BORDER CROSSING: Corporeality in Okey Ndibe’s “Arrows of Rain”

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This chapter analyzes Okey Ndibe’s Arrows of Rain with the primarily bother theory. It will depend on the concept of corporeality as well as the postcolonial concept of subaltern to drive this message home. First, it will start with evaluating Madia as an exploited body/space and subsequently, proceed to the character of Iyese. Finally, it will examine the significance of Iyese in Madia’s story as a nation.

4.1 Madia: An Abused Body

One of the first things one encounters in the study of the border is that border does not propel a singular meaning when mentioned. Also, the person could come across some explanations from Skimanki and Wolfe as we have seen before or the description from Sarah Green. The deal is that wherever the idea comes from, one would notice the range within which the meaning of border could be picked based on a particular context of discourse. For instance, Skimanski as we have seen earlier talks of the border as something that could exist between the inside and outside of a house (walls, doors, thresholds windows) [a marker] or “limit”. Here, two things come to mind, the marker brings out a particular place, making it spectacular and visible for others to see and evaluate what happens within it; a country or state may come to mind as much, also a house. Limits could also present one with the bounds, restrains, or confines to which beings are exposed. In this context, these limits when looked at side by side with the idea of border as a space marked off in the sense of a country or state, the experience of the border will show the idea that Green proposes in multiplicity and chaos and relational location. Madia presents the reality of border as a space where politics, government and humans interact, limits to which humans are bound, and a transgressed space.

In Arrows of rain, Madia is a space that is carved out for scrutiny. It presents one with a border constituted and expressed on the plane of the senses (as in the original, broader meaning of the word aesthetic), as signs, or within a more deconstructive paradigm, as traces (Cultural Production and Negotiation of Borders: Introduction to the Dossier 4). Looking at it to see the major components of its reality, one sees that the country is where a lot of things has happened and continues. First, Madia is a conquered land. Schimanski and Wolfe explain that sovereignty in modern times is often associated with people’s right to self-government and arbitrarily powerful territorial borders. The novel shows Ogugua narrating about her independence in 1960, exposing the defeat of these from the outset:

On 1 October 1960, our country had groped its way through the dark waters of the British womb and emerged into the world as a nation. The birth had been a long time coming. In 1884, representatives of British trading companies had taken to Berlin, a map with which they persuaded their European siblings to acknowledge a large parcel of land on the western hump of Africa as a possession of the British crown. But the Berlin map of the new British protectorate concealed more than it revealed. It did not show, for example, that Madia contained more people than several European nations put together, or that these people spoke more than two hundred and fifty different languages, worshipped thousands of different gods and ranged in hue from the gradations of brown among the darker-skinned Bantu to the sepia of the much lighter groups of Semitic origin. (Arrows of Rain 54)

One notices that Madia does not come into being because the people in the different territories or nations willed it. There are many people and there is an external force that contributed to the forging of the state. Madia became a place where a new identity is given to people so that their distinct identities are concealed. In Green’s essay, A Sense of Border, she relates how the French successfully forced border on the people of Chad basins for their ulterior motive (A Sense of Border 582). According to her, they didn’t care about their initial state of existence as a people. Green explains that they “[Chad Basin] appeared to be chock full of people who eventually came to be defined as a “floating population”; a people, she explains, were anything but territorially bound.  This makes understanding of Madia’s position in her formation, appreciated. It is learnt that some groups of Europeans sat in their interest elsewhere with a map and created territorial boundaries where many ethnic groups exist without caring and enforcing it on these people. The only difference here is that the major actor in Madia’s story is Britain instead of France. But does it make her story and that of the people trapped in it much less miserable? The answer comes off negative because as Green points out, there is always nothing at the center holding people like this together. What she does not remember is that a chain, suffering can be something holding a people like this. It does not have to always be a good cause. The only thing they united to fight for was colonialism. What is experienced in her case is a constant effort at bringing the people while tending their differences because it made them vulnerable and easier to control. And when they ousted their masters, the politicians who occupied the place ended up reminding the people how distinct they were from the outset. Reuben’s father tells Ogugua at one of the parties that Reuben constantly organized that:

