By Isaiah Ayafor, PhD
Professor of English Linguistics and Writing
Montgomery College and University of Maryland University College.
What a captivating African story The Journey’s End tells! And you don’t have to come from the English-speaking North West province of Cameroon to follow the protagonist, Akuma, throughout the plot from Momo Division to Yaounde and back; you only need to be well-grounded in the mythology of African traditions and customs, as well as have some first-hand experience with the ever-present conflict between conservative African society governed by taboos, superstitions, traditional religions and modernity characterized by high tech westernization such big metropolises, Judeo-Christian religion, the Internet, hand-held computers/gadgets and western politics.
When I started reading The Journey’s End, I quickly related to what I thought was the main theme of the story – Death and handing over of the guard between father and son in a conservative traditional African society. That’s because I “lost” my father recently, and I received the baton of his family heritage at the handing over of the old guard in a traditional African succession ritual. Moreover, I related to Akuma because of a similar experience I had in 1992. I was a 24-year-old student at the University of Yaounde, hoping to become a teacher after my Bachelor’s degree, when I received news one Friday afternoon that my father was gravely ill and wanted to see me at home in Bambili immediately. I took a long overnight journey from Yaounde to Bamenda and arrived Bambili in the evening of Saturday, much to the similar circumstances that Akuma in The Journey’s End met his ailing father in Menamo. Although my father didn’t pass away during this incident and went on to live for another twenty-two years, he chose me to be his successor at a family meeting of all his children, grandchildren, one wife, his only brother, and his lifelong best friend. Hence, The Journey’s End would appeal to many readers worldwide.
The Journey’s End captures the passing of the old guard between a father, Mo, and a son, Akuma in the ethnic precinct of the Menamo people in Momo Division and highlights the movement of action into Yaounde, the French-speaking capital city of Cameroon. The point of the change in the scene is show the cultural shock that a village-raised Anglophone first-time traveler to the capital city would rate as anathema. Such hallmarks are old cramped houses, round-about junctions on city roads, dense traffic, rude beggars, innumerable bars with strange French appellations, and strong stench-filled air. This is a clear contrast to the low-tech barnyard community of the Moghamo where Akuma spent his youth.
The Journey’s End is directed at the African Generation X audiences who were raised in their mother-tongue villages and later moved to a big francophone modern city to pursue education and a career where such opportunities were limited up till the mid-90s. Babila Mutia is a detail-oriented observer and an avid storyteller with a unique perspective on the conflict between tradition and modernity in an evolving African society. One aspect of his mission in this novel is to show that it doesn’t have to be conflictual but that tradition can coexist successful and complement each other. Thus, he plays the role of a teacher, a mirror, a storyteller, and a mentor to the young people in African communities who have deliberately or coincidentally found themselves aligned with modernity in the city while negating and denying their roots and cultural loyalty to the traditional African traditions and customs that give them authentic grounding as sons and daughters of the soil. This novel continues to fill the gap that the decline of the classical African story in the digital age has created since the explosion of the Internet, which has engendered a sharp decline in African storytelling and oral tradition.