Categories
Interview

In Conversation with Anvita Abbi

Unfolding a linguist’s tryst with the Great Andamanese tribe and lost languages

Anvita Abbi

Time moves fast and we move with it, partly carrying the past with us and partly shedding it. Languages evolve. Sometimes, they get left behind. People forget them and with that where they came from. Why would familiarity with our roots or a moribund language be so important? Perhaps, Professor Anvita Abbi, a Padma Shri from India who has done amazing work with the Andamanese uncovering their fast ebbing language and culture, has some answers. She is a linguist who stretches beyond universities to uncover the roots from which mankind evolved and to exhibit to us the need to be in touch with what our ancestors knew. She urges us to accept the varied colours of mankind for a more humane and tolerant outlook.

Abbi has written a number of books on her experiences in Andaman. Reading Voices from the Lost Horizon (2021, Niyogi Books), her recent publication with videos embedded in both the hardcopy and softcopy versions, has been an adventure that transports one back to a civilisation that has its roots in Neolithic times. Unique in form and content, her book not only talks of her trips to Andaman and meeting the indigenous people but also shows how the lores of this culture can teach the civilised a number of things including, basic survival skills. She has summed this up in a recent interview, “When the tsunami came on December 26, 2004, tribes of the Andaman, Jarawa, Onge and Great Andamanese saved themselves as their knowledge about the tsunami was intact in their language. They interpreted the patterns of waves and sea churning and ran to a safe place.” Shuttling between different continents and time zones, Abbi is as unconventional as is her book. She unfolds her journey towards integrating the past into the present.  

You are from a literary family. What made you opt to become a linguist? Did your environment impact you in some way? What kindled your interest in ancient and moribund languages?

Yes, my background exposed me to different writers of my time, and I started writing short stories in Hindi and earned a name for myself very early. My first book of collection of short stories Muthhi Bhar Pahachan (Hindi, A Handful of Recognition) was published on my 20th birthday.  I was pursuing my interest in literature along with my first love for Economics. However, my father, the famous poet of Hindi, Shri Bharat Bhushan Agrawal, thought that I was pursuing a wrong profession and forced me (yes, absolutely against my wishes) to join Linguistics at Delhi University at the cost of quitting Delhi School of Economics. Once I started studying Linguistics, I realised I was made for this subject and never looked back. Subsequently, after receiving Ph.D from Cornell University, USA I started teaching Linguistics at the Kansas State University, Manhattan. While there, I realised that a large number of Indian languages especially those spoken by the marginalised communities are under-researched. The question ‘how different or similar are these languages to the known languages of the country’ motivated me to take the major decision of quitting the regular job at the KSU and move to India. I joined the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1976 and was instrumental in designing and developing the course of Field Methods that took me and my students to remotest corners of India from the Himalayas to the Andaman and Nicobar. My experience in India has been very enriching as I have worked on more than 95 languages of India so far and experienced India at the grass roots. At present, I am working on two languages of the Nicobar Islands.

How long have you been researching on Andaman?

Since late 2000. I wish I was there earlier!

Tell us why you chose Andaman as your arena rather than any other?

There were several reasons that drew me towards working on this language intensively. The topography of the area, the unexplored terrain, its people, and their antiquity and above all scant availability of published material on their language coupled with the fact that my observation in 2003 after conducting a pilot survey of the languages of the Great and Little Andaman that this language seemed to be a class apart from the other two languages of the region — Onge and Jarawa. Unlike Jarawa and Onge, Great Andamanese is a moribund language and breathing its last. I was encouraged by my linguist friends at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany to study and document the language widely, to unearth the vast knowledge base buried in the linguistic structure of Great Andamanese before it is lost to the world. Not only were my results of 2003 later corroborated by geneticists in 2005, but it also gave me assurance and proof beyond doubt that this group of languages forms the sixth language family of India.  I was moved by the speedy process of erosion of scientific and cultural treasure that this ancient world had embedded into its language. I had to plunge myself into its structure come what may!

You said that this group of languages was almost pre-Neolithic in age — “a moribund language of the only surviving pre-Neolithic tribe, the remnants of the first migration out of Africa 70,000 years ago.” Does it have any similarity to the clipping Khosian languages spoken in Africa or any other African languages?

Not that I know of. We must understand that any similarity, if it existed, would have completely evaporated in so many years especially in a contactless situation. Anyway, we know very little of what human language sounded like 70,000 years ago.

Now a new language has evolved — Great Andamanese — from four languages (Jeru, Khora, Bo, and Sare). How long has Great Andamanese been in use? How did all these languages merge into one?

It is named Great Andamanese because it is spoken in the Great Andaman Island. The original name of the island in the heritage language is marakele and was habited by ten different tribes speaking ten distinct but mutually intelligible languages. I named this language Present-day Great Andamanese (PGA) so as not to empower any one of the four North Great Andadamanese languages of which it is a mixture. Present form of the language has been in use since all the four different tribes, Jeru, Khora, Sare and Bo were moved from the north and rehabited in the Strait Island, 56 nautical miles away from the capital city of Port Blair since early seventies by the government of India. However, the language is closest to Jeru in its grammatical structure.

Do people use Great Andamanese or Hindi? Which languages are commonly used by the local people and why? Is there a historic reason?

Most of them have forgotten their heritage language and speak only Andamanese Hindi. Some of them have a passive knowledge of Bangla. When I reached the island there were ten speakers of the PGA but now only three remain who can speak PGA but prefer not to. Colonisation by mainland Indians exposed the tribe to babu Hindi as well as to the lingua franca Andamanese Hindi existing in the Island. As of today, a few of them are hired by the government in Port Blair and some children go the local schools so that exposure to local Hindi is intensive. 

One of the interesting things I noticed in your book was there was a lot of use of ‘potato’ in the stories. Potato was brought into India by the Portuguese. So, how old could these stories be? Or have the colonial invasions altered their myths?

Potatoes that we eat were perhaps imported by Portuguese, but roots of yam and potatoes always grew in our land as all Adivasis have been using their indigenous varieties of potatoes called by different names. Great Andamanese also have more than five varieties of potatoes that they have been consuming since their establishment in the island. These potatoes appear and taste very different from ours. English word ‘potato’ may be considered a generic name for the tuber like products in the current work and bear no resemblance to the modern word ‘potato’.

The Andamanese sing: “O, God, Bilikhu! / We pray to you.” They have burial customs where they burn, bury, feed to the vultures, and throw into the sea. It is like an amalgamation of multiple religious customs. What is the religion the Andamanese actually follow?

This prayer that you quote seems to be a modern version created copying Hindu religious practices that the Andamanese see all around them. ‘Bilikhu’ means spider also and is considered sacred but not equivalent to our concept of ‘God’. They remember Bilikhu before going into the sea for any sea escapade like hunting for big animal such as turtle and dugong.  Andamanese do not follow any religion. They believe in their protectors jurwachom who protect them in the sea and in the jungle. They give respect to and remember their ancestors believing that the ancestor’s spirits surround them all the time. What more, the tales in the book convey an intimate relationship between people and birds as a ‘family’. One story, ‘Jiro Mithe’, depicts the origin of birds from the Andamanese people.

As far as the cremation of the dead bodies is concerned, you may have read that I have explained how one of the stories ‘The Tale of Juro the Head Hunter’ informed me that there were four different ways of cremation depending upon the way a person dies. Quoting from the book, these were:

“1. When a person dies of a natural death or in illness, s/he is buried in the earth (‘boa-phong’ meaning ‘hole in the earth’).

“2. When a person dies while hunting/killing, then s/he is put on a platform made on a tree (‘machaan’ in Hindi) and burnt.

“3. When a person dies because of choking on a fishbone, their body is taken to a particular place near Mayabandar in the northern part of the Andaman Islands and left for a month on a tree for vultures to eat. The bones are collected after a month.

“4. When children pass away, they are not buried initially; they are left untouched for a few days, then they are cremated.”

Often the villains and the demons depicted in their stories are cannibalistic. Was cannibalism an aberration for them? Was cannibalism ever accepted by them?

They are not villains or demons. They are people with supernatural powers. The practice of cannibalism existed — so it seems through these stories. However, it was always deplored as being against the survival of humanity. The story mentioned above depicts it very clearly. Nao Jr the key narrator of these stories compared Juro with Hindu goddess Kali saying that both were involved in similar activities. The story and my elicitation process involved in it explains the whole phenomenon of cannibalism that existed in the Great Andamanese community.

How did the colonials and the independence of India impact these people, their culture and language?

The history of present Great Andamanese is a tale of many tales. Outsider-contact has brought diseases, subjugation, sexual assault, and ultimately decimation of the tribal culture, tribal life, and tribal language. It is not new to witness as voice of the most powerful of the land…colonizers, makers of empires, and policy makers silence the voices of the vanquished and marginalized whether by annihilation or assimilation.

For years, Jarawas maintained the isolation and now they regret the interaction with us.

These tribes are neither poor, nor uneducated (their knowledge of environment comprising birds, fishes, medicinal plants and their uses, sea life, weather predictions, and the Earth they walk on is amazing), nor cowardly, nor violent (they safeguard their folks both women and children from outside intervention) nor fools. They have known the wonders of isolation and that is what they want to maintain. However, we have lost Great Andamanese culture, language and worldview as the process of mainstreaming them started with colonisation first by Britishers and later by Indians. With the result they are nowhere now, neither connected to their roots nor connected to the world that the government offers. Cultural amnesia and loss of their heritage language has affected their cognitive and perceptive powers adversely. The modern generation neither feels connected to the forest and sea life nor to the city life. It’s a lost civilisation bewildered of their present. In this scenario stories and songs of this book may serve as the only priceless heritage of an ancient civilisation of India.

Tell us of about some of your more unique experiences in Andaman.

There are plenty. You have to read the ‘Introduction’ of this book and log on to www.andamanese.net where I describe my experiences and many aspects of Great Andamanese culture. Great Andamanese is a culture that believes in sharing of everything that one has in life yet gives individual freedom to choose. We have misunderstood that this trait of theirs as ‘begging’ since they always demanded to share whatever we eat. Gender equality is worth admiration starting from the prenatal stage as the name of a child is assigned before birth, and both boys and girls are trained in hunting.

While it was sad to read that very few speak the language of the past now and yet a few more cultures are getting eroded, it is also a movement towards integration with the mainstream. What would be the ideal way for this integration so that the languages and cultures do not get eroded and yet they blend with the mainstream? What would be the best way of balancing languages and cultures so that we do not lose our past while embracing the present and moving to the future?

The idea of mainstreaming and merging these tribes into our civilisation is nothing but usurping their rights to their land, forest, water, and way of life. “Development” may kill these tribes. These tribes have amalgamated their life with nature so well that they are aware of secrets of life.  Any kind of interference will disturb this harmony. As I always say that Jarawa live a life of opulence where the supplies are in abundance in their forests — much more their demands. However, it is too late now in the context of the Great Andamanese. As I said earlier, they are a lost generation.

The best course to save their language and culture would be to introduce it in the primary schools in Port Blair so that the community feels motivated to retain this. Since the language has already been scripted by our team, reading and writing Great Andamanese is no problem. I have already produced the Grammar and the interactive pictorial talking Dictionary of the language that may make this task simple. One of the members of the tribe by the name of Noe who still remembers the language should be used as a resource before it is too late. Introducing these languages in the school will bring dignity and honour to our heritage language and will help the societies to overcome their inferiority complex.

(This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty)

.

Click here to read the review of Voices from the Lost Horizon brought out by Niyogi Books, June 2021.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Review

Voices from the Lost Horizon

A Book review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: Voices from the Lost Horizon: Stories and Songs of the Great Andamanese

Author: Anvita Abbi

Publisher: Niyogi Books, 2021

Professor Anvita Abbi is a distinguished researcher on minority languages and perhaps the only one in the Indian subcontinent who has done first-hand field study on all the six language families from the Himalayas to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. She taught linguistics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University for 38 years, was the President of the Linguistic Society of India, and has been invited as a visiting professor and researcher at prestigious institutions in the USA, Europe, Canada, and Australia. She served long as an expert from the UNESCO on issues concerning languages.

During her studies in 2003–2004, she identified a new language family of India—the Great Andamanese, which was corroborated in 2005 by population geneticists. Her pioneering work was recognized by the Government of India and she was awarded the Padma Shri in 2013. In 2015, she received the Kenneth Hale Award, most prestigious in the field of linguistics, for her outstanding contribution to the documentation and description of Indian languages, from the Linguistic Society of America, where she was also elected as an honorary member. She has 22 books to her credit, including the Dictionary of the Great Andamanese Language. English-Great Andamanese-Hindi (2011) and A Grammar of the Great Andamanese Language: An Ethnolinguistic Study (2013).

A 2018 analysis of a census says that more than 19,500 languages or dialects are spoken in India as mother tongues whilst only 122 of them are major languages. After the 1971 census, Indian Government decided that any language spoken by less than 10,000 people in India need not be included in the official list of languages. According to UNESCO, any language that is spoken by less than 10,000 people is potentially endangered. When a language dies, it’s not only the history, beliefs, customs of people that wither but also a distinct worldview that vanishes forever; a view, that could possibly have added to a greater understanding of ways of living of a people. Disappearance of a language may come for many different reasons like migration, urbanization, threat from external sources or language domination and when that happens, unique livelihood patterns, knowledge and skills may also disappear. 

In the preface, Anvita Abbi writes that when she visited Andaman Islands in 2005, there were only eight surviving speakers of Great Andamanese, a moribund language of the only surviving pre-Neolithic tribe which had migrated out of Africa 70,000 years ago. The language was already on the brink of extinction. And none of the speakers were proficient enough to tell any tales, either in Great Andamanese or Andamanese Hindi. The fact that she still compiled 10 stories and 46 songs that make this unique collection is a testament of her will, hard work and dedication to the cause of retaining some remnants of a dying language and thereby preserving and contributing to the rich heritage of the Islands.

The Andaman Islands i.e. the Great Andaman, Little Andaman and North Sentinel Islands have been home to mainly four tribes – the Great Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa and Sentinelese whose languages are also named the same. The author tells us that the Great Andamanese is a generic term representing 10 languages, once spoken by ten tribes living in north, south and middle of Great Andaman Islands. And Present Day Great Andamanese (PGA), however, is a mixture of four northern varieties of Great Andamanese languages i.e. Jeru, Khora, Bo and Sare and the grammar of the language is based on Jeru.

While the task of collecting stories and songs in the language was difficult, Abbi was helped by two speakers of Great Andamanese. One was Boa Sr. whose ancestral language was Bo. She had not conversed with anyone in her language for 30-40 years prior to that. The other speaker, Nao Jr. was a male member of the society and the only one to remember the Great Andamanese language and names of various natural objects, birds and fishes. Of the 10 stories in the book, one is narrated by Boa Sr. while the rest are narrated by Nao Jr. and while four stories were narrated in bilingual mode i.e. Great Andamanese and Andamanese Hindi, six were narrated in Adamanese Hindi only. The original versions of the stories in Great Andamanese language with line-by-line translation in English is given in the Appendix of the book. What makes this book really unusual is that the readers can have an audio-visual experience at the end of each narrative. Each story carries with it a song towards the end in the form of a QR code which can be scanned for an audio-visual recording of the song, The songs are mostly sung by Boa Sr. from Bo tribe.

It is interesting to note that all 46 songs are only of one line or a phrase which is sung again and again. Their documentation in the book is done in all the three languages i.e. first in original (in Roman script), second in Devanagri Script (which was given to the language) and third an English translation.

The book also carries pictures of Great Andamanese birds, considered to be the ancestors of Andamaneses, along with their names. It is quite interesting to note that their names have some inherent meaning as the story Maya Jiro Mithe, a kind of creation myth, informs us of the evolution of birds and their distinct and varied names.

The folk tales and songs included in this book open the reader to the world of Great Andamanese tribes, their beliefs, ways of life, knowledge, culture and their relation with nature. The diligence with which Prof. Anvita Abbi has pursued the project of compiling stories and songs of a disappearing language is evident through her exceptional work. A reader can possibly only imagine how difficult it might have been for the author to document a language and its grammar, when she could only understand it through the eyes and words of its native speakers. She has done an outstanding job towards the revival of a vanishing language, towards preserving the voices which might have otherwise been lost to the rest of the world and with it a culture woven with their intrinsic knowledge of survival and living with nature.

Click here to read Anvita Abbi’s interview.

.

Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ .

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Interview

A Weaver of Borderless Dreams: Mutiu Olawuyi

Mutiu Olawuyi in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

He is a maker of dreams for writers – a man who believes in dreams that are woven in words and multimedia across the world. He connects writing with multimedia, not just by writing and YouTube screenings but also by putting upcoming writers on his television show to battle out challenging questions about how literary development affects the world. He looks for writers with a sense of social responsibility and awareness. The extent of his work is huge. Meet this personality extraordinaire — Mutiu Olawuyi (popularly called the Jungle Poet) an international award-winning poet (2013 World Poetry Empowered Poet Awardee, Canada); Honorary Professor of International Art Academy, Volos Greece; World Poetry Cultural Ambassador (2014, Vancouver – Canada); and Master of Literary Innovation (2019 – World Poetry Conference, Bathinda Punjab, India).

He is the producer and host of ArtFlakes on CBA TV, the Voice of East Africa and he is also the Editor-in-Chief of Parkchester Times and MCR newspapers (Print and Online) based in Bronx, New York, USA.

He has authored numerous books of poetry (Among them are American Literary Legends and Other Poems [2010], Thoughts from the Jungle [2012], 9/11 Poetry [2012], and The Journey to the Archangels [2013]) and has edited numerous international anthologies, journals and magazines.

Mutiu is a teacher, English language and literature curriculum developer, freelance writer/editor, literary critic, inventor of a new form of poetry called 9eleven (a poem of 9 lines written with 11 syllables) and the first writer of a story without verb – The Blotted Pawpaw (published 2013 by Bharat College in India). He is also an editor for The Criterion International Journal in English based in India. 

Mutiu has some of his poems, short stories and research papers published  in online and offline journals and magazines in India, Ireland, England, Canada, Greece, Nigeria and USA. Finally, some of his works have been translated to Arabic, French, Esperantos, Malayalam, Telugu and Hungarian. In this exclusive Mutiu takes us on a journey through his creative world.

Mitali: Why and when did you start ArtFlakes? What is the intent of this program?

Mutiu: ArtFlakes is a TV Show initiated primarily to give voice to creative writers around the globe. It was established to project literary works of art on the screen. I am pleased to say it is the only TV show on earth where global issues are explored through creative and literary lenses of writers across every corner of the world. Moreover, I believe creative works like poetry and prose shouldn’t be restricted to papers and pens alone. Those inkers shouldn’t always be placed behind the camera; they deserve to be projected on the screen too.

Mitali: How did you come up with the idea?

Mutiu: The idea came up when I was brainstorming with the managers of CBA TV on the best way to make the station unique among all its competitors, especially in the Horn of Africa. And it was actually Ridwan Adelaja, a creative member of the media team at the studio, who came up with the name, after hearing the concept.

Mitali: How many writers have you interviewed in Artflakes? What do you see as its future?

Mutiu: The show actually kicked off on air on January 25, 2019 with a review of the literary works of Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame, popularly known as Hadraawi, a renowned Somali colonial and neo-colonial literary activist, who used his poetic prowess to eliminate Siyad Barre from power, and thereafter lyrically called for reconciliation and unity among the Somalis in the region after the civil war that ousted President Barre out of power.

This was co-explored with Abubakar Isiaka Ubaji (aka Eazy), a vibrant unsung Nigerian literary critic and poet. Thereafter, we started using our literary binoculars to explore critical issues in African societies. So we ended up exploring the world of people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti, Republic of Sudan, South Sudan, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa and Bostwana through the review of works of African writers like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Sembene Ousman, Ama Atah Aidoo, Helon Habila, Ifrah Monsour, Gaariye, Nadifa Mohamed, Cristina Ali Farah, Tayeb Salih, Bessie Amelia Head, and many others.

By the end of 2019, I decided to move beyond Africa and change the style of anchoring the show by contacting the creative writers directly, instead of just reviewing their works on the screen with my regular guest, Eazy. So I started with the Greek literary world via an interview with a Greek poet and physicist, Professor Chryssa Velissariou. And so far I have covered the literary world of the United States/New World, India, Philippines, China, Yugoslavia, Indo-Singapore, Sweden, Liberia, and Pak-America by voyaging through the world of authors like Elizabeth Castillo, Bengt O Björklund, Wang Ping, Catherine Zickgraf Christopher Merill, Dustin Pickering, Ibrahim Honjo, Sonnet Mondal, Jernail Singh Anand, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley and of course, Mitali Chakravarty, the borderless Asian poet and literary activist.

 Mitali: Don’t embarrass me Mutiu – do not see myself as an activist really. But let us get back to you. You teach. You write. You do television shows twice a week. Where do you find your time and energy?

