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Search for Identity in Nuruddin Farah’s « Maps »

Classé dans : Non classé — 19 juin, 2008 @ 19:37

            In his different works Nuruddin Farah (1) deals with themes which are related to his mother country Somalia. Those themes are varied between feminism, traditionalism and modernism, Islamic traditions, the Somali life, and the most controversial issue the search for identity. However, during the years of his exile Farah began to work on his trilogy “The Blood in the Sun Trilogy”, which includes “Maps(2), Gifts and Secrets”.In this essay we will specify ourselves to deal with one of the latter novels, which is Maps. In this novel Farah deals with different themes, such as the war on the Ogaden (3), the relationships between the characters, and the major theme search for identity, the theme which we will deal with now.

            Farah’s novel reflects this later theme as one of its subjects. Through search for identity, we can learn that Farah deals with both personal theme, which is the story of an orphaned boy called Askar who is searching for himself and a political theme which is the Somali identity in this war with Ethiopia. Thus, to what extent Maps deals with this problem of identity? First, we can say that this theme is related more to Askar (the character that the story turns around), in the beginning of the novel this theme is not much reflected, because Askar is young, he is raised by Misra (an Ethiopian woman, it is said that Misra is a traitor, for the reason that she informed about the fighters to save her life), she was like his real mother, and she gives him all affection and love. 

           Later on when Askar grows up, Misra tells him about his parents and the circumstances of their death (his father died in the war with Ethiopia, and his mother died the day of his birth). Although Askar is young he becomes aware about things around him. He lives with Misra a normal and peaceful life. Soon after, Askar’s attitudes toward Misra change, he becomes so greedy with her, until one day he thinks of killing her “I will kill you”, (Farah, p.57) he adds: “To live, I will kill you” (the same page). And he repeats it an other time during a conversation with Misra: “One day, I might kill you?” (Farah, p. 95).

          Here, Askar’s dilemma begins, he begins thinking about himself, about who he is especially in that period of the tormented Ogaden, by the way throughout the novel this question of “Who am I?” is repeated a lot of times.  This question reveals Askar’s loss. In fact, Askar still feels this loss as he is told Karin: “‘I’ve already begun to feel loss, and it takes most weird form’” (Farah, p. 121).            

        However, Askar sees that within him there are many “Askars”, he perceives himself as many selves: “For a long time, your selves argued with one another, each offering counter arguments…” (Farah, p.58). Then Askar adds: “…If only there were [sick] no mirror to divulge the secrets of your inner torments…” (Farah, p. 58).This reflects his mental disorder. Also, Askar’s confusion can be reflected by Farah in the following quote: ‘And you- who are you?’ one of the shadows asked you. You answered, ‘I am a foreign body.’ ‘Now what does that mean?’ You paused. Then, ‘It means that I am in a foreign country.’ ‘I was once a young man –but I lost my identity’ (p. 61).            

          Then, after the years of his life with Misra in Kallafo, Askar goes to Mogadiscio to live with his uncle Hilaal and his wife Salaado to continue his studies. Even though uncle Hilaal and Salaado fulfil all his needs, and his life with them is totally different from his life with Misra. Askar still lost and still in search for who he is. This reflects his moral confusion. In addition, he does not know about Misra’s story until one day Karin informs him, here Askar’s loss increased: “The loss was so great, the tremor in his soul so distressing…” (Farah, p. 174).          

        Also, when Askar knows about Misra’s story, he begins to doubt about everything around him, as the epigraph of the novel suggests: “living begins when you start doubting everything that came before you” Socrates (qtd in Maps), at this time Askar’s life begins, he stats searching for his identity. One time he thinks that uncle Qorrax raped his mother and thus he was born. So that he starts to search for himself. We can say that Askar comes to Mogadiscio may be to find an answer for “Who am I?”.

        However, when he is there Askar becomes aware about his status, and he becomes confident about himself, especially when his uncle begins to make for him identity papers, so that Askar will be registered as one of uncle Hilaal’s family. After a few days, uncle Hilaal brings with him Askar’s identity card.

         Here, Askar comments: “from the way he gave it to me, you would’ve thought he was entrusting to me a brand “new life”” (Farah, p. 163). From this quotation we can learn that this identity card means a new life for Askar.In addition, the following quotation proves Askar’s search for himself or for identity: “While I was looking at it, Uncle Hilaal and Salaado in a solemn conversation, as if he were [sick] to be a witness at my being wed to myself” (Farah, p.164).         

          Now Askar is in a great content with this card, which proves who he is, and his Somali identity. It includes his name, his father’s and mother’s names. Through this card he will be like any other Somali person. Askar is very happy because he knows many things about himself and his family, in addition he learns how to read and write them.

         Moreover, Askar is not happy just because of this, but also, he becomes a student. On the other hand, through this card Askar thought that he is not a refugee, the thing that Cusmaan –a person hired to become Askar’s tutor- still reminding him whenever they met (that he is a refugee).         

         Here, this person wants Askar to think about the Ogaden which is in a war. He wants him to return to the Ogaden and to fight there. At first Askar is resented about Cusmaan’s ideas. Later on we learn that Askar gives sense to what he is told. And within him grows the feeling of nationalism. 