These were the same leaders who asked us to drop to the dirt and fight the white man. Peasants and workers alike answered the call. Then, when the white man left, what did these leaders do? They took the owner’s corner in the pleasure cars abandoned by the white man. They ran into the mansions the British left behind and barricaded themselves there. Then they began to remind us that we were not one people, after all; that we are Hausa or Yoruba or Igbo or Ibibio or Kanuri or Nupe or Edo or Efik or Fufulde or Tiv. Like the British, they discovered they could rule if they divided the ruled. (82)

It is revealed from this passage that the British are not the sole cause of this malady that Madia is. However, the British with their European counterparts are the beginning of that chaos, otherwise, how would another nation elsewhere on the globe decide to enforce its will and “civility” on nations and create their own boundaries off them? T. Falola and C Agbo confirm that the boundaries were artificial (Colonial Administrations and the African 89). The motive will clearly be for what they benefitted from the people and the land.  They never even wanted to let go of the land. Their presence left a heterotopia space, a place where series of undesirable and unorderly things are present (Chowdhury 2). Madia becomes a museum of disorder, as would be seen both in their cultural difference, the civilian manipulation of this reality and the terror of the military rule.  Ogugua narrates that: British officials, who never thought of their colonial possessions as nations-in-rehearsal, turned up their noses at these natives in breeches speaking the civilized tongue in strange accents. But the English uppishness neither deterred the natives nor prevented the unravelling of the British Empire, an event accelerated by the world’s second big war” (Pg. 56).

The country, as understood, is left in the hands of people who only united among themselves to loot the country. These births the second phase of the abuse on Madia. What is painful is that these people are those that learned to speak in the name of a political community that was newfangled, strange, and entirely of British conception. They demanded that they “be let alone to run their affairs as an independent nation”, and their major tools in this fight were the white man’s tongue and double-edged rhetoric extolling human freedom and liberty, on the one hand, slavery and the notion of supremacy on the other (Pg. 57). It did not have to be long before these politicians decided to abandon the reason, they wanted to have the nation. Immediately power left the British, it is realized that the prime minister spends enormous funds to build a prison. The Bande maximum prison that Askia erects is in a location as remote from the bustle of life as possible. He had no wish for the intended inmates; his political enemies to be reached by the familiar sounds of the human world (Pg. 24). The irony is that Bande maximum prison becomes his home when power is usurped from him.

These politicians know the state of their people and nation and that what they sought for was freedom. This freedom will translate into being accounted to in every sense of it. Madia would have grown as a nation if they built the principles of their new nation and government for the betterment and inclusion of Madia and Madians, but they saw them as objects to be exploited just as the British did. There was no plan to better the lives of the general masses, and this is what Ruth Rempel posits as an acute omission (Development History and Postcolonial African Experience 885). Pa Ata wonders if the politicians, his son not excluded, were the same leaders who asked us to “drop to the dirt and fight the white man”. They took the owner’s corner in the pleasure cars abandoned by the white man. All they did was enrich themselves. Pa Ata laments that these politicians knew the role sustainable peace and development would have played in the development of their nation and the citizens, however, they chose to remind us [the citizens] that we were not one people, after all; that we are Hausa or Yoruba or Igbo or Ibibio or Kanuri or Nupe or Edo or Efik or Fufulde or Tiv. Like the British, they discovered they could rule if they divided the ruled (64). 

The hope of Madians to own their destiny at the dawn of their independence is thwarted by these politicians. The text tells that these cabinet ministers puffed out protruding bellies they called PP, for Power Paunch (54). Their bellies, however, is the only thing that unites them. By their behavior, these politicians only made the experience of the people who thought that they would pick communism after ousting the British from their land, worse. Arrows of Rain reveals that even though they had no intention of entertaining any superior being after their ordeal with colonialism, some of them were ready to become their gods (Pg. 54). This notwithstanding, they moved from being self-governed to being manipulated by the British and when they could think of freedom, capitalism and kleptocracy slipped in.

