Novelist Bayo Adebowale dabbled into poetry some years ago with ‘Village Harvest’, a collection of poems. He has since published ‘A Night of Incantations and Other Poems’ and ‘African Melody’.
“There is no strict demarcation between prose and poetry,” he states while explaining why he took up poetry. “If you are writing prose and poetry, you are virtually writing on the same plane; using almost the same diction. So, poetry can be prosaic and prose can be poetic. If I want to express my ideas in a compact form, I dabble into poetry but if I want to expand what I’m writing, I dabble into prose.”
An interesting feature of ‘A Nights of Incantations’ is its exposition on incantations, an aspect of Yoruba tradition. The poet highlights malevolent, benevolent and propitiatory incantations in the work and explains his action.
“All the three are aspects of our culture and tradition. When you are angry and you think you have an enemy, you can recite incantation that will bring down God’s anger on him.
“In the same token, if you find yourself in a difficult situation and you want to escape, you can recite incantations that will save you. When you burn roots and leaves of trees to cure yourself, you propitiate with them and you recite special incantations for that.”
He adds that the collection has sections on curses, desperation, voting and protest because, “It’s part of the culture of the people to curse. If you feel wronged by your detractor or your foe, you can curse him. When you curse, it’s a general phenomenon, not just in Africa but in other parts of the world. When you say may the devil take you, may you go into perdition or things like that in anger, it’s part of the culture. It is common to find people cursing their enemies. Those who have caused harm or brought unhappiness into their life.”
But is it Christ-like to curse?
“Don’t you think that even in the holy Bible we have things like that? Why is Jerusalem cursed? ‘If I forget Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.’ Have you forgotten ‘woe unto you that betray the son of man? All these woe are curses in the Bible, they are reflected in Christian liturgy so you cannot say these things are not evident in the Holy Bible. Even in churches you curse the enemy. You bring fire down upon your enemy. May the enemy be consumed by the fire of the Holy Ghost. I have gone to services in churches where they devoted a large part of their prayer to cursing the enemy. ”
‘The Virgin’ published in 1985 is Adebowale’s first novel and arguably his most popular. Two villages go to war over Awero, the major character who loses her virginity contrary to tradition. Though virginity appears somewhat trifle for villages to war over, the former Deputy Rector, The Polytechnic, Ibadan, insists that “The cause of the matrimonial problems of nowadays can be traced to virginity. The lack of trust in your wife, the suspicion the wife has of the husband can be traced to virginity. If your wife did not come to your house as a virgin, it will continue to haunt you throughout your matrimonial life. But if you met your wife a virgin, you will have implicit trust and confidence in her that if she can keep herself like that, I should trust her to a large extent. Mistrust and suspicion can be traced to virginity so it is relevant even nowadays.”
He also discloses how the novel was first adapted into the short film, ‘The White Handkerchief’, and later the feature film, ‘The Narrow Path’, by Tunde Kelani’s Mainframe Productions.
“It was Tunde Kelani who came to tell me that they are interested in the story. He told me what will change and what will remain. He told me the title will change and that the ending would also change because in the novel, Awero did not commit suicide but she did in the film. He said the impact will not be felt by viewers if she walks away. If she commits suicide, they will know that there is a good reason for war.”
The self-confessed writing addict who took up the art in 1963 also reveals what made him adopt the tack he did in ‘Out of His Mind’, his second novel. “It’s not everything that you tell your wife in real life. It’s not that you want to harm her but out of consideration for her flexible mind. You say instead of disturbing my wife, let me get over it. I can always tell her later. It’s the same with Alamu. They were newly married and he didn’t want anything that will upset the lady, hoping that sooner or later he would sort the problem. In any case, if he divulged the secret to the wife, there would be no story to tell again. The suspense will not be there again.”
“I started with short stories and I have over 100 published short stories. It might interest you to note that my novels are adapted from my short stories. ‘The Virgin’ is from a short story ‘The Wedding Day’. I expanded another short story, ‘Burden of a Secret’ into ‘Out Of His Mind’. It’s the same with the short story ‘Lonely Days’ and the novel also so titled. I have been expanding on my short stories.
“Right now, I’m on another one, ‘Beyond Control’ and it is also adapted from one of my short stories titled ‘Tanko’s Exit’. There is not much difference in the technique of writing short stories and novels because they are all prose so I find it convenient. It is only that you have to be more compact, straight to the point in short stories whereas in the novel you have the liberty to expand and to explain certain process.”
Inspiration and influences
Adebowale was inspired to write by reading literary works. “I started telling myself this is something I could do too. I began by criticising the works of writers I read, and then I started writing.” Though the works of authors including Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Alex Dumas, Charles Dickens, Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi among others influenced him, his primary influence, “is my background as a village man.”