Uche Ezeh-Al, author of Jungle Drumbeats; writes about the novel.
It is the late 1960s. The British economy is on a free fall. Doomed are the desperate efforts to starve-off the devaluation of the pound. Unemployment is skyrocketing. Deficit is soaring, creating significant problems for the external balance of trade. And whilst a general election looms, the so-called political wind of change in several British colonies and territories around the world, await swift decisions.
Meanwhile, another huge economic and political headache is escalating for Britain in Africa, of all places. Nigeria, Britain’s former colony in West Africa, is locked in a bloody civil war with Biafran secessionists in the east. The desperate Biafrans have promptly annexed the hundreds of millions of pounds worth of oil fields explored by the BP in the deep south and are already threatening to drive out the BP workers and hand over the exploration of the rich oil fields to French and Russian companies.
Britain is in a quagmire. It must not be seen to be interfering militarily in the internal affairs of a Commonwealth member state. If it does, it risks being accused of complicity in Nigeria’s heavy-handed campaign against Biafrans, which is already resulting in one of the worst cases of secret genocide since World War II. Yet, it would be inconceivable for Britain to stand idly by and watch the secessionists appropriate BP’s huge investment for themselves…
What would you do if it’s the late 1960s and you are Prime Minister Harold Wilson of the Labour Party? What would you do if you are Ian Whitehead, a nosy reporter for the Sunday Mirror in London who is chiefly motivated by a mixture of mischief and the search for truth? What would you do if you are Captain Udo Ukpanam, a reluctant combatant who must first confront an internal battle between his sacred duty to his country and his love of life?
Jungle Drumbeats sets up a speedy unraveling of these intriguing scenarios. It is a truly revealing fiction which springs mostly from real lives and set in mainly three real locations: London, Nigeria and
the defunct Republic of Biafra (present day South Eastern Nigeria). The entire story is 96,595 words long and has a mystical bent to it.
By all accounts, Jungle Drumbeats is a story of a man’s conflicting loyalty to self and country. It is the story of a man’s personal quest for meaning, love and reason in the midst of adversity. It also describes the daring spirit of an English reporter who is caught up in an entanglement of Africa’s intriguing mysteries, colonial biases, his own personal biases and prejudices. It captures quite vividly the failures and triumphs of a besieged people who are merely holding on by the skin of their teeth while attempting to navigate a chocking cloud of ethnic hatred and gun powder. The story celebrates the people’s fears, hopes, faith, contradictions, and above all, their love lives in far more dramatic detail and poignant elevation than any other work I have seen on the same subject.
The story is told simply and loaded with scintillating twists, brazen accounts of moral debauchery and personal sell-outs. It also exposes the stupidity of hopelessness and the sometimes-deceptive nature of so-called friendly circumstances, which in this case turned a manageable conflict within a little-known African bush into a hard-hitting modern war.
Several leaked cabinet memos appear to suggest that Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his Labour cabinet in Britain may be criminally involved in the systematic massacre of Biafran secessionists far in
the oil-rich jungles of Eastern Nigeria. A cynical investigative reporting begins and quickly develops into a dangerous obsession for Ian Whitehead, a nosy reporter for the Sunday Mirror in London. Ian’s relentless probing soon puts him on a steep collision course with his editors on the one hand, and Whitehall on the other, and eventually sends him flying headlong into the treacherous and depressing sacredness of the Biafran jungle, where a horrible trajectory of bloodbath, witchcraft, starvation, cannibalism, and the impertinence of a young Biafran army captain, patiently lie in wait Meanwhile, one man holds the last remaining piece of jigsaw puzzle – one sickening sorcerer in a Biafran enclave with a very dark reputation…
THE FACT ABOUT THE FICTION
Of course, trying to understand an issue as intimidating as the Biafran phenomenon, especially through a work of fiction, might seem like a retrogressive journey indeed; a fruitless ghost-hunt or a false escape into an unpleasant past, which many do not see as having the potential to lead them to an inward perception of truth. Here, I have taken a great deal of poetic license to tell a simple story set during that most unfortunate period of our national history. Hence, Jungle Drumbeats is not a delibrate Biafran story per se, but one which has aspects of the Biafran conflict at its core.
For ease of reading, I have reordered aspects of that conflict in this novel somewhat and twisted the basic structure of the true Biafran events to suit my own narrative. Dates as well as names of some important individuals and places were also changed, not necessarily to protect their privacy, but to achieve a better harmony with my plot. However, the reader is welcome to take Jungle Drumbeats as fact or fiction. What matters most, I guess, is what you experience as you read the novel: what resonates within you, where that takes you, and that you come to your own conclusions, and your own awakening.
We can each go on a quest for meaning and invite the hero/heroine within us to embark on a life-changing journey. Our lives are shifted by the events we experience or by the stories we are told about them. On this journey we can discover the power of truth via our active search. Indeed, life itself is an active search; a perpetual search for truth and meaning. Jungle Drumbeats is a reflection of my own search for truth. I invite the readers to embark upon theirs.