The final stage of Madia’s abuse is with the military. The stories in Arrows of Rain seems to revolve around Military rule in Madia. This way, it echoes the stories of military tyranny in Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel and Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, revealing that the people’s right to self-governance is still not adhered to. This tyranny gets to all the echelons of the society in the novel. However, whereas the Arrows of Rain and Waiting for an Angel highlight the experience of prostitutes and presents them among the lowest of the society, Anthills of the Savannah presents us with a power tussle as Akwanya reveals. He says: In Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, where the central problem is the exercise of power in an absolutist manner, we see a parallel sequence in legend in which the goddess Idemili intervenes to stop a man who refuses to recognize the moral nature of power from exercising the authority over the people. Beatrice is the emanation of Idemili (Verbal Structure 42).

There is also the primitive urge to hold onto power in both novels. Anthills of the Savannah presents the power in the society being clipped albeit with the help of an external force represented through Beatrice. She becomes the judge, who in the real sense is above the proclamations of the men in Abazon, that of the military regime inclusive. But in Madia, we see the nakedness of power, uncontrolled. The judge is afraid of the Isa Palat Bello, the police are afraid, and the idea of unionism is moribund. Edwin Onwuka’s words summaries the Madian military experience as follows: The military stranglehold on the Madian society is so pervasive that none could criticize them openly without endangering himself (Onwuka 42).  These soldiers are supposed to set the people free. Their happiness which is seen after the coup in the novel says that: “The streets were jammed. Cars blasted their horns. People embraced one another and pumped hands. Jubilant crowds chanted, Hang Amin! Askia is axed! Down with Amin’s corruption! Welcome AFRRC!” (Arrows of Rain 64). Ogugua is the only person who sees the trouble that is on the way, but the citizens, who have been yearning for control of their lives thought they have arrived home. The irony of their jubilation is that no one is safe, from women (prostitutes) to journalists.

4.2 The Subaltern, Iyese:

The beauty of Arrows of Rain is that it can present the helplessness of the entire humanity in the face of this tyranny. It is a painful reality that keeps nagging when one reads it. One can see it from the experience of the fear with which the judge delivered his justice. Even the judiciary that is supposed to be the hope of the masses becomes Mephistophelian. They are mere messengers of terror to the people. The judge, (name), will not listen to Ogugua’s case against the president. He supports the silencing of journalists in the country and delivers this judgement at Ogugua’s trial:

But because this is a court of law, not a court of vengeance, I have tempered justice with mercy in arriving at the following rulings:

One: The members of the press are barred from reporting any part of today’s proceedings where the good name of His Excellency was maliciously smeared. Any reporter who flouts this order will be summarily dealt with. (12)

The narrative does not tell that the judge feels there is no truth in what Ogugua is saying but as just one of the service chiefs, he is supposed to do the will of his master. We see a country where everyone except the Life Dictator is a second-class citizen. But just as there are always levels to everything even misery, Arrows of Rain presents the strata under which this misery in Madia is experienced. At the lowest level are Iyese and her kinds.

Iyese strikes out as an embodiment of humanity: the need to seek one’s truth, love who one wants and how they want. She wants to control her life, but it is read that there is always an external force that will control it. She inherits a curse through her bloodline, the primary reason she must be blessed with children especially. The text puts it this way: At the end, the oldest man in Iyese’s village poured libations and invoked the ancestors. He asked them to bless the new couple with plenitude, to ensure that they did not want for yam or cocoyam, to favor them with riches, longevity, and children. Especially children, he implored, for he knew of the ancient curse that lived in Iyese’s compound (34). Her life comes out as that which has been destined to be controlled. Her primary sin then is wanting freedom.

First, she wants to live for herself, hence, she decides to marry someone she feels her heart has accepted, but because she could be wrong even with ascertaining who has the right feelings for her, she succumbed to Dr. Jaja. Jaja on his end has just suffered from infatuation. He has been an idealist who lives in his own world. This is the reason he does not demand a better posting than other doctors of his level. He has never allowed himself to experience enough. So, the naivety of Iyese and his produced enough energy needed to spark off what they had in Utonki, immediately they met. The words of Jaja’s letter confirmed this:

Wisdom is to know that eyes are good but seeing is better; that a giving heart is good but the heart that knows how to receive is beautiful and blessed…