Mutiu: Everything in life is all about passion. I am an edupreneur, creative writer and freelance journalist/editor – I own a college, serve as a consultant for universities in the areas of curriculum review for ESL (English as Second language) and Journalism, edit two newspapers in New York and teach ESP (English for Specific Purpose) courses at my institute and a postgraduate school of a university in the Horn of Africa. And don’t forget I also manage my college and the two media outlets in the United States, and even support the top management team of the TV station in key managerial decision making. But if you keenly look at all these responsibilities, you’ll notice that they all revolve around my passions – pedagogy, creative writing and modern media. So I always find time from no time to accomplish my missions in these key areas. My creative writings flow spontaneously, by the way.

Mitali: You call yourself a ‘Jungle Poet’. Why?

Mutiu: This is an interesting question. I first answered this question in a book I published in 2011 titled – Thoughts from the Jungle, a poetic presentation of African proverbs. If you interpret Jungle Poet denotatively, you’ll definitely get it wrong. Anyway, here is my connotative interpretation:

…The world was initially a jungle (i.e. a piece of land [of freedom] without borders) and it will finally end up becoming a jungle. Findings have shown that people who live in the jungle preciously preserve their cultural norms and values, and consequently live a better harmonious and healthy live – compared to people of the urban areas, where manipulation of nature is the order of the day. Connotatively, jungle therefore means “universal”, “aesthetic”, “naturalist” or borderless.

I guess, with this, you can now decode the reason for calling myself Jungle Poet (JP)…  

Mitali: You have written on many issues that affect mankind in general, even about violence against women in India. What about women in Africa? Do they face any violence any abuse? How do you see their condition in context of women in other parts of the world?

Mutiu: Yes, I have led several global literary advocacies against gender inequities and violence, and have published several international poetry anthologies on universal peace and love, plus protest against rape and domestic violence. But note that violence of all sorts is a universal issue. It’s not limited to India alone. Rape and other forms of domestic violence are also common in Africa, as they’re common in other Asian world, Mideast, Europe, Australia and America.

It’s true that some women have chosen to die in silence; they bury within themselves the wounds inflicted on them by their male counterparts. However, this abuse has been extensively curtailed in Africa these days, especially with the influence of politically strong African women activists and other activists against gender violence. Most women nowadays are “in-charge”. I mean they are “FULLY in charge”.

In fact, the case is becoming vice versa – some men these days are becoming victims of domestic violence, especially in Nigeria. This is why I personally believe that advocacy for gender equality is like a fairytale, because it’s an impossible dream. True activists fight for gender equity; not gender equality! 

Mitali: Africa is where mankind started its journey. Yet we know very less about Africa, the different cultures it houses and your own culture. Educate us a bit about this.

Mutiu: You’re right. Anthropologists will tell you categorically that the journey of mankind started in Africa. It’s a continent with abundant natural resources and diverse cultural norms and values, with numerous socio-linguistic settings. Nigeria alone, for instance, has got over two hundred languages, and of course over two hundred socio-cultural groups, with a population of over two hundred million.

Apart from Ethiopia and Liberia, two countries that didn’t experience colonialism, African cultures started losing their values when they came in contact with the western colonialists, particularly the Britons, French, Portuguese and Italians. Influence of Arab colonialists couldn’t go beyond the Abyssinian territories in the Horn of Africa, whose leaders were major suppliers of slaves to the Arab world.

The assimilation and indirect rule system put in place in West Africa by respective French and British colonialists, who initially disguised with the three B’s (Business, Bible and Bullet) to cajole and conquer African kings, swiftly aided the establishment of the colonialists’ socio-political and economic dominance.  And they diplomatically sealed their presence even after the abolition of slave trade and colonialism in the continent. They handed over power to their puppets when leaving Africa and since then, they’ve been major determinants of the socio-economic and political systems in the continent. Our key resources are managed by out imperialists, safeguarded for them by their boot-lickers, our so-called power-drunk leaders.

This long-term dominance has therefore dramatically affected African cultural heritage. It’s pathetically diminishing. Even some African traditional rulers, nowadays, invest heavily in the West, surprisingly with resources gathered indirectly from their subjects. You can see there a serious problem – what do you expect the younger generation to do after seeing their elders still licking the foot of the West? It’s sad to disclose to the borderless literary world that African cultures are dying day by day. Most Africans nowadays now live either an Arab or a Western lifestyle. Most of the youth have proudly lost the understanding of the core aspects of their local languages to foreign tongues. It’s really, really pathetic!

Mitali: You have a huge repertoire of works. Tell us how and when your journey as a writer and creative person started?

Mutiu: I actually started with visual art, because I guess it’s hereditary. No one taught me how to draw, but one thing I knew was that my father was once a visual artist before he became an engineer and university instructor. So I picked up my inbuilt creativity from him since I was 6, and got more into creative writing when I got to high school. And the rest of my formal education pursuits have been in the area of creative writing, media and language pedagogy.

More importantly, my early childhood experience made me a poet, if you understand what I mean. You know, poetry is medicinal; it heals wounds within; wounds that pharmaceutical products can’t cure. But to be candid, I can vividly say I started serious creative writing about 24 years ago, when I realized I couldn’t find other way out to solve my personal domestic challenges… So I resorted to offloading my heavy thoughts poetically on papers.

I have had numerous poetry publications to my credit especially on socio-cultural, political and economic issues like gender violence, socio-economic disparities, culture, peace, love and unity among human race. I have also collaborated with several great and passionate creative minds within Africa and beyond Africa, especially from countries India, England, the United States, Greece, Romania, France, Cyprus and more.

I have co-edited global literary anthologies with passionate creative writing giants and pedagogues like Denise Dee Sweet and Kirsten Hemmy (both from USA), late Madan Yayati Gandhi (India), Chryssa Velissariou (Greece), Sunil Sharma and Jernail Singh Anand (both from India), Stephen Billy Olajide (Nigeria), Kathy Figueroa (Canada), Mario Melendez (Italy), Lucette Bailliet (Australia)  and the likes.

Essentially, as an explorer and true creative mind, particularly in the world of English language and literature, I got to a stage in my literary journey where I was no longer satisfied with myself just a poet or short story writer alone; I was tired of following the rules established by so-called renowned writers in the past, so I decided to try my hand in unique literary innovations.

This led to creating in 2011 a new form of poetry called 9eleven (a poem of nine lines written with eleven monosyllabic words), and likewise writing a story without a verb in 2013 called The Blotted Pawpaw, which was first published in the same year in an academic journal in India. I actually initiated the latter to debunk syntacticians like Noam Chomsky and McHalliday who believe that a sentence is incomplete without a verb. Now with my story, we can obviously change the conventional rule of sentence structure from Sentence = (Subject) + Verb + (Object) + (Adjunct/Complement) to Sentence = (Subject) + (Verb) + (Object) + (Adjunct/Complement). Mission accomplished, right? Hahaha…

Note also that I later joined the media fraternity mainly because I was tired of the mainstream media operators, who are paid to report and show to the rest of the world nothing good in my continent Africa and Asia.

I was tired of being misrepresented in paper and on screen. So I realized that my universal peace advocacy will be fruitless without changing the narratives through the media. I found out that everything good is reported about the West in the Western media with global presence, but the reverse is the case when dealing with media reports from Asia and Africa.

Where then is the objectivity in the global ethics of journalism? Who is deceiving who? And you know the worst and most unfortunate part of this is that the key figures in charge of the media in these two continents have been brainwashed to believe that media market is lucrative only when you focus heavily on negative happenings in the society.

The finance report that shows extreme poverty in Congo or Rwanda or health issues and war in Liberia or Seirra Leon, but no finance to cover homelessness and abject poverty in Mississippi, and the Bronx in the United States or even the “mighty” London. This is nonsense! This narrative has to change…

Our people in the media must know the truth – we must fairly project every situation in our society – positive and negative, and be given the chance to see the other side of the so-called developed countries.  I am the voice and the true descriptor of myself and I cannot allow anyone to define me. Never! Enough of using media for creative racial, religious, and socio-cultural divisions among human race! We should also know that the same media can be used for creating peace, unity in diversity, and projecting socio-economic realities…

Mitali: What was it like growing up in Nigeria and how far do you think you have journeyed? Where do you see yourself, your show and your writing in the future?

Mutiu: Nigeria is a great nation; a nation of hardworking and entrepreneurial people.  I was actually raised in a metropolitan city of Ilorin and spent almost a half of my life there, before relocating to other cities in the south east and south west. In 2009, I became a foreigner in my homeland because I jetted out of the country, and since then, I only returned thrice as a stranger who spent only maximum of three months in his fatherland.

Everything I left had changed completely – both human and materials. The most shocking part of these changes was seeing our young men and women becoming so inferior that they no longer cherished their natural skin – they had opted for body bleaching creams and soaps, all in the name of being “white”.  It’s sad, right? So so sad… This is what you get when your school syllabi are designed to suit only “Western” standard; and not indigenous standard.  On the other hand, infrastructural development had taken over most cities in Nigeria, except for few places unfortunately handled by greedy politicians.

Anyway, as an ambitious person, I believe in the next couple of years I would have been able to set up independent platforms for unsung creative minds around the world through digital/electronic media. This, I believe, is one of the best ways to speak directly to those in power and the masses. Fair share should be given to creativity as it is given to politics, science and technology through news, shows and documentaries. With my borderless mind, I can easily get it done by collaborating with like-minds in other parts of the globe.

Mitali: How diverse are the cultures in different parts of Africa, within the country and without? Has this influenced your writing?

Mutiu: Africa is a home of cultural diversity with over 1.3 billion people. Research, in fact, shows that the continent has more than 3000 different ethnic groups speaking more than 2000 unrelated languages. Likewise, most Africans practice a multiplicity of religions, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and numerous traditional religions attached to individual ethnic group.

This multilingual and multicultural nature of African continent has greatly influenced my writing. For instance as a writer, who has lived in different socio-linguistic settings within the continent, apart from Yoruba, Arabic and English, which are languages I acquired formally, I can proudly say, at least, I have basic understanding of five other African languages, which I use a lot in my poems and short stories. As a borderless writer too, I’m still learning languages like Chinese, Dutch and French for global intelligibility.

Mitali: You have written poetry on Apartheid. Is apartheid still an issue in Africa?

Mutiu: Not really. Apartheid has significantly faded away from Africa. Its remains could only be seen in the areas of gender, and caste/tribe. And they too are fading away gradually. I actually wrote the poem on apartheid to remind our younger generations about past happenings in Africa and its painful effects. This would make them comprehend it as an abomination.

Mitali: In some of the developing countries, we see a yawning gap between the rich and poor. Is that true of Africa too? Does literature in Africa take up these issues?

Mutiu: Every capitalistic society generally has one thing in common – the wide gap between the rich and the poor; the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer. And it’s important to note here that the influence of American and Chinese politico-economic systems in Africa has made this a reality in the continent.

Does literature in Africa take up these issues?I’d say: Of course yes, it does. Some African creative writers like Wole Soyinka, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Olu Obafemi, John Pepper Clark, Ama Attah Aidoo, Sembene Ousman, Fatou Juka Jabang, Nana Grey Johnson and the likes are really trying to expose this in their writings. These are leading African literary figure who are tirelessly promoting the preservation of African culture through literature.

Young unsung African poets, playwrights and novelists too like Abubakar Isiaka Ubaji, Abullahi Jatta (The Kunta Kinte), Abubakar Ibrahim, Seun Sokoya, Ridwan Adelaja, Lekpele Nyamalon, Taofeeq Ogunperi, Nii-Ayi Solomon, Robert Ebi, Kinsley Nwadishi, Ndaba Sibanda, Darlignton Njobuewu, Kibrom Habtu, Muizat Kehinde Hameed, Alex O. Edevwie, Timileyin Olajuwon and the likes mostly pour their feelings on socio-economic and political decadence in the continent – perhaps because that’s the reality in their modern individual world.

But as far as I am concerned, I strongly believe in juxtaposition of socio-cultural revitalization and politico-economic revelation in creative writing. Our ideas shouldn’t be caged in one world alone. Creative writers are borderless. We should be able to link the past with the present in order to accurately and creatively capture and proffer solutions to future societal challenges.

Mitali: Is there a large body of African writers writing in English? What are the themes they like to address?

Mutiu: There are several country-based established associations of creative writers in Africa. Some of these are managed by people of academia, so voices of young or old less academic Africans are not really heard there. However, there are also numerous platforms available online (especially social media literary groups) that connect African writers together – regardless of age, academic or socio-economic background. Most African writers nowadays focus their works on socio-political and economic issues like relationship, deception, corruption, poverty and fraud.

Mitali: Have you travelled to all the countries your work has travelled to?  Has your travel affected your writing?

Mutiu: As a proud borderless writer with keen interest in universal peace and love, I can only say boldly that I have, of course, travelled physically and digitally to a lot of countries within Africa and beyond. This is why I could write about socio-cultural and economic issues in India, Greece, Canada, the US, the UK, China, Middle East and of course various countries in Africa.