What a groud-breaking revelation! How did Bode discover such an unusual character like Bila? How can a girl of Bila's age achieve such a feat?
-Prudence Arobani, News Agency of Nigeria
A Dream At Night,
“WHAT A GROUND-BREAKING REVELATION!”
A review by Prudence Arobani, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
At a glance, you would marvel at the novel, A Dream At Night. It is terrifying, but true . An ambush has just been laid in wait for the invading British soldiers, and Bila’s guerillas, a local group of armed men posing resistance to external incursion and determined to avenge Bila’s father’s death, has inflicted serious injuries on the Brits. The Britons withdraw into the bush with the Provincial Army to nurse their wounds and bury their dead, and Bila takes this as an opportunity to launch a bloody rebellion against the monarchy, the European invaders and everything foreign to Anka, of a certain province in Nigeria.
The missionaries too seize on this and begin to spread a strange but powerful news, to the deepest corners of Anka.
Set in a rustic pre-colonial world, A Dream At Night explores the travails of 15 year-old Bila, the central character of the novel, her widowed mother and the entire community of Anka, in the hands of an incurable brute warrior, King Oloyi and British imperialists who in their quests for trade and politics, remove all toga of freedom and fairplay in their dealings with native Anka dwellers. A Dream At Night is a historical faction; a blend of facts and fiction (faction). It is about British imperialism: its politics, its trade, its good and its evils; from explorers, merchants, traders and missionaries, to colonial masters, slave raiders and “British thieving companies.”
A Dream At Night, in its thematic thrust, does not glorify the west, neither does it seek to belittle it. It attempts, though, to bring out, and so superiorize, the African proto-nationalist struggles and efforts made by traditional rebels in posing local resistance to colonial infiltrations and foreign domination in rural Africa. The book is a reference guide for pre-colonial aggressions and colonial insurrections, in that, at the time when Britain’s hunger was rife for local produce to feed her booming industries, and Scramble for, and partitioning of, Africa, was getting to its peak, a dangerously maligned group of elders who have lost their grip on the earth now begin to look up to the current crop of youngsters for salvation. A Dream At Night is evocative of, and re-awakens, the pervading spirit of restriction and bondage that was associated with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, absolute monarchy, totalitarianism and slavery itself. As one of the characters, Gobi, Bila’s childhood friend, asserts:
“Freedom, this is it! If you don’t have it, you’d have the flip-side of it. That’s exactly it!”
Bode has done an extra-special work by weaving the thoughts of thinkers like Rousseau, Marx and Lenin, all sharing their revolutionariness with Bila, the protagonist, into the fabric of the novel. The fashions with which Bila, her mother and their clansmen are able to surmount their stumbling blocks are seemingly unbelievable. Now, without a bread winner in a microcosmic African community, it becomes a Herculean task to make it through the thick and thin. The way the two women are able to wriggle out of the perennial web of difficulties in which the King of Anka, King Oloyi, puts them, is still a mystery. 15 year-old Bila therefore prepares to launch a rebellion against Oloyi, the fiendish and ruthless warrior King of Anka who is revered for being half a god and half a man, in a bid to avenge her father’s death. Bila meets an array of difficulties as, ironically, the King himself concludes arrangements to woo her into marriage, incarcerating her childhood heartthrob, former Prince Gobi who is soon to be beheaded, if he does not become king. Bila angrily crashes the lithograph of the Queen of England on the floor, showing a symptom of hate for everything alien to Anka, especially that is of European extraction. A Dream At Night is set in a period in African history when Portuguese traders and British explorers find haven in Anka, an imaginary African community, where Anka is literally Africa itself. The book seeks to explore the exploitative tendencies of Europe, with the help of the traditional office holders who connive to eventually enhance British rule in the Province. The whole of Anka now watches whether Bila will summon the courage to “dare look the aristocratic virtues of Europe straight in the face thereby endangering her own life, and worse still, the lives of her clanspeople for whom she had earlier laid down hers.” Through Gobi’s imprisonment, his scheduled decapitation and the persecution of the 16 year-old heir apparent to the throne which Oloyi is illegitimately occupying, the world begins to share in Bila’s vision of the Anka of her dreams, but Bila is still battling with the tragic loss of her father and the prolonged ordeal of her life-long heartthrob.
A Dream At Night is full of twists and turns that is not usually associated with a debut, telling the full story of the pre-colonial exploits of Africa’s slave monarchs and merchant princes of the times who were in connivance with their white colonialist marauders, depriving their brothers of the basic necessities of life. After the abolition of Slave Trade in 1807, we are shocked to discover that King Oloyi is still secretly selling slaves and feeding fat from the unscrupulous slave deals, as against his well-known counterparts such as Jaja of Opobo, Nana of Itshekiri and Ovoranmwen Nogbaisi of Benin. This latter trio has long stopped the sale of men in their territories. Again, he still indulges in ritual killings against its abolition in 1772, although he develops jitters when he is told of the presence of one Mary Slessor in a nearby village years ago.
We are made to know, in A Dream At Night, that while other serious -and business -minded rulers are experimenting with, and devising, alternative “legitimate trade” in palm oil and other commodities, King Oloyi continues to send able-bodied Anka men and boys to sea for sale. Shortly afterwards, the churches and the schools are being established by missionaries, “sowing the mustard seed of salvation,” according to Mr. Stevenson, the most notable of the white men who come to the Province, with some men asking, “Did God make man, or did man make God?”
The novel gives a vivid account of the chain of events that lead to the rise and the eventual decline of the rulership of King Oloyi, who knows he has made it some, but will not stop selling men secretly even after the abolition long ago of the trade in slave. Thus, 68 year-old King Oloyi is hell-bent on having Bila’s hand in marriage, murdering his conscience. After having failed to woo Bila’s mother, Sandi, he kills Anawa, Bila’s father, over flimsy land and chieftaincy matters, and then turns Anka into a property, where profiteering from the trade in slave and commodities market is swung in his and the white men’s favour. He suppresses all voices of opposition by all means – crushing all those who do not buy his imperialist design – and using unconventional means to weather all political and economic storms.
Amazing. What a ground-breaking revelation! How did Bode discover such an unusual character like Bila? How can a 15 year-old girl achieve such a feat?
Meanwhile, Bila angrily crashes the lithograph of the Queen of England on the floor, showing rebellious instincts towards British entry, colonialism and missionary works.