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This dissertation is a study of the influence of the Supernatural in Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine and The Great Ponds- an x-ray of men and women living in a universe teeming with God, gods, goddesses, spirits, deities, the transcendentals and natural phenomena like sacred animals, birds, hills, and rivers. They all share in the attributes of the supernatural. Unfortunately, man’s vaunted ambition to satiate his quest for the best of everything has always run counter to the dictates of the supernatural, leading as it were, to untold hardships, deaths, and total loss of the gleam. The novels leave us with an enduring lesson that the gods are inscrutable and have a hand in all affairs of the human world. The study reveals that man’s destiny and affairs or existential struggles is dictated and controlled by the supernatural. Furthermore, the study portrays that man is a pawn in the hands of the supernatural. However, man’s conscious effort to counteract his destiny often result in tragedy as exemplified in the novel under study. The theory of myth was adopted to investigate the influence of the supernatural in the affairs of the characters in the two novels as no other literary theory explains the mystery of life and death.
The idea of the supernatural exists in every traditional society all over the world. The ancient Greeks saw man as being a victim of the supernatural. It is however in the oral tradition that the supernatural has its strongest hold. Geoffrey Parrinder in his text African Traditional Religion says; “To Africans, the spiritual world is so real and near, its forces intertwining and inspiring the visible world that, whether pagan or Christian, man has to reckon with things invisible to mortal sight”(10). Thus, the supernatural occupy an immense position in the minds of the Igbo society as in Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine and The Great Ponds.
In the traditional society, some animals are treated with reverence and some birds are regarded as ominous. When a particular stream or wooded landscape is found unique, it is a supernatural manifestation. These unique places are seen as the abodes of communal deities or local spirits identifiable with the destiny of the different communities. All these establish that beyond nature, there are the supernatural.
1.2 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The Igbo are a group of people whose culture and tradition mean a lot in their lives. They occupy a territory known as Eastern Nigeria which is made up of five major states namely: Abia, Imo, Enugu, Anambra, and Ebonyi states. Certain Igbo communities though in scattered formations could also be found in Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, and Kogi states of Nigeria.
The culture and tradition of the Igbo are guarded by a number of beliefs associated with the supernatural. The supernatural are God, gods, goddesses, deities, forces or powers that cannot be explained by the laws of science or be easily comprehended. It is these supernatural who influence activities in traditional societies.
Man has been dependent on “assumed” higher authority, power or god who he believes knows and controls his affairs throughout his life time on earth. Despite the worthwhile advances made by science and technology to better his lot and understand his environment, it is surprising that:
He is still deplorably ignorant and the universe is largely a mystery to him. He does not understand the nature of space and time; he does not know what matter is made of, if indeed it is made of anything. Above all he does not understand himself (Amadi 1).
From the above quotation, it is obvious that man is a stranger even to himself. This is why he is dependent on the supernatural in order to find answers to things he cannot explain and this in turn leads him into worship and reverence for those supernatural beings whose understanding eludes him. Therefore, man’s dependence on the supernatural is very important for his survival in a world he does not understand. Part of this dependence is in the culture and tradition of the Igbo people whose belief in the ancestors and gods affects their lives and mode of living even in written texts. Thus,
The African writer who really wants to interprete the African scene has to write in three dimensions at once. There is the private life, the social life and what you may call the supernatural (Amadi 7).
It means that, the private, social and most importantly the supernatural life of the Igbo will be explored if indeed they must write. The characters whose lives we will explore from Amadi’s novels in the course of this work have been portrayed with that human frailty, weakness and imperfect nature of men who have eyes but could not see and ears but could not hear. That is to say that at one point or the other, humans are confronted with forces and circumstances beyond their control.
1.3 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Man believes in the existence of higher and stronger supernatural beings who he depends on but hardly understands. He is obliged to worship, obey and do his best in order to conciliate them especially in times of crises. In spite of man’s interest and acquisitive tendencies, the gods remain inflexible and immutable. This research explores the influence of the supernatural in the activities of people and the limited nature of man’s cravings and the fact that gods are gods and that man seeks the impossible only to his own peril. This study intends to go beyond the peripheral approaches that existing studies of Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine and The Great Ponds have adopted to a much more in depth study of the gods and the mythological among the Igbo, and Amadi’s novels in particular.
