Nomads And Nation: Valentine Card Or Valedictory Rites –Wole Soyinka

By Ikenga Chronicles February 13, 2018

Nomads And Nation: Valentine Card Or Valedictory Rites –Wole Soyinka

I. A Morality tale from Childhood.

The following morality tale has followed me since my primary school days. Text books change, so I have no doubt that not many here would have cut their teeth on that same elementary school text of my infancy. It would be an exaggeration to claim that the tale has been a constant companion – no.

Let us simply say that certain occurrences of a global dimension exhumed the tale sometime along my mature existence, and subsequent events of that same character, understandably, have continued to provoke recollection of that tale more often than I care to remember. Well, here goes the fable, first encountered from around the age of five:

A Bedouin on a journey through the desert camped down for the night, his camel tethered to a peg that held up the tent. Many of us think that the desert is just the place to go for sustained torrid temperatures round the clock and all round the year but, no, you will be surprised how cold it can sometimes prove at night. And so it was on this particular journey, so cold that even the camel, that famed ship of the desert could bear it no longer. So, he put his snout against the tent opening and pleaded with the Bedouin: Master, this desert air is freezing, can I just put the tip of my nose against the tent opening for a short while, just to warm it up a little?

The kindly Bedouin thought this odd, but decided to gratify his camel’s whim. A short while later, the camel, his voice as meek as ever, told the Bedouin that he could no longer flap his ears, since they were also going numb from the cold. So, Master, could he also insert the ears?

The Bedouin waved him in – Be my guest, as he settled down to sleep. As he was dropping off, he was startled awake by the same plaintive voice of the camel. His neck, he pleaded, was also growing stiff from the cold, could he allow the neck also to follow suit? The Bedouin had become somewhat irritated but once again, he said – well, no harm.

After all, there was still sufficient space in the tent, so he let the camel shove in the neck, and resumed his sleep. An hour later, he heard some wheezing and lo and behold, it was again the camel. This time, the beast of burden wondered if perhaps his shoulders might not also profit from his master’s accommodating spirit. After all, argued the camel, his master was lying flat on the floor while a huge amount of space between the floor and the tent roofing remained unoccupied.

The Bedouin would not be inconvenienced if he, the camel, merely stuck his neck and shoulders into that empty space. The Bedouin was now somewhat agitated but, he consented, merely grumbling, Look here, all I want is some sleep. We have some distance to cover and I have some serious business negotiations ahead, so I need to arrive at destination quite fresh. Situate your damned neck and shoulders as you please. He wrapped his blanket round his shoulders,a nd tried to resume his sleep. The rest of the line of development can easily be pursued.

After the incursion of shoulders, one foreleg, then the other, next the chest, after which naturally followed the hump and the rump, the camel began to grumble. The master’s snores were unbecoming his status, what a disgrace for such a respected merchant! In any case, wasn’t he ashamed of traveling with such a small tent? What were they doing in the desert anyway? Why weren’t they camped at a luxurious oasis?

The camel began to outline his pedigree, how he was descended from a long line of rare camel breed. He listed the camel races he had won, how rulers and merchant princes competed for his services. And so on and on. The Bedouin, bored stiff, simply continued his sleep, wrapped his blanket tighter around his head to shut off the noise. Finally, the camel declared baldly – there was not enough room for both of them.

Still vivid in my mind, in distinct, graphic detail as I speak at this very moment, was the accompanying illustration in that primary text book – I can still see the astonished, disbelieving face of the Bedouin sailing through the cold air, just like a rugby ball, head first, from a powerful kick from his camel’s hind legs.

II. Farewell to the Valentine Idyll

We were the cattle nomads, silent threads through
Forestries and cities, coastland and savannah,
Wafting Maiduguri to the sea, ocean mist to sand dunes.
Alas for lost idylls…
​​​​(from ELEGY FOR A NATION – SAMARKKAND AND ​​​​​OTHER MARKETS I HAVE KNOWN)

That idyll is not merely lost. It is DEAD. This is where the poet and idealist in us yields place to a universal imperative: SURVIVAL!

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