Reviewed by Bethsheba Achitsa
Published December 5, 2008
Beliefs in spirits and gods is something that today’s generation in Africa is trying to move away from. Over the years, rituals have been performed and ceremonies held to appease the spirits. Calamities such as persistent droughts, floods and death of livestock have been regarded as a sign to show that the spirits are angry at the society. In Against the Gods, the author Crystal Ading writes about a young girl who defies the gods in every manner from the way she dresses to how she interacts with the other members of the society.
Ading, who began writing at the age of 12, has studied literature, creative writing and radio production to develop her skills. The Game Plan, a play she wrote for the BBC African Performance won joint third prize in 2007. Against the Gods, an e-book by Fimbo Publishers, is her first novel.
The story revolves around Wendy who, after completing school, goes to visit her aunt, Arwa, on Lufinga Island. Her Jeans trousers and T-shirt dressing code leaves her feeling out of place on an island whose inhabitants don nothing but complex garments of beads and netting that cover their bosoms and strings round their waists. The spirits that aunt Arwa believes in do not accept Wendy’s dressing code and she designs a bustier and a wrapper just to appease the spirits. Arwa, who is also referred to as Huwana, was saved by the spirits from the customary marriage arrangement. The spirits not only killed the man who she was to marry but her father too.
Against the Gods, that runs 216 pages, revolves around the theme of love and friendship and characters have sex even on top of trees. Early marriage and tradition are among other themes developed in Against the Gods. Female characters who sleep around are viewed as cheap and filthy. In one instance, Mwanzi saves Leila who has been in love with Tila from the embarrassment she would face if the society learnt that Tila had impregnated her out of wedlock.
While visiting his grand mother on Lufinga Island, he meets Wendy and, together, they go against societal expectations of unmarried young men and women. The other girls that Wendy meets on the island are not happy with the way Jafari and Wendy kiss and move around as lovers; they want her to leave the island. They blame her for encouraging Jafari to continue rebelling against tradition and social decorum.
In developing her story, the author uses various stylistic devices like monologue, dialogue, and proverbs. The use of dialogue enables her achieve what she wants to inform the readers. When it comes to telling the readers about the norms and the rules that govern marriage in this society, the young girls readily tell it to Wendy. Each time she wants to talk about something that the society thinks otherwise about, her characters are involved in dialogue.
In this story that is set along the East African Coast and Lufinga Island, Ading uses contrast to bring out the differences between urban and rural dwellers. The Coast is characterised with love and no rules restricting the interaction between girls and young men. On the other hand, Lufinga is characterised with the strict observation of rules and belief in the spirits. At the coast both young men and women who are not married go to and from the dance together while on Lufinga only married couples are allowed the privilege.
Further, on the themes of marriage and tradition unfold as we get to learn how brides were proposed even before they were born–the suitor had to apply cow dung on the pregnant woman’s womb. During the wedding festivities, married girls were to prove their virginity; they sometimes had to sleep with their spouse in the open under cow skins! In the end, there are marriages between Mwanzi and Leila, Jafari and Wendy.
Though the story is quite interesting to read, the author should have dealt more with Wendy’s rebellion against the gods. The author treats this matter lightly when Arwa takes her for the ritual that leaves them in an unconscious state after Wendy fails to accept the initiation into the craft of witchcraft; the spirits are annoyed and almost kill her. On most occasions when Wendy gets to her aunt’s hut, the spirits disappear and apart from that time when they almost kill her, the spirits have all along looked at her as an outsider. If the spirits already regard her as a foreigner, they obviously don’t expect that Wendy conforms to this craft. Readers would expect to witness these genies confront Wendy to the point of almost giving in to them but they choose to speak to the aunt instead.