Towards a United Humanity: A Literary Retrospection (Part I) ~ Paul Liam



I have always been a proud African, one who has been chiefly influenced by the unpleasant history of colonial exploration and exploitation of the continent by the West. My pride stemmed from the awareness that my existence was connected to a reality I held responsible for my subjected humanity. Yes, living with the knowing that my race was considered inferior and my skin colour equated with negative and demeaning metaphors, fostered in me the feelings of disdain towards Europe and the West in general. Thus, I found solace in my dislike of the West. Being a proud African afforded me the opportunity to picture myself within an utopia wherein, I could will myself to view my reality outside colonial conscriptions. I could live in my moments of illusion, albeit temporarily believing that my life has no interconnectedness with the West. I tried to convince myself that my humanity wasn't part of the race so inhumanly debased by foreign  narratives, I convinced myself into believing that my story has not been told and I, alone was capable of telling my own story, and telling it as it truly is. Whether or not my conviction of the West was justified or not, it was how I felt, and I took great joy in distancing myself from a reality I couldn't confront, so I became really critical of the West and of myself and others around me. I didn't understand why things had to be the way that they were.

My perception of the West as the "other" and as the "enemy" was not unconnected with the colonial history between both continents wherein, Africa, I, was the subject and the West, the master. This was a reality I couldn't bring myself to understand and to accept, that it was all in the past now. My frustration was fueled by the books that I had read about Africa, in which my humanity was portrayed in the most uncivilized manner. "Savage" was a term that stuck to my consciousness, ensuing from critical literary classes which helped me to realize the great paradoxical world in which I live. I doubted my own humanity because men from other races took the liberty to represent my race as a misfortune to the world, memories of slavery flooded my mind at the thought of this realization. How could I forgive and unlearn such a sad history of my race that couldn't be unwritten? So, I had a good reason to be angry at the West, this was my conviction.

As an offspring of post colonialism, I took great pride in writings that shared my sentiments. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, An Image of Africa, and Edward Said's Orientalism, respectively, provided me the tool with which to console myself, making me see myself with more confidence, in their renunciation of the jaundiced narratives of Europeans, of the colonized people of the world. Through their perspectives, I was able to reconcile with my reality as a child of circumstance. And the brutal politics of representation as a tool for the entrenchment of imperialist motives became more glaring to me. This newness created in me a kind of confidence that had been lacking at the beginning of my quest for deeper purpose and meaning, to how humanity could be more United!

I soon began to realize that it was not necessarily my colonial past that affected me or my likes, but, that it was indeed my unwillingness to recognize the glaring truth that stared me in the face, about the new age of globalization that was responsible for my narrowed perception of the world, and the West in particular. I had failed after all, to see myself beyond the exigencies that tied me to my immediate environment and sentiments without realizing that without embracing the world and being a part of its modern narratives, I could be doing a great disservice not only to myself but also to my race as well. I realized that I was better among than apart. The knowing that I couldn't really affect the world with my ideas by being apart from it shook the principles that had held me captive for years. It happened so fast that I realized that I had not been only denying myself a rare opportunity to interact with the world and negotiate my place in it, but that I was denying my society the opportunity of having a seat in the chamber of global dialogue through me. It dawned on me that if I didn't join the global dialogue, my land would be taken away without my knowing it again, because I have refused to be involved with the larger system of things.

But how did this new knowing come to me? Was it by nature's plan? Was it an accident? It took a single encounter and a simple dialogue to change the several years of conviction that I had lived with, about myself and place in the world. I realized that the world owes me nothing, but that I owe the world something, a piece of me. It took my meeting a Researcher, Michal Musialowski, a white man on a research mission in Nigeria, researching on Nigerian poetry, and in particular contemporary Nigerian poetry by young writers for his master's thesis. To be honest, I hadn't any idea what to expect when I had gone to the airport to pick him up that Tuesday morning at the nation's capital, Abuja. It was the first time I would be getting really personal with a "white" person, of course, I have seen and met white people, but this was different, I wasn't only going to be meeting with him, but I was also going to lead him to Lapai, to the Ibrahim Badamasi Bangidada University, where he was to reside for the period of his six weeks stay. I had always imagined that I would never like or get along with a person because of the hate I thought I had for white people.

End of Part I.

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Paul Liam is a Nigerian poet, writer and literary critic. He guest-contributes to The Arts-Muse Fair







Comments

  1. This is inspirational. Now heavily filled and squared up with the hunger of what lies ahead.

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