Burning Grass was first published in 1962 and like a lot of novels by Cyprian Ekwensi, the plot takes place in the northern part of Nigeria. This is the third novel in our series on works by Cyprian Ekwensi.
Mai Sunsaye is the chief of his Fulani cattle herding settlement called Dokan Toro. He is a doctor to the people, a specialist in making charms and amulets and also has the ability to tell the people their fortunes. He is like a general practitioner, a psychiatrist and a fortune teller all rolled into one. Probably your typical native doctor back in the day.
He is the leader of his village Dokan Toro and although he is widely respected by the villagers, he is engaged in a power struggle with Chief Ardo who wants to be the chief of the settlement. Ardo inflicts Sunsaye with Sokugo, a charm of the Fulani. Sokugo Magic causes men to wander off deserting their families and leaving their previous lives behind. Men suffering from Sokugo are also unable to settle in a place for a few days. If a man suffering from Sokugo refuses to continue his wandering he falls seriously ill.
Sunsaye deserts his family and sets off on an aimless quest. He lies to himself that he’s going in search of a lady that fled with his son Hodio but which he has promised to bring back home to his last son Rikku. With Sunsaye out of town, Ardo is able to run Sunsaye’s family out of Dokan Toro and make himself the leader of the village.
The plot from then on follows Sunsaye on his wanderings through several villages, characters and his eventual cure from Sokugo,reuniting with his family and eventual return to Dokan Toro.
In my junior secondary school days, any student you saw in different places within a short time span and who did not not seem to have a clear purpose to his appearances in different locations was said to be suffering from “Sokugo” the wandering disease. At the time I thought this was something from a Chinua Achebe story. It didn’t even cross my mind that this was from a Cyprian Ekwensi story. I think it is safe to assume that this was part of the senior secondary school literature curriculum because I never came across this book as my literature studies ended in junior secondary school.
It is a fun read but definitely not one of my best Cyprian Ekwensi novels.