3rd August, 2022
By Umonye Monday Virgil
A book or novel worth its onions is written to entertain, educate, teach morals, and improve the vocabulary proficiency whether written or spoken ability of the reader. These qualities often tend to inflate the deep passion in readers to read the text over and over again and where it lacks them, dump the text. Consequently, a writer of such is seen as an accomplished one of which Umonye can be categorized among them.
The text in review, Jewel of Sorrow, first made waves at its maiden launch at the Prestigious Golden Gate Hotel, Ikoyi, under the Chairmanship of the Legal Luminary, Human Rights Activist and Two-Time Presidential Candidate of Nigeria Conscience Party (NCP) Chief Gani Oyetola Fawehinmi of blessed memory in 1999. Subsequently, it was approved by the Lagos State Ministry of Education, Curriculum Department, becoming the first book to be recommended for three classes of the Junior Secondary Schools ( 1-3).
Also, one of the most reviewed books.
At another launch of the revised text, along with Umonye’s second novel, “Cannibals Valley,” at Radio Lagos premises, witnessed the presence of the first Executive Governor of Lagos State; His Excellency, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande of blessed memory as Chairman; the African Regional Director, United Parcel Services; Mr. Basi Anari and Professor Olufunmilyo Fashola, one-time presenter of Gboromiro, a television public participation programme and other dignitaries including an emerging prolific writer, a London Trained Journalist and writer of the Militant of the Niger Delta; Mr. Matthew Okoba.
What is the Jewel of Sorrow all About?
The story, filled with captivating scenes, illustrations and a rich depth of local ingredients led by one Capelini. The matter generated so much upheaval and consequently led to the young men bearing arms in self-defence.
As soon as the king got wind of the development, he quickly dispatched his messenger to call the people in order to explain. At the meeting, the king unfolded the four main agenda of the visitors which were the construction of a place for gathering, a health centre, boosting of their agricultural outputs among others, which was further corroborated by the visitors in the speech of Capelini. Having been appeased by the two speakers, the place to erect the structure for the gathering became so contentious with arguments for and against it. When it was drifting into a stalemate, the king unilaterally announced the site to be the Awicha-Oka’s Grove, a forest which houses the shrine of the priest of their local deity and a dreaded place where people of indescribable and incurable diseases were left to die.
The announcement by the king was received with mixed feelings and – trepidation. Many saw it as an attempt by the king to invite the wrath of their local deity on the people and therefore envisaged the worst. True to some of these fears, many of the principal actors involved in the construction suffered some fate, resulting in deaths of some principal Chiefs, Capelini and eventually, the king! Could this be a triumph of the power of African traditional forces at play over that of the much vaunted Western technological wizardry ?
Temporarily, these cameo of deaths halted the construction, until the king’s son; Edobah who was said to have initiated the dream of the construction of the edifice returned from Italy where he had gone for further studies. Being an admirer of aesthetics and structure, the relics of the Amphitheatre used by ancient Romans caught his fancy and since then pressured his father to build one in his kingdom. Immediately he was crowned as the king, he revived the abandoned construction. On whether the casualty suffered in the course of embarking on the project was due to the wrath from their local deity, Edobah attributed the cause of their death to that of an epidemic which if not properly handled could send an entire community to their early graves.
He got the support he wanted and not quite long, a gigantic edifice like the one used in Ancient Rome during ceremonies was commissioned. The venue hosted the Great Gathering, where Uragon played host to other communities and people from all walks of life. It was also time for the people to display their rich agricultural produce and settle petty and major infractions. During the great gathering where as a tradition, a community gift must be bestowed on deserving members in the community, Enosa was the lucky recipient. This generated a lot of controversies among the people as they could not link any spectacular deed to Enosa.
Many thought it was a surreptitious move by the king to resume the foreclosed love affair with Enosa which the late king vehemently opposed. For this reason, the king had sent his son to Rome. The young king had been rescued by Enosa after being stung by bees and left to die many years ago. After receiving the gift, the family was half way home when they were suddenly attacked by suspected assassins whose deadly attack, left only Enosa and Efi alive. Efi fled to neigbouring a community. This sudden turn of events made Uragon a wailing community for days. The community was further hit with more shocks, when Efi was rumoured to have been involved in the entire saga. The intensity in the wailings became unbearable with rage which led to the burning down of Naife’s house.
However, the king’s appeal to fish out the culprits restrained the people from further vandalization. From Efi being declared wanted to a systematic ethnic cleansing, Uragon witnessed the loss of people who were fingered to have been involved in the killing of the Naifes. When the situation heightened, some brave elders consulted the community mouth piece, who told them a shocking revelation; but warned the elders to remain calm.
After years of roaming the neigbouring communities, Efi returned to Uragon to plan the revenge of his father’s and sibling’s death. The period coincided with an attack on Uragon by Ibia, her arch enemy, over claims to the ownership of Idizua Palm Field. The bitter rivalry between the two communities led to the death of two watch men employed to guard the premises. The death of the two, provoked anger from the king of Uragon, who ordered Ibia to hand over the killers of the two watchmen but received a defiant reply.
A reprisal attack by Uragon was high-jacked as the soldiers were ambushed and there were many casualties.
On the second onslaught, after many months of systematic tracking, the king of Ibia was captured but later released on questionable grounds. The despicable manner it was done angered the warlords of Uragon, who vowed to deal with the king. So, after another attack by Uragon, king Ojeh of Ibia was captured and executed as commanded by Edobah. During his victory speech, Edobah also and his fellow murderers fell by the volleys of arrows from different directions and so ended the reign of terror.
The book is reminiscent of many events both in the literary and the real world. For instance; one readily recalls the scenario in the Bible between Uriah and David, the trio-tragedies of Hamlet, Macbeth and Julius Caesar where the under dogs became the celebrated heroes as this clearly plays out in Efi’s revenge and prophecy. While the dispute over Idizua Palm Field reminds us of Elechi Amadi’s The Great Ponds.
Jewel of Sorrow in effect summaries the reign and end of despotic rulers as captured in the death of Edobah. The text is well written except for few errors, probably due to human or mechanical faults.
The one hundred and one pages prose has wordlists where difficult expressions are given and explained, including copious quotes from past reviewers of the book and scintillating use of local proverbs taken from Ekpon, an agrarian community in Edo State, the place of birth of the author. The cover page also adds to the aesthetic beauty of the book.
Indeed, Jewel of Sorrow is a must read text, for all lovers of good stories.
-Reviewed by Matthew Okoba.