Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Book Review: Like Our Noble Eagle

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Reviewed by  Kawila Chota

You wouldn’t know what Like Our Noble Eagle is all about after being introduced to its unruly actors. There is Kango, an untamed young man too impressed with his own novelties. You can entrust any delicate situation to his safe pair of disastrous hands – that is if you want that situation to be wrecked.

A few metres away from the wreckage would be his comic shadow, Njekwa. Njekwa is almost always smiling when Kango is frowning and vice versa. In between the mayhem and merriness of these two, you pick up the book’s message in the narrator’s passionate reflections – the book is written in the first person. The chronicler, a friend of the above two protagonists, argues that people cannot develop without first recognising their self-worth and that we as a people should reserve nothing in fighting national vices like corruption and tribalism.

This is the central theme of the book even though it is stunts like Kango falling in love with the most beautiful girl at boarding school that will keep you turning the pages. In football terms, this last act could be described as ‘going against the run of play’. It is not often that love walks hand-in-hand with mayhem; and unsurprisingly, what follows is hard to predict.

Like Our Noble Eagle is not nearly as hilariously haphazard as the passage above suggests. In fact, it is a well-arranged series of stories sewn into one. “African storytelling is all about sharing ideas”, the author says. “My guess is that our ancestors did this for millennia.

In my case, when I was young, my mother would tell us tales of Kalulu the hare and Chimbwi the hyena. This was by the firelight just before retiring to bed at night. Kalulu was always portrayed as disarmingly witty, even to his own peril, whereas Chimbwi came out as immensely incompetent. Chimbwi always found himself at the wrong end of Kalulu’s tricks. Those stories were meant to entertain and teach us at the same time. My mother would typically end her tales with quips like, ‘that is why it is always good to be honest’ or ‘remember children, hard work pays’ or ‘never rush for the most alluring prospect, it can sometimes be a trap.’”

In Like Our Noble Eagle, the author uses the same trick he learnt from his mother: he mixes entertainment and teaching in storytelling. He calls this genre ‘comedication’, a combination of the words comedy and education. He says, “we all agree that corruption, tribalism, laziness and lack of patriotism are bad for our country.

But how do you take that message to the youths? You could do a workshop on these themes. You would undoubtedly reach some youths that way. However, you are sure going to miss a whole lot as well. Remember you are competing with things like PlayStation, the English Premier League, Netflix and God knows what else for a piece of their spare time? Therefore, I decided to spin a coming-of-age tale spiced with kisses and humour to capture them. Along the way, I blended in some useful reflections on serious national issues.”

The book is aimed at the youths though its appeal has no age cap. Another allure of Like Our Noble Eagle is that it is based on real life events. However, the author took pains to explain that, in many places, he altered circumstances to hide the identity of the real life characters portrayed. The stories are roughly outlined chronologically.

There is a story on tribalism, which the author said led him to break the cultural rule of mwamuna samalila (boys do not cry). “That story happened just as narrated in the book”, he said. “When it happened, I do remember shedding one or two tears. It hurt so much. I did promise myself then that one day I would write a book that would expose the meaningless evil that tribalism is.”

There is also a story on gender issues that the author says is very dear to him being father of a young woman. It is an undeniable fact that the female gender is disadvantaged in many sectors of our society. For example, many times a marriage will break up through no fault of the wife. In almost all cases, she ends up paying a much heavier price for this than her male counterpart especially if she is left to raise the children. “We call these citizens ‘single mothers’ when in fact, we should be calling them ‘duo-parents’” the author says. “They have to be both mother and father to the children.” It is the author’s view that duo-parents are not nearly appreciated enough in our society. There is a chapter to celebrate them.

Throughout the book, there is a thread of patriotism stitching the stories together. You will feel the author’s patriotic flame from his reflections upon entering the cabin of a jetliner on his first major flight, to his suggestion that perhaps we as a nation should start thinking of building engines for electric cars instead of exporting copper in its raw form. The author reflects rather than lectures, leaving the reader to make up his or her own mind. Perhaps he should have been a bit more forceful in his views; but a book that reminds us of the evils of corruption, tribalism, lack of patriotism and the like in such a light humorous way is surely worth reading.

In the theme chapter simply dubbed ‘The Eagle’, the author reminds the reader that, at nearly sixty years old, Zambia as a country has not done so badly in many national affairs compared to her peers on the African continent. His message to his compatriots is essentially that: you have run a good race so far; but as sung in your national song and portrayed on your flag, you can fly.

Title: Like Our Noble Eagle
Author: Emmanuel Siwingwa
Number of Pages: 209
Publisher: Reach Publishers
Stockers: Bookworld, Grey Matter, Amazon, Smashwords.

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