Book Title: The Up-Country Man
Part of Series: African Tales
Author: Kenneth Ryeland
Number of words (approximately): 179 904
Star Rating (of five): 4
Summary: A young mechanical engineer obtains a posting to
only a few months before the secession of Biafra. His experiences in parts of Nigeria and Biafra,
tell of his development as a man and as a human, and describe the descent into
chaos of an already corrupt country. The
description is from the point of view of one man, but it provides a good window
onto the life of an expatriate in a turbulent time in African history.
- Fred looked at me in mock disgust and said, “Well, you mean bugger. Here’s this poor old sod, working in his own time and you give him fifteen bob. You should be bloody-well ashamed of yourself. Go on; give him another pound for God’s sake.”
Fred was right; the mahogany box was probably worth £25 at home.
“Baba, this is your lucky day,” I said taking a note from my wallet. “Here’s another pound.” It was as if he had been given the Crown Jewels. He dropped to his knees and placed his forehead on my shoes. I glanced at Fred and then down at the old man. His actions made me feel embarrassed and angry, but not at the carpenter. He was only doing what his tribal elders had taught him to do in the presence of his so-called betters. The system was to blame; it had prompted an automatic reaction from an old man towards a much younger and less experienced man of a different race and colour. It was certainly not my right to expect this kind of behaviour, nor did I want it. The old man just could not help himself. It was built into his system.
In the weeks and months that lay ahead, I observed this behaviour often, especially between the Africans themselves. Due respect for other people was one thing, but, in my opinion, this sort of thing was positively medieval. I reflected on these and other similar incidents many times during my stay in
Africa and concluded it was simply a
matter of social evolution. We Europeans had gone through this kind of social
behaviour many centuries ago and, to be fair, we had to give the African people
time to develop at their pace. However, it did serve to remind me that the
British class system had only really started to break down after the Second
World War. Perhaps we were not so clever or socially advanced after all. The incident
was a clear reminder to me that in Africa there were bound to be many different
and varied behavioural patterns from those I was familiar with in . England
“Get up, for God’s sake,” I muttered quietly to the carpenter. “There’s no need for this sort of thing with me. I’m not the Oba of
.” An Oba was the
local equivalent of a king. Lagos
The old carpenter looked up at me and said, “No, sa, you no be Oba, but you dey catch na plenty good ting for we
- (At the Customs on exit from
Biafra) Suddenly he said, “What of money, wey him dey?” I
chose to ignore him and continued with my packing. He then restrained my arm and
said menacingly, “Make you hurry, na plenty pepol here today. I neffa get time
to waste for you.”
My feeling of contempt for the customs man was growing by the minute, but I obeyed his instruction by withdrawing the solitary banknote from my pocket and dangling it in front of him. All at once, he made a grab for the note, whisked it from between my fingers and placed it inside a notebook he had taken from his tunic pocket. Before I could utter a word of protest, he held up his hand to halt my outburst and said with a smile, “Make you listen to me, white man. You no fit take dissy money for
money him dey, dey for Nigeria Biafra now.”
His explanation was not clear to me. The note was a regular Nigerian fiver, issued by the Central Bank. My patience was exhausted, but my common sense continued to urge restraint and thus my reply was delivered in a calm and dignified manner.
“Excuse me, Officer, but that banknote you’ve confiscated is Nigerian currency. If you care to examine it, you will see it has Central Bank of
printed all over it, for Christ’s sake. It is clearly not Biafran money because
there’s no such thing. As such, will you now please return it to me?” Nigeria
The officer sneered and said with great delight, “No. I no fit return dissy money to you, white man. Dem Nigeria pepol, dem go change eberyting. Dissy money no fit for dissy
Him only fit for dissy Biafra and we no fit allow you take dissy Nigeria Biafra money outside. Sabby? Now move, white man. Go!” -
Structure: The book is well-structured, meeting the requirements for easy eBook reading. The grammar and syntax, although written in a light, almost chatty, style, are good. The language used is colloquial English.
Content: The book tells of one of the most harrowing periods in modern Africa, setting out the characters and personalities that made
what it is. It gives the background to a
political move that precipitated the greatest suffering has
Reviewer’s Comments: Reading this book gives one a good understanding of the real
Africa. The descriptions of the people with whom the
author came in contact are the good ‘salt of the earth’ people struggling to
find their way through the confusion and the propaganda, the followers who leap
on the bandwagon and ride with the wave of oppression to their own doom, the
expatriates who are the mainstay of the economy and, at the same time, the
whipping boys for the politicians seeking to drive up public sentiment for
their own causes.
If you desire to understand the reasons for why
Africa has failed to take its place in the fellowship of
nations, you must read this book.