I wish I had known before now that the magic of the world often flows from the things, we account too peripheral. If only I had listened more closely to the wise words of our elders who in their wisdom said, “What one is looking for in Sokoto town is in the sokoto gown”. (22)

The discovery of canal sweetness helps make them think they have found love. Their hunger sustained them a little longer till after their marriage. While Iyese married out of love and her desire for freedom, Dr Jaja is a confused idealist who panthers to any tune he bumps in on. He exploits Iyese and when the infatuation fades away, starts cheating on her with a woman who has always been with her in Utonki. It can be deduced that Jaja was just interested in having her around as the second option. It is heart-breaking for Iyese, who had already seen Dr Jaja as her freedom, and it leads to their divorce. She continues to pursue her will by moving to Langa, a city she had never visited before but to which she was drawn because of what she had heard; that it was a vast, strange human bazaar where shame had no odor because people lived anonymously, where some of the most beautiful people walking the streets were ghosts and some of the saddest were corpses waltzing to their graves (Arrows of Rain 27). She becomes a prostitute to push her past back and to manifest her will. The text reveals that she can succeed at some point on this level. She can create a double self in one: live her normal life and have her normal name Iyese, while she turns into Emilia at night. And so, she lives different layers in her body as Daniel Punday discloses about the body: the private and public spaces is seen, and this exhibits a great degree of consciousness (Punday 230). During the day she lives her normal life, but at night she wears Emilia which she tells Ogugua, is a façade:

It’s a sort of revenge. If men pretend, we are mere shadows, then there is no use giving them our real names. It is our way of saying that the whole situation is false and that they, too, are unreal. It also signals to them that they are unworthy of trust. We don’t let them know our real names, and when we have sex with them, we don’t let them touch our real bodies. A prostitute carries two spirits within her. With one, she goes out into the night. With the other, she lives a normal life (Arrows of Rain 24)

Okolie, who has already factored this in her study says: Emilia is a Western name belonging to no one and is situated outside Iyese’s sense of self. Because of its anonymity, the name Emilia corresponds to the social space where it is adopted. Iyese’s change of name is synonymous with her escape to the city (Okolie 91). She also implies that shuttling between these two identities will relieve her of the load Iyese gives her. Iyese, Okolie tells us, “is charged with the responsibility of conforming to the demands of the spot where she is born” (Okolie 91). These two identities give her double of body and psyche. She crosses from one to the other when required. She can tell Ogugua her story as Iyese. As Iyese, she owns her vulnerability.

 It is during this time that she meets Major Isa Palat Bello. She was comfortable with serving as a mistress. This, seen with her own lenses will amount to just duty or some sort of services she renders to get other things she wants. Just like Chasen Laura explained, Mara of Beyond the Horizon do, Iyese decides to harness capitalism to her advantage. It is not an obligation she owes Isa Palat Bello as she also has others like Peter Stramulous (16). But Isa is not just a soldier and a customer, he sees himself as a lord, who can have anything he wants, whenever he wants. Onwuka sees him as the image of the brutal, aggressive, heartless and vindictive soldier; a type that casts a dreadful shadow over the life of any that crosses his path and will not relent till he destroys the victim”(Onwuka 53). His presence in Iyese’s life becomes not just a threat to her freedom but also to her life. Iyese could not find it easy leaving him. She tells Ogugua that when she once revolted, “He slapped me [her] until my [her] eyes saw lightning. Then he raped me [her], laughing” (Also cited in Okolie 93). What we see is a human enforcing his will on another’s. Isa’s reason for being entitled is the material benefits he has afforded Iyese. The misogynist entitlement ideal makes it easier to understand that Bello feels that he could own women, Iyese inclusive, as property, and that what he does to them or how he makes them feel is his business. Even society normalized this. Iyese reports her experience at the police station. The policeman asked her: Was he my sugar daddy? I said I didn’t know what that meant. So, they asked, was he married? I said yes. And did he spend money on me? I answered yes, from time to time. Then the officer in charge said, Chikena, he’s your sugar daddy, he can beat you (32). Okolie’s words summaries this experience: Iyese is a sexual slave to Bello. Her price and value may well be the sexual satisfaction she supplies so that her decision against such instrumentalization calls into action a “cruel and intemperate” infliction of pain and death from Bello (Okolie 94). But she knows that struggling to recover her body and her will is the best way to defeat the colonialization and the exploitation down to Isa Palat Bello, so, she moves from passivity and top-down approach to power active and down-up approach (Bulhan 251). Okolie also recognizes that movement and calls it a protest (Okolie 94). Her story shows her death as the only attainment of that freedom because she lived in a constantly colonized body. She dies clutching her will, ready to let anything but her choice, go. She dies from Isa’s cruelty: knife stab, because she tells him the baby boy belongs to Ogugua (44).

