Archive for pidgin english

Review of The Up-Country Man “A Fascinating Insight”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on 26/01/2011 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

UCMcover16x24

My interest in the war in Nigeria was piqued some time ago when I read Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Being a child of the 70s it was something I knew virtually nothing about. Therefore when I came across this book I thought it would be really interesting to read a first-hand account. The author Kenneth Ryeland moved to Nigeria as a young man in 1967, working as an engineer. His company had played down reports of previous unrest and Ryeland planned to move his young family to the country to join him after the completion of his probation period.

The book intially details the culture shock experienced by the author and another young colleague upon their arrival, having to adjust to a new geography and culture. Ryeland is moved to a posting in Enugu amid rumours that secession will occur, and when it does he finds himself living in the new state of Biafra. The “police action” seriously disrupts life for the Europeans as well as for the rest of it’s new citizens.

I found the book fascinating. I really liked the use of Pidgin English in the book as I felt it illustrated one of the most obvious difficulties the author must have faced on arriving in Nigeria and lent real flavour to the book. The story of Adam and Eve in Pidgin at the start really helped my understanding, so while I couldn’t translate it I certainly got the gist. The story was so descriptive of the places and people, but without being unnecessarily wordy.

I can imagine some people might be uncomfortable with some of the portrayals of the white man as master and the locals as servants but it is illustrating how things really were at the time, is basically a historical account of events and it would be wrong to sanitise the book to appease people.

This book contained enough description of Nigeria and it’s people to satisfy me as a travel book, enough about factual historical events to make me feel like I was learning something by reading it, and enough emotion and anecdotes for it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.

***** (5 Stars)

Tracy Cook

Review of The Up-Country Man “I Thoroughly Recommend this Book!”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on 23/11/2010 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

UCMcover16x24I have to admit to a natural bias towards this book. I was a young man in Nigeria during the time the book is set and it brought back so many memories for me.

Ryeland captures the uncertainty of the build up to the Nigerian Civil War with mastery. His observations are incredibly detailed and perfectly illustrate the society to which I belonged as a child: the ex-patriot community. He truthfully depicts the lives of the Europeans resident in that young independent country and their attempts to try to help it get on its feet (while enjoying a life style we’d never have had “back home”). He observes how we remained outside of the mainstream African culture which fascinated, repelled and puzzled us in equal measure.

 As another reviewer has mentioned, this is not a book for the PC brigade. Ryeland is no racist, but his portrayal of the sense of superiority that was instilled in the Europeans working and living out in the ex-colony is bound to offend some. I would advise people likely to be offended by that to simply appreciate those aspects for what they are, invaluable first-hand accounts of a particular moment in history, whose protagonists are now slowly disappearing off the world stage.

 The book reads like a thriller. I found it difficult to stop myself starting another chapter as I finished each one… even when common sense said it was time for sleep. You really get drawn into this first person narrative and rapidly become keen to find out what happens to him, his friends and acquaintances as the political situation deteriorates.

 As for his use of Pidgin English, I recognise that for some this might present a problem to the uninitiated, but if you persevere, it will become easier to understand and it is yet another element by which Ryeland allows you to put yourself into his predicament. As a fluent pidgin speaker myself, I found those dialogues really added to the atmosphere and to the authentic tone of the book.

 If anyone is seeking to understand what it was like for a European to live in post-colonial Africa, under the threat of coup d’etats and civil wars, this book will offer you the chance to experience that life in great detail.

 It has even given me a desire to finish my long abandoned novel about my own experiences in Nigeria as a child. I thoroughly recommend this book!

***** (5 stars)

Berni Armstrong

Review of The Up-Country Man “Well Written and Engaging”

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on 15/10/2010 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

The Up-Country Man is the autobiographical tale of Kenneth Ryeland, author of Tribal Gathering. As a young man in the 1960s, he was posted by Land Rover, to work in Nigeria, leaving behind his wife and young son. His posting coincided with the beginning of the Nigerian Civil War and the establishment of the short lived independent state of Biafra. Ken comes face to face with tribal differences, the corruption inherent in newly independent countries and meets some interesting characters along the way. The book is well written and engaging and I certainly came away feeling as though I had learnt a lot about a subject I previously knew very little about. Ryeland has a wonderful memory for places and dialogue and evokes the sense of one actually being there and witnessing the horror of his situation.

