Salia Koroma And Desire (In ”Fishing For Our Father”)
This is one of two posts on desire that will close any further discussion of the song Fishing for our Father. I know that such a promise is easier made than kept, especially considering the rich veins of themes that run through the song.
I’m not setting out here to elaborate a theory, grand or otherwise, of desire; the idea is to discuss desire as articulated by Salia Koroma in the song Fishing for our Father. The idea is to note, to analyse, and, if possible, to understand. I grant that a discussion of the word “desire” can take off in many directions, but as the post will show it is limited to a specific sense of longing that is acted upon. The idea certainly is not to undertake a philosophical disquisition; that will require that I bring to the subject a different level of attentiveness that will be misplaced for the present post; besides, one can only open oneself up to so much ridicule! My aim–already stated–is very modest. (Cut your coat…)
It is quite clear that one of the main themes of Fishing for our Father is desire. From the opening lines of the song we note that what animates the inner life of Man is desire (“Fire! Fire! There’s no escape route this way/We’re all headed toward it”). And this consuming inner energy is a yearning that manifests itself in numerous ways. But in the Salia Koroma sense it is a yearning to know: to know oneself, to know what lies beyond one’s immediate horizon. It is a yearning for knowledge of oneself and of the world. It is a yearning to experience something within and without oneself. It is this elemental yearning that gives contour and life to the three narratives that compose the song.
As Salia frames it, a person who desires acts, and action entails movement. A pertinent question arises then: Does inaction negate desire? Salia does not consider the question, only that desiring involves getting up and setting about it (”He who does not wish to/Can stay back./So I took the fish basket/To which I added the scoop net.”)
In the first narrative, the slave-narrator arrives by his desire through contemplating a relationship of domination and control–one of Lordship and Bondage–and does not like where he finds himself. Self-consciousness is awakened in him when he realises that he can change his status. The slave knows he exists as a being but this awareness is cancelled and redefined, so to speak, by his sudden perception of his standing vis-à-vis his lord. There’s something Hegelian about the way Salia Koroma frames the nascent desire. Hegel in Phenomenology of the Spirit thinks that we are aware of who we are only in relation to others. We are conscious of our own being when others are conscious of us; the Master owes his position through the Slave being aware of his lowly status and through this Slave’s desire to supplant the Master. The glaring difference with Salia’s bondsman is that the desire here isn’t to change positions with the overlord. Here the desire is to be a Freeman, an autonomous agent not in thrall to his master’s hold over him. (It is interesting to note that questions of rank, position and domination are evident throughout the song. For example, the river in which the ”njagbo” is found is called the Nuwaye, and to emphasise the point the narrator says: ” ‘Temaye’ i taahun,” “In it is ‘Dominion’ itself’.”)
It is this self-consciousness that sets off the quest in the first narrative, and in his desire for freedom as he meanders across the flooded landscape the slave-narrator makes known his travails. Here we learn that desire involves not only that one acts, but also that one suffers. In an older version of the song, the narrator grumbles at various points in his story : ”I would stop and contemplate for a while the world/I still searching for a njagbo.” The suffering is perhaps a necessary condition of the slave who would be free; he has to contemplate constantly his place in creation, to question constantly, to readjust his quest but not to abandon it.
So as we’ve seen thus far, the first quest in the song is born of the desire to be free, itself born of an awareness of one’s place in a specific social order. But as freedom cannot happen simply by a wish formulated in the mind, action has to be undertaken to make the desire a reality. And hardship becomes a necessary adjunct to the action. Desire in the first narrative section of Fishing for our Father is regulated by movement/action and suffering, misery even.
The next post will tell us how desire is treated in the last two narrative sections of the song, if it is treated any differently from what we’ve just read.