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Book Review: Personal Vendetta As Catalyst To Rebellion 

By Peterkins Manyong

Rebellion is the offspring of oppression. The Biblical story of Balaam’s donkey, which spoke out against his master’s brutality meted on him, is a perfect moral example. God gave the donkey the power of speech because He knew the devastating consequences of pent-up emotions on the oppressed.

It is in this light that I have undertaken a review of the novel "Jungle Revolt" by Eric Fomundam, a rising politician with a passion for literary creativity. The 101-page publication, preceded by an elegant prelude, has as setting a jungle in prehistoric times when all animals lived in a state of nature. As it is the case in every eco-system, carnivores in the book prey on herbivores, which in turn depend on the vegetation for their own livelihood.

Trouble starts when Mr. Lion and his wife Mrs. Lion, devour Mr. Pig’s family consisting of his wife and two piglets. Mr. Pig, who narrowly escapes, vows to avenge the death of his family by organising a rebellion against the herbivores.

His first sympathizer is Mr. Monkey who witnessed the killings seated on a branch of the same pear tree whose fruits the Pig family was savouring before the tragedy occurred. But Mr. Monkey, knowing the great physical strength of the carnivores, the lions especially, is skeptical of the plan’s workability and attempts to dissuade its contriver.

However, after listening to Mr. Pig’s flattering sophism in which he likens Mr. Monkey to the ingenious animal called Man, Mr. Monkey decides to cooperate. He obliges Mr. Bat who can see very well in the dark, to cooperate with Mr. Pig by first kidnapping Mr. Bat’s children nesting on the top of a tree and promising to release them only after the latter would have assisted in rallying the other herbivores for a war on the carnivores.

The mission of Mr. Pig is smooth until double dealing Mr. Fox is caught in Mr. Man’s trap. Man promises him freedom on condition that he uses his melodious voice to lure animals for him to kill for food.

The magic song of Mr. Fox, reminiscent of the Greek God Apollo’s in the legend of King Midas, attracts the other animals as expected. The animals were all transmogrified by the melody. "The horses trotted, the cats walked with majesty, the hungry hunting birds stopped quacking and perched on flowers…It was as if there was a convention in the wild." (p37).

It is in this state of ecstasy that Man, who had come along with a well loaded gun, opens fire, targeting the really gigantic animals. Four are killed instantly and the rest scamper away to safety, including Mr. Lion. Mr. Leopard, who is foolhardy enough to attempt an attack on Man, receives a bullet on the skull and dies instantly.

Mr. Fox, famished since his entrapment, takes advantage of the confusion and snatches for his own meal a nearby rabbit and a cock. The turning point in the book is when Mr. Fox himself decides to join the rebellion after ungrateful Mr. Lion, decides to kill and eat his (Mr. Fox’s) father. Despite their mistrust of him, the herbivores accept Mr. Fox because of his exceptional intelligence and cunning.

To execute their plan to terminate the carnivores, the "rebels" after stealing spades, pickaxes and spears from Man’s residence, dig a mighty hole and plant spears in it, sharp points up. They then cover the trap hole with grass so that it looks just like any other part of the jungle. Mr. Cat had also joined them after Mr. Lion, his master, driven by extreme hunger, tried to devour him. It is he who lures fellow carnivores to the death trap.

But just when the herbivores are rejoicing that they are free from danger at last, they find themselves confronted by a large crowd of other carnivores.They are obliged to escape and seek protection at the premises of Man whom they perceive as the less grave of two dangers.

In terms of narrative style, "Jungle Revolt" is in a class of its own. Description and humour pervade the novel from start to finish. The scene where Mr. Monkey’s fiancé accuses Mr. Sheep of attempting to rape her, whereas it is Mr. Fox who makes a pass at her, is particularly fascinating.

Pathetic scenes include the ones in which the family members of Mr. Rhino, like those of Mr. Pig, perish at the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Lion in his attempt to escape from the unanticipated army of  herbivores. Irony combines with pathos when Mr. Pig dies by falling into the same pit he had been instrumental in the construction.

Viewed politically, the novel portrays the staying power of long entrenched dictatorships. The sudden appearance of a crowd of herbivores after their very ingenious scheme to end the supremacy of the carnivores brings to mind the difficulty of terminating Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, despite the determination of the rebels fighting him, assisted by NATO’s sophisticated and well planned military strategies.

Man triumphs in the story because of