17 Mar Salamatu Sule reviews The Whispering Trees.
Published in Blueprint Newspapers
The Whispering Trees is a collection of twelve short stories by an Award winning author, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. Set in Nigeria with a particular focus on the Northern region, the stories are told in different narrative styles; from the third person narrative to omniscient and first person narrative. The stories and setting did not give room for the language to be too contemporary as people of the past spoke rather in idioms and proverbs.
Adam, in this beautiful classic, has succeeded in creating the periods found in mystery stories and Grecian mythology. Some of the stories give us a vivid picture of the romantic period as we see in the character of trees with souls devoid of negative human attributes such as lies, deceit, wickedness and so on.
The Whispering Trees reminds one of the good old days when we sat under the watchful eye of the moon listening to the old wise ones tell us tales from past generations; tales of mysteries and miseries, of good and bad, of reward and vengeance, of witches and angels. To understand The Whispering Trees, the reader must look beyond the natural human, listen to the voices of the trees as they whisper stories told from afar.
The story begins with ‘Twilight and Mist’. It is a supernatural story of strange happenings and coincidence. ‘Baba Idi’s Enclave’ on the other hand, is a story of poverty, politics and pain.
Some of the stories touch on gender and cultural issues. A glaring example is the story ‘The Cat-Eyed English Witch’, where the main character finds herself in the midst of a contradictory culture where a married woman is not allowed to smoke and move about in the way she deems fit. From the story of ‘Dear Mother’ we see the picture of how a woman is treated as a wife and mother; she bears all the consequences of the child’s behaviours. When a child behaves well the father claims the credit and blames the mother for all the boy’s bad behaviours. Typical of African man.
In the title story, The Whispering Trees, the major character who is involved in auto accident, points out a striking comparison between life and death, heaven and hell, between the conscious mind and the unconscious, kindness and wickedness even at the very point of death. He shares with us his horrible experience with the police as they rob even the dead at the scene of the accident.
The narrator explains after so much pain, he was able to see things unimaginable through his mind’s eye; the Whispering Trees had never appealed to him this way. Having come close to the Whispering Trees his mind plunged into memories of his childhood revealing the truth about one of the death of the characters, Hamza.
The story, ‘The Whispering Trees’ could be said to be the most fascinating of the stories in terms of plot, language and philosophical depth. This narration is particularly spellbinding:
“They must have been a thousand birds and a countless insects weaving their sublime melodies into the mysterious whisper of the Trees. I saw such multitude of souls as I had never imagined possible. Birds, praying mantises, grasshoppers and myriad other wonderful insects went about their business on or around the trees and down below, the souls of the trees were so pure and welcoming without a hint of evil about them.” ( pg 62).
‘The Whispering Trees’ makes us conscious of the symbolism of the trees and the butterflies. While one has a soul to whisper, the other uses its beautiful colours to warn us of some future eventuality.
In the story ‘Closure’, we are able to see that sorrow of death. When Sabo Dada died few hours after his wedding, his wife suffered so much from the hands of his elder sister; a situation typical of the African culture.
In ‘Night Call’ we learn that all that glitter are not gold as we see in the character of Santi and his night caller girlfriend. He had not thought of her being a murderer. He had not the slightest ideas how love could betray him because he had loved her truthfully.
In ‘The Garbage Man’, Adam creates a striking difference between the rich and the poor, between love and infatuation, through the kind of love between Zainab and Khalid and the Garbage man. Her duty is to religiously remain in the house as a married woman and not running after banking job. She compares the garbage man who walks from street to street emptying waste bins and her husband who seats under the air condition for a whole day. She is caught between love and admiration for the garbage man while she fears breaching her marital vows.
In ‘Whirl Wind’, we see the imageries of beauty. Who killed beauty? She was Kyakkaywa, the beautiful; her charms, beyond imagination of the eye and flawed by aggression that rides on storm.
“Her mother, who was from the Kebbi regions where dust storms are as inclement as my daughter, calls her the whirl wind.” ( pg 133).
Even her father is taken away by her beauty whenever she came out of the bathroom.
“Kyakkyawa’s beauty emerged in those rare moments when she was sedate – when her volatility had been quelled by sleep or when she had just had her bath, and had little droplets of water running down her supple skin. In those moments, she could pass for an angel.” (pg. 132)
In ‘The Cry of The Witch’, the people of Mazade have heard the witch cry for two generations. They have seen their children; wife and husbands die from strange illness but Kudu search for the cure for the curse while his friend in medicinal practice claimed the witch as the one responsible. They could become heroes if they kill the witch and bring her green blood. The question as to whether the witch is responsible arises but Kaneni would rather have the witch killed to get a heroic title and make more money than wait for Kudu’s aimless search. The discovery of the green liquid from the dense Gurmi forest and the recovery of his little Mairo after taking the concoction made him weep. But all will weep for the great medicine man of Mazade who Kaneni have to kill to claim the title he never suffered for. He kills the old poor witch only to discover her blood was as red as any mortal.
The Whispering Trees is a book I will not get tired of reading. Apart from the fact that the butterfly represents the colourful Nigerian life, it tells a tale that captures our oral tradition which is rare among modern African writers.