- The Dangerous Potency of the Crossroads:Colonial Mimicry in Chukwuemeka Ike’s The Bottled Leopard and Chike Momah’s The Shining Ones: The Umuahia School Days of Obinna Okoye
The crossroads does have a certain dangerous potency; dangerous because a man might perish there wrestling with multiple-headed spirits, but also he might be lucky and return to his people with the boon of prophetic vision.(Achebe, “Named for Victoria, Queen of England”)
Almost the same but not white: the visibility of mimicry is always produced at the site of interdiction. It is a form of colonial discourse that is uttered inter dicta: a discourse at the crossroads of what is known and permissible and that which though known must be kept concealed; a discourse uttered between the lines and as such both against the rules and within them.(Bhabha, The Location of Culture)
The success of Chinua Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), inspired several Nigerian university graduates of his generation. They launched literary careers shortly afterward. While the thematic concerns of these first-generation writers did not always converge, many of the texts produced in the aftermath of Things Fall Apart replicated its distinctive aesthetic features and worked through the trauma of colonization by recreating and attempting to redress its disruptive impact on indigenous society. These writings also interrogated colonial discourse and sought to revise the debased image of the African prevalent in the cultural imagery of the West. The portrayal of the colonial encounter in these works tended to focus on missionary and administrative intervention and has garnered considerable critical attention through the years. And despite the fact that several first-generation Nigerian writers, such as Nobel Laureate Wole [End Page 86] Soyinka, have dramatized the advanced stages of colonial acculturation in elite boarding schools in their work,1 critics have remained remarkably quiet about the intricacies of these representations. Admittedly, these texts—while portraying colonial childhood—were not written for children and do not typically circulate among young readers. But counter-hegemonic recreations of elite colonial education in Nigerian school stories have suffered the same critical fate. This paucity is extensible to the school stories of other postcolonial locations. Recent postcolonial children’s literary criticism has shown sustained interest in the making of colonial and postcolonial subjectivities in educational settings, the psychocultural tensions resulting from the simultaneous pull of indigenous and colonial/modern expectations, and the counter-discursive use of Western literary genres, formal elements, and conventions (see Bradford; Goswami; McGillis). However, despite the prominence of these themes in postcolonial school stories, the genre has been addressed only peripherally in children’s literature criticism. My article fills this gap in the literature and complements similar studies on the fictions of colonial education of other postcolonial regions.2 It examines the ways in which two Nigerian boarding school stories by first-generation writers—Chukwuemeka Ike’s The Bottled Leopard and Chike Momah’s The Shining Ones: The Umuahia School Days of Obinna Okoye—critique the educational arm of the colonial enterprise, and interrogate the complexities of self-definition in the liminal space between the British school and the indigenous homestead. My argument—informed by the work of the postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha—is that in these stories, the intricate negotiation of identity at the crossroads of cultures is embodied in the protagonists’ colonial mimicry, as well as in the very creative acts that produce these school stories, which replicate and subvert the generic conventions, colonial ethos, and exaltation of Englishness of the nineteenth and early twentieth-century English school story. I am less interested in the ways in which the authors subvert these generic conventions than in how the protagonists—and by extension the authors of these stories—negotiate the psychopolitical tensions exerted by the simultaneous pull of the colonial school and the indigenous community beyond. This negotiation takes place by opening up what Homi Bhabha calls a “third space”: “a place of hybridity, figuratively speaking, where the construction of a political object that is new, neither the one nor the other, properly alienates our political expectations, and changes, as it must, the very forms of our recognition of the moment of...