Harrison Okhueleigbe’s Under the moonlight starts like the shaky, unsure steps of a toddler. “My mum was standing by the door at the entrance of the house, hands akimbo, yelling for me to come inside.” It opens in the voice of a youngster, terrified by the intrusion of his doting mother.
The author seems to leave his readers guessing whether this is just a piece of fictional work inspired by his own childhood, with the main character being nothing but an alter ego of himself or, perhaps, autobiographical. With every page however, this novella develops into a bold work of art that tells more than the life of its adventure-loving author. In 136 fast moving pages, Okhueleigbe weaves a simple yet impactful moral story, with enduring imagery sure to evoke fearsome and ultimately cathartic effect on readers.
Split into three effective parts, in Under the moonlight, the author employs the embedded narrative device to pass the most important messages of this book across. At the end, it ventilates on the essential philosophies of communalism, patriarchy, discipline, and humanitarian values that African families thrive on.
Part One, comprising five chapters, dwells on the realities of a typical Nigerian family growing up in the city of Lagos. The overbearing, almost unapproachable father; the longsuffering, permissive wife, and disciplinarian but loving and dutiful wife and
mother of four children with an assortment of proclivities.
Eghonghon, whose narration opens the window into the life of this middle-class family, describes his mother, siblings, grandmother, aunty and cousins. He also introduces his school, friends and teachers as well as the state of education in the country. The precocious little boy’s major preoccupation in this part is preparing the reader’s mind for the visit of Nene, his grandmother, and the attendant adventure. When Nene eventually arrives, the narrator fills the atmosphere with suspense as he pesters the old woman to tell a story.
The seven chapters that form Part Two are the fulfilment of our narrator’s anticipation of his grandmother’s salacious story telling. They are also the fulcrum of the didactic essence of Harrison Okhueleigbe’s first published work.
In satiating her grandson’s thirst for one of her stories, Nene gathers Eghonghon and his siblings out of their parents’ home on the second night of her arrival and tells a folk tale which leaves the inquisitive preteen with endless questions.
But Ojogbo Elimi, the story of the creature with seven heads does more than raise innocent posers, as moonlight tales are wont, a deposit of instructions for children and adults alike. From the embedded narrative, the author explores a variety of themes dwelling on the facilities of men. There is an overwhelming sense of injustice and man’s inhumanity to man, just as there is mercy and redemption in unexpected quarters. While fellow wives of Queen Uhumu cause her endless pain and sorrow, she receives compassion from an unexpected quarter. Nene equally passes a subtle personal message to her grandson as to the importance of eating his mother’s food as opposed to his poor eating habits. As is usual with African folk tales, Ojogbo Elimi is accompanied with music, which serves as a vehicle for conveying the morals of the story in addition to their entertainment value.
The last part of the book is a replay of the young boy’s insatiable appetite for his grandmother’s stories as he rains an avalanche of questions on the old woman who promises a fresh story for the next day. The author then provides a section of endnotes which explain the meaning of some of the traditional words employed in the novella. In all, this creative fiction work is a successful combination of the author’s earliest recollection of his childhood with one of the legendary oral literature forms of African societies.
—Adedokun, a public relations practitioner and lawyer, is the author of The Law is an Ass