Wednesday, July 02, 2008

MEJI by Milton Davis

Meji by Milton Davis

Meji by Milton Davis is a story of two brothers separated from birth. Two kingdoms live side-by-side in uneasy harmony on the continent of Uhuru. Inkosi Dingane, the upstart king of one kingdom is a warrior who is expecting his first son. Unfortunately, his beloved wife, Great Wife Shani, gives birth to twins. In Sesu, Dingane's land, this is a terrible taboo. (It doesn't help matters that his evil spirit advisor fears the prophecy that one of the twins will kill him.) However, the other kingdom, Mawena, sees twins as a blessing. Luckily the Chief Wife is from this kingdom. She sends her twins with a trusted warrior to her own homeland. Her husband pursues the warrior and retrieves one of the twins, believing (or hoping to believe) that the other child is dead.

Both boys grow up with varying degree of knowledge about their histories. In Sesu, gossip abounds around Ndoro because everyone knows he was born a twin. In Mawena, Obaseki has to deal with alienation because he has a gift that makes people uncomfortable. Both boys are not whole until they meet and they feel that something is missing from their lives. Through trial and obstacle they are fated to meet again and to restore their kingdoms and set the world to rights.

This is a self-published story which is quite well-written and which has a truly folkloric feel. It belongs to the category of fantasy first created by Charles Saunders with his Imaro books, a category called Sword and Soul -- as opposed to the high fantasy term Sword and Sorcery.

The book is both an easy and a hard read. It's easy to read because the story moves quickly and the breathless plotting begins from the first page. Lovers of fantasy, myth, and even children's literature will love this. But on the other hand, the reader is plunged into a world where different names, different kingdoms, and different titles abound. Knives, swords, houses, pacts, covenants, wizards, spirit beings, soldiers all exist -- but they are given African names. And although people of African descent, (and Asian descent, and Hispanic descent) are all aware of the Eurocentric words for these common items, the opposite is not generally true. The world at large --and even we African-Americans-- is not used to African spirits or the words for African knives. So that can be rough-going until one gets a hang of it.

The story seemed a bit short for me. Of course this is Part One, so it is possible that I was expecting more complications in the beginning. I'm not one who gets into reading works that are made into sequels. But luckily for me, although this book is the first of a sequel, the story in Part One stands on its own.

All great stories are about kings and queens; warriors and defenders; great and ignoble families; obstacles and victories. Unfortunately many stories written about the African culture, whether written by whites or non-whites, often are burdened by recent history. Thus slavery and the devastations of Africa under European imperialism has contributed to a body of literature which often uses the myth of suffering. In fantasies and even scifi many Black characters are faced with stories that relegate us to slavery and to oppression. Perhaps that is only to be expected. Yet, people of African descent are like all people. We like a good story with fantastical worlds and passionate longing. We want to take our part with mythic kings, noble heroes, and heartfelt spiritual quests. In Meji, Milton Davis has created a story that speaks to our culture's primeval and heartfelt need -- a desire common to all great stories, to return to a place where African storytelling expands itself.

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