My criticisms are few, in that I found the frequent use of pidgin English both annoying and unnecessary. Ryeland could have established early on that the indigenous people used this language and from then on, just used an English translation. Because I couldn’t understand it, I found myself skipping these parts. I would also add that this book would not appeal to those who are concerned about political correctness. Some of the language is very of the time, and there is a tendency to make the white man always look fair and just, and black Africans ignorant. As this is an autobiography, subjectivity is understandable, and it is the situation seen through Ryeland’s eyes. But while he does not express the same obnoxious prejudices as his fellow ex-pats, there is still a feeling that he is not willing to accept that white rule in Nigeria may have played a part in the situation he finds himself in. But it is not for me to argue if countries are better off as colonies, or finding their own feet, even if it does involve civil war. It is my place to review books, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Up-Country Man and would now be interested to now read an account of the situation from a black African’s point of view.

**** (4 stars)

Karen Mason

Third Extract From The Last Bature

Posted in Extracts with tags , , , , , , , on 24/08/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland
 
The Author and Friends in the Bush:1971

The Author and Friends in the Bush:1971

Chapter VII: Blood and Guts

[…]The police Land-Rover approached the military checkpoint on the way out of Mokuba Township and Mike Stevens slowed the vehicle. Normally, the military would simply wave police vehicles through without them having to stop, but on this occasion, the soldier on duty held up his hand in a clear signal to stop.
“What the hell is wrong with this bloke?” said Mike, to no one in particular.
“He is just a boy, sir,” said Bello. “It is probably his first time on roadblock duty.”
Mike brought the Land-Rover to a halt and the soldier walked to the driver’s side with a smile plastered all over his face. However, when he saw that a white man was sitting in the driver’s seat, his lips fell apart and he emitted two sharp sounds from his mouth.
“Ah! Ah! You go be policeman, sa,” cried the young soldier, staring at Mike’s tunic top.
Mike, now quite used to such reactions from young Nibanans, unaccustomed to seeing white men in police uniform, simply said, “Why have you stopped us, Private? You can see we are police officers on official business.”
“Sorry, sa, I never sabby1 master him dey for motor. I tink say na Nibana man him dey for motor,” said the soldier, in his quaint pidgin English.
“Yes, I dare say you weren’t expecting to see a white man in a police uniform. You were expecting there to be only Nibanan policemen inside, weren’t you? But what plans had you in mind if I had not been here, I wonder?” said Mike, brusquely.
It is probable that the soldier only understood a quarter of what Mike said because he looked blankly at Inspector Akure sitting in the passenger seat and said, “I never sabby what dissy master him go talk me.”
Bello, well aware of what the soldier was up to, replied in the Usmar language, “Then you had better let us go pretty quickly before this bature calls your barracks on our radio and reports you for harassing the police.”
The soldier became quite agitated and said, “OK, sa, make you go now, now, sa. Bye-bye, tank you, sa.”
“Bye-bye,” said Mike, mimicking the soldier, as he let the clutch out and roared off as fast as he could.
“Bloody little bastard, he was after dash2 or cigarettes, wasn’t he?” said Mike as he slowed the vehicle to a more comfortable pace.
“Yes, something like that,” said Bello, resignedly. “Since the army took control of the country these soldiers have become bolder and bolder by the month. They would never have dared to stop us three months ago, sir. It was only because you were in the vehicle that he let us go without asking for something, despite me being an inspector.”
“Yes, and it’s going to get worse,” said Mike, with a sigh. “Though it’s a good job he didn’t realise that our radio is only tuned to police frequencies, eh, Bello.”
