Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bayan Layi's Kuka Tree, Review of Bayan Layi

(INTERNET PHOTO) Review of Bayan Layi, short story written by Elnathan John, published in Per Contra. We all look forward to a simply told story which we can enjoy from the start to the end. Bayan Layi is exactly that. Because of its simplicity and Elnathan’s powerful gift of story-telling, it is also easy to sway with the motions of the words and miss the different nuances. Let’s begin with the Kuka Tree, which is the place of shelter for the gang of boys who play the bigger part of the story. It is their place of freedom from adults and authority, who antagonize their dreams, and a place where they can boast about their past while planning for their future. The boys are seated under the Kuka and Daltan, our narrator introduces his own internal conflict at the beginning. While the other boys can boast about men they have killed, he can’t. This immediately makes one think of someone weak or physically and mentally incapacitated in one way or another. The Kuka Tree, their place governed by its own rules unites these boys who have been estranged from families and idealized structures for various reasons. Their life is one of unpredictability, high-risk and excitement. As they sit and talk under the tree, Godedanisa one of the gang members is boasting about a kill which our narrator knows is false. The narrator, Daltan is furious at the tale but he is aware that it is not in his place to reveal the truth. There are many things that come to light here, is Daltan fearful because he is small? Why does he belong in the gang if he has never killed anyone? Is he searching for something bigger than just belonging in a gang? Many of those are answered as we read the story which I have summarized below. Significantly, even though he is the most feeble, he also bears the most strength because he carries the entire narrative in his voice. This gang does not belong to any formal home setting or attend formal schooling, their world views have been shaped by finding cunning ways of surviving on the streets looking for food and shelter. Daltan in particular is driven by a quest for life’s truths through Allah or otherwise, and because he has never seen his father or brothers in a very long time, his new family is made up of the boys under the tree and Banda who is his father-figure. Banda is the most revered because of his connections in the town, his physical strength and his ability to supply the popular drug, wee-wee amongst the boys. Sadly it is this strength that lets him down when he breaks into a fit of coughing during the raid of the office of a Big Political party which leads to his subsequent death. The struggles of the boys to maintain their honour, sense of loyalty to Allah, to the small political party and to one another is what carries this beautiful story through. Being a very strong Muslim community, it is no wonder we hear the strong voices of males without the narrative of a female. Had it been different, it may have caused a shift in the story and possibly not have served its purpose. What we can appreciate is that even the toughest of them, Banda will not take any insult to his mother lying down. When Gobedanisa insults him with the words, Gindin Mama ka! Your mother’s cunt, it is enough to start a brawl. Honor is a strong theme in this story because while Daltan, the smallest and most incapable of fighting is called a cikin shege, a bastard by Alfa, it is this dishonourable word that brings more tears to his eyes than the death of his father. Banda, Daltan’s surrogate father is able to ward off Alfa in a fight after which he also introduces Daltan to his first taste of the drug wee-wee. The feeling of the drug makes him light-headed and gives him a weird physical strength. It is Allah, apparently who decides who lives, who suffers and who dies in Bayan Layi. From the boy who stole groundnut oil from Maman Ladidi’s house, another female character, to the scores who have died in riots. Maman Ladidi is an interesting icon of a woman’s power. After the boy thief is able to escape a beating from this gang, his body is later found in a gutter. One can believe that Allah desires justice for women here. The dichotomy between the two political rivals, The Small Party and The Big Party presents a great finale to the story. During the pinning of campaign posters and during political rallies, Banda is sought after to collect boys to support the process. It is after an election fraud meted by the opposition Big Party that the boys are paid to cause havoc on the property of this opposition. They burn the main office buildings; kill an old and familiar security guard, loot and burn lots of property within their sight. Daltan tastes the real bitter-sweet pleasure of hacking and burning a man to death. At this point, Banda’s physical strength fails him and because of his serious cough, is unable to outrun the policemen that fire at him. He dies from gunshot wounds. It is no wonder that Daltan flees, even after the sound of gunshots ceases. He flees past the Kuka Tree, far from Bayan Layi because now that Banda is dead, there is nothing really left for him. It is also a manifestation of a young scared boy who cannot manage well without an older person to guide and protect him. This is a great story for telling and re-telling. Reviewed by Beverley Nambozo

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