4.3 The Significance of Iyese in Madia’s story:

Okolie remarks that Ndibe’s criticism of the government represented by its part (the detectives and the military) is a form of satiric synecdoche (Okolie 88). What she does not add is that Iyese is also involved. Iyese in her lifetime, lived with two different identities in what we can call two different bodies. We have seen that it amounts to the border crossing on its own. Also, she represents the country on another level. On a micro look at Arrows of Rain, Iyese occupies only a part of the story because she is just a character in the novel. The review on Kirkus and the Reading of Waji Rumi saw the story as Ogugua’s and Iyese being just a spectacular prostitute that owns a subsection in the narrative. They are not entirely wrong. However, having a macro look at this story presents one with a bigger picture as one sees Iyese being a metonymic progression of Madia. Iyese can embody Madia in experience and in essence. This second degree of embodiment makes it possible for the story to continue and ensures a better reading of the work. It also makes it possible for us to move beyond a look at the different entities and get into looking at Madia as a symbolic extension and magnification of Iyese. Punday explains that embodiment is a fundamental part of the construction of narrative perspective and the organization of types of narrators (234). From one point of the novel to another, events manifest this embodiment.

Madia and Iyese suffer the same fate of being manifested from their inception. Madia, for instance, does not have a hand in her making so throughout the novel, her people would not decide what happens to them and they are seen struggling to get their freedom. We see that they struggled to get their freedom from Britain, but their exploitation does not stop in the work. The same thing is seen when one looks at Iyese who comes to discover that a curse has been placed on her. The curse is there to make it impossible for her to attain her happiness on her own ground. When the colonialists go away and the nation get some section of her citizens as her own ruler, the joy seen is the same joy that one sees when Iyese feels meeting doctor. The hope that Madians will achieve their destiny is seen from Ogugua:

Many outsiders predicted that Madia would grow into a bright dynamic youth, one of the new nations likely to assume the mantle of world leadership in the twenty-first century. We, Madians thrust out our chests and crowned ourselves the giant of the continent. There seemed to be good reasons for our confidence. On the eve of British withdrawal, crude oil, this century’s gold, had been discovered in Madia in vast reserves. We could dream, we assured ourselves, and transform our dreams into reality. (14)

Even Iyese shows similar excitement: “It is true that Maximus has no car. But that will change. He will buy a car. A very big car, and you will be the first to ride in it. I also know he is much older than I. That was one of the things I noticed when I first met him. But the first thing I saw was his goodness. He is a man of love. His love shines like the sun” (17). But this joy would not last forever as their trusts were both abused; Dr Jaja, Iyese’s, while Madia’s is the civilian politician. The levels have already been seen before and they never want to let go on their own accord if not by the revolts they encountered.

