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And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night

And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night

By Jack Mapanje

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ISBN: 978-0-9562401-7-0 | 272pp | Weight: 0kg | Paperback | Published 2011 | Rights: World Rights

Categories: African | Black Interest | Memoirs | Biography | African Prison Literature | International |

Synopsis

This book is a powerful contribution to the genre of the prison memoir in Africa. Jack Mapanje presents a moving account of a poet’s imprisonment by the state, his struggle to probe the hidden motives for his arrest, his attempt to provide an unforgettable record of the architecture of imprisonment and the perpetual struggle between the forces of truth and those of naked power.

In 1981, Jack Mapanje was a budding poet and scholar in Malawi. His first collection of poetry, Of Chameleons and Gods had just been published in the prestigious Heinemann African Writers Series and his scholarly work in linguistics was also transforming language and literary studies in Central Africa—his work was drawing international attention. But two years later the state ordered the withdrawal of Mapanje’s poetry from all schools, institutions of higher learning and bookstores.

In 1987, Mapanje was arrested by the Malawian secret police and imprisoned without charge until 1991. This book is a recollection of those years in prison. Written in the tradition of the African prison memoir and often echoing the works of other famous prison graduates such as Wole Soyinka (The Man Died) and Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Detained), the memoir presents Mapanje’s retrospective attempt to explain the cause and terms of his imprisonment, to recall in tranquillity the terror of arrest, the process of incarceration and the daily struggle to hold on to some measure of sanity and spiritual freedom.

Recommendations



Patrick Wilmot, who is based in London, is a writer and commentator on African affairs for the BBC, Sky News, Al-Jazeera and CNN.


Read more: Click Here

 

JACK Mapanje, author of And Crocodiles Are Hungry At Night, tells the tale of his imprisonment in Kamazu Banda's Malawi, without charge, trial, or sentence. Like Kafka's Joseph K in The Trial, Mapanje must have thought that an error had been made, that this was mistaken identity, that it would not last, that the error would be discovered, and his freedom restored. While Kafka could distinguish his country and profession from his fiction, however, Mapanje's alienation was indivisible, the essence of the country he inhabited.

While the experiences of The Trial were symbolic and allegorical, Mapanje's were prosaically brutal. That Banda could make his country into a realistic and horrific embodiment of allegory was an achievement of sorts, though a reversal of creativity, of imagination operating in reverse. For non-Africans unfamiliar with the continent in the 1960s to 80s, it will be difficult to distinguish Mapanje's world of facts from Kafka's world of fiction. Or maybe the horrific worlds of Mary Shelley or Stephen King.

When he was taken away from his family, friends and colleagues, he must have thought he was having a nightmare from which he would soon wake, or that some incompetent member of the security forces had picked him up as a result of misinterpreted orders. The thoughts which went through his head mirrored those of the fictional Joseph K, until they entered the prison and discovered others just as bewildered as himself, victims of the bogeyman, Banda.

Living alienation was different from writing about it, and the horror was multiplied when you found out that your nation could have served as a film set for Lord of the Flies, The Trial, or Dracula, without props or costumes. Banda's Malawi was almost the platonic form of the one-party state, or military dictatorship, which deformed the social fabric of Africa for more than two decades. In their persons Kamazu Banda, Joseph Mobutu, Idi Amin and Ibrahim Babangida embodied absolute monarch, military dictator, tribal lord, masquerade and clown.

Until this day Mapanje does not know why he was detained for almost four years, why he was cut off from his family and friends, kept in conditions worse than criminals in most prisons, subjected to constant humiliation, and exposed to a filthy starvation diet. He still has to speculate, as he and his colleagues did those years in prison, because nothing was written down, nothing was arrived at as a result of discussion, subject to law or obligation of government. For the "Leader" like Banda, actions need not be guided by reason and rumour; fantasy and whim had the same weight as facts.

Perhaps a colleague was jealous of Mapanje's reputation as an internationally recognised linguist and poet; perhaps a student made advances and was rejected; perhaps a fellow academic misinterpreted one of his poems or lectures. In a system like Banda's Malawi the process by which Mapanje would be condemned is well known: the rumour would be passed up a chain that led to Banda's inner circle, and then to the "Great Bull Elephant" himself.

Once a lowly subject came to the attention of his Eminence, his or her fate was sealed. Mapanje mentioned the Kadzamira family, which wrapped itself around the Life President like a shroud. His grotesque mistress, Cecilia, was alleged to have banned the song Cecilia from being played on the radio, because it offended her. For a man with such power and pettiness to be subjected to influences of utter triviality meant that no one in the country was safe.

