deeds also have positive benefit. This, Mr. Phillips discovered when a former protégé, an orphan he had trained and set up in business came to rescue him and his business from financial ruin.
But there are cases in which the consequence or end does not accord or justify the book’s theory of an inflexible law of karma. This is evident in Devil is Wicked in which an apparently virtuous and godly couple loses an only son they waited for 30 years to have, after he graduated from the university. The irony is that nothing in the narrative or characterization explains why either the parents or the boy, who died in an auto crash on his way back from national service, deserves the tragic fate! Similar thing is noticed in Infidelity, Injustice, and Life is a Lottery in which the principle of ‘what you sow, you shall reap’ seems not to apply.
Such inconsistencies must be taken care of in a revised edition to give the book a uniform and more credible content. Also, the publication will benefit from keener editing to clean up few spelling and grammatical errors, and in some cases, reflect mother tongue interference common with users of English as a second language.
A probable defence could be found for this, in that African Mentality shares, more or less, features of romance literature and Amos Tutuola’s novel Palmwine Drinkard’s especially with respect to language and style. The concern seems to be more with urgency, intensity and passion for impressing the message on the audience than with verisimilitude of accounts or grammatical finesse and niceties.
Though, it is debatable if this is healthy or can help primary school pupils (for whom the book has been written) in improving their English language acquisition skills. However, the diverse and exciting nature and subjects of the stories as well as the abundant moral lessons recommend it as a useful resource material for proper socialization and development of a child’s personality in a generation in crises of authentic identity and values!