The most striking similarity is that both met the soldiers. Isa Palat Bello is a character constant between the country and Iyese. Bello is in some way synecdochic too. Okolie tells us that he “symbolizes the state and the elites who decide the rate of border permeability and control the politics of economic and political classification” (Okolie 96). The biggest abuse and terrorization of both entities will happen through him. He finds his way into their lives with huge promises. In the case of Iyese, he promises and provides material gifts. He sees himself as someone who is doing her a favor.  He is seen telling Iyese: “Why are you treating me like this? Have I not given you good money? Have I not bought you many clothes, Emilia? Any time my wife is out of town, I take you to stay in my house. Is that bad? Think! what have I not done for you?” (18). On another occasion, he promises to buy gifts for her, and he did. He even wants to entice her with marriage as a second.  The same occasional allure is what he presents Madia. In the beginning, he tells Madians on national radio: Beloved fellow countrymen and women. Today marks an important epoch in the checkered history of our great nation . . . the moral turpitude of the deposed government . . . their unbridled rape of the Madian people . . . financial recklessness and social anarchy . . . We now have a great opportunity for national economic and moral renewal . . . (21). He is also seen freeing “120 political prisoners as a gesture of his statesmanship and generosity” (7). But these prisoners are the ones he kept. His meagre gifts do not change him from being a multidimensional rapist to these entities. For the nation, he lives in pomp, cripples the civil servants and other arms of the government, and allows for physical afflictions and rape on the citizens; while for Iyese, he is a rapist and a murderer. Also, Isa wants eternal control over them and denies them their right; to Iyese, it was marriage and the control of her son, while for Madia, it is Life Presidency. He denies them their rights to agencies: subjectivity. After Iyese’s death, the story does not stop as what we see is the maltreatment shifting its intensity from Iyese to Madia.

In all, this study reveals that to know Iyese’s story is to know Madia’s story. In the work, Iyese is a body and Madia is also a body metaphorically. It considers them separately as a relational space, entities with which things happen and entities in reaction with things. Both bodies are always under contestation, between the owners of the bodies and invaders who want to control and abuse them for their exploitative purpose. The study also looks at the dimensions of the abuse and exploitation the body has been presented with and the struggles they put up respectively at each point in their respective stories. Finally, it considers them together as entities telling the story of each other with their different and similar experiences.



5.1 Summary

Because Literature often reflect the views of a culture, the issue of sexual objectification of women commonly appears in Literature. Whether or not they occupy central or peripheral roles; female characters are sexually submissive in some ways and portrayed as subservient to men.

Objectification alludes to the post-colonial condition of subjugation, oppressionand exploitation. Post colonial discourse often compare patriarchy with colonial power – the imperial gaze, with the male objectification gaze. The colonized nation is thus compared to the thingification of a woman, not quite independent subject, the bearer not maker of her own meaning. What happens to the nation/state – in this paper, is that it claims the stereotypical feminine qualities. This research claims that the newly emerged state goes through a paradoxical ‘sex-change’.

Beings, as we know, are created to be in their bodies, and to own their bodies independently. It is such so that each of these bodies, especially humans as recognized entities are expected to possess agency over their individual self. In our reading, we have seen that some of these bodies are often invaded and that sometimes an entity can inhabit two bodies as we see in Iyese’s and would move from one body or identity to another. These amount to some sort of border crossing at different levels. We see these in the story of Madia which was carved into a nation against the wish of the indigenous people that have been existing in the regions and the continuous exploitation of the nation even after her independence. We also see Iyese’s subjugation and exploitation by individuals who at one point or the other came into her life, and concluded that she is an embodiment of the nation while she has a distinct story herself within the nation’s

5.2 Recommendation

In understanding the subaltern’s reaction to redefining his position globally, this study focuses on extolling the textual pictures – on the dehumanization, objectification, and commodification of women, in relation to post-colonial oppression and exploitation. Corporeality and its crossing in the Arrows of Rain by Okey Ndibe, is and will only remain a singular contribution to the discourse on the text, border reading of the texts, corporeality, and border narrative. The full implication of this on Arrows of Rain, is that we are yet to exhaust what could be seen in the text as a literary work – the multiplicity of meanings. One could look at the interconnectedness of our primary texts with that of other texts that centered on military presence, prostitution, and journalism. These are only a few of the angles from which the novel can be looked. Border, and Biographical theory are areas that could be investigated by readers and researchers in literary studies to foster inter-disciplinary reading (literature and the social sciences) and bring about a better understanding of literary works.

5.3 Conclusion

This study has been used to look at the body; its trinification, commodification, and objectification, as regards invasion and crossing in our research text, Arrows of Rain by Okey Ndibe. We also saw how invasion of a body looks like and the reactions that it can generate from these bodies as we see in the story of Iyese and then Madia at large. We concluded by recognizing the symbolic implication of Iyese in Madia’s story. This significance has an attribute of a blind spot. This reading helps us appreciate body/border, its undercurrents, nuance and their import in literary works and Arrows of Rain distinctly.

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