It should not be assumed, however, that human beings reduced to inessentiality by such corrupt power succumbed, submitted, or allowed themselves to be crushed. Many "civilised" people, accustomed to the luxuries of modern existence, would not last a week in a prison with no change of clothing, running water, electricity, prepared food, exercise, beds, chairs, desks, computers, papers, pens, or books. They would not survive the mosquitoes, roaches, filth, stench, and weather.

But Mapanje and his friends survived. Banda, who expected them to die in prison, did not. The author found inmates who were courageous and resourceful, who found the means to resist. They found ways to contact people outside, who brought their fate to Amnesty, the universities, and churches, and hence to the Western public, which put pressure on their governments, otherwise well disposed to Banda and his primitive anti-communism.

This book is a lesson to those who might find themselves in similar circumstances, to know that no situation is hopeless, that no Great Man is immune to resistance. In their minds Banda and his inner circle were omniscient, omnipotent and untouchable. In their psychosis, men like Mapanje and his comrades were cockroaches, insects who should be eradicated. Since they were subhuman, it was not necessary to think about their families and friends suffering at home.

While we applaud these brave men and women who survived unbearable suffering, we should never forget those "Unique Miracles of the Twentieth Century", those "Great Bull Elephants", those "Cocks who Leave no Hen Unf*#*^d", who gloried in their grotesque fantasies of omnipotence, and were paranoid about the "insects" they despised. We should not forget the brave men and women who responded to the victims' cries and gave them hope. And we should not forget the panderers of "human rights" who gave comfort to the tyrants and condemned their victims, with complicity or indifference.

Guernica / a Magazine of Art & Politics

Please Click here for further reviews on  Jack Mapanje’s Memoir: And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night

Martin Banham

University of Leeds

It is sobering that the prison memoir is one of the most consistent products of contemporary African writers. In 1987 the Malawian poet and scholar Jack Mapanje, then teaching at Chancellor College of the University of Malawi, was arrested and imprisoned without charge – an incarceration that was to last for three-and-a-half years. This experience has been chronicled in Mapanje’s poetry (see, for instance, The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison, in Heinemann’s African Writing Series) and in the same series Mapanje edited Gathering Seaweed: African Prison Writing gathering together material from everyone from Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta, to Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Now Mapanje’s own long-awaited memoir is published – ‘A chronicle of a poet’s imprisonment under life president Banda of Malawi’. When Mapanje was released from prison, he and his family left Malawi and he has never substantially resettled in his home country. The gestation of this memoir is remarkable. The years of imprisonment are recorded in intimate detail, conversations, activities, personalities, in a manner that would suggest that the writer was keeping a daily written chronicle – which, of course, he had no means or possibility of doing. In fact Mapanje reconstructed those traumatic days, from a certain necessary distance in time and via recreating the experience in question and answer sessions with students and colleagues in the UK, the Netherlands and Ireland, rebuilding the awful memory. An impressive quality of the memoir is Mapanje’s resolute optimism, making the smallest incidents vehicles of hope rather than despair. Beyond the suffering of Banda’s political prisoners recorded here, Mapanje shows the awful paranoia created by his dictatorship, with police, academics and civil servants terrified of being thought to be disloyal to ‘his excellency, the life president, the Ngwazi Dr H Kamuzu Banda’. Mapanje, in a bizarre episode, notes that even his presence at a gathering of linguistics scholars in Harare, was regarded as being potentially subversive.

To welcome prison memoirs seems perverse. But Mapanje’s should be read by all who believe in the power of the human spirit to overcome evil.

Important endorsements for Jack Mapanje’s Memoir: And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night – With a Foreword by Paul Tiyambe Zeleza
Jack Mapanje’s memoir not only chronicles his imprisonment, it also sets out how the life of a young poet and academic is viciously destroyed by the absence of academic freedom. Brilliantly crafted, with a touch of humour even in grim circumstances, this is a moving contribution to the growing world literature of incarceration. As such it has universal appeal.
-- Lady Antonia Fraser DBE
Vice-President (former President)
English PEN

Jack Mapanje’s imprisonment without trial or charge was the subject of protests by linguists, writers, academics, human rights organizations and lovers of freedom throughout the world. Apart from being an ordinary prison memoir, the writer offers us a rare glimpse on how inner circles operate in repressive regimes, in order to protect themselves and the despots they serve. This work is crafted with passion, cheek and wry humour. But it is a necessary warning to future African leaders to care about the people who vote them into power. It is also a testimony to the efforts of those who fight for
prisoners of conscience throughout the world. A long-awaited and welcome contribution to the growing world literature of political incarceration.
-- Noam Chomsky
Emeritus Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA.

