Culture is a people’s way of life, and Sasi Miet Jaja’s Native Foreigners is a book that embraces culture in every way.
For far too long, the Ijaw, Ibibio, Kalabari and many other minority ethnic groups in Nigeria have had their stories infused or appropriated by that of the major tribes. But this time, it is different. From the simplicity of its language to the exotic names of its characters and the brilliant, yet particular attention to detail, Jaja weaves a story that is so rich in the culture, traditional rites and beliefs of his people. It is a book that is in so many ways, an ode to the oil-rich Niger Delta. What makes it even more outstanding, is the way he effortlessly blends his characters’ diverse cultural backgrounds with their stories, highlighting their differences and uniqueness, but with a seamless humane touch that sheds light on what unites them.
I think what I love most is the generational transcendence in this story. These characters have a history from grandfather to father to son(s), a history that spans through decades, continents and cultures; and it was beautiful to experience how each character comes into their own, carving out a niche for themselves. There is a modern yet epic vibe to this story. Sometimes it seems as though you are living in the 18th-century monarchy until Kalada comes along with his gadgets and Abidemi runs for Student Union Presidency. The dynamism between the two brothers aforementioned is noteworthy, especially since they are the ones who transcend a history of rivalry between their father and uncle, for an ‘over-priced throne’.
Native Foreigners is a typical Naija story – complete with corruption, deceit, love, family feud, oil money at its best, juju and every other ingredient necessary for a palatable Nigerian drama. Yet, it is not afraid to highlight our vulnerabilities as people with diverse cultures. And for me, a daughter of the South, it is the perfect tribute to my people.
Read Native Foreigners on the OkadaBooks mobile app.
Review by Nwadiuto Okwuniru Azugo (Calm)