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Wilton Sankawulo: The Rain and the Night
Sankawulo’s first novel is set in his native region of Haindi. Despite the evidence of some Western influences – guns, denim – there are no signs of any white men around. This is not a how the whites changed my country novel. Indeed, it is set primarily in one village, where we follow, in a relatively low key way, their life. It is seen primarily, though not exclusively, from the point of view of the chief, Kortuma. At the beginning of the novel, his father, Gbolokai, is dying and dies shortly afterwards. Kortuma inherits the position automatically but, despite being chief, many of his preoccupations are mundane, dealing with his relationships with his wives and children as well as the many rituals the village follows. He wonders whether he should inherit his father’s wives but decides to let them choose their own spouses. He has problems with one of his own wives and only the intervention of her parents calms things down. Indeed, she wants more attention but that is not possible when the chief has many wives. Some of the wives take on a lover as they are not getting enough love at home but there is considerable risk to this if the lover is discovered.
Gbolokai had been planning to attack the neighbouring Golaland as they had been attacking the people of Fuama, Kortuma’s people, on their way to the sea. However his illness had stopped his plans and now Kortuma plans to take over where his father left off. But this is not a military novel. Kortuma has little involvement in the military exercise once he has made the decision, apart from ritual encouragement and participation at religious ceremonies. The small army is led by Gayflor, known as the Master, the chief Zoe (witch doctor). The Zoes seem to play an important role but are generally liked and respected and not seen as controlling or power-grabbing. The war seems to last a long time without news. Indeed the men set off to war and the next chapter states that Kortuma has received no news for almost a year. We later see the course of the battle as the Fuama attack Golaland, destroy a sacred village and cause havoc, though not without their own losses, including the Master.
It all ends happily enough. The two tribes are reconciled. The troublesome wife has a son who grows up well and everyone is happy. Not a great novel but it is well told by Sankawulo and it is enjoyable to have a novel by an African that focuses entirely on the Africans.
First published by Macmillan in 1979