Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Why I'll Never Forget Ayi Kwei Armah

"What do you do when people, free to choose, choose what they want??" -Ayi Kwei Armah, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

I think I felt the book more than anything else, and that affinity made me appreciate it more than many other texts I'd studied. This one got me.

It's main character, the man (yes, the man - he remains nameless) experiences life in corrupt post-colonial Ghana under Nkrumah's rule. Different aspects of the man's life are affected by the corrupt politics that pervades his society: work, school, church... everywhere! (Sounds familiar?)

The book gives an allegory of people who lived in a cave and thought that was all there was to the world. Then one day, some of these people ventured outside of the cave, and realised that there was a whole other world out there to be explored. They went back to the cave and tried to explain this other world to their friends. But their friends refused to believe it. They refused to listen, and chose to remain the cave. Then Armah pops the question: What do you do? What do you do when people, free to choose, choose what they want?

Those words haunted me. I started to apply them to everything. And that was around the same time we studied Toni Morrison's 'Beloved'... and we were looking at Caribbean intellectual traditions in Caribbean Studies, and all our lovely slavery history... sometimes history can be depressing. Especially black history. We've certainly come a faaar way! I never wanna go back.

So that's how Armah's book got me. And why I'll never forget it. I mean, really: What do you do? What do you do, when people, free to choose, choose what they want.... especially when they're making the wrong choices???

12 comments:

Hybrid said...

Hmm, this one is interesting indeed.

Who says they are making the wrong choices if they have chosen what they want? Wrong choice for who?

Ruthibelle said...

now Hybrid, THAT'S a good question... but try telling that to a parent, lol!

Good point tho.

Its Just Me - Daring to Dream said...

I think the entire world should read that book. Thanks for sharing a summary of it. I think I may buy copies for some people I know need to read it and simply mail it anonymously!

Crankyputz said...

Sounds a little like Plato no?

Gordon Swaby said...

I'd remain in the cave, just because it's cozy there. The outside world is scary

Will said...

ah but you see, that's the beauty of choice - the option to maintain the status quo, the option to remain safe and secure with what you know and ignore any risky forays...

it's like the feminist who gets flack from other, more radical, feminists because she chooses to be a housewife - it's the option that's the important, not the actual decision...

Ruthibelle said...

@it's just me... yes the book is fanastic and definitely worth ther read.

gordon... inside the cave? nah. no sunlight...

@will: yes, the choice is important. the ability to choose.

areyouteeaych said...

the first thing that came to my mind, was "try not to judge them." I mean, most of us never do what we want to do every time a decision crosses our paths and a lot of it, I think, is fear of judgment. Don't get a tattoo, don't gain 50 lbs. (or try to lose 50 lbs if you're too plump - regardless if you're happy or not), don't date this type of person, blah blah black sheep. I mean, when I have the money, I will build myself some refuge far away from prying eyes, ears and opinions because society can be an overbearing Jewish mother (no offence) and we all need somewhere to go and stay true to our choices. I'd take a treehouse over a cave though.

Abeni said...

You just let them be.It's easier said than done because people find it hard to allow others to chooss a different path than theirs. I guess you just have to stand back a little a nd let others do what is best for them

Stunner said...

That is indeed a good question posed by Hybrid. People are born with free will, even though they are subjected somewhat to the laws of the land. There is a saying, i think, you can carry the horse to the water, but you can't make it drink. People will for the most part do what they feel is best and stick to what they believe unless they allow themselves to change.

Beth said...

ya, what Hybrid said....who says it's wrong?

Mad Bull said...

You can demonstrate to them that their choices are wrong, by making the right choices yourself and then making good use of the benefits, making sure to do so in front of them. When they say, "Share some of that meat you caught outside the cave nuh?", you say, "Nah sah! But if you want, you can follow me outside and I can show you how to hunt.". If that doesn't work, leave them in the cave and form your own tribe. When you have better weapons and technology, you can come back and enslave them, use them to improve your lot even more.

A useful game to play to build these instincts is Spore. (http://eu.spore.com/home.cfm?lang=en)