In his debut novel Tammunnde, which explores the struggles of a Fulani family with changing times, lawyer and tourism and culture practitioner Munzali Ahmadu Dantata advocates change and multicultural dialogue as panacea to the continual conflicts between the pastoralist Fulani and local farming communities. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
Hope, expectation, Munzali Ahmadu Dantata says it means in Fulfulde. In bold emerald green letters, the word (as the novel’s title) asserts itself against a white backdrop on the upper segment of the book cover. Beneath it, in lower font size, what is obviously a subtitle corroborates – perhaps, reinforces – its meaning with the words: “Hope on the Horizon”.
A little further down –and virtually occupying two-thirds of the book cover – is a silhouetted image of a youngster with his arms spread out, obviously imitating the birds in the sky. Against the backdrop of a blue-and-white-tinged cloudy horizon, he exudes so much gaiety, as he gambols about on a lush green field.
Amidst the babel of other present-day platitudes, this word easily trails off. And understandably so. This is especially when reports of fresh mayhem, unleashed by herdsmen on local farming communities across the country, continually assail the readers. Yet, it is a word that even the most wretched chooses to cling on to. And for many, it remains a sheet anchor in these dire times…
Think of Tammunnde as Dantata’s toddling first steps in fiction-writing and much becomes clearer. Yet, the Ahmadu Bello University PhD degree-holder in law is no newcomer to writing. This narrative, swirling around the life of three generations of a Fulani family, follows closely on the heels of a handful of his other literary expressions, which include a dance drama titled Citizen X.
A long spell in the hospitality sector, which climaxed with his heading a culture and tourism parastatal, could easily have numbed the urge to pen down his thoughts. But it didn’t. So, when the rampaging onslaught of the Fulani herdsmen not only made national headlines, but also became a pan-West African issue, this scion of the Kano-based renowned Dantata dynasty thought it was time to venture into fiction-writing.
He has got so much things to say. Indeed, much more than his articles and essays would have addressed. Besides, stories have the potential of reaching a wider audience. And, above all, he aspires through this medium to effect social change as a social entrepreneur.
Yet, getting people to change from their accustomed way of doing things is no easy task. Daily, even hourly, thoughts of hatred are projected into the finer layers of matter. These thoughts join forces, strengthening their kind and producing more powerful forms. They subsequently thrust themselves upon individuals, groups or entire nations. Result? The crudest perpetration of acts of hatred by those attuned to these floating forms or, perhaps, those who are least able to resist them. Thus, many are oblivious to the fact that they are accomplices to acts of genocide and violence through their own inner disposition.
Change, the author preaches.
He blames the clashes between the herdsmen and their host communities primarily on the resistance to change. The modern-day Fulani man, with his centuries-old itinerant lifestyle, seems oblivious of the fact that the world around him has moved on from the Middle Ages. Thus, he is caught in the web of this transition from tradition to modernity. And like everyone else around him, he resists change.
These clashes between the herdsmen and the local farming communities buttresses Dantata’s repeated calls for a multicultural dialogue. He alludes to the spectacular increase in Nigeria’s population from 45.21 million in 1960to its current estimate of over 186 million. Then, to the country’s uncoordinated urbanisation on a landmass of 923,768 km². This, he concludes, implies increased demands on the land, which often result in conflicts. “Violence knows neither boundaries nor ethnicity,” he argues.
This is corroborated by the fact that the protagonist in Tammunnde ends up being killed among his own people after his long sojourn in the south-western Nigerian town of Okitipupa. Similarly, in Citizen X, the Igbo trader successfully navigates through the landmines of trouble elsewhere only to be attacked in his home town.
Back to the theme of transition, Tammunnde curiously echoes Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Like the latter, it seeks to wring coherence from out of the lifestyle of a seemingly fringe-dwelling people. Then, it beams the spotlight on how this people in their insularity grapples with the issue of transition from tradition to modernity. Like Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, Bappa resists change. Indeed, the author acknowledges being influenced by the works of both Achebe and the late Kenyan academic, Ali Mazrui.
The Fulani family the reader encounters in Tammunnde grapples with changing times. Bappa, then a teenager, leaves his homeland in the north-eastern state of Adamawa and accompanies his father on a “kiwo” (a grazing expedition) that takes him closer to his grazing reserve. Through the savannah belt of the north-central part of Nigeria they roam, skirting the banks of two great rivers, the Benue and the Niger.
Bappa’s father’s eventual death in the Niger State town of Bida forces him as the eldest male child to migrate further southwards to the tropical rainforest of south-western Nigeria. Thus, Okitipupa becomes his home for 20 years until fate compels him to leave again in a hurry.
The Fulani family, steeped in centuries-old traditions, seems caught in a time-warp. Hence, its constant clashes with the present-day realities. This is not to ignore the generational conflicts that tends to erupt within such a family. Bappa attempts to inculcate the time-honoured Fulani values in his two sons. While one of them, Jodo, seems receptive to his views, the other is not. Instead, the rebellious son is drawn to the city life and the desire for Western education. This is a struggle even the nomadic Fulani are not impervious to.
Dantata is saddened by the escalating Fulani herdsmen problem nationwide. Sometimes, the Fulani population deny its involvement in the mayhem, blaming both foreigners and criminals. The author (in whose veins the Fulani blood courses thanks to his Katsina-born mother) wonders how a people, who were in the past romanticised, have suddenly become terrorists in just a span of two years. He thinks the media played a part in this.
This is why he also believes that it is important to create a bridge of understanding between the Fulani and the non-Fulani. Hence, the novel not only aspires to make the world understand the Fulani. It also wants the Fulani to understand the world. Thus, Dantata – straddling the two worlds, thanks to his Fulani mother and his Hausa father– advocates a two-way dialogue.
The author’s call for modernisation goes out to not just the Fulani, half of whose between 20 and 25 million people live in Nigeria. It also goes out to the other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, who are compelled to interact with the group.
Dantata, who turns 60 in June, hopes not only to see this novel adapted for the big screen but also read in schools as part of the syllabus.