And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night is a powerful contribution to the genre of the prison memoir in Africa. Jack Mapanje presents the moving account of a poet’s imprisonment by the state, his struggle to probe the hidden motives for this arrest and his attempt to provide an unforgettable record of the architecture of imprisonment and the perpetual struggle between the forces of truth and those of naked power. In 1981, Jack Mapanje was a budding poet and scholar in Malawi. His first collection of poetry, Of Chameleons and Gods had just been published in the prestigious Heinemann African Writers Series and his scholarly work in linguistics was also transforming language and literary studies in Central Africa—his work was drawing international attention. But two years later the state ordered the withdrawal of Mapanje’s poetry from all schools, institutions of higher learning and bookstores. In 1987, Mapanje was arrested by the Malawian secret police and imprisoned without charge until 1991. This book is a recollection of those years in prison. Written in the tradition of the African prison memoir and often echoing the works of other famous prison graduates such as the Noble Laureate Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Detained, the memoir chronicles Mapanje’s retrospective attempt to explain the cause and terms of his imprisonment, to recall in tranquility the terror of arrest, the process of incarceration and the daily struggle to hold on to some measure of sanity and spiritual freedom.
-- Dr Simon Gikandi, Robert Schirmer Professor of English, Princeton University, USA.

Mapanje’s memoir powerfully recounts the human will to survival as well as the capacity to confound even the most repressive and highly organized regime of surveillance and offers an important historical resource of Postcolonial Malawi. It has the intensity of Soyinka’s The Man Died, the moral and political purpose of Ngũgĩ’s Detained and the anguished, but immensely hopeful tone of Vera Chirwa’s, Fearless Fighter.
-- Dr Mpalive-Hangson Msiska, Reader in English and Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London.

 

Film Fiction Theatre Art Poetry Guest
Dundee University Review of Arts, Dundee university

 

The memoir And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night is a powerful and compelling account of poet and academic Jack Mapanje’s experiences of Malawian prison and the effect this incarceration had on him and his family. In 1987, Mapanje was imprisoned for over three years by the authoritarian regime of Malawian President Hastings Banda, never once being informed of the details of his ‘crimes’ against the state. The memoir is Mapanje’s attempt to come to terms with his ordeal and to uncover the truth about his arrest. This, however, is not simply a prison memoir. Throughout the narrative, Mapanje skilfully conjures a vivid insight into life under Malawi’s dictatorship in the late 1980s. Through myriad observations and experiences, including those of his fellow prisoners, the memoir is a devastating critique of Banda and his ruling circle.

A central theme is that Mapanje was never told why he had been incarcerated and thus the memoir is a personal journey in search of answers to that question. Mapanje conveys his difficultly in coming to terms with his sudden arrest, and simply not knowing the reason why; he describes this as a form of torture as he minutely dissects his past for clues. There are frequent ‘flashbacks’ where Mapanje sets about reflecting upon events, such as attendance at conferences or securing resources for his university department, which may have contributed to his arrest. This is a powerful tool, as it illustrates neatly the pervasive fear, suspicion and repression prevalent in Malawian society. Mpanje also employs some of his poems during his account to convey specific events or experiences. This works well because the reader discovers the context or meaning behind them and it adds another dimension to his experiences, his defiance, and ultimately his hope of release.

The memoir details prison life meticulously, offering an insight into the daily realities of ‘political’ prisoners, such as the humiliating strip searches, the squalid conditions and the struggle simply to survive. Despite these trying circumstances, many positive aspects shine through. The memoir demonstrates humanity, kindness, creativity and defiance. Mapanje reveals that initially he had lost hope, but through the help of his fellow inmates, his attitude changed to one of defiance and, later, even optimism. Mapanje argues that “everyone believes that survival is the most effective way of fighting dictators… if you survive, you will live to tell your story”. The book is testament to that spirit. 

Mapanje also recounts the kindness and efforts of a multitude of people who helped to ensure his freedom. Immediately after his arrest, an international campaign was started by friends, academic colleagues, and human rights campaigners across the world to pressurise the Banda regime into releasing him. Mapanje only has an inkling of the events outside the prison walls (of which he only learns fully on his release), and he depicts the unfolding campaign through his own eyes: snippets of information, illicit notes from outside, and conversations with guards. Furthermore, it is heartening to discover that some of the prison guards risked their lives to assist the inmates, especially in the international campaign, illustrating human kindness and compassion.     

And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night is an engaging read and you cannot help be moved by Mapanje’s experiences. The writing style is incisive and crisp, and although the memoir is predominantly set within the confines of prison, it unfolds at a quick pace. Mapanje’s powerful description offers the reader a glimpse of Malawian society, the leadership of Banda, and Mapanje's own life experiences. The memoir also poignantly reflects on the effects his imprisonment  had upon his life, family, and academic career. Yet, despite depicting such hardships, the underlying message of hope and defiance in the face of repression is uplifting.