         As a result that Askar wants to join the Liberation Movement, “In his mind, he didn’t exclude that some day he might even be recruited as a member of the Western Somali Liberation front…” (Farah, p. 96). In fact, Askar’s life begins to take another stream, with this growing idea of nationalism.         

        However, when the war started Askar sees that it will be the opportunity to prove himself: “The war was on. […] But what mattered to Askar was it presaged, for him, a future maturer than he had awaited, that it predicted a future in which he would be provided with ample opportunities to prove that he was a man” (Farah, p. 96).       

        Askar beings thinking about Somalia, especially at that time, the Ogaden is orphaned too just as Asker was orphaned. Referring to Ogaden as the child whose mother (Somalia) is died or is gone. Really, he is torned between the continuation of his studies, and fighting for the Ogaden’s liberation. Now, we can notice that after Askar was searching for his identity, he is now searching for his country which is in a greedy war.         More than that, Askar remains all the time silent, he is thinking about the people around him (uncle Hilaal and Salaado), about himself (his studies), and about his country (the Ogaden’s war). On day he thought: “Somehow, I felt I knew I had to betray one of them. I had to betray either Misra, who had been a mother to me, or my mother country” (Farah, p.172). He adds: “I was at loss, I was very sad” (Farah, p. 173).

         Through the above quotes we learn that Askar is lost and greatly confused between his studies, his mother, and the Ogaden. On the other hand, we can learn about Misra’s lost in Somalia, she is torned between Ethiopia and Somalia. Also, when uncle Hilaal makes the idenitity card for Asker, this later asks him if it is possible to make one for Misra.

          However, in a conversation between Askar and Misra, they both talk about identity, at this point Farah says: I asked, ‘Your people, my people –what or who are these?’ ‘One day,’ she said, speaking of a future in which we would meet, ‘one day, you will understand the distinction […] ‘you will identify yourself with your people and identify me out of your community. (p. 95).

          If we speak about Askar we can notice that his loss is similar to the loss that the man feels in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (4). In this novel the man feels lost and searches for himself in a corrupted society, which still ruled by the collaborators of the colonial regime. In Fragments, this theme also is present, here; the protagonist is searching for a meaning in himself and the world around him (5).          

         Also, Gifts (1993) deals with the exploration of identity in  Somalia, this is through Duniya (the protagonist). Moreover, in Secrets (1998) Farah deals also with this problem of identity, for the reason that, the protagonist who is called Kalaman is obsessed by this question “Whose son am I?” as Askar’s question “Who am I?”. Thus, we notice that this question may be related to the absence of their fathers. And I think that for Askar, Duniya, and Kalaman, there is no answer to that question which is related to their identities. Even when one knows his parents he may be lost. Also, we notice that Askar is interested a lot in maps. Whenever he sees a map he goes directly to search for his mother country “

          As well, Askar still feeling this loss or we can say this torment, as if he has to choose either Misra or Somalia and all these contribute to his identity’s formation, as it is said in the following quotation: Askar is pulled between loyalty to Misra and obedience to Somalia. He looks for truth, and questions truth, in maps drawn by foreign hands, in the physical reality of his own body, in the spirituality of Misra, and in his country. It is all of these things and none of these things that make him who he is. Askar is a man of his “own creation (Reading Guides. 7).            

           By the end, we can say that search for identity still the dominant theme in the African works, this theme which comes as a result of the colonial regime and its tyranny. In Maps Farah tried to deal with this theme through the life of Askar and his relation to his country. 

        However, the question of « Who am I? » is presented in all Farah’s works. This is normally because his characters live in a destroyed country. Those characters are obsessed to ask themselves in such a society, who they are to themselves and to the others.For example, orphans of all sorts—leftover babies (Askar), displaced peoples (the refugees who come from the Ogaden to Mogadiscio), and fragmented countries (Somalia)—are all included in each novel in the Blood in the Sun trilogy. It is Farah’s skills as a writer and his rich imagination that relate them together into a searching for the meaning of identity                        In addition, in an interview with him, Farah says: “A question I’ve often asked myself is: are my parents continued in me? . . . We met, my parents and I, as though we were travelers meeting in a transit lounge. As children raised apart, we were, in essentials, journeymen of the future, hybrids of a new sort” (Reading Guides.12). According to Farah “this conditional relationship with the past, this spiritual orphanhood, is Somalia’s greatest loss and its dearest hope” (Reading Guides. 12).            

         Finally, Maps deals with two types of conflicts or we can say divisions, the first political ones and the second the internal conflict between the different parts of the self, concerning this later point the in following quote Askar says: “You began debating the egos of which you were compounded and, detaching itself from the other selves […] your selves argued with one another…” (Farah, p. 58).            

         At last, we can say that Farah through his use of first, second and third person in his narrating helps him to capture the reader’s imagination and following the flow of the ideas. Also, I think that, in Maps Farah deals with an important theme, which is not related only to the Somali but also to all the Africans who experienced the sense of war.                                            

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