The Wrestling Match by Buchi Emecheta
Published by: Masquerade Books
Date of Publication: 1980
“The men in the compound helped Okei to dress up. He only wore a plain pair of shorts and a pair of colourful plimsolls to match. But on top of this, he had several charms slung around his neck. One of them was made with crocodile teeth, to prevent him from becoming breathless. Another was from nut kernels, to harden him like nuts which are hard to crack. His face had to be washed with waters mixed with many herbs so that no evil eye would penetrate beyond his face to his heart. After all that, Okei was forced to drink a mixture which was supposed to get rid of any shyness he had”
This was my first Buchi Emecheta book. My plan was to read her autobiography, Head Above Water, first and then move on to her other works. That plan got ruined the day I received this book in the mail. It started out with me admiring the book cover, then reading the first page. Before I knew it I had finished reading the book!
The wrestling match by Buchi Emecheta is a coming of age story of the male youths of Igbuno village. Also called the Umu aya Biafra. Set in post-civil war eastern Nigeria, the central character is a 16-year-old orphan, Okei. A stubborn and rebellious teen, who lost his parents in the war and lives with his uncle in Igbuno. Blame for all mischief in the village is placed on Okei.
Things become very hot for him when the Umu aya Biafra, which he heads, are accused of atrocities against members of the neighbouring village, Akpei. The young men are furious at this allegation and are determined to prove their innocence. The best way they think to do this is to arrange for a wrestling match with boys of a similar age from the accusing village.
We follow the boys as they prepare for the wrestling match and witness an unexpected twist to the story. In the end, a moral lesson and the truth about the source of these allegations is presented to us.
The book’s language is very simple, there is no real depth to the characters but it is a novella, so perhaps there was no need to go into too much detail. The plot is also as simple. The description of village life in the eastern part of Nigeria is nostalgic and reminds me very much of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Although short, the story is engaging and keeps you interested to the end. It reads more like a moral lesson for teenagers. Unless you want to read something light, it is not the sort of book that adults will be interested in reading. I believe this short paragraph in the beginning of the book is the main message the author was trying to pass:
“It was a civil war that did cost Nigeria dear. Almost a million lives were lost, not just on the losing side; those who won the war lost thousands of people too – showing that in any war, however, justified its cause, nobody wins.”
I give it 4.5/5 despite the simplicity. It is well suited to a younger audience and is a good story that is sure to intrigue them. As an adult, it is a quick read, something you read to relax or spend some free time on.