Reconstructing the pride of place: Review of Odili’s Ujubuonu Pride of the Spider Clan

Odili Ujubuonu’s third novel “Pride of the Spider Clan” is a work of fiction unlike many of its time. The novel, which concludes the tale of an enterprising Aro clan that began in “Pregnancy of the Gods” and further found expression in “Treasure in the Winds”, may read like a work of fiction – which it is – but it is suffused with the kind of cultural and historical elements that should endear it to anyone who desires to probe further into those cultural aspects of the Igbo nation that is fast losing the battle with modernity.

On the surface, the novel portrays a quest by a family to find its place within a community, but Odili manages to weave into this powerful tale, connectivity akin to spider webbings, one that clearly explains why the elders caution one not to throw stones in the market place.

From Aro to Nri, From Ikwerre to the coastal beaches of the Izon, Odili wove a tale that encompassed the Igbo nation and touched its neighbours, showing blood links in the most unlikely of places. Pride of the Spider Clan is about a journey, one that if successful, carries the gift of a glorious life, and death otherwise.

More than anything, Odili, by telling a tale that indicates how much the ancestry of the Igbo nation is conjoined, reminded people like me, who are of Aro stock, but have only an oral history that points our town’s origin southward towards Arochukwu, that we indeed have a past that we should not readily forget.

Odidli, more than most Nigerian writers of his time, devoted much of his writing to capturing the appropriate historical ambiance of a faded, culture. Perhaps it is this intense devotion to time and place and setting that deprived Pride of the Spider Clan much of the storyline that would have endeared it more readers. Reading the story, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that thought the writer did his duty to his chosen tale; he could have done much better.

While Odili did a very good job with the culture of the time he was depicting, he appeared to have sacrificed scenery and serious characterisation to do this. Aside from Eze Kambite, whose humility and doggedness should remain with most readers long after they finish the book, and maybe the strong willed Odidika, most of the characters in the novel leave very little impression on the mind as they lack much of the personal quirks that stands-out a well-rounded character.

There is also the problem of point of view, especially when Odili tried to depict how the Ofo that was so much sought after got lost in the first place. I think, by telling that tale through the eyes of the ill-fated albino, Odili took too much away from the story, especially as the albino had no chance to tell his story to anyone before dying. True Ibinukpabi, who the tale was ascribed to, can see all, but it would have been better if Odili had done without recourse to the albino’s private thoughts.

However, these few hiccups in the novel only manage to distract a little from Odili’s skill. Trying to show how bad the relationship between Eze Kambite and his nephew Isikamdi has gotten, Odili wrote:

“A tsetse fly hovered around them. Isikamdi saw it. Its yellowish wings distinguished it clearly from the bluebottle. It circled Kambite’s head and perched on his right shoulder. Isikamdi turned his face away from the fly. Kambite shrugged again. He unconsciously whipped the flywhisk in his hand across his left shoulder and the tsetse fly flew away.

An uncomfortable smile rested on the old man’s face.

‘“Isikamdi, you are still a child.” Kambite began. “He that does not know the direction the storm is coming from will never know where it is going.” He moved closer to Isikamdi and slapped him on the shin. He half-opened his cupped hand. It was stained by blood and from it dropped the dead tsetse fly.

“Thank you,” Isikamdi mumbled.

Pride of the Spider Clan is replete with instances of superb penmanship like the above.

The magic that is Pride of the Spider Clan almost fizzled out towards the end when Odili, probably succumbing to the influence of western ideologies, began infusing elements that have no business in traditional Igbo mythology or the time/place he picked as his setting — Vampire bats, mermaids and whatnot. Also, while there is nothing fundamentally wrong with Priye, who had earlier shown promise of mysticism, wielding powers, Odili overdid what should have been a great action scene. That said, I also would give more than a fuss to discover the significance of Priye’s daughter running around naked on the beach.

In all, Pride of the Spider Clan is a tale worth the reading, not just for the story it tells, but also for the historical images it brings to prominence. As an “Nwa Aro” myself, I say Odili is truly his father’s son.

Pride of the Spider Clan is available on Amazon

Mzi Nwonwu

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