Matthew Graham

 

AND CROCODILES ARE HUNGRY AT NIGHT - Review by Patrick Wilmot

Jack Mapanje, author of the above, tells the tale of his imprisonment in Kamazu Banda’s Malawi, without charge, trial, or sentence. Like Kafka’s Joseph K in The Trial, Mapanje must have thought that an error had been made, that this was mistaken identity, that it would not last, that the error would be discovered, and his freedom restored. While Kafka could distinguish his country and profession from his fiction, however, Mapanje’s alienation was indivisible, the essence of the country he inhabited.

While the experiences of The Trial were symbolic and allegorical, Mapanje’s were prosaically brutal. That Banda could make his country into a realistic and horrific embodiment of allegory was an achievement of sorts, though a reversal of creativity, of imagination operating in reverse. For non-Africans unfamiliar with the continent in the 1960s to 80s it will be difficult to distinguish Mapanje’s world of facts from Kafka’s world of fiction. Or maybe the horrific worlds of Mary Shelley or Stephen King.

When he was taken away from his family, friends and colleagues he must have thought he was having a nightmare from which he would soon wake, or that some incompetent member of the security forces had picked him up as a result of misinterpreted orders. The thoughts which went through his head mirrored those of the fictional Joseph K, until the entered the prison and discovered others just as bewildered as himself, victims of the bogeyman, Banda.

Living alienation was different from writing about it, and the horror was multiplied when you found out that your nation could have served as a film set for Lord of the Flies, The Trial, or Dracula, without props or costumes. Banda’s Malawi was almost the Platonic Form of the one party state, or military dictatorship, which deformed the social fabric of Africa for more than two decades. In their persons Kamazu Banda, Joseph Mobutu, Idi Amin and Ibrahim Babangida embodied absolute monarch, military dictator, tribal Lord, masquerade and clown.

Until this day Mapanje does not know why he was detained for almost four years, why he was cut off from his family and friends, kept in conditions worse than criminals in most prisons, subjected to constant humiliation, and exposed to filthy, starvation diet. He still has to speculate, as he and his colleagues did those years in prison, because nothing was written down, nothing was arrived at as a result of discussion, subject to law or obligation of government. For the ‘Leader’ like Banda, actions need not be guided by reason and rumour, fantasy and whim had the same weight as facts.

Perhaps a colleague was jealous of Mapanje’s reputation as an internationally recognized linguist and poet; perhaps a student made advances and was rejected; perhaps a fellow academic misinterpreted one of his poems or lectures. In a system like Banda’s Malawi the process by which Mapanje would be condemned is well known: the rumour would be passed up a chain that led to Banda’s inner circle, and then to the ‘Great Bull Elephant’ himself.

Once a lowly subject came to the attention of his Eminence, his or her fate was sealed. Mapanje mentioned the Kadzamira family, which wrapped itself around the Life President like a shroud. His grotesque mistress, Cecilia, was alleged to have banned the song Cecilia from being played on the radio, because it offended her. For a man with such power and pettiness to be subjected to influences of utter triviality meant that no one in the country was safe.

It should not, however, be assumed that human beings reduced to inessentiality by such corrupt power succumbed, submitted, or allowed themselves to be crushed. Many ‘civilized’ people, accustomed to the luxuries of modern existence, would not last a week in a prison with no change of clothing, running water, electricity, prepared food, exercise, beds, chairs, desks, computers, papers, pens, or books. They would not survive the mosquitoes, roaches, filth, stench, and weather.

Mapanje and his friends survived, however, whereas Banda, who expected them to die in prison, did not. The author found inmates who were courageous and resourceful, who found the means to resist. They found ways to contact people outside, who brought their fate to Amnesty, the universities, and churches, and hence to the Western public, which put pressure on their governments, otherwise well- disposed to Banda and his primitive anti-communism.

This book is a lesson to those who might find themselves in similar circumstances, to know that no situation is hopeless, that no Great Man is immune to resistance. In their minds Banda and his inner circle were Omniscient, Omnipotent and untouchable. In their psychosis men like Mapanje and his comrades were cockroaches, insects who should be eradicated. Since they were subhuman, it was not necessary to think about their families and friends suffering at home.

While we applaud these brave men and women who suffered much and survived, we should never forget those ‘Unique Miracles of the Twentieth Century, who gloried in their grotesque fantasies of omnipotence, and were paranoid about the ‘insects’ they despised.  We should not forget the brave men and women who responded to their cries and gave them hope. And we should not forget the panderers of ‘human rights’ who gave comfort to the Tyrants and condemned their victims, with complicity or indifference.

AND CROCODILES ARE HUNGRY AT NIGHT by Jack Mapanje, Ayebia, Banbury, 2011, pp. xi, 435

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