“Oh, yes, I had forgotten that you speak Usmar, sir, It is just as well I did not say anything derogatory about you, sir,” the smile on Bello’s face indicating the joke.
Mike Stevens laughed and said, “Yes, Bello you have to be careful what you say in that lingo of yours when I’m around. Though, as you know, my Usmar is of the kitchen variety. Good only for greetings, farewells and ordering beer and food.”
“Yes, sir,” said Bello, still smiling broadly.
They made good progress despite the terrible road conditions, and just as Mike Stevens was assuring himself they would arrive at Yula well before dark, he spotted a problem in the distance.
The long straight section of road enabled Mike to see quite a way ahead, but what he saw did not inspire him. It looked as though vehicles were blocking the carriageway, or rather the debris of vehicles, large trucks or mammy-wagons by the look of things. As they drew closer the three police officers realised they were going to face further delay.
There had been a head-on collision between two trucks, but there was also a mammy-wagon involved and the carnage was enormous. Apart from the distorted remains of the steel cabs and chassis, and the smashed remnants of the ubiquitous wooden bodies that were fitted to all indigenously operated trucks and buses in Nibana, the road was littered with market produce and personal belongings. There was something else littering the road too; human bodies, dozens of them, lying in grotesque forms, many covered in blood. Some of the bodies were so badly mutilated they were beyond recognition; others were simply lying there as though sleeping. There were other people who had escaped injury altogether and they occupied themselves in trying to comfort the more seriously injured, but with no medical knowledge or equipment they could do little to help.
Mike pulled to the side of the road and instructed Bello to get on the radio to the local police post and ask them to arrange for the nearest hospital to send ambulances, doctors and equipment. He and Constable Rufai then approached the scene with trepidation.
Almost immediately, the people who had escaped injury began wailing and screaming at the two policemen, imploring them to do something about the seriously injured people lying in the road. With no equipment other than the first-aid box carried by all police vehicles, Mike decided that the best he could do was to assure the hapless survivors that he had requested help from the nearest police post. This seemed to calm them somewhat and Mike began the grim task of determining how many of the victims were actually alive. He began to examine the bodies lying in the road and, after a few moments, instructed the constable to do the same.
The majority of the passengers in the mammy-wagon had been women and children, and it sickened Mike Stevens to see the extent of the slaughter around him. Some were lying still and some were moaning, others were screaming in pain. Clearly, when the medics turned up, these were the people needing attention first. As Mike tried to sort some kind of priority list by writing numbers on pages torn from his notebook and placing them on the victim’s bodies where the medics would see them, the uninjured passengers began protesting at some of Mike’s decisions. The constant panicky chatter from these people began to irritate him and Mike ordered them to sit at the side of the road and be quiet. He was more than aware that he may be making wrong decisions, but he felt he had to do something so not to waste the medics’ time.
Mike had counted fifty-four people at the scene. The two truck drivers were dead in their cabs along with six others who had obviously been passengers in both trucks, their mangled bodies hanging in grotesque poses amongst the distorted metal and therefore Mike wasted no further time on them.
From the way in which the vehicles had ended up in the road, it was clear the mammy-wagon had tried to overtake one of the trucks, but couldn’t make it before the other truck, approaching from the opposite direction, hit both the mammy-wagon and the truck it was overtaking. It was the old, old story, Mike had seen the result of reckless overtaking many times before, and he shook his head in sadness at the waste of life and the stupidity of it all[…]

