Mountain of Yesterday (Kraft Books, Ibadan; 2017), written by Tony Nwaka, serves as a reminder that although darkness may subsist for a while, light always finds its way, triumphing and dominating. Mountain of Yesterday exposes readers to the high level of tribalism that exists in Nigeria, its toxic nature and why a new way of thinking nationhood is desirable.
The author, Nwaka, shows this by the refusal and later on, disownment of Amina by her Hausa parents, due to her decision to marry an Igbo man, Udoka. Amina later relocates with her husband to his Ubo village in the South due to rioting and killing in Maiduguri. After they settle in their Ubo home, Udoka suddenly takes ill due to food poisoning; he succumbs to death, leaving Amina and their children behind to tackle all the gruesome cultural rites the Igbo culture requires of widows.
After so much turbulence associated with being a woman from the North living in an Igbo society, Amina is finally considered trustworthy and later nominated to contest the position of chairperson in her local government area. Although she wins the election, she is still not spared the cultural bias tribal difference causes.
Nwaka renders a good example of this dilemma in the run-up to the election thus, ‘“… There just is no way it would work. Ubo will not vote for her. You can be sure that my household and I will never vote for her. The frog does not jump backwards,” Ikuku said, with venom that belied his tiny voice.’
The speaker here is one of those who believe that Amina is not deserving of a position such as the chairperson because she is Hausa and has also adamantly refused to engage in the local practices she believes violate her religious beliefs.
The writing style is filled with a lot of sound imagery. Readers will have an easy time relating to the story. The author plays a lot with words; this is one of the strongest points of the book. Nothing beats introducing readers to new words that challenge them to do some research.
For people who are less familiar with the Igbo culture, this book brings a lot of Igbo traditional practices and adages right to its readers. “Afamefune being the godson of the late chief was expected to submit four yards of white native cloth, akwa ocha, to the immediate family of the deceased.” “You don’t scratch the eye with the same thing you use to scratch the ear. You cannot be so hungry that you’ll eat your tongue.”
Apart from the entertaining aspect, which is a quality all good books should have, Mountain of Yesterday is an educative, fictional novel. It doesn’t only educate readers on culture but covers other topics like politics. Afam, Amina’s son, educates his friend on the topic of power and its unending quest.
“Have you heard about ‘the law of perception of power?’” he asked.
“Which one is that again, Afam?” Michael said.
“Don’t you ever wonder why people in authority appear helpless and unable to solve the problems we always complain about?”
“Ehh, it’s because they don’t care Na!… The closer you get to the seat of power, the less the magnitude of that power appears in your perception. But the farther you are from the locus power, the larger such power would appear in your imagination. That’s what they call the ‘law of perception of power.”
In a country desperately cut along tribal lines, Mountain of Yesterday sheds some illumination and it encourages erasing of such bitter lines for harmonious relationships among the disparate peoples that inhabit the space called Nigeria. Amina and Udoka’s marriage is one such means through which Nigerian can achieve greater cohesion. Amina’s political feat among her husband’s Ubo people in being elected into political office is also instructive. Political office should be reserved only for the man or woman with the highest integrity and ability to deliver, not based on primordial sentiments.
Through Mountain of Yesterday, Nwaka’s optimism for a united Nigeria is infectious. The novel makes for easy reading and keeps readers glued till the end. Also, a consideration on the part of the author in making the book into a movie would be highly desirable, as it has all the features of a movie script in the making.