Ken Saro-Wiwa: A Celebration
By Sarah Lundy, Amy Wright and Ana Matute
This Black History Month, we wanted to shine a spotlight on a man who deserves recognition and celebration: Ken Saro-Wiwa. The author of works such as Sozaboy and A Forest of Flowers, Saro-Wiwa used his writing as a form of activism. In earlier works, this was presented as a satirical counter to Nigerian society, but it later took on stronger social justice themes.
Saro-Wiwa acted as the President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), a non-governmental organisation that stood against the environmental damage that the homeland of the Ogoni people, Ogoniland, had been subjected to. As a target for crude oil extraction, Saro-Wiwa led nonviolent protests in order to protect the land and water that was being abused by large petroleum corporations. At the height of these nonviolent campaigns in 1995, Saro-Wiwa was tried and charged of an alleged crime for which he was hanged. His execution caused international outrage and resulted in Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for over three years.
Whether it was through his nonfiction writing on the struggle, or the sarcasm and wit he employed in both his television and novel writing, Saro-Wiwa used his words to amplify his message and bring together a community to fight for environmental justice.
Via this book, you can travel to Nigeria where you will understand how English changes in line with context and colonialism. The novel is an experience because the text itself challenges you to visit the country through language, or “rotten English” as Saro-Wiwa called it, a dialect that was born from the introduction of English in Nigeria during colonial times.
Sozaboy shows us how difficult it was for people to understand a world where they couldn’t communicate and therefore didn’t know what was happening.
“The people of Dukana are fishermen and farmers. They no know anything more than fish and farm. Radio sef they no get. How can they know what is happening? […] I cannot understand what is happening well well, how much less these simple people.”
It’s clearly the voice of Sozaboy that makes this book so special. In this way, we follow the Sozaboy story, one that is full of chaos and confusion because that is all that he can feel in Dukana, Nigeria.
Saro-Wiwa was involved in a lot of events during 1967 when Nigeria declared secession. Sozaboy is also a critique of military authority in his country: it’s a look at what oppression can be and the terrible things it hides between the silences of people.
Sozaboy. It’s a representation of Nigerian history through language. Even if it is difficult to read at times, this is exactly what Saro-Wiwa intended for his readers: a way to show the reality of the citizens trying to communicate in a foreign language.
In the Shadow of a Saint
In the Shadow of a Saint by Ken Wiwa explores the author’s relationship with his notable father, Ken-Saro Wiwa. Wiwa wrote the memoir as a way of coming to terms with his father’s death, but also to confront the falsehoods that were spread by his father’s critics both before and after his execution. In the memoir, Wiwa describes the identity crisis that he experienced himself from a young age and what he calls the “burden” of being his father’s son.
As the first son of such a significant man in Nigerian history, Wiwa feels he is chasing his father’s shadow, and asks himself, “where does he end and where do I begin?” This pressure causes Wiwa to feel that he will only be truly free once his father has died, yet conflicting thoughts over the extreme pressure to continue this legacy soon become apparent after his tragic death.
In the Shadow of a Saint gives an insight into the desire to escape responsibility and also the influence that being the son of such a notable and heroic figure can have on a life. Carrying on that type of legacy is difficult: one feels restricted to follow a fixed path, expected to avenge a death, or even to make amends for someone else’s sins whilst also feeling somewhat responsible for not being able to prevent their execution. The memoir conveys grief that has clearly been previously suppressed, along with anger and resentment, and is an interesting insight into the impact that this relationship had on Wiwa’s life.