A Natural Curiosity :: A Nigerian smoke monster
Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Nigerian smoke monster

imageI’ve been rereading Forest of a Thousand Daemons, a Nigerian novel published by D.O. Fagunwa in 1939 and translated from Yoruba to English in 1982 by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Forest of a Thousand Daemons is thought to be the first novel written in the Yoruba language and one of the first to be written in any African language.

In its English translation, the language and supernatural events of the story echo passages in the Bible, Shakespeare, Pilgrim’s Progress, Paradise Lost, and Sir Richard Burton’s translation of the Arabian Nights. But on page 11, I was startled to find a passage that reminded me more than anything else of the TV series Lost. Akara-ogun or Compound-of-Spells, the great hunter who is the protagonist of the novel, is speaking:

It happened one day that my father prepared himself and set off to hunt. After he had hunted a long while, he felt somewhat tired and sat on a tree stump to rest. He was not long seated when, happening to look up, he saw the ground in front of him begin to split and smoke pour upwards from the rent. In a moment the smoke had filled the entire area where my father sat so thickly that he could not see a thing; all about him had turned impenetrably black. Even as he began to seek a way of escape he observed that the smoke had begun to fuse together in one spot and, before he could so much as blink, it fused completely and a stocky being emerged sword in hand and came towards my father. My father took to his heels instantly but the man called on him to stop and began to address him thus:

‘Can you not see that I am not of the human race? I arrived even today from the vault of the heavens and it was on your account that I am come hither, my purpose being to kill you. Run where you will this day; kill you I most resolutely will.’

In Lost, too, the smoke monster boils out of a vent in the ground. It is the alter ego of the malevolent Man in Black (who appears in the current season in the form of the late John Locke), and it can take human form. In a recent episode, one scene is shot from the point of view of the monster itself, whose reflection you can see in the window of a house. When it take the form of John Locke, the first thing it does is to bend over and pick up a machete.

Mr. Eko, a Yoruba man from Nigeria (played by the Yoruba actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), is killed by the smoke monster in a previous season. Just a coincidence? Hmmm.

Posted by geoff on 02/27 at 04:04 PM
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