Masks by Ehindola Peter

…In the dream and the ones that followed, I was in the square, playing scenes of an erotic drama, wheeling with sensual movements; but she came, bearing a dim lamp, saying, ‘I have wept for you many times’…

If I say I still do not feel a slight fear inside me for trying to identify with the traditions and customs of my people, I would have mocked my own consciousness. Yet, the urge to identify with is ever transcribed by writing self; and how I can really write myself without writing ‘myself’ remains a rhetorical question. The condition was direr at childhood. Then, what could the answer be? Of course, I might have been able to proffer one if I was able to translate images and ideas in my memory into reality; if I hadn’t been traumatized into almost complete muteness.

I remember my childhood deviancy, sneaking away against order to see masquerades dance and other traditional festivals. I remember the tunes and rhythm in the deep night to expose moral decadence. I remember the long, sitting drums and their occult throbbing. But this—reminiscing upon that spectacle now—is what I call ‘window participation’.

The many conflicting dialogues I have had between my childhood, growing up, and an attempt at liberation I have often equated with one sentimental name – branding ‘Revolt against Faith’.

On structures of tradition, dynamics, and development, though controversial when placed beside new religion from its advent, could have provided a very useful model for the representation of literary themes and symbols especially those rooted in folklore and mythology. Christopher Okigbo was quick and right in saying, in his introduction to Labyrinths, of the mythos of his poetry as ‘the fable of man’s perennial quest for fulfillment’ and a representation of ‘Man’s inner and outer worlds projected, the phenomenal, and imaginative, not in their separateness, but in their relationship’.

For ‘myself’, it is impossible to isolate childhood from growing up, from conscious perceptions, memories, feelings and thoughts which bear the imprint of tradition and practical lore. To try to do this or to have done this is degenerating and exilic – an evidence of the repressed contents of the personal, conscious interaction with root and nature. The same repression is tightly linked to ‘outside’ agents, feasting on societal weaknesses.

Did I not, in my quite place, away from prying eyes, hum to the lung drums and mimic the rhyming gestures of dancing masquerades and half-clad sisters. Yes, even into dreams, the scenes I was denied would materialize into shapes. And these shapes were sometimes scary. Growing up becomes complex in this regard.

In an emerging pursuit of freedom, over the years, the complexes of personal consciousness and awareness to distances that have been created by faith values and immediate iconoclasts began to reveal anguish and solitude. I must say how difficult this process seemed at first. But due to a strong desire to be identified as a poet, I arrived at a point where I could embody my personality, behaviour, and my stages of individuation into poetry. This desire is artistic redemption that has eluded me until my encounter with Tolkien’s trilogy. However, it was not until my engagement on the platform of University establishment, or otherwise, in the circle of teachers and colleagues at Ajasin Literary School of the Department of English that realization of these complexes and the need to harmonize them began to emerge

I still question if the above persona in the long run is not only a mask beneath whose shadow my darker side which I generally do not wish to identify with—which, though repressed, continues to interfere—occasionally surfaces to, once again, relegate the newly proclaimed piety and courage to my own frustration. The irony of this binary constriction is that in their psychological disdain for, and outright rejection of this lore, which are and still in part unfairly discarded; they turned to agents functioning as arrowhead for the degeneration of individuation. This betrayal is, for some, permanent, and better so. But those who mask themselves repeatedly find themselves caught between these complexes.

Do I blame or criticize the imposition of constricting religious ethos or it was my feeble childhood self who guarded itself away and wallowed beneath said constraint? Is progressive investigation and exultant valorisation of my culture conflicting with faith values? The answer still remains the question, and it invariably encapsulates the split persona behind the mask.

At times, without the mask there come surprising tricks, artistic moods and attentive dispositions to such grim matters as urban warfare, our common mortality, evolutionary culture, and metropolitan reality. I am, after all, a member of the new order and a native of modernity, and post-modernity – a circumspect critique and reverence of a long human association with machine, the merchandising between love and sex, the far-too-strained kinship between nature and man. Representing the synthesis are almost too complex for me to achieve in my writing. They are too distorted and mythic.

To me, the poem is the cure of a personal and collective protest against the entirety of a people. There is a respite in some sense. That is why I have a ‘concrete personae’, rather than an abstract or too distant character to take responsibility of the poem unfolding. This character is also the model for the central structure of the poem. On complexity; distortion, and inconsistency, I myself see nothing less in this and other poems. An old school mate, critic and friend once accused me of inconsistency with the arrangement of the verses of my poems. Let me digress and make path with that Russian Formalist Shklovsky who says that the meaning of a work of art broadens to the extent that artfulness diminishes. He also views the language of poetry as a ‘roughened’ language. He also had argued, in his essay ‘On Poetry and Nonsense’ (1916), that ‘meaningless-ness’ was ‘a phenomenon characteristic of poetry’.

Consequently, if literature of any genre is ever a reenactment of life, almost as it seems; I then say there is nothing rhyming about a confused childhood, and yet, unsettled adulthood.

A Bolding Canvas… Have you come to redeem me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ehindola Peter, a critic and pioneering member of Ajasin Varsity Theatre, holds a B.A. in English, with research focus on post-modernist theory and rhetoric. His works stand between intense representation of a constructive past and a deconstructive civilization. Some of his recent works are poems published on online platforms and literary magazines, including ‘The Sun Squirts Red Rains’ which Tosin Gbogi of The Department of Linguistics, Tulane University, New Orleans described thus: ‘Here, rain becomes water and water becomes a fall and a fall becomes a snow. The stars, the sun, and the skin are welded into a brilliant sibilant of sounds that both enchant and disenchant’. Peter is currently a prospective graduate student at the Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies – Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.

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