Desire in Salia’s “Fishing For Our Father”
This is the conclusion to the last post. Finally!
Briefly: I touched on desire as it appears in the first section of the song Fishing for our Father. In our understanding of the word, it has nothing to do with lust or sexual desire. We see it as the striving for independence, for knowledge both of the self and what lies outside of the self. Perhaps as Salia saw it, you’re free only when you know yourself and those things that lie outside of yourself. In his tortuous search for freedom from bondage, the slave-narrator discovers that a duty toward his lord doesn’t preclude a duty toward himself. As he stubbornly winds his way across the country, he is really finding the way to himself; the certainty he had set out with becomes undone, or at least undermined.
It’s at this moment of crisis that the narrator introduces two narratives that parallel his. The first of these is that of Nepoh and his wife Talogbe. They had left home in search of new trapping grounds. Perhaps another desire pushed them toward Gbandiwo; but a second desire, if it exists, is not spelled out for us. Nepoh is a middle-aged man pushed into action all the time by his gentle nature, a rather unfeverish appetite to get things done. This desire could be loosely referred to as a well-calibrated ambition. This ambition is quite different from that which made the narrator strike out alone in search of freedom. In his search Nepoh finds the ultimate fulfilment. In his old age he bears a son in a strange land (the locals remind him that he has “found” a son, an unexpected boon from fate); and he founds a village, signifying a man who has found home and whose wanderings are at an end.
The second of the parallel narratives is that of Fawonde, a story marked by extreme anguish. Fawonde leaves home with the excuse to search for his former teacher, Old Man Nepoh. As he settles in Gbandiwo/Seigbema, it becomes clear that another desire–an all-consuming desire–moves Fawonde. If he settled physically, his spirit remained unsettled. And what’s this obsessive striving of the heart? His inordinate love for meat. As we find out, it is this desire that is his downfall. In an alternate ending that Salia recorded, Fawonde hadn’t set out to find his master. He had left home because of his love of meat, his meanness, and as the narrator emphasises, because of his impurity of heart. Where Nepoh is generous and open, Fawonde on the other hand is selfish, stubborn and secretive. His grabbing nature brings him ruin and death when he ignores the injunctions he had been given when he first came to the village.
Maybe he has found truth, contentment and freedom the man who questions his own desires, who searches for the ”njagbo” but doesn’t despair if he fails to find that elusive body of water, who knows the limits of his desires and works within their border. We don’t know: Salia doesn’t give all the answers. A good story is open to many interpretations, and this is one very excellent tale.