The Reluctant Dead by Nuzo Onoh is one of those rare works. Each of the six stories in this single author collection is richly laced with African folklore and the traditions that come from the Igbo culture. It is fascinating to read about the sights and smells and sounds of Nigeria, along with well drawn examples of the vast gap in class in this society, from the street hawkers to the privileged private school children that are taken to class by private drivers. Even the metaphors Onoh uses are appropriate to each story and give the stories the feeling of folk tales, warnings told to you by your mother to keep you from going outside of the neighborhood.
Incorporating the cultures and beliefs of various peoples can make the experience of horror richer and more unsettling. Authors should not feel the need to exclude their heritage in their writing but showcase their work—send it to a publisher or self-publish, so we can increase its visibility and show that true horror crosses cultural barriers.
Naturally, when you are raised amidst such brutality and carnage, stories, beliefs and lore about death and the afterlife tend to become an everyday thing. I therefore grew up on moonlight tales of ghosts, night-flyers, demons, witches, mami-water mermaids and a host of other African supernatural horror beings. They were told as folklore and my writing reflects the oral story-telling style of the Igbo culture. I hold both a law degree and a master’s degree in writing from the wonderful Warwick University, (England) and run my own self-publishing company, Canaan-star Publishing, under whose imprint my book’s been published. I have two beautiful daughters and a barmy cat, Tinkerbell and live in Coventry, England. I love everything to do with the Law of Attraction, terrified of spiders and planes and loathe poseurs (literary or otherwise).
Igbo horror in particular, is one that has grown from an ongoing belief and acceptance of life after death, epitomized by ancestor veneration, a belief in re-incarnation, ghosts and malevolent spirits, possessions and hauntings. There is a close bond between life and death, which sees most houses and hamlets littered with the graves of their departed ancestors. In fact, at my family home in Old Biafra, we have a total of nine graves at our back garden, including my great grandparents, grandparents, uncle, father, sister, brother, niece. I spent a lot of precious times at those graves while growing up. I’d love to join them all when eventually I return to the great beyond and hopefully reincarnate within my family circle.
Sacrifices, libations and prayers are often offered at family graves and children grow up accepting death as a natural part of everyday existence. Unfortunately, till now, African Horror is one genre that has yet to reach a wider audience due to the fact that there are very few writers of this unique genre and literally, no female writer of any note. I had been writing the stories for years but like most writers, stockpiling them for “one day”.
Then last Christmas, my big daughter, Candice, and I were talking about hauntings and UFOs and I read her one of my ghost stories. She said it blew her mind and not just because I’m her mother. She reminded me that horror has always been my joy…my bookshelves are jam-packed with mainly horror books…very few literary classics…that’s how much of a philistine I am. Sadly, I’ve never been one for intellectual poseurism, despite my master’s degree in writing.
Anyway, I emailed the stories to a few friends from various ethnicities and their reactions were highly encouraging. The Reluctant Dead is the result. I’m hoping that my readers will come to appreciate African horror and that it eventually gains the popularity presently enjoyed by other regional horror genres like Scandinavian, Korean, Japanese, etc.
Now, African ghosts always have an agenda. Roughly, you can classify them under three ghost types. The ones that die suddenly before their time and not aware that they are dead. They continue to haunt the familiar places and their loved ones because they don’t know any better. They usually require some sort of exorcism by Dibias (powerful witchdoctors) or in these Christian era, a prayer warrior from a Pentecostal church. This was the case in one of my stories, “The Follower”, where the ghost of the murdered girl eventually needed to be exorcised back to the ancestors’ realm.
The second variety of ghosts are the ones with unfinished business. Maybe they are murdered and need to get their revenge or perhaps they forgot to reveal some important message/document before they died and need to rectify the problem. These ghosts generally tend to return to the ancestors once their mission is accomplished, although occasionally, one might still require the aid of a powerful Dibia as happened in my story, “Hadiza”, where the wronged wife returned to avenge her death on her husband’s mistress.
The final category of African ghosts is, to use a popular phrase, the evil dead. Evil spirits and demons. These people are so evil in their lifetime that they’re rejected by the ancestors when they die. They are cursed to roam the worlds, homeless and joyless, filled with bitterness and hate and out to wreak mischief and harm on the living. They are the type of ghosts that appear indiscriminately to all and sundry, rather than to their families and friends. It is nearly impossible to exorcise these ghosts as they have nowhere to be exorcised to. This was the case in my story, The Names of Our Dead, where the evil dead eventually founded their own village amongst the living from where they continued with their nefarious acts.
I have a great writing friend, Ted, who has a keen eye for errors I fail to spot in my writing. I’d recommend that every writer have their own Ted, an objective critiquer/editor, a person that critiques the work not the author and who will give your book the final polish it deserves after you’ve penned the final line.