Limited Perception and other Themes in Ken Saro-Wiwa's Sozaboy

Jonathan R. Greenberg '94 and GPL

Mene, Saro-Wiwa's protagonist, beings with a relatively hedonistic outlook, taking time to notice life's beauty and casually ignoring its evils. He has learned from his tribal code of ethics that one should concern oneself only with what affects one directly:

Anyway, Chief Birabee and him people begin take money from every man and woman. Man three shillings. Woman one shilling. The people no happy to pay. They are cursing as they are paying. Chief Birabee does not bother. He was saying that he will take police to hold anyone who does not agree to pay. The people of Dukana were not happy at all...But that one no concern me. My master amd myself continue to Pitakwa and return.

His seemingly harmless naivete soon becomes more serious when Mene, who knows nothing about corrupt politics in Nigeria, joins the army. He becomes a soldier largely because he knows that young men wearing uniforms receive respect in the village and because he wants to impress his girl-friend Agnus (J.J.C.), who had told him that would not marry any man unable to protect her in times of great trouble:

I don't think Agnes is just like those stupid Dukana girls. Even, she can discuss anything you like. She is a clever girl. I must marry her. That is what I tell myself every time...One day, when I meet Agnes for road, I tell her that I want to marry her. She did not even reply me. Then I asked her what is the matter that she does not want to reply to my word. Then she laughed. She laughed plenty. And she said, "You foolish man. All your friends are making soza, you want to stay here and marry with that your thing standing like snake wey not get house."

Hei, this Agnes sef. What kain girl be dis? Everytime she will be talking careless talk. So I told her she doesn't know me. I am better than any soza sef, only I must first get my drivers licence. She laughed again.

"Okay!" she said, "when you get your driving licence and enter the army and you begin to fight like better man wey get sense and power, then you

Nigerian tribal villages like Dukana are governed primarily by chiefs. During the Biafran War, Nigerian military police seized much of their power. When the soldiers came through villages with their big guns and shiny uniforms, the townspeople could not help but feel impressed and -- more importantly -- overwhelmed. Soon enough, the inhabitants of Dukana began to answer directly to the military police (sozas) , who in turn, used the chief to make the people do their own bidding. Only after he experiences the life of the sozaboy, does he realize that Chief Birabee. who in many ways personfies Nigeria, is corrupt. At the beginning of the novel, however, Mene respects the Chief. but his respect quickly becomes disbelief, distrust, and then disdain until by the close of Sozaboy Mene realizes that Chief Birabee seeks only his own well-being and wealth:

All the Dukana people are looking at me ansd some of them were just shaking their head small small, small small. Then I begin to think that some bad thing will happen soon....We were walking till we reached that place where Pastor Barika and Chief Birabee were staying. It is only when I look carefully that I see what have not seen before. On the other side, or what I am saying, behind the hut, there are many bags of gari, rice and bundles of stockfish. Plenty of them. And then I look at Barika and Birabee well well. The two of them are very fat like pig. All this one that the Dukana people are thin and hungry no reach those two men. These children would sell their children so that they will eat plenty of food when other people are suffering.

It is obvious to Mene that the war has affected everybody and everything. As the World War II veteran, Zaza, tells him, "War is war and war changes people."

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Nigeria OV Saro Wiwa OV