Home, Sweet Home: You Are Where You Are

Sage Wilson '98, English 27 (1997)

I have suggested elsewhere that the humorous style of Anthills of the Savannah and that of "Home, Sweet Home" amount to far more than a simple instance of "big African laughter." Instead, the smirky humor stands in for a whole complex of tightly interwoven and sometimes contradictory feelings about home. And the smirklessness of Slave Girl represents the lack of this complex of emotions, because of the lack of home. But of course home is not a simple place. As I have already suggested and will now flesh out, these works deal with the irreducible complexity of home by taking up the theme that "home is home." Saro-Wiwa's "Home, Sweet Home" of course spells out this theme most directly, both in its title, and in the proverb it repeats and which I have borrowed and perhaps extended. "This cryptic saying," the narrator provisionally explains, "means that [home] is far better than all those places you have visited or read about. That the dirt in which it wallows comfortably is to be preferred to the paved streets of the best cites of the world" (2). But more than that, "home is home" signifies specific feelings of the returning narrator, the feelings which come before the smirk I discussed earlier: the fond memories, the painful present, the deep rootedness. From another angle, the saying that "home is home" suggests the idea of external definition; instead of the (dare I call them) European notions that you are who you are or you are what you do, Saro-Wiwa suggests that in his narrator's hometown, you are where you are.

Anthills of the Savannah takes up this theme as well, if less directly and less prominently than does "Home, Sweet Home." We see it most notably in the account of Ikem's reactions to the demonstrators from Abazon. Although one member of the Abazon delegation feels a certain bitterness that "this most famous son of Abazon had not found it possible to join in their monthly meetings and other social gatherings," the group as a whole feels proud of Ikem's accomplishments (112). One of the elders draws an instructive analogy:

[L]eave this young man alone to do what he is doing for Abazon and for the whole of Kangan, the cock that crows in the morning belongs to one household but his voice is the property of the neighbourhood. You should be proud that this right cockerel that wakes the whole village comes from your compound (112).

The notion of ownership ties together and makes sense of the simultaneous sentiments of pride and hurt. Ikem is an Abazonian, so he belongs to the members of the delegation, so they should feel pride in him. Granted, Ikem has lost this feeling of connection somewhat (although he feels it enough to visit the protesters in the first place); however, the members of the delegation renew his tie to home because they show that home has never lost its tie and claim to him. The same phenomenon can be seen on a larger scale when the Abazonian delegation originally arrives at the capital: masses of Abazon-born Bassa residents join the handful of travellers, thereby re-asserting their pride in and allegiance to their homeland. Even though their experience of home is but a distant memory, the connection has overwhelming power. Ikem in particular is moved by this power from smirk to action. Meeting with the Abazonian delegation radicalizes Ikem, transforms an editorial protester into a political prisoner. In short, this delegation -- this homeland -- is what makes Ikem become the Ikem who will be remembered. And in this sense, it makes Ikem into Ikem. A tautology? Certainly, but also more than tautology: home becomes home for Ikem once again, and no political or professional calculation can interfere with that simple equation, because you are where you come from.

Once again, as with the technique of the smirk, Slave Girl takes up this theme of home in reverse. For Ojebeta, home was home, a beautiful, perfect place that made her who she was going to be. Home even lay at the root of Ojebeta's identity in a material sense, as her bells, cowries, and spinach-leaf tatoos marked her simultaneously as someone from Ibuza and as Ojebeta specifically. Thus the loss of Ibuza to slavery and marriage meant a loss of self, because "whatever identity [a slave] had was forfeited the day money was paid for them" (72). That much cannot be seriously debated: if anything, Emecheta makes this point too obviously, preaches about it too much. But as the flip-side of the argument that "home is home," Slave Girl serves to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the theme.

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