1 Understand/know.
2A bribe, but it can also mean a gratuity.

Third Extract from Tribal Gathering

Posted in Extracts with tags , , , on 27/05/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

The Story The Visit

[…]Arthur’s dilemma ended when a man, wearing green silk robes of the finest quality, suddenly appeared to his left. He addressed Arthur quietly in Pidgin English, telling him to remove his shoes and bow low before walking towards the emir. The man went on to explain that Arthur would be permitted to sit on the simple wooden stool that had been placed about ten feet away from the base of the raised dais.
After bowing low and taking a last glance at his shoes, which had been neatly placed on the floor near the doors by a servant, Arthur walked forward at a slow pace. At the command of the green-robed figure at his side, Arthur sat on the stool. Suddenly the emir began to address Arthur in the Usmar language and almost immediately the green-robed man began to translate.
After about five minutes of welcoming speech from the emir, it was Arthur’s turn to speak. When he’d finished carefully explaining his reasons for requiring an audience with one of the most powerful men in northern Nibana, Arthur waited patiently whilst the green-robed interpreter relayed the message. For a fleeting moment, Arthur detected what he thought was a smile from the emir. He couldn’t be sure because only the man’s eyes were visible. Nonetheless, Arthur felt certain that between the heavy veil drawn across the lower portion of the emir’s face and the bright green turban covering his head, the dark eyes had twinkled merrily in response to the interpreter’s words.
The reply confirmed it. The emir, according to the interpreter, had expressed great pleasure at Arthur’s visit and looked forward to meeting his old friend Hyde-Beecroft again after so many years.
Somewhat relieved that the interview had gone so well, Arthur thanked the emir and made to depart. However, before he could move, the interpreter said the emir wished Arthur to remain for a while longer and partake of refreshments. Arthur’s heart sank. He had wanted to get out of the throne room as quickly as possible because his English suit and the dreadful smell from the torches and the smouldering sticks of incense were making him feel so uncomfortably hot and nauseous.
As suddenly as he’d appeared, the green-robed interpreter disappeared through a door to the left of the emir’s dais. Then, much to Arthur’s surprise, the two heavy-duty guards also departed through the same exit.
Somewhat bemused, Arthur found himself alone with the emir, wondering how he would communicate. Arthur’s command of the Usmar language was basic, to say the least. No more than ‘kitchen Usmar’, fit only for stewards and smallboys not the most respected Usmar leader in the whole of the Northern Region.
The emir beckoned Arthur to approach the dais and began unwinding the huge length of cloth that formed the veil around his face and neck. The turban was the next article to be discarded and, as the emir stood up, he addressed Arthur in perfect English.
“Mr Meadows, I do hope you will partake of a cooling drink in my private quarters. I meet so few Europeans these days. Please collect your shoes, put them on and follow me.”
Forgetting momentarily that the emir had attended university in England, Arthur hadn’t expected to hear such impeccable English from a man who looked as though he’d just time-travelled from twelfth-century Arabia. It took Arthur several seconds to realise he was staring at the emir with his mouth partially open. Closing his lips tightly, Arthur quickly retrieved his shoes and followed the now bareheaded figure through a door on the right of the dais.
The emir led the way through a number of dark passages for what seemed like an age. Finally they emerged into a beautiful garden with fountains, green lawns and wonderful flowering shrubs that must have taken an army of gardeners and many thousands of gallons of water to keep in such excellent condition. In the centre of the garden was a bungalow, not dissimilar to the one Arthur and his family occupied. Typically colonial in style it had large verandas on all four sides and large, glass-panelled double doors leading into the living, sleeping and dining areas[…]

Hot Metal

Posted in Extracts with tags , , , , , on 22/02/2009 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

Extract from Tribal Gathering

[…]After walking through thick forest undergrowth for twenty minutes or so, the two men found themselves in yet another clearing situated at the foot of a small, rocky escarpment some fifty or sixty feet high and about two hundred feet long. To one side of the sheer cliff-face was a wide, dark fissure in the rock. The boy stopped close to the gaping crack and turned to face Peter and John as they struggled to free themselves from the vines and undergrowth that clung to their feet and legs with the tenacity of leeches. Both men looked at each other as the boy spoke with the strange, grown-up voice again, asking which of them was “Mr Staffo.”
Peter, amazed at what he thought was his name being used, said, “Do you mean Stafford?”
The boy nodded.
“How did you know my name? Who the hell are you anyway?” said Peter, irritably.
The boy said nothing. He simply motioned with his right hand for Peter to follow him. John made to follow too, but the boy told him he must stay. Peter found the boy’s influence almost overpowering. Something inside him wanted to obey the boy’s every word. Turning to John, Peter said in a low voice, “You stay here, just in case. I’ll call you if I need help.”
Reluctantly, John agreed, giving Peter the thumbs-up sign as he watched his friend follow the boy towards the gap in the rock-face.
One minute the boy was directly in front of Peter, the next he’d disappeared from sight. Only when very close to the huge fissure did Peter realise he must follow the boy through into the very heart of the rock.
The huge, triangular-shaped crack was about four feet wide at the base and ten feet high at the apex, although it soon reduced to little more than three feet wide and five feet high some nine or ten yards inside the rock. It proved to be something of a tight squeeze for Peter with his large frame, but he managed to stay close behind the boy despite the heavy going and the almost total darkness.
The internal surfaces on both sides of the fissure were dripping wet and covered in what Peter imagined to be mud and slime, for he could see nothing. As he moved slowly forward, Peter felt his shirt and shorts becoming wet and sticky, especially when forcing himself through some of the narrowest places. At one point the gap became so confined, Peter began to panic thinking he would become permanently stuck inside the dark, living rock. However, gentle encouragement from the boy, a yard or so in front, soon dispelled Peter’s fear and spurred him on.
Several minutes and many yards later, Peter and the boy saw daylight ahead and this encouraged them to move more quickly. They soon emerged from the gloomy, dank interior of the cliff into a strange, crater-like clearing completely encircled by high, rocky cliffs. When Peter’s eyes became accustomed to the light, he opened them wide and his jaw dropped at the scene before him[…]

The Up-Country Man: The Story Behind the Story

Posted in Synopses with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 23/11/2008 by Kenneth C. Ryeland

The Evacuation Ship: MV Isonzo

When the “Winds of Change” began to blow through the African colonies in the late fifties and early sixties, the author began to take a deep interest in these vast territories. Even after leaving school, he nurtured his secret desire to live and work in the ex-colonies of Africa. His ambition was eventually fulfilled shortly after his 25th birthday.

