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Myths are embedded in the cultural heritage of nations. This research analyzes the treatment of myths evident in the African culture as seen in Okri’s The Famished Road. The text is imbued with elements that are germane to the objectives of this study. This research employs Northop Frye’s Archetypal theory which deals with recurring myths and symbols of season, life and death as well as images, and character types. This research maintains that myths are of great relevance in our contemporary society, especially as The Famished Road is almost an allegory of the Nigerian nation.
Title page i
Table of Contents vii
Chapter One: Introduction 1
Background to the Study 1
Statement of the Problem 6
Objective of the Study 6
Significance of the Study 7
Scope and Limitation of the Study 8
Research Methodology 8
Chapter Two: Literature Review 9
The Concept of Myth 9
Functions of Myths 12
Engaging Myths in African Literature 15
Ben Okri: A Short Biography 18
Chapter Three: Review of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road 20
Summary of The Famished Road 20
Mythic Characters in The Famished Road 28
Chapter Four: Review of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road 35
Dynamics of Mythic Exploration in The Famished Road 35
Chapter Five: Summary and Conclusion 42
Works Cited 48
The life and activities of every community draw its vitality from the Weltanschauung of such a people otherwise called their worldview. This worldview as it is, underlies the basic tenets, norms and activities of a people; giving them a unique identity such that it marks them out as a people distinct from the rest of humanity. A people’s worldview is considered to be the cultural universal which is seen to be the nucleus of a culture that admits of no change even while the particular aspects of the culture (cultural particulars) constantly change. Language is a central aspect of culture that derives from the very heart of the worldview of the people that upholds such culture. This is to the extent that language is seen as typical representation of culture in signs and symbols (both oral and written). This is typical of literature across the world that portray contextual cultural values of the culture from which they are written. The African experience does not differ from this fact.
Since the emergence of Things Fall Apart till now, Nigerian writers have always resorted to what readers deem as verifiable in their narratives via various realistic aids and indices. In an effort to carve a niche for what could be validly regarded as African Literature, it has been the interest of authors to build on the African experience. In this effort, some authors have even set language barriers for what should constitute African literature in its real sense. Ngugi (1986) states in The Language of African Literature that it is an aberration to have African literature in English language or African literature in French. He argues that “the diplomatic way out of this problem is to ‘panel-beat’ the European languages – English and French – so that they function just as languages for us but not as carriers of our culture; then we infuse our culture in them. It is therefore imperative that the English language is brought home (tailored) to meet the demands of the aesthetics of the African languages – the Igbo-African aesthetics or the Zulu-African aesthetics; this is also true of all other tribes in Africa”. All this is an effort to relate a literary experience that is truly African. (Ngugi, 1986. P.14)
Besides the use of language, African writers have tried also to contextualize their works; drawing them from the lived experiences and cultural aspects of what are truly adjudged African. This projects in a simpler manner the fact that some African novelists employ myth in making their literary impacts.
Scholars have engaged the question of myth and how African literature employs it. Many of them consider myth as an integral part of a larger definition of oral tradition which they take as the fulcrum of African literary thematic preoccupation. Others have devoted intellectual energy to a thorough analysis of myths and their paramount place in the African worldview; Soyinka (1976) and Okpewho (1981) are classical examples. Myths, according to Akporobaro (2001):
Symbolize human experience and embody the spiritual values of a culture. Every society preserves its myths because the beliefs and worldview found within them are crucial to the survival of that culture…Myths often include elements from legend and folklore. They depict humans as an integral part of a larger universe, and they impart a feeling of awe for all that is mysterious and marvelous in life (emphases, added). (P.24)
Myths, legends and heroism are usually in the realm of oral literature which according to Akporobaro (2001) refers to “the heritage of imaginative verbal creations, stories, folk-beliefs and songs of pre-literate societies which have been evolved and passed on through the spoken word from one generation to another.” (P.26) it is also the unwritten traditions of a nation, their religious beliefs, stories, myths, and legends which express the artistic life and moral beliefs of the people. Oral literature includes folktales, ballads and songs, epic narratives, myths and legends, songs, riddles, proverbs, recitations, etc. These forms constitute in a real and significant sense, the literary traditions and achievements of indigenous African societies. They are the manifestations of traditional creative imagination beliefs and perceptions of social reality. They are modes which construct and deconstruct the social-cultural milieu of the people. These are the verbal, auditory manifestations of man’s creative impulse expressing his innate creative sensibility.
Emphasizing the importance of myths, Owomoyela (1979) explains the interrelationships of all things that exist and provide for the group and its members a necessary sense of their place in relation to their environment and the forces that order events on earth. From the assertion of Owomoyela (1979), it could be affirmed that the use of myths in literary works has both cultural and literal impacts. Culturally, such mythical works of literature help in the promotions of the values and heritage of such culture. Another important point to note is the literary import of the use of mythical method of writing. With the story telling approach, the reader is glued to the literary piece. Therefore, the use of myths is capable of capturing and sustaining the attention of the reader. The evidence of the benefits of the mythical method could be shifted from the number of authors who do not hesitate in taking advantage of the mythical method of novel writing.