1.4 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
This research aims at understanding the place of the gods in the affairs of men/women between themselves as human beings, and maintaining peace and justice in controversial circumstances between individuals, villages and towns. Above all, this research intends to discover whether the gods could be manipulated unjustly to take sides with aggressors against the just or be compelled to obey the whims, and caprices of contenders no matter how irrational. It is this emphasis which available critiques seem to overlook that the present study dwells on.
1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
Primarily, the relevance of this study lies in illuminating information on how the supernatural affects man in his day to day lifestyle, environment and way of life paying particular attention to the Igbo race. An in-depth study of how this supernaturals apparently controls man’s destiny and affairs leaves no one in doubt that mortal beings are mere pawns.
This study will be of immense help to students and teachers in reading, teaching, and appreciation of African literature. Curriculum developers/planners also stand to gain as it will give them insight into other spheres or interpretations of Elechi Amadi’s works, traditional African gods, goddesses, the supernatural, and the society.
Religious leaders are not left out. This might help them to understand and solve certain problems of their members knowing that everybody has one belief or the other when it comes to the supernatural, be it the Almighty God for Christians or the traditional gods and goddesses for traditionalists. In short, everybody has his faith anchored in some supreme being/supernatural entity. As Alfred Lord Tennyson would say in his poem ‘‘ In Memoriam Arthur Hallam’’ “we have but faith we do not know”.
1.6 SCOPE/LIMITATION OF THE STUDY
This study is based on, as well as limited to Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine and The Great Ponds. Occasionally, references could be made to other texts in an attempt to gain extra insight into the workings of the supernatural among the Igbo of Nigeria.
Method of gathering information is based on texts that have been written on this subject by several critics, library and internet resources as well as personal analyses of primary texts based on the understanding of Igbo society and mythology.
2.0 REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE.
The supernatural occupy an immense position in the minds of the Igbo society of Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine and The Great Ponds. In the hierarchy of beings in the novels, man is in the middle state; the gods, spirits and ancestors are on top as the superhuman forces while the trees, animals and minerals are below as inferior forces. Both texts depict the utter indifference of the supernatural to man’s fate. In The Concubine, Amadi dwells on the community with particular reference to the femme-fatale Ihuoma. The Great Ponds, on the other hand, basically dwells on inter-village rivalries. Here, Chiolu and Aliakoro village fight over the ownership of some ponds: the Wagaba ponds. Many writers have expressed their views in connection with Elechi Amadi’s works. It is some of these opinions and their relevance to the subject under study that this research will present in this chapter.
First, Afam Ebeogu in Encyclopedia of Post Colonial Literature states that
Amadi’s major works evoke a strong feeling of the defenselessness of human beings in the face of the supernatural. Even though his male characters are usually valiant warriors, wrestlers, and strong willed men, and his women characters are playful, loving, intelligent, and self willed, there are always in these works invisible figures lurking in the shadows, ironic twists lying in wait, hopes bound to be thwarted and inscrutable forces undermining humanity’s determination to control its destiny (35).
He goes further to state that
Amadi’s views… confirm that he is a lover of humanity but that he is disenchanted with humanity’s antics and with forces to which great power and authority are entrusted (35).
In another opinion on Amadi’s texts, Niyi Osundare maintains that “human characters as we find in Elechi Amadi’s novels are puppets moved by an overwhelming force” (17).
Margaret Laurence describes the gods in Amadi’s works thus;
Like the gods of ancient Greece, they are not presented as being just. They are neither good nor evil, they are merely powerful… they are real and they affect the lives of mortals in real and inexplicable ways (27).
She goes further to comment specifically on The Concubine. She writes that “The Concubine contains an acute awareness of fates and ironies. For at the exact moment when we think the prize is within grasp, the gods cut the thread” (41). This is used to explain the plight of the male victims desirous of Ihuoma’s love. First, when Madume wants to harvest the plantain on Emenike’s land after assaulting Ihuoma, the spitting cobra blinds him. Just when Ahuruole is hoping to have Ekwueme all to herself with the help of the love potion, she sends him (Ekwueme) raving mad in the forest. Just after Agwoturumbe’s boast to Ihuoma that their marriage will become a reality after the sacrifice that night, Ekwueme is killed by Nwonna’s arrow. Ironically too, he (Ekwueme) that advises Nwonna on how to shoot the arrow to kill the lizard is himself killed by Nwonna’s arrow. G.N Ofor puts it that “The Concubine is concerned with man’s complex relationship with the gods and the supernatural” (34).
