The Politics Of Animal Stories – Chinua Achebe
In the work ‘What Has Literature Got To Do With It’ Achebe brings up a very pertinent question relating literature to creation. He asks whether ‘people create stories’ or ‘stories create people’ or rather ‘stories create people create stories’. To the question whether stories would come first or people would come first is connected the myth of the creation, to which is connected the remarkable Fulani’s story.’ It is a creation story about whether man came into being first or the story came first. The story goes that in the beginning there was a ‘huge drop of milk. Then the milk created stone, the stone created fire; the fire created water; the water created air’. Then man was moulded by Doondari out of five elements. But man had pride. Then Doondari created blindness and blindness defeated man. The story is about creation, defeat of man through hubris and redemption of man. These stories are not just restricted to creation, but have been imbibed in the history of man, social organizations, political systems, moral attitudes, religious beliefs and even prejudices.
The Igbo political system, prevails on the absence of kings. The word ‘king’ is represented more by different words. In the Igobo town of Ogidi kingship gradually went out of use, because the king had to settle a lot of debts, owned by every man and woman in the kingdom. In fact one who became a king held the people in utter contempt when he organized a ritual called ‘Kola-nut’ where he cracked the nut between his teeth and made the people eat the cola-nut coated with the king’s saliva. He was dethroned and the people became a republican. It was decided the the king should guarantee the solvency of the people. These mythical stories of kingship dwindled with the emergence of the British community when kingship merged with the British political legacy and gained new connotations.
Achebe mentions two animal stories the emergence of the British community when kingship merged with the British political legacy and gained new connotations.
Achebe mentions two animal stories which are short but complex enough to warrant them as literature. Once there was a meeting of animals, at a public square, when a fowl was spotted by his neighbours going in the opposite direction. The fowl explains that he had not gone to the meeting because of some personal matter. The fowl generously said that even though not present in body he would be present in spirit. It was decided at the meeting that a particular animal, namely the fowl would henceforth be regularly sacrificed for the Gods. And so the fowl had given its assent to be a sacrificial victim forever.
The second animal story was about a snake riding a horse. The snake could not ride very skillfully. A toad came by to show the snake horsemanship. The toad rode very skillfully, and came back and returned the horse to the snake. The snake smilingly said that it was better having than not having. He had the horse in possession. So he rode away with the horse in the same way as before.
These two stories have curious implications. The fowl story is a tale of warning to democratic citizens who do not take active participation in the democratic process. The second story has significations of class divisions. The snake is an aristocrat in a class society while a toad is a commoner with expertise whose personal effort does not matter because he does not have the necessary possessions. The snake possesses merit by birth or wealth and hence enjoys privileges whether he possesses skill or not.
The connection of these stories with literature is implicit. Literature offers scope for social transition and change. Literature can cause change in society. The king enforcing his subjects to eat the saliva covered nut is obviously an invitation to rebellion. The snake story is also a story of class division and privilege, but his seeds of revolution in it. The skilled have not may be incited to rise to rebellion by observing the undue privilege of the unskilled rich. The implication is the dissolution of an incompetent oligarchy. In fact the snake figure has been chosen because of its unattractiveness for ultimately it would become the target of revolution.
Literature is connected with social, economic and educational growth. Literature is related with the creation of human societies. Because Nigeria wants to grow as an independent nation, it needs the creative energy of national stories to support and sustain the growth of the nation.
In fact even if we look back to classical literature, it is seen that the portrayal of Achilles or Ulysses is indirectly connected to the growth of Greece as a nation. So also is the portraiture of Beowulf connected to the social, historical and national development of the Anglo Saxon society. There is a relationship between the Anglo Saxons sitting around the fire on the hearth rebelling against the cold and charting their own growth and psychoanalysis storytelling. Both have a psychological implication in them. When one tells a story to the psychoanalyst he actually tells a story. The connection between literature and psychoanalysis as Achebe puts it as ‘Literature can have an important and profound positive effect as well, functioning as a kind of bountiful, nourishing matrix for a healthy, developing psyche.’ Literature thus helps to counter psyche in real life helping in a discovery of the self that tables to cope with life. Literature through the symbol of the animal story connects itself with political uprisings, sociological and historical growths as well as psychoanalytic analysis of the self which helps in confronting reality and finding one’s own self.