In 2012 when the book was announced, I searched for it in Nigerian bookshops and made calls to some booksellers. Most of them weren't aware of Soyinka's new book. I wondered why. Its kindle version wasn’t available then. I could have found someone traveling from London or the US to help buy it but it's usually luck to find anyone that won't complain about extra load. I found it in Kenya. A kind Kenyan friend, on my last day, arranged a special take-a-tour-of-Nairobi. The tour didn't include a visit to a bookshop but I persuaded the tour guide to stop at the coolest bookshop in Nairobi. We were at Bookstop, a paradise of books at a corner of a beautiful mall called Yaya Centre. Possibly the biggest and most stocked bookshop I've seen. A few stroll through the aisles and I saw the book. There, in red flap, nagging for attention, and waiting to console a restless traveler - "Wole Soyinka. Of Africa". I picked it alongside other books and proceeded to the cashier. A chatty white man attended to me and after guessing that I'm not Kenyan, informed me that Chimamanda had given a reading in Nairobi a day before. As though he's impressed by his store's robust inventory on Soyinka's books and books by Nigerian authors, he asked if I'm satisfied. Of course, I am, I was.
These essays by Soyinka are, in my opinion, the best on the themes of negotiating Africa's humanity, its internal dynamics, the politics of slavery, cultural relations and, especially, its spirituality. Although before reading the book, anyone drawn by its crisp title is whet by an expectation of a Soyinkian exploration of Africa in its entire fragments, including political and economic essentials. But it attends more to Africa's cultural and spiritual existence, with occasional digressions to the political. (I really love the title and how it reads on the book's spine. It's like a clever full sentence emphasizing Soyinka as Africa's property. Well, he is.) ;)
In scathing and lyrical prose, Soyinka expresses his disgust for the colonial legacies of Christianity and Islam. These "siblings", as he termed them, robbed Africa of its spiritual and communal essence by their imperial agendas, exploiting the continent's innocence and replacing it with Western & Middle Eastern religiosity, which at best have continued, amidst in guises, to devastate the continent. For Soyinka, the scramble for Africa was not only fought on economic battleground. It involved the spiritual. He portrayed those religions as control freaks, and far from the more humane versions that they condemn and sought to replace for being "pagan". He offers Orisa as a primer for world's spirituality, at least as an alternative to the bullish Judeo siblings. His proposal of the Yoruba brand of spirituality speaks well of his personal reverence and adulation of the Yoruba pantheon.
In praise of Africa's religion:
"... despite spreading her spirituality to the Americas and the Caribbean on the shackles of slavery - a condition that did not stem from their own volition - African religions did not aspire to conquer the world. If anything they were reticent, but they proved resilient."
What Soyinka attempted in the book was merely to reinforce some of the African themes that have occupied his best polemics, most of which have been exerted in various creative adventures. I say "merely" because the themes are too diverse and monumental in their individual interrogations to be condensed, as a whole, into about a 200-page text. But this is still successful and impressive. One is left to assume, though, that this is an abridged edition of his often-staunch inquiry into Africa's humanity, spirituality, politics and post-colonial identity crisis.
He stressed that the partitioning of Africa remains an unforgivable action by the colonial warlords. The geographical mismatching is given as the source of most of the tensions and impediment of progress as witnessed in post-colonial Africa.
The book flows with history and feels like a dossier for African religions, spirituality and humanity, especially before the Europeans. A particularly moving session is one about Africans’ crimes against Africans, and Badagry, Gold Coast, Ivory Coast, etc. take a fore. I haven’t read anything more robust about that part of slavery.
About the only sentence that summarizes the content of the book and it’s just a powerful minimalist representation of Africa’s relation with colonial visitors is:
“Africa remains the monumental fiction of European creativity.”
This is an interesting book and is highly recommended. I'm glad I read it. I took this picture on a failed attempt to read it on a flight back to Lagos.