A captivating journey through childhood: A review of Ad’Obe One’s ‘Adoka Son’ — Terh Agbedeh

Adoka Son: Childhood Memoirs of an African by Ad’Obe Obe, is a captivating memoir that transports readers to a bygone era; it delves into the author’s experiences growing up in Ogobia, before Nigeria was born. 

Obe’s compelling storytelling paints a picture of a rich ancestral heritage and a close-knit community facing the arrival of western influences.

A feast of firsts, it chronicles the author’s unique upbringing amidst the backdrop of cultural change brought by the “white-skinned human being” whose first contact with the author is literally pants down.

This experience is so vividly captured in the very first lines of the book where the reader encounters the writer while he is a 10-year-old at a church gathering to celebrate his milestone in catechism.

Born after six failed pregnancies, on Christmas Day no doubt, Obe is the first of his mother’s children to live and nicknamed “Alechenu,” meaning “the unexpected,” which embodies the resilience of his family. But he is also Emmanuel as a consequence of not just being born on a day Christians venerate but also embracing the new religion. 

Through the stories he is told by his formidable grandmother, Ob’Ikwu, who believes he is the reincarnation of her late husband, Obe learns the rich traditions and mythology of the Idoma people. In this way, he receives a strong foundation in Idoma customs and mythology, including fascinating folktales narrated by the enigmatic Ogwoja.

These traditions soon clash with Christianity at the arrival of the colonialists with missionaries in tow, creating a fascinating tension within the family and their society.

Obe’s father, despite lacking the new formal education, rises to prominence overseeing the construction of an artery of roads that connect the clans in the land in the same way that tributaries link to a river. This newfound status exposes Obe to a blend of traditional and modern influences. He navigates this complexity with the guidance of Ob’Ikwu, who ensures Alechenu receives a strong foundation in Idoma traditions and his eccentric uncle, Ella, who embraces individuality and challenges societal norms.

Obe’s narrative is enriched by a cast of colourful characters like Uncle Ella, who, among other things, embraces nudity, adding a touch of humour while also highlighting the richness and complexity of cultural exchange and the resilience of the Idoma in particular and indigenous African traditions, in general.

Through encounters with influential figures like the Idoma king, Och’Idoma and church leaders including the Roman Catholic Mission (RCM) bishop, Obe navigates his place within a society undergoing transformation.

The narrative explores the clash between traditional Idoma beliefs and Christianity. Obe grapples with questions of faith as his family encounters missionaries and considers adopting new doctrines. 

This clash between traditional beliefs and Christianity emerges as a central theme in the tale as Obe’s family attempts to reconcile their ancestral practices with the new doctrines introduced by missionaries. The author’s portrayal of these tensions offers insights into the enduring strength of indigenous cultures and the challenges of cultural adaptation.

Obe’s vivid storytelling paints a picture of a vibrant childhood filled with folktales, songs and traditional ceremonies. He recounts the significance of names, as he is given several throughout his youth, reflecting his various roles within the community.

The memoir also delves into the complexities of cultural assimilation and the delicate confluence of two strange cultures. 

Despite its serious themes, the book is infused with humour, warmth and memorable characters, who make the narrative engaging.

Adoka Son transcends a personal narrative, it serves as a powerful tribute to Idoma culture and identity. Through Obe’s captivating prose, readers gain a deep appreciation for the kingdom’s rich ancestral heritage and belief systems.

While the book is based on real experiences, the author elevates it to a level that transcends mere autobiography. It offers a glimpse into a disappearing world and how its occupants fight to keep the familiar, capturing the essence of Idoma life before the pervasive influence of western civilisation.

Obe’s personal story transcends a single childhood. It becomes a powerful testament to Idoma culture and identity. He weaves together mythology, folktales and traditional practices, offering readers a glimpse into a vibrant world on the verge of transformation.

His evocative prose transports readers to a world brimming with ancestral heritage, he not only recounts his childhood but also fills a void in representing Idoma narratives on a broader stage.

This heartwarming coming-of-age story is a must-read for anyone interested in African history or cultural anthropology. Anyone seeking a heartwarming story about childhood and family will also enjoy it. While Adoka Son is deeply personal, it offers something for everyone. Readers seeking to understand a new culture, the impact of colonialism on Africa or the beauty of traditional customs will find themselves engrossed in Obe’s captivating story. 


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