Elechi Amadi’s (b. 1934) novel The Great Ponds is a stylized, only seemingly simple, story about a conflict between two Ikwerre villages (Niger Delta, today Rivers State, Nigeria). The conflict concerns to begin with an internal local wrestling match, a male skirmish, about fishing rights between ‘strong men’ and the leaders’ manipulative handling of the god systems, to escalate into an apocalyptic pandemonium of death with wonjo (1918), the Spanish Flu (La Grippe) as the catalyst. References to wonjo occur only at the very end of The Great Ponds, as if Amadi had resolved to position his story in a de-contextualized exclusive African enclave on the Atlantic coast, outside the history of the white man’s two century-long colonization of Ikwerre land and neighboring Igboland. This may have been his decision, only that a writer’s decision can be jammed by his book, which is the case here. Amadi wrote his story in 1969 while the Nigerian civil war, the Biafran War (1967-1970), was on going; the writer staunchly loyal with the Federal side throughout. The absence in The Great Ponds of ‘white men,’ ‘white religions,’ and the ’white decease’ (as the Spanish Flue has been identified as, only that it was global; 40,000 thousand died in Sweden and even more in Finland), it needs to be pointed out, only has a formal significance. The cruelties that embodied the breaking down of the two villages in the novel were underpinned by a series of ‘events’: one, the wonjo; second, the colonial wars that had been waged in the Niger Delta between the British and the Igbo ever since the first missionaries arrived in the 1850s; third, the Biafran War that positioned, sadly, Amadi– in theory – against Chinua Achebe, his colleague and friend. They were born and bred 150 km from each other; Achebe four years his older; they had been to the same prestigious colonial school, Government College, Umuahio; and were alumni at University College, Ibadan. An Ikwerre against an Igbo. No!
Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) engages the ‘white men’ and their religion; Achebe wrote a history about the colonial encounter. Amadi erased the Europeans. Amadi wrote an ethnographic allegory from within local belief systems. But more importantly, the two share the vision of what constitutes the foundation for not ‘falling apart,’ whether it is a group or an individual and a village like Chiolu (Amadi) or Umuofia (Achebe): the ability to talk, to negotiate, to compromise, and when rule systems violate the dynamism of change (impacted by neighbors, foreigners, or women), disobey the ‘rules,’ replace them! No god can breathe for long within the pages of a single volume! The once commensurate patriarchal system in The Great Ponds, based on concord and solidarity, disintegrated into religious fundamentalism, brutal violence, greed, and mercilessness, with the gods and their adjuncts in recalcitrant partnership. It was not wonjo’s fault!
Stockholm: Modernista , 2015. v-x p.