Confronting America's Inanimate Presence (II): A Forest of Flowers

Margaret Hander'00 English 27, 1997

The only explicit American presence in this book is that of Coca Cola, one of the despised synthetic foods of the new Aké market place. Saro-Wiwa places it in the last story, the story that ties together the entire book's themes and questions. Part one of A Forest of Flowers, explores the meaning of development and modernization to traditional villagers. They treat innovation with suspicion bordering on hate. Nedam, the maverick outcast farmer protests, "Their limitations were many and to live among them in their way, was to drag oneself down" (36). The second part of the book focuses, instead, on the emptiness of urban lives that have no contact with traditional Yoruba culture.

The title character of "A Legend on our Street" successfully walks between these two dangers. He is a survivor, modern, but distinctly Nigerian. When he stops to sell the narrator Coke, this shows:

Papa was indeed a man of many surprises. One day, he stopped at my shop and asked if I would like to buy some crates of Coke.

'I have no Coke,' said I, misunderstanding him.

'Yes, I know,' says he. 'So would you like to buy some Coke?'

'It's scarce these days. No one will sell it to me.'

'I will sell it to you,' says he, 'if you will pay the right price.'

I paid the right price, and bought the Coke off him. Papa was a dealer to the Coca-Cola company and to some breweries. He also sold iron rods and cement, screws and nails, and whatever else he could lay his hands on. I had to remember that he was a merchant and owned a wholesale store up the street. Not for him messing around with retail items. No. Because he did not trust anyone. The world was full of thieves. So, when he was around, his wholesale outlet was open. When he was away, he locked the doors and pocketed the keys. And all the time, he carried the abstract of his stock, he told me (149).

Around Papa, Coke no longer corrupts. Papa possesses the savvy and the strength of character to touch Coca Cola, reap its benefits, and remain true to his people. Saro-Wiwa creates in him a model modern man, one who integrates capitalist and traditional Nigerian cultures into his own life.

Saro Wiwa