THE late Major General Maman Jiya Vatsa was a soldier, but he was also famously known as a writer, a poet. A number of Generals in the military have written books but such are largely on their journeys and exploits. But like Vatsa, his late fellow Middle Beltan, Boniface Sinnap toes a line of creative writing, combining prose and poetry to deliver narratives fit for the theatre, the classroom and the leisure park. It is a skill combination that is rare in the class of those outside the literary world.
Sinnap is a military personnel with an engineering background; yet he delivered a book with a nostalgic literary trajectory. Those who have lived in a traditional African society would instantly reckon with and readily appreciate the narrative in the book: The Kind and Generous King of Nguguland. As is indicated in the Preface, the book is simple in presentation, but complex in plot and setting. It captures not only the nuances associated with local communities but also pulls in some of the influences commonplace with sub-urban realities signposted by both indulgence of culture and rituals as well as contemporary structural dispositions of a cosmopolitan setting.
The coexistence of both traditional characteristics and urban scenarios in the book showcases a more diverse picture of the potency of power and authority in the governance process, whether traditional or contemporary. King Zwalde rules with wisdom and authority in the kingdom and the Governor of Tipsim leads with tact and great disposition to the rule of law in the state. Both co-exist in Nguguland, exercising authority in synergy and with mutual respect, in the overall interest of the people. It is an allegory of a typical balanced entity with equally typical characters and symbols.
The desires, the intrigues, power play, casualties, restitution and eventual resolution of intricate societal dispositions give the book the stamp of an intriguing composition. The narration is compelling. Much more than that, the crafting of the story, blending narrative prose with drama sketches, makes the rendition more picturesque. Reading the book, you can see the scenes as if they were on live stage, depicting strengths and frailties of our society. You can picture Zwalnan and his cohort of greedy and mischievous elders in the mould of our local chiefs and partisan politicians. You can see Ndagi, the gang leader, representing today’s security nightmare. There is Jemima, the governor’s daughter, showcasing the haughtiness of spoilt brats; her mother, the governor’s wife, hawking pride and jealousy; and the Governor showing leadership. Also Nina, the princess, exhibiting grace and good upbringing; and of course, king Zwalde exuding wisdom. Every segment of our traditional and modern societies is amply represented by related characters.
The book can be read as pure prose and can easily be adapted for the theatre. You can see the reality of the scenes in the sequence of the narration. Although the scenes alternate from one set of characters to another, they blend in a homogenous tapestry to give a storyline that is exacting and exciting. It is obvious the author either grew up in a deeply traditional setting or must have been very close to those who lived their whole lives in such settings. He blends the traditional exposition with his cosmopolitan experience and sets a stage for a spectacular excursion into the world of human strengths and frailties.
The words and expressions in the narration, the proverbs and the traditional courtesies all depict familiarity with the customs and social behaviour of not just his Tarok (Langtang) heritage but a broad spectrum of the suburban African society. It resonates, easily. The setting throws up a familiar experience, the plot seems peculiar and the characters seem commonplace in our everyday experience.
The book reads like a product of inspiration, not just of intellectual excursion. The depth of expressed knowledge and rendition, particularly in the application of cultural vocabulary, goes beyond mere exercise of academic prowess into the realm of spiritual prompting, with additional knowledge that comes from a higher consciousness. Just imagine the incantations in the forest by those selected to battle the evil tree. Of particular reference is Pascal’s browbeating narrations as he approached the damned tree that has caused generations of Ngugu folks great pains.
Of note also are the wise words that come from the bellies of King Zwalde, Pascal, Princess Nina, Juan and even the Governor. They speak to the theme and address the occasions for which they were directed. The book is primed for great reading; but more than that, it has the potential of encouraging foundational insights into public speaking, creative writing, poetic appreciation and drama presentation.
The 141-page book comes in a portable package (6×9 inches/16×22 centimetres), a size suitable for literature books of this nature. The cover design which reflects a royal motif has a crown seated on the letters of the book title which in itself is ensconced on a graphic throne. The title in subtle yellow colour is embossed on a dark brown background which stands it out in bold relief. The author’s name sits atop the cover in clear white lettering, allowing each feature of the cover page to stand out without necessarily competing with each other. The back page carries a blurb on the book and a short take about the author.
The milky bleached quality paper used for the inside pages gives the content some cool and eye-friendly feeling, especially with the body text set in 14 points Times New Roman. The other font types used on the folio and for chapter identification give variety to the page layout without causing any form of distraction to the body text. Both in terms of narrative handling and production quality, this is one book that should be a must-have for lovers of story-telling, literature and the arts.
It would be stating the obvious if it is said that The Wise and Generous King of Nguguland is a fantastic publication with a fascinating storyline. The handling could have come only from some kind of inner inspiration. The sequence and coordination of thoughts are commendable and the narratives, particularly the wise words, fit snugly into the story line. The theme is apt and the plot intriguing. I will therefore summarise my appreciation in just one phrase: Well done!
- James is a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors