Category Archives: Vagrancy And The Sense Of Home
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.
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.
This is the final instalment of the song Fishing for Our Father. We’ll recall that the slave-narrator had set out at the start of the rainy season in search of freedom. Towards the end of the season he finds himself in the village of Gbandiwo, where he witnesses the arrival of the trapper Nepoh and his wife Talogbe. As the seasons change and years go by a son is born to Talogbe and Nepoh, and Gbandiwo morphs into Seigbema (Segbwema, for some people).
Out of nowhere appears Fawonde, an apprentice-trapper Nepoh had left back in his home town. He’s a young man, which is to say full of passion and not a little rash. The young are told to follow their passion; Fawonde’s is meat. Him going into trapping has nothing to do with the mystery of the forest or the desire to provide for others. Fawonde had gone into trapping because meat is his only passion, a very selfish and all-consuming passion. and it’s that passion that proves to be his undoing.
Enjoy the song. Another post will follow in the next few days to discuss a little more ( and hopefully for the last time) the passions and desires that are the themes in the song.