Never Cut the Rope: Returning Home to Heal and Rebuild in Pede Hollist's So the Path Does Not Die.

Author:Iwuchukwu, Onyeka
Position:Critical essay
 
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Introduction

The novel, So the Path Does Not Die, presents the experiences of Finaba, the protagonist, as she grows from innocence to maturity in a journey that takes her from her village, Talaba, through Freetown and Koidu all in her home country, Sierra Leone, to America and back to Sierra Leone with a brief visit to Nigeria. Greater part of the action takes place in Sierra Leone and America. Her experiences in the various cities and relationships are used by the novelist to explicate the concept of home and return from different perspectives. The novel belongs to the literary style referred to by Isaih Ilo as a "... a consummate representative of an emerging post-indiginist... in which an African [writer] creates out of engagement with the present reality of his present environment instead of in response to by-gone colonial experience" (41).

The concept and importance of home is entrenched in Finaba's young mind early in life by her grandmother, Baramusu, who admonishes her severally never to cut the rope, an idiomatic expression for bonding and unity in the family. It underscores the importance of working together to build the home and by extension, the society. Unfortunately, this rope is snapped when her father aborts her initiation and desecrates the land and her mother disrupts the cleansing of the desecrated land. Finaba's family is cursed by Baramusu, her grandmother:

... if Amadu and the child Finaba do not ask your forgiveness, and if they do not wash out the mucus and wax that has clogged their ears, may they never find peace. May they never know peace. May they never know the comfort of a home! May their insides wither so that no fruit may come from anything they touch and do...." (13). Finaba's life throughout the novel is filled with problems and obstacles that seem to obliterate peace and her ability to be at home. Consequently, she believes that her grandmother's curse was following her and robbing her of happiness even when she realizes that her "grandmother took an advantage of [her] youthful desire to belong, not to be the odd one out" (152), she sticks to her injunction of never to cut the rope.

Her problems started with her mother's opposition to her daughter's initiation, but Baramusu warns her that the "... ways of the white man bring only trouble. The path you and Amadu have chosen for this child will lead to nothing but trouble"(2). These words seem to have come to reality as the story unfolds with Finaba encountering different kinds of troubles almost all the way. Baramusu's insistence on initiation for her grand-daughter with her age-mates is to ensure that she becomes a fully integrated member of their community. She wants Finaba to be at home. Home in this context is the familiar home where one lives with one's family, relations and friends and where they work together for the common good of all the members of that home. She advises Finaba never to cut the rope, meaning that she should imbibe their values, live according to their cultural practices and work together with others for the well-being of the community. Hence her insistence that life is about people working together.

The action of the novel therefore revolves around Finaba's attempt not to cut the rope,to be at home, and to work together with other people, at various times in her life. Unfortunately, this desire seems to elude her at every point,each time she gets very close to being at home. It appears that her grad-mother's curse haunts and follows her throughout as she encounters pains and disappointments at the doorstep of happiness and success until finally, she settles at home in Sierra Leone to work together with others in the task of healing and reconstructing the bodies, psyche, and souls of her people, devastated and traumatized by the civil war.

She returns searches for her grandmother, probably for atonement, but it is vain. However, she encounters another old woman, takes care of her traumatized body and soul as well as that of other victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone. Only then is she able to feel that she has not only returned home but is at home.

Pede Hollist is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Tampa, Florida, and he is from Sierra Leone. So the Path Does not Die is his debut novel, but he has published three short stories, "Going to America," "Back Home Abroad" and "Foreign Aid". Foreign Aid was on the shortlist for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing while So the Path Does Not Die, is adjudged "one of the best novels both in terms of theme and the craft, but especially in terms of the craft, to have come from the West African region in recent times"(Kamarah 1). It won the African Literature Association's Book of The Year Award for outstanding book of African literature, 2014, in the creative writing category. His novel was adjudged by the Association as being "... quite a significant contribution to African writing" (Citation during the award).

Never Cut the Rope

In this novel, the author explores the concept of home and return using a female protagonist, Finaba Marah whose name was later shortened to Fina for ease of pronunciation by members of the Heddle family with whom she lives after her father's death in Freetown.She was born in Talaba, a village where she grows up with the belief that a girl who does not go through the ritual of female circumcision is not truly a woman and therefore will never fit into or be a part of their community. Such a woman does not belong so is not and will never be at home. At an early age, her grandmother teaches her the values of communal life. Using the illustration of the bird-scaring rope in farms, "where the big ropes and little ropes work together to protect the farm from the birds" (5). She therefore entrenches in Finaba's young mind, the importance of working together for the well-being of the community. According to her while addressing her grand-daughter, "life is when people work together. Alone, you are just an animal. So do not cut the rope... never cut the rope... Remember, Never cut the rope "(5). She repeats this injunction to stress the importance of being at home in the community by working together with other members of that community.

Baramusu uses the myth of Musudugu to further illustrate the importance of belonging to a community and adhering to the cultural norms and values of the community, the myth highlights the disastrous effect of defection by a member of the community, not just that person, but also on the entire community. The idea of not cutting the rope is therefore stressed in the Musudugu story which Baramusu tells her grand-daughter. In the story, KumbaKarbo cuts the rope, leaves the other women, ignores the advice of the leader of the women, and decides to "work alone". Consequently, she becomes an "animal' and her action destroys the entire Musudugu town.

Finaba's excitement at being part of the community, at not cutting the rope, and of "being able to give strength to others and draw some from them" when she needs it (6) is dampened by her mother's refusal to allow her to be initiated and excised. Fortunately, her mother travels so her grandmother takes her to the fafei (initiation forest) to join her age mates for the initiation but her father storms into the forest, flouts the tradition that debars men from the venue of the initiation, drags Finaba and takes her to the hospital for examination and treatment. Amadu, Finaba's father's entry into the forest to snatch his daughter from initiation and abortion of the initiation and excision is an abomination in the land so the land must be cleansed. Also, his action denies Finaba of an opportunity to belong, to be a real woman, to marry, to trust her age mates and for them to trust her. She loses, most importantly, the chance of not cutting the rope and beingin a position to work together with others for the progress of the community. She feels inadequate and incomplete as a woman but is incapacitated.

Her parents' refusal to allow her to go for the...

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