Posts Tagged ‘A smell of Onions’


“Writing a story is like the weaving of a mat. At the finish the ends needs tidying off, but they are only in reality cut short. Before and after each thread there is the possibility of a never- ending yarn. If people are read one can at the best make a random choice… picks it up.”

Peggy Appiah’s “A Smell of Onions” is not a trimmed off story of any one particular place or situation. It is a yarn of everyday life. It is a tale of everywhere and every place. It is a ship sailing on the vast ocean. It faces storm and it sails through the breeze. “A Smell of Onions” is a tiny window into the world of Kwaku Hoampam and his Ashanti society.

The book opens with the patriarchal figure, Kwaku Hoapam who is the eyes and ears of his village. He owns several cocoa farms but still prefers to manage his small shop from his verandah. Kwaku seems to hear everything that goes on in his farms from his own house. And he would go personally to threaten a neighbour who encroaches on his land or a timber contractor who steals or damages trees. “For this reason Kwaku’s family fears and respects him.” Appiah creates a figure who is respected and feared  by everyone in the village. “The fact is that his eyes and ears are ever open and little happens in the village without his hearing and seeing it.” But this great patriarchal figure is undercut by his second wife Akosua. The “energetic woman in the prime of life” is contrasted to the Kwaku who has “discovered the joys of being a man of leisure”. Kwaku sits in his “rocking chair by the door, watching the road, a pipe or chewing stick firmly clenched between his teeth, or perhaps playing draughts with his friends or drinking a companionable calabash of palm wine, which he sells fresh and cool from the big pot behind the counter.” Akosua has been to school. She is not uneducated like her husband. She travels back and forth to the city to buy the goods for Kwaku’s shop. She inspects the cocoa. She sees to that her children go to good school. Kwaku is proud of children but does not like to ‘interfere’ with their education. Akusua manages their school fees and pays for their clothes. “She is a good wife and Kwaku is proud of her.” Kwaku Hoampam is a much respected member of the community.

“Is he then not entitled to sit all day on his verandah and watch the world go by?”

The narrative shifts to include Mammy Mausa. Modernism (or western Modernism) invades the Ashanti village. It is decided to put up a post office in the village. The surveyors started “taking measureme nts” and Kwaku and the villagers “watched”. The old house where Mammy Mausa was staying had to be pulled down in order to build a post office and a telephone exchange in its place. “Where will Mammy Muasa go?” Mammy Mausa’s Opel driven relatives had already sold the old house. The village collected in the yard. “They were great talkers:. Akosua dismisses the men by commenting, “You men, that is all you do, you talk and talk and talk and decide nothing!” But by not being a part of the solution she too becomes a part of the problem. She justifies herself by saying “if I were not going to the city today to buy corned beef and milk for the store, I would do something myself”.

Appiah reflects the class difference inherent in the structure. The villagers were mostly farmers. But only few like Osei Kwaku and Kodwo Owusu who could break away from the traditional idea that “cattle could not flourish in the forest area” were the most prosperous of the lot.

“Did not the village need to be in touch with the outside world?” Kwaku himself is almost persuaded by the argument . But “Mammy Mausa’s door remained firmly closed”. Mammy Mausa did not bend down. She was not to be defeated.

“The spirits of her ancestor rose within her. She let out such a stream of abuse that the crowd was silenced. She pronounced a curse an all who should try and destroy her home”.

Mammy Mausa dies.

The news of her death spread through the villages. Relations come to arrange the funeral. “The people came, celebrated and went”.

But Mammy Mausa had her revenge in her death. She had made her official will. “This was not only a will but the expression of a determined personality.” Her greedy relatives were bequeathed only a Bible a piece. Money and worldly pleasures had made the youth loose contact from their religion and roots which upholder the respect to the elders.

Mammy Mausa’s old house was pulled down. A new building was erected. “The village forgot it had ever been without its post office.”

Once there was post office the village began to grow. More people started settling in the village. This gave rises to water problems. Before long the village was connected with a tap. More people increased, the crime rate increased. A police station was built to ’police’ the villagers. Kwaku and Adumu Lafia, the policeman became good friends.

Adamu comments, “You people don’t know how lucky you are to be away from the centre”. Not being in the ‘centre’ lets the villagers create their own “problems”. Appiah deftly portrays how Adamu puts an end to the  petty differences among the villagers using his wit. The readers comes face to face with a cultural setting which is so distant from them yet are able to completely empathize with it.

“There were no more frivolous complaints.”

“The choir was good and the Good Lord must have been pleased at the volume of song which arose from the Church each Sunday morning”. Religion is a big part of the live of the villagers. Appiah paints the picture of the religion oriented education. A preacher from the town would come and take the service, christen the babies and administer communion. There was Bible reading and discussions. Appiah is not uncritical of religion either. “Where were the prophets these days?” The author uses beautiful imagery of “a snake swimming against the current”. The message drums are juxtaposed with the funeral drums.

Abena Ahoafe was the new school teacher. She was polite, charming – and distant. Kwaku found her “quite fascinating“. He was very attracted to her. “Abena made his wonder”. He proposes to her but is rejected.

“Could not the old man realize his age? He had a good wife. He had grandchildren.”

Abena married Kwaku’s nephew, Yao Poku.

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