The Image of "Manmuswak" in Ken Saro Wiwa's Sozaboy

Jonathan R. Greenberg '94 (English 32 1990)

Saro-Wiwa's effective use of symbols and images in his novel Sozaboy underlines the major themes and topics in the work. One of these images involves the elusive character "Manmuswak." Translated literally from Rotten English the name means "Man must live (eat) by whatever means." The first time Mene (the Sozaboy) sees Manmuswak for what he truly is takes place while he is fighting on the front in Iwoama:

Bullet stood attention. And when the man came near, they shook hands together. So the man bring out a packet of cigarette and give Bullet one stick. Bullet took it and they began to smoke...Then they sat down together. At first, they cannot talk easily because as you know, they do not know what to talk about...Then the man laugh small small. Then Bullet laugh too, small small...

There was something which was worrying me for mind. I think I have seen that sozaman before. Oh God, where have I see him before? I asked Bullet. So I ask him why de man come. And why 'e bring drink. And wheher true true na dis man dem dey call enemy.

"Oh yes. That man is the enemy," Bullet replied. "Look, Sozaboy, we are in war front, o.k. And in war front, there are all sorts of people. Drunkards, thieves, idiots and wise men. There is only one thing which binds them all. Death. And everyday they live, they are cheating death. That man came to celebrate the fact. I no dey vex," Bullet continued after some time. "What I am saying is that all of us who are here can die any time. Any time. So while we live, we must drink. Because, as you know, man must wak."

This scene is actually the second time that Mene sees Manmuswak. The first time he saw him, the tall man was explaining to someone in a bar that the motives of oppposing sides in the war are relatively unimportant in comparison to the survival of indivuduals. Although the different armies have conflicting ideals, they both share the common goal of survival.

Mene later encounters Manmuswak after deserting in order to escape harsh officers and the inherent moral evils of military life. After Mene runs for several days, he apparently faints and awakens in a hospital bed:

When I opened my eyes, I was in one long dormitory where everybody get bandage for leg or for him body. At first I think this is land of spirit. I begin to shout and hola like idiot man. Then one man came and chooked me and I come sleep one time like stupid goat. I think the man who chooked me this chooking is Manmuswak...So I rub my eye and I am alive and awake. I look round the hospital dormitory and I see that very tall man again. Yes, my dear brothers and sisters, it is Manmuswak.

Why must I always see this Manmuswak man? First it is in African Upwine Bar in New York, Diobu, then in the war front at Iwoama and now in the hospital dormitory. So he is good-time-man drinking tombo and dancing; then he is soza making cunny to scatter one camp and kill everybody; and now he is nurse, smiling and chooking person.

Mene continues to see Manmuswak on both sides of the war throughout the rest of the novel, and ultimately, Manmuswak tries to kill him. His relation to Manmuswak has symbolic meaning: after witnessing the corrupted ideals of the war first as a naive apprentice driver and later as a sozaboy himelf, Mene comes to understand that his own survival, not grand ideals like freedom, have first priority.

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Nigeria OV Saro Wiwa OV