Oladele Taiwo in his text Social Experience in African Literature writes:
As in The Concubine and The Great Ponds, Amadi describes a society that is pre-colonial perhaps pre-historic and is therefore not disturbed in any way by external influences. Social life is under the superintendence of the gods who control human destiny and against whose judgments and decisions man is powerless. People live a communal life and believe that the action of an individual member can bring great joy or calamity as the case may be on the community as a whole. The protection of the gods is considered so essential that men take every kind of step to ensure that no evil spirit comes between them and their gods (155 -156).
In Neil Mc Ewan’s Africa and the Novel, he says “The Great Ponds and The Concubine are written of traditional village life and told as though by a villager but written by an exceptionally intelligent scientist, teacher and administrator (16).
Kolawole Ogungbesan in New West African Literature writes
His narrative is characterized by smoothness, directness and simplicity. Amadi is constantly engaged in a cool assessment of situations, seeking expedient solutions and sometimes assenting to compromises (14-15).
AMADI’S PRESENTATION OF CHARACTERS
In The Concubine, it is Ihuoma who is our heroine. “The remarkable Ihuoma is a virtuous, beautiful, gentle, and near perfect woman respected by the entire village community but one who brings death to all her lovers” (33).
Eustace Palmer puts it this way:
The Concubine is a powerful love story written in lucid and beautiful prose. The author examines the problems of young love and of man’s relationship with the gods and presents a society whose stability rests on tradition and the worship of the gods. The activities he describes- daily excursions to the farm… the marriage customs, divinations and fear of the gods- - are all integral to numerous African villages (117).
He goes further to say that in the novel, there are numerous descriptions of sacrifices, dances… giving example of Madume’s consultation from the dibia Anyika. In that case, “we are much more aware of the young man’s fear of death and his anxiety to placate the gods than of the phenomenon of sacrifice” (118). However, he continues that
Amadi’s main concern in this novel is not the presentation of Omokachi society, powerful though his portrayal is, but the story of the life and lovers of Ihuoma; in particular her relationship with Ekwueme and the terrible fate which the gods ordained for her (119).
In another description of Ihuoma our heroine, Anne Paolucci writes “The heroine in Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine is an extraordinary beautiful femme-fatale turned out to be an incarnated Sea goddess married to a jealous king” (21). Durosimi Jones describes the novel as
The novel, The Concubine, illustrates the making of Ogbanje in the Igbo country. It tells of how the love for Ihuoma (a water spirit and wife of the Sea King) became the doom and extinction of the three men who wanted her for themselves (104).
Ernest N Emenyonu says “It is a novel which is deeply rooted in the tradition of the people… it is concerned with man’s complex relationship with the gods and the supernatural” (38).
Obiechina puts it this way:
In The Concubine, the entire plot turns on the fact that without knowing it, the heroine is a water maid and wife of a jealous Sea King… Amadi’s water maid has left her husband to join the human species. The affronted and vengeful husband allows the flighty wife her whim provided she never marries any human; the only status allowed her is that of a Concubine. Ihuoma’s character illustrates a peculiarity already observed in West African novels in the traditional environment. That is that the boundary between human beings, gods and spirits tends to become blurred (98). Her other worldly beauty makes her desirable to young men in need of wives and like the femme-fatale of the European imagination, she brings tragedy and death to her eager suitors (39).
Life flows in an even tenor in The Concubine. The villagers live a thoroughly integrated community life which when it is disrupted at all is disrupted by forces beyond the control of man. Amadi conceives his novel as an idyllic tale and paints a picture of a fully integrated, serene and dignified community with which every one feels a sense of belonging and an instinctive goodwill towards his neighbours. Every one is reasonably happy and reasonably supplied with the necessities of life; there is no hunger hardly any sickness, no rudeness; the only serious quarrel is between the single bad man of the village and its best man (145).
Here the story begins and the mysteries begin to unravel themselves.
Emenike and Madume meet in the bush and a fight ensues bordering on the land in dispute which the elders have passed judgment on in favour of Emenike but the big eyed Madume decides to fight it out. After the fight, Emenike goes home badly injured. Ernest Emenyonu puts it this way “Emenike was not afraid of Madume. He had been a favourite in the contest over a village beauty. He knew he could hold his own against Madume any day given a fair chance” (166).
Ernest Emenyonu describes the role of fate and man’s helplessness concerning the fight between Emenike and Madume when he writes “a man’s god may be away on a journey on the day of an important fight. That may make all the difference.” This was Emenike’s fate and it is portra
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