Background to the Study
Ben Okri’s The Famished Road is his “magnum opus” that seeks neither to glorify the African past nor to push the cause of nationalism too far, though it achieves both beautifully and without much effort, like any other true classics. Okri does not bother to present the details of African culture and social life or to argue for the preservation of the same. He is more interested in capturing exaggeration. He pushes the bounds of belief and creates his real, super-real world. All realms merge and run together, space is shattered and time is pushed back to the beginnings of all folklore. The Famished Road by Ben Okri is largely based on the first hand experiences of the author in relation to the Nigerian Civil War. This novel displays a certain vibe in the cultural and ancestral roots of the author; he states that his fiction more often than not bears the weight of certain philosophical conundrums (Halpé, 2010).
However, Olu-Owolabi (2011) contends that the present state of retrogression in Nigeria, and indeed the rest of Africa, stems from the near absence of the critical capacity to reflect and interrogate issues, concepts and circumstances by the present generation. According to him “All these signs of impending perilous times are products of our unexamined living,… but the good life, an ideal that philosophers have sought since time immemorial, can only be realized by constant rigorous and critical reflections”.
In other words, the seeming abyss in contemporary society can only be challenged by the ability to engage those issues critically. Added to this is OyinOgunba’s (1998) charge on the need for further exploration of myths in order to deepen the thematic concerns of African literature and further endear it to its enabling milieu. In other words, Olu-Owolabi’s concern above can be located in the present endeavour in Ogunba’s challenge with regard to the question of myth in African literature.
It should be stated that myths in African sensibilities do not just centre on fictional stories or escapist attempts at explaining away existential riddles. Rather, myths represent indigenous attempts at either fictionalizing reality or injecting the elements of the realistic into the fictional. In other words, myths in the African milieu are literary forms which interconnect the states of being, or in philosophical parlance, the different levels of being. The plight of Africa and its inhabitants is a subject of enormous concern. This may explain why Okri uses post-independence Nigeria as his setting with the narratives replete with satiric undercurrents. Okri’s The Famished Road seems in-depth in terms of universalizing a general angst over the state of the human self, thus making its satire less biting but rather subtle.
Therefore, the present study seeks to critically study myths in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. The interest is to underscore the mythical method of novel writing towards identifying what truly can be defined as an African experience.
Statement of Problem
It should be noted that myths in the African milieu are literary forms which interconnect the states of being, or in philosophical parlance, the different levels of being.
Against the above backdrop, the question that agitates the critical mind is, why recourse to oral tradition? It may prove worthwhile to focus once again on myths and how they are reconstructed in the African creative context. It becomes imperative to examine, or re-examine the mythic sensibilities of the African self, as mirrored in the African novel. As a matter of fact, it is interesting to note that despite the fact that Ben Okri is permanently based abroad, he is being driven by formal, stylistic and thematic concerns as well as a quest for the roots. This shows that oral tradition continues to influence the creative consciousness in Africa.
The present study seeks to examine the relevance of the mythic in the portrayal of contemporary Nigerian/African society by Ben Okri. This is with a view to showing that African writers, especially in Diaspora, utilize the oral raw materials available to them in projecting contemporary literature of twenty-first century.
Objective of the Study
Certainly literary productions have the imprint of the milieu which produces them, since art penetrates social psychology and engages happenings in society. Accordingly, African literature has been said to be self-reflexive, especially through pungent depiction of the enabling situations. The African novel demonstrates a viable melting pot for the philosophy, oral, religion and world-view generally. Ben Okri’s The Famished Road represents African prose fiction which centres on African mythic consciousness.
The main objective of this study is that African literature is inward looking and root-seeking. The social and political angst which runs in the world of The Famished Road is archetypal of post-independence African states. The study also seeks to appraise the mythical method of novel writing as a literary style while at the same time, establishing it as a formidable way of contextualizing African experience.
Significance of the Study
This work, in addition to experimenting with the ‘mythical writing’ adds to the existing body of works that have been done by different scholars on the language problem of African literature. Therefore, this work can be referred to in any study on the problem of African literature, and mythical writing, also, as a concept or style of writing. It will also be useful on any discourse of writing in African fiction.
The details of this work will be beneficial to students of literature particularly those study boarder on African Literature. Researchers will find this work handy and useful since it will be a veritable lead into the entire gamut of African mythic literature. The study will be helpful for academics who are in the field of literature and for other researchers, writers and authors alike.
Scope and Limitation of the Study
The content scope of this study is ‘Myth in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road’. This is an African Novel not simply on the grounds that it was written by someone who is African by birth, but because it qualifies to be identified as African Literature from the fact of both its content and method. The content of the novel relates the Post-Colonial African experience. It depicts a historical trend in the African setting with specific pointers to Nigeria. The Famished Road serves as the primary text for relating this African experience.
This research focuses on the primary text The Famished Road in relation to its stylistics of mythical writing and other texts that may be referred to.
This study is limited to the study of myths which primarily belong to the oral tradition not circumscribed by time and geographical boundaries.
The method of this research is qualitative and wholly analytical. It draws most of its arguments from African and other literature. The present study adopted an Archetypal approach which is considered adequate since the approach places emphasis on recurring myths and archetypes in the narrative, symbols, images, and character types. Secondary data from other sources like the library, internet, reviews and critical analyses are also legitimate.