Having finished his engineering apprenticeship and obtained the necessary academic qualifications, the author joined a British company with commercial interests in the West African state of Nigeria. In the six and a half years since independence in October 1960, the people of this ex-British colony had already experienced civil unrest and two military coups. Now the country was on the brink of three long years of civil war, primarily because of an argument over oil revenues between the Federal Military Government and the Governor of the Eastern Region. The author arrived in Nigeria in April 1967, just as the Biafran crisis was about to enter its final and most devastating stage.

This book records his personal views and experiences of the events leading up to and beyond the act of rebellion that created the short-lived Republic of Biafra. The work concentrates on the author’s arrival in the territory and the first one hundred days following secession when he was resident in Enugu, the capital of Biafra. His job as a manager with one of the most important companies in the region gave him a particular insight into the bid for independence and the consequences arising from many of the policies adopted by the Biafran Government thereafter.

The narrative deals with the culture shock that everyone experiences when they arrive in a country where the lifestyle, customs and climate are vastly different to their own. It also looks closely at the relationship between the Africans and the Europeans who lived and worked in Nigeria, reflecting the reality of post colonial Africa in the nineteen-sixties in a sensitive and honest way. Though there is cognisance of the wider political machinations in Biafra, Nigeria and the UK during the period of the crisis, the work is really a personal reflection of the day-to-day difficulties and problems encountered by both Africans and Europeans as Nigeria raced headlong into civil war.

Despite being resident in Biafra for only a short time, this work captures the mood and relates some of the incidents that occurred during the build up to all out war in July 1967. These include the close surveillance of all foreigners by the Biafran secret police (an activity that caused many problems for the author); the difficulty he experienced with the Biafran military when the company driver was beaten close to death by drunken soldiers; the illegal and barbaric activity of the police and army personnel who manned the hundreds of road blocks; and the effect that all this chaos had on the lives of the people and the economy of Biafra. The work also reflects the feeling of vulnerability that pervaded the author’s daily life as the Federal Nigerian Army penetrated the northern and western sectors of the new republic and began to advance inexorably towards Enugu, the seat of power of the rebel regime.

However, it is not all gloom and misfortune. Many passages touch on the humour and grit of the ordinary citizens trying to cope with the chaos around them. The sections of dialogue written in the style of spoken Pidgin English will provide the reader with an intriguing insight into the use of English as a means of communication in a country where 250 languages are in daily use. The work is presented from the viewpoint of a young Briton, seemingly abandoned by his company, stranded in a rebel enclave, threatened by war and separated from his wife and child.

The climax of the book describes the author’s evacuation by road from Enugu to Port Harcourt. During the journey the civil defence volunteers manning the roadblocks subjected the author and the other Europeans in the vehicle convoy to many threats, and there is an account of the evacuees being dragged from their vehicles and lined up at the side of the road ready for a firing squad.

The author, together with over 800 other expatriates, was eventually evacuated from Port Harcourt to Lagos by sea on the MV Isonzo, a small, 7,500-ton Italian freighter. This was the last vessel to leave rebel held Port Harcourt and required a special agreement between the warring parties for its safe passage. Even at this late stage, however, the Biafran military continued to harass the evacuees as the ship steamed down the river Bonny on its way to the open sea.

The work will satisfy a wide spectrum of readers ranging from those interested in British post-colonial African history to the many who simply enjoy a good, true life adventure story. Though the outline for the book was written twenty-five years after the events, this does not dilute the impact of the story. Contemporaneous diary notes, a sharp memory, reflection and hindsight give the work an unusual strength and character.

This book will provide the reader with a detailed insight into the traumatic conditions that prevailed in Nigeria as the country embarked upon a bloody and cruel civil war. It was a war fuelled on both sides by the Western Powers because of the importance of Nigerian oil. No other British author has written an account of the misfortunes and sufferings of ordinary individuals caught up in the power politics and lust for oil revenues that broke the uneasy peace in Nigeria during the late sixties.