By Salamatu Sule
LITERATURE is a tool for social, political, and economic enlightenment about the different issues that are prevalent in any society. While it mirrors society as it is, it also conscientizes people about their character traits as illustrated by the author of this book. One of the issues that have been a subject of discourse in African literary text over the years is that of eroded African cultural values with the imposition of foreign cultural traits as well as identity crises.
Lynda Rubi Binos’ book Altar of Tradition (Origami-Parresia, Lagos; 2021) is a collection of 10 interesting short stories. The stories are told in simple prose narrative that is expressive and didactic. Binos explores critical thematic issues that are quite topical in the 21st century. Themes like love over lust and loss, the effect of traditional values over that of modern intrusions, bullying as well as sexual assault in the home and public space are well explored.
For example in the story ‘Rain’, we find out how the sudden switch from the African traditional values and norms to a new faith is bringing misfortune to some people. Pastor Paul, in a bid to manipulate the people of Gorobiin in the face of their ordeal, wants to cut the baobab tree that has outlived many generations with its formidable strength to the people.
The author clearly states that African cultural values, if not well preserved, protected, and restored would go extinct in no distant future. The book is an introspection of the consequence of what will happen when a people allow their identity to be taken away from them.
A telling excerpt says it all: “Pastor Paul, who opened his church in the village about a month ago, waited patiently as we ran around, from the rainmaker to the hill of prayer, searching for a solution. When we had exhausted all our options, he swooped in like a vulture, ready to pick at the carcasses of our collective misfortune. He was in luck because he came to our village when we were in dire need of a miracle.”
In Altar of Tradition, you find humour in unexpected form comingling with reality. ‘Tailor Swift’ is one of such stories that you can, as a reader, relate with it and immerse yourself in its universe. We imagine the disappointments in the hands of craftsmen. Jimoh, as a character, is everywhere, a workman who does not like to fulfill promises to deliver on work done. This story also shows the lack of manpower due to financial difficulties as well as the infrastructure that can help businesses thrive. Jimoh is given the name ‘Tailor Swift’, because he is fast at sewing and delivering client’s work. Jimoh fails along the line due to circumstances beyond his control like lack of constant power supply.
“Jimoh’s machine was strategically placed across the window overlooking the street outside. That way, he could see approaching clients long before they reached his doorstep and he could quickly lock himself in, pretending not to be around if the client’s outfit was not ready,” the narrative voice informs.
Reading Binos one can easily place her as a moral realist as her works speak to this. She brings out the virtuousness as well as the viciousness in her characters as statements of fact.
In the eponymous title, Altar of Tradition, the question: why must commonsense be sacrificed at the altar of tradition echoes loudly. Inan’s father is on the verge of defying the old tradition to save his family from certain shame. In this story, we grapple with such questions as: who made the cultural laws that guide a people? Why do such laws or customs favour certain groups? Why do we have selfish interests? Inan’s father believes that if these laws were made or propounded by man, then they can also be open to changes by the same man.
How much information do we dish out to our girl-child or how close are we to them with regard to how they can independently be on their own? Traditionally, the author is of the view that so many girls have been misinformed about their bodies and the need to protection themselves. ‘First Period’ is a story about the nonexistence of a mother-to-daughter relationship in the name of tradition. Most of the time, a lot of issues pop up as a result of this cultural practice. Rankisi had knowledge about first period long before her mother makes a show of teaching her about it and even at that Rankisi knows that everything her mother says is all wrong!
The language deployed is straightforward such that a reader finds it hard to drop. That this collection is a page-turner is true! Binos’ is a voice that has come to stay and be heard. Altar of Tradition comes highly recommended.