Author of the week

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By Dr Cherno Omar Barry,
President of Writers Association of The Gambia

You Will See for Yourself is a piece of drama in four acts with almost a dozen characters. The setting is in ‘a sizable multi-ethnic village with a population of four hundred people, mostly Fulas, Wolofs and Mandinkas in the Central River Division'(Act One; Scene 1;p2). A Quranic teacher cum Imam cum alkalo, Baa Foday Jabbi, is the main character. There are 11 scenes. Act One (2 scenes) introduces Baa Foday and his talibehs. Juldeh Jallow, a senior talibeh over three decades, will have a special chat with his Master. A particular question on women will arise as Juldeh is recently married and solicits guidance in maintaining a good marriage. In Act 2 (four scenes), certain issues will arise. The first is the question of the music in Baa Foday’s courtyard. Mayamel (Juldeh’s wife) and Hijinka (Baa Foday’s wife) will play music and they both love it. Baa Foday counsels Juldeh to admonish his wife and help guide her to stop indulging in sinful habits. In this act too, parents of one of the talibehs will arrive. They will discover their talibeh child turned into a dirty scrambler of thrown coins in a fight in the streets. The question of the state of the Almudo arises. The parents are welcomed in Act 3 (three scenes). Juldeh will have a lengthy discussion with his wife as he tries to inculcate some of his master’s principles in her. The closing act, Act 4, presents two very interesting scenes. The first is a lengthy discussion on the question the Almudo (a begging talibeh) where heavy irony is observed as the author tries to portray the reality of the situation, and a curious scene between Baa Foday and his young seductive bride Hijinka as Juldeh and Mayamel watch secretly through the complicity of Hijinka.

Hassum Ceesay tries to portray, in this story, the irony behind certain beliefs and practices. He intends to provoke the spectator (or the reader where the play is read from the book), to reflect on certain social and cultural issues. He obliges the spectator to question three particular things: the complete veneration of certain religious people, particularly local Qur’anic teachers where one’s life is dictated (as this is probably the case between Juldeh and Baa Foday) and the question of the ‘Almudo’ and its raison d’être. Juldeh is persistently cautioned about the evil intends of women and advised to strictly apply measures to correct or moderate them. And who is to blame for the Almudo’s situation? The play is thought-provoking. Hassum builds a lot of humour in the play and equally uses simple understandable English as usual.

PROSE: Seeking to Please 8: Have Friends, Will Win

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“All we parents are saying to you children is to be more thoughtful. Be more slow to judge. Weigh the effects of your words. And why do we keep saying so? […] We love you and we want to keep you out of trouble. […] But above all because God enjoins it upon us to bring you up well.” (p48)

This is a story of a university student, Pa Ndongo, who completed his undergraduate studies and leaves the university to return to his family in Sukuta. Pa Ndongo, a BA student in Agricultural Science, has just completed his final exams and was waiting for the end of year events: the end of year debate where he is to present a paper, and the end of year agric and debating club parties. Pa Ndongo, commonly called Faana Faana Soona farmer, supported by his close friends Mansawula commonly called Wula or De Gaulle ears, Njilan Joof and Jelleh Ndure, will make an impressive presentation at the debate and be declared the winner.

The 62-page story deals with many social issues, particularly that of the undergraduate student and university activities. Mr. Ceesay, I believe, intends to delve into pertinent social issues through an easy-to-read short text with a lot of entertainment. One cannot help noticing the ‘kal’ attitude between the schoolmates; particularly, how much it will be effective in helping Pa Ndongo overcome his shyness during the debate competition. Among the students too, there is constant girl-talk on how they perceive girls and their attitude. In fact, a curious relationship will build up between Pa Ndongo and one of the most desirable girls in the University, Yabanaa. The writer did not hesitate to portray our present society and leave us to judge for ourselves. Most of all, Ceesay intends to point out the importance of friendship and its advantages in our lives. Have Friends, Will Win is an unputdownable book that one enjoys from the first to the last pages. The reader sails through, with the help of simple English language structures suitable even at the Upper Basic School level, a wonderful story that grips you to the end and makes you laugh, frown and relax. It is readable anywhere, on trips, at the attaya vous, while waiting during appointments even during halftime while watching football on TV.

POETRY: Seeking to Please 9: Sewruba Rhapsody And Other Poems

“A convention and child rights / Is incomplete unless/ It says no more war. / Why do I say so? / The first right is the right to life. / Adults declare war / then they stay at home / And send the youths to fight / The war they didn’t declare. ” (Child Rights, p19)

Hassum proposed two books on poetry. The poems, like his books on prose and drama, deal with social issues and expose some of our social ills. In Sewruba Rhapsody and Other Poems, Hassum proves a good observer of our contemporary society and translates his observation in simple and easy to read poems. He centres his concern on youth matters, children’s affairs, national issues, nature, etc. Hassum goes further by writing poems in Wolof and Mandinka, which he includes in these collections.

POETRY: Seeking to Please 10: Our River and Other Stories

“Lo giss wanneh/ Lo gaeg netili/ Lo kham wakh/ Lo mann def./Lunj neh yaa ko def/ Yaa ko def/ Lunj neh yaa ko wakh/ Yaah ko wakh.” (Sanj Sanj, p11)

This 34-page collection of poems regroups 34 poems dealing with issues such as nature, cultural manifestations, new technology, relationships, leisurely activities, current issues and four poems in Mandinka and Wolof. Each poem traces a specific line of thought and tries to leave the reader the choice to judge. Hassum is careful to use easy to understand language as always and to provide thought-provoking verses.

The Power of Ngewel

This is the story set in a Fana community where values and traditions are the guiding principles of the community’s way of life. Ngange Demba and Daado Kura are married but on the day of the ‘moor’ and ‘jebbaleh’ (a common yet significant stage of the marriage process among the Wolof where the bride is transported to her husband for the last and final time) Daado wakes up to find herself on the bed of Njaga Hinch in Pallen Sanjal far from Simbara in Lower Saloum, where she should have been beside her husband. This story affirms the positive social and historical roles Gewels (griots) play in our society, using as a vehicle, the challenges that parents and their young adult children have to overcome to live together successfully in an environment that preserves and respects our traditions, customs and indigenous values.

Conclusion

Hassum Ceesay was a very generous man. His concern for young Gambian children was quite apparent in his philanthropic actions geared towards their well-being. Hassum’s concern, unlike most writers and poets, was not to enrich himself. He chose to invest heavily in children’s education by donating almost all his books to the schools, institutions of higher learning, libraries and the Ministry of Education. That is why he wrote in his forward, which is duplicated in all his collection of Seeking to Please: “Like the first Seeking to Please, the present ones are free, and may be sold only to raise funds for students and student associations.”