Written by Clifton Gachagua
Ben Okri started off by saying it was a pleasure to be in Kenya. This was his first visit. He felt in retrospect that he should have left his home country Nigeria in his 20s and visited the whole of Africa with only a notebook and some biros. He termed the Storymoja Hay festival as one of the most important festivals in Africa with stimulates literature, the sharing of ideas and the meeting of minds and spirits.
He started off by reading My Mother Sleeps. Then he read The Difficulty of Seeing. While explaining the latter poem, he said that one of his biggest interests was the paradox of seeing. That seeing is not just opening one’s eyes. The he read The Rhino. A poem made of four lines.
At one time, school children in UK had approached him to propose to them a list of ten great books they should read before they finished school. Like most of the other writers who had been approached to do the same, he found difficulty in listing only ten books, so he came up with what he calls Ten and a Half Inclinations published in his book, A Time for New Dreams.
- Read the books your parents hate
- Read the books your parents love
- have one or two authors that speak to you and make their work your secret passion
- read widely for fun, for stimulation, for escape
- don’t read what everyone else is reading, check them out later, cautiously
- read the books you are not supposed to read
- read for your own liberation and mental freedom
- Books are like mirrors, don’t just read the words, go into the mirror, that’s where the real secrets are, inside, behind. That’s where the gods dream, where our realities are born.
10.5 Read the world. Read the world. It is the most mysterious book of all.
On being asked if he classified himself as an African writer, Okri’s reply was “It is a huge debate. A writer is a huge responsive being of undercurrents and overcurrents, of dreams, futures and histories. Writers are listeners. They don’t even know what they are listening to. Their ears are like the roots of a tree, that grow downwards, upwards and sideways. Writers are writers. Writers should write with no boundaries. There is no this is what you are supposed to write about.” He mentioned that the danger of him classifying himself as an African writer would be than he could further be inclined to say that he is a Nigerian writer, then further that he is a Lagos writer, and then further that he is a writer from the specific street he grew up in.
Another set of aphorisms; hearing the African rhythm.
- Heart shaped Africa is the feeling centre of the world
- Continents are metaphors
- A people are spiritual states of humanity as distinguishable in what they represent as roses, lions and stars.
- Have we forgotten what Africa is?
- Africa is our dreamland, our spiritual homeland
- There is a realm inside everyone that is Africa. We all have an Africa within.
- When the Africa outside is sick with troubles, the Africa inside us makes us sick with neurosis.
- The sheer quantity of inexplicable psychic illness in the world is possibly indirectly connected to the troubles in Africa.
- We have to heal the Africa in us if we are going to be whole again.
- We have to heal the Africa outside us if the human race is going to be at peace again in a new dynamic way
- There is a relationship between the troubles in a people and the troubles in the atmosphere of the world.
- The troubles of Africa contribute immensely to the sheer weight and size of world suffering.
- And this world suffering affects everyone on the planet, affects children and their health, affects our sleep, our anxiety and our unknown suffering.
- For it is possible to suffer without knowing it.
- We have to heal the Africa within. We have to rediscover the true Africa. The Africa of laughter, of joy, of improvisation, of originality, the Africa of myths and legends, storytelling, playfulness, the Africa of generosity, of hospitality, of compassion, the Africa of wisdom, aesthitism and divination, the Africa of paradox, proverbs, and surprise; the Africa of magic, faith, patience and endurance; the Africa of a fourth dimensional attitude to time; the Africa of a profound knowledge of nature’s ways and the secret cycles of destiny.
- We have to rediscover Africa. The first encounter of Africa by Europe was the wrong one. It was not an encounter, it was an appropriation, what they saw and bequithed to the future ages was in fact a misperception. They did not see Africa. This wrong seeing of Africa is part of the problems of today. Africa was seen through greed and what could be got from her. This justified all kinds of injustice.
- What you see is what you make. What you see in people is what you eventually create in them.
- It is now time for a new seeing, it is now time to flare the darkness on the eyes of the world.
- The world should now begin to see the light in Africa, its possibilities, its beauties, its jeers
- If we see it, it will be revealed. We always see what we are prepared to see. Only what we see anew is revealed to us.
- Africa has been waiting for centuries to be discovered with the eyes of love, with the eyes of a lover.
- There is no true theme without love.
- We have to learn to love the Africa in us if humanity is going to begin to know true happiness in this world.
- We love the America in us, the Europe in us, the Asia in us we are beginning to respect. Only the Africa in us is unloved, unseen, unappreciated.
- The first step towards the exoneration of humanity is making whole again all these great continents within us.
- We are the sum total of humanity.
- Every individual is all humanity.
- It is Africa’s time to smile
- That would be the loveliest gift of the 21st century, to make Africa smile again.
- Then humanity can begin to think about the universe, even the remote stars as its true home.
Ben Okri has been quiet a big influence in the Storymoja Hay festival. At the Bic tent for children, several portraits of the writer are on display.