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Indigo: Molara Wood’s Healing Balms

When I think of the word indigo, sapphire comes to mind. In Latin it means blue. The sapphire gemstone is said to be used as a healing totem for the mind. Royalties and great warriors in history were reputed to have held it as a protection charm when in battle. Molara Wood seems to heal her characters from the ills of a suffocating society.  A case could be made that Wood attempts to rescue women in patriarchal war zones even when her themes are wide in scope. They swing from the familiar to the personal, and from the personal to the political. These are also padded with the comical: I found myself chuckling as I read some of the stories. She paints live pictures on a canvas of moods and dispositions. This is done well enough that characters are empathized with; they are understood. Every pain is felt.

In the short story ‘Indigo’, Idera, for one, is a well-wrought character. Her well-meaning suggestions are silenced at the Kolapo baby naming ceremony. As a woman without the fruit of the womb, the female gate-keepers of patriarchal tenets decree that she has no status. Her Aunt Yeye is the mourner that cries louder than the bereaved. She mourns Idera’s childlessness. The haranguing does not end there.  It continues with Jaiye’s parents, Idera’s parents-in-law, who will not let her be until they have a grandchild. Idera is driven to desperation and eventually gets a baby through the help of a native doctor, a babalawo, and through mysterious rituals.

Along with other endearing and controversial female characters, Wood makes a feminist commentary on the oppression of women in the voice that states: “What was it about this community that turned carefree young women into dutiful mutes once they were married.” These women become dutiful mutes because they eventually come into a full circle of what they are raised to be and Bell Hooks best expresses it when she affirms that as a daughter she was taught that her role is to serve, to be weak, not to think but to nurture and take care of others. The Indigo women play their roles diligently as members of a patriarchal cast.

Conversely, the short story ‘Smoking Bamboo’ almost shatters the male hold because here there is a village with only women. Their men had gone off to a war and never come back. Hope rises when Angelina appears to build but ends up destabilizing the structure of the village, especially that of her lover, Amugbo. It becomes ironic that the women are able to survive without the men but a fellow woman ends up creating a dissonance, suggesting that women cannot live harmoniously on their own.

It is interesting to note that in the story ‘Night Market’ Wood looks at a clash of cultures. However, she finds a link to bind the dissenting worlds. In this bond is found healing and preservation.  For example, the ravages of fundamentalist Christianity uproots Adigun from his sanctuary: Orisa shrine. The rampaging Christians desecrate the shrine and send him running to the city for employment. In Adigun’s words, “The leader of the new church led them here. They say they are cleansing our town of idolatry, everything heathen is evil… They destroyed all the shrines, including Sango’s grove.”  Besides speaking to a major menace in Nigeria today, where churches are erected in every corner of every town, here history is employed as material to square the traditional and modern reality. This is achieved in the sense that Adigun, by chance, gets employed by a couple he runs into while on a job hunt in Lagos: Rayesha and Timi Laniyan. The man is a Nigerian, while Rayesha is an African American. The loss of her pregnancy forces Rayesha into a mental breakdown and her obsession with the night market becomes a metaphor for her sinister search for answers in the dark and mysterious world. This is a world Adigun taps into though with caution. He conceals some of his rituals as a Sango priest. For example, he wears his hair in cane-rows.  But, Chinyere, Laniyan’s house help, stumbles upon Adigun’s braided hair. She shrieks and casts the gaze of judgment, which is, perchance, a symbol of patriarchal privilege and Christian superiority.  In other words, Adigun is not just breaking gender roles by wearing his hair like a woman, he dares to empower and bring to life his traditional religious belief. Here again, Wood excavates and engages gender fluidity that existed in traditional African setting as well as affirm the place of traditional African religious systems. As Rayesha swings between Catatonia and death, it is Adigun’s Orisa that calls Rayesha back to life. The theme of healing is expertly employed in this story. To me, it is the most interesting story in the collection because its scope is wide. It reconciles the African American and the African in a religious and ancestral convergence.

In sum, Molara Wood’s delivery of verisimilitude in a couple of instances is problematic. One of such examples, is in the story, ‘Free Rice’, where the human mule or the rice carrier trips with the sack of rice he was conveying to Madam’s car and falls over the bridge into the river. He’d rather have the bag of rice rescued over his own life. Perhaps his level of despair has been so fueled by poverty that life has lost its meaning. Beyond this concern and the inconsistency in pagination of the book, that is, the first page starts at 11 instead of one, and then moves from page 17 to 22, then 25 to 30, Wood’s collection of short stories is rich in theme and technique.  She drives home her message by the underlying matters of our lives and time: polygamy, betrayal, poverty, mystery, greed, immigration, etc. The beauty of her expertise lies in her subtlety. It is what she does not say that rings the loudest because the act of healing in the midst of chaos is what personae are oblivious to. It is a challenging strategy to pull off.

Unoma Nguemo Azuah
Unoma Nguemo Azuah
Unoma Azuah is a poet, novelist and a college professor. She shares her time between the US and Nigeria. Her debut novel, Sky-high Flames won the Urban Spectrum award and her second novel, Edible Bones won the Aidoo-Snyder book award. On Broken Wings: an anthology of best contemporary Nigerian poetry, which she edited, has just been published.

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