Having cut her teeth with the publication of Beyond the Horizon under the Heinemann African Writers’ Series in 1995, Amma Darko has successfully stepped into the shoes of her Ghanaian’s literary Amazons in the mould of Efua Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo. Interestingly, Beyond the Horizon was first published in German as Der Verkaufie Traum in 1991, four years before the original English translation was published. Amma Darko has indeed broadened the horizon in African literary writing with a glowing career as displayed through her oeuvre: Beyond the Horizon (1995), The Housemaid (1998), Faceless (2003), Not Without Flowers (2007), and Between Two Worlds (2015). Most of her works have German, French, and Spanish translations thereby opening her literary world to a wider audience outside the English speaking enclave.
Darko’s works vividly portray contemporary issues which focus on family life concerning women, and the girl-child in particular. Her first two novels clearly proclaimed her grand entry into the field of African Literature, sparsely dotted by female writers. However, she is popularly recognized in Africa as the author of Faceless, her third offering to African Literature. Her works are a perfect composite of “the high-culture literature of the classroom and low-culture popular fiction” depicted with a generous dose of imagination and realism and spiced with a lot of humour. These features make any of her works pleasurable to read.
As a committed female African writer, Darko’s stories are woven around the plights of women and young girls in an oppressive and androcentric society. She has shown her solidarity for women empowerment in every facet of life through her works. Her major focus in Faceless is about the growing challenge of street children in African urban centres, the danger it portends for the society, and how this problem could be nipped in the bud. The novel is a great indictment on the African family system and values, and the neglect of African leadership respectively. Children who are churned into the streets come from a family who ought to have shielded them from the vagaries of this world. Unfortunately, the Government has no enduring system or legislation to protect the children’s right to a decent life or lack the will to implement such where such laws exist.
The novel has twenty-five chapters plus an epilogue. The chapters are divided into three parts tagged as “Book”. Narrated from an omniscient third-person point of view, the story opens with Fofo’s life on the street of Accra on a Sunday night with a resolve to break free from “an ever-increasing hopelessness” to try her chance at restoring her self-dignity by choosing to pick up “her newly acquired job” to wash carrots at the vegetable wholesale market. This is a bold step towards earning an honest living, charting a new path for herself and realizing her dream of having a secure roof over her head, well protected from the grips of street lords like Macho and Poison. The tale is an eye-opener into the making of street children. As Ms Kamame observes, poverty is not enough reason to abandon one’s children; the major factors for this menace are ignorance, distorted beliefs and perceptions, and sheer irresponsibility of parents, especially with the issue of absentee fathers and misplaced priorities of members of the society.
Life on the street makes the children susceptible to all sorts of crime and immorality. The girl-child is often more at risk because she is subjected to all forms of abuse from the irresponsible male figures around her. Life on the street is nothing short of a nightmare from which the victims often wish to wake-up from. As such, to “escape their pain” they often engage in drunkenness and debauchery which depict their hopelessness and level of depravity as ‘streetizens’ of Sodom and Gomorrah. The children often yearn for parental care and love from people, but these seem to be luxury as those who ought to show them true tender loving care are the very ones who take advantage of them. Fofo, the protagonist, is fed up with this sodomy lifestyle. Little wonder she decides to fight Poison with all her being to resist being brought low to this life of moral depravity again, after her resolve to chart a new path for herself.
Poison’s connection with Fofo’s family pushes Fofo and Baby T, to ‘life on the streets’. Her encounter with Poison at this point leads us into the sad tale of Maa Tsuru’s family who sends her children to the street to fend for themselves under the guise of her being cursed and poor. Seeing Fofo’s desire for a better life, “God above and the angel watching over her” decide to lead her out of the doldrums by making her path cross that of Kabria. With the collaboration of her colleagues at MUTE and Sylv Po, the radio presenter, Kabria, helps with the rehabilitation of Fofo and resolving the mystery behind the death of Baby T.
Darko’s art of storytelling is enchanting. The reader is held spellbound throughout the gloomy narrative lightened with some mirth and the adrenaline pumping whodunnit plot. The twist in the story is quite revealing as the defiler of Baby T happens to be a trusted family member, Onko. Preying on Baby T and Fofo’s trust, he successfully carried out his dastardly act thereby betraying their trust. This is similar to Zilayefa’s experience in Kaine Agary’s Yellow Yellow.
The use of the third-person narrative technique in Faceless lends credence to the story and corroborates the ‘facelessness’ of the street children who are treated with disdain in the society because they are “deemed not normal”. The work also portrays the unsavoury position of women and the girl-child in society because they are rated as second-class citizens. Imagine little Ottu, Kabria’s son, had the temerity to tell his mother that his being a boy has earned her respect as a mother, and as such, he should be treated specially. Kabria’s relationship with her children is an exemplar for proper upbringing of children as she relates with them in a loving but firm manner. For instance, the way she handles the issue of the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana’s pamphlet on sex education with her fifteen-year-old daughter, Obea; and making her only son, Ottu realize that every child is special regardless of gender, highlighting the importance of having an open communication channel between parents and their children to create a loving atmosphere at home.
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The problem of absentee fathers is in two-folds: the one “who refuses to acknowledge or take responsibility for his child”, and the one “with a narrow perception of fatherhood” who only makes financial provisions for his family while neglecting the emotional and physical needs of the child. Adade, Kabria’s husband falls in the second category of absentee fathers. His children are not left to face life on the street only because they are fortunate to be under the watchful and loving eyes of their mother.
The way Fofo’s case is handled underscores the power of collaboration. Faceless showcases the potency that could be unleashed with a combination of the sustained interest of one person or some persons in a case, backed by a media tool, especially where for one reason or the other, the official body of persons who should normally see to it don’t (p. 107).
Therefore, individuals and organizations are challenged to stand in the gap and come to the rescue of children who are inadvertently caught in the web of their parents’ selfishness and irresponsibility, from being devoured by the likes of Macho and Poison on the streets.
Casting most of the major characters in Faceless as female is deliberate. This is to draw attention to the female predicaments as a child, wife, and mother who bear the brunt of birthing children who may end up on the street due to selfishness and negligence of the male-figure in their lives. Consequently, the onus is on the female folks to rise up to the challenge and do better by the children because “the future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youths”, and women are the mother of any nation.
Also, female solidarity empowers them to resist every form of patriarchal oppression and boost their psyche as individuals who are human beings and not just appendages to the male folks. This is clearly depicted in Baby T’s resistance to being defiled a second time by Onko. She refuses to subject herself to the hands of her primary oppressor again and gallantly pays the ultimate price. Her resistance grants her victory over her oppressors: Kpapo, Onko and Poison.
Amma Darko’s Faceless gives an insight into another daunting challenge regarding parenting in the twenty-first century. This has to do with the issue of misplaced priorities and absentee parents. Consequent on the societal crave for materialism, a lot of parents have abandoned their children to pursue material things often at the expense of the children they ought to give proper upbringing. Children in this kind of situation are left in the hands of caregivers who are sometimes heartless and abusive in their relationship with the children. Those not abused become over-pampered as a result of the extravagant lifestyle procured by their parents’ wealth. This brings to mind the recent phenomenon of ‘netizens street children’ who engage in all sorts of crimes and immorality right under their absentee parents’ roof. The crimes perpetrated by such children range from pre-marital sex, incest, rape, internet fraud, virtual sex practices, drug abuse and addiction, and other ignoble practices. Due to misplaced priorities, it is quite disheartening that some media houses promote all forms of immoralities through some programmes, which glamorize lewdness and irresponsible living, yet carrying the stamp of government agencies. Consequently, the government Fofo demands to see has failed due to its misplaced priorities and negligence of duty towards its citizens.
The ‘bread-winner myth’ is deconstructed in Faceless. The father-figures in the text fail to fulfil their ‘bread-winning’ role. All the children found on the street end up there because their fathers have failed to provide the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing for their families, coupled with outright abandonment of the children and their mothers. This situation foregrounds the importance of women empowerment to protect them and their children from lack and deprivation if their male partners should decide to shirk their responsibilities as husbands and fathers. This factor is responsible for casting the women at MUTE as independent and responsible. Even, the hairdresser Kabria encounters in the course of her investigating the brutal murder of Baby T laments the burden she has to bear as a single parent to take care of herself and her only daughter.
Given the enormity of the threat posed by the menace of street children, the readers are tempted to think that the problem is intractable, more so with Odarley’s unwillingness to join her friend, Fofo, for rehabilitation. However, Darko craftily weaves hope into the tapestry of this traumatic tale by making her audience realize that “even if it was only Fofo”, who was abandoned to the street, “that still would be too many”. Therefore, if MUTE is only able to rescue Fofo, that effort alone is remarkable because the number of children on the streets has been reduced by one. This singular effort could lead to rescuing others from the street. This only requires commitment and diligence on the part of the parents, family members, government and the society, in general, to annihilate the “Sodom and Gomorrah” in our cities.
On this note, the work comes highly recommended for young adult readers prone to being tempted to live a wayward life, all concerned citizens in our educational institutions, other government agencies, private individuals and organizations. There is an urgent need to back up the efforts put into sourcing and documentation of information on improving a lot of women and children in the society with commensurable actions to safeguard the “future promise” of our nations.
Dr (Mrs) Helen Idowu Adhuze teaches literature at the Department of English, Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo. Her area of specialisation is Children Literature, with a bias for environmental criticism and ecological consciousness. She, as a writer, an author and an avid reader, has attended several academic conferences in Nigeria and abroad and has several articles and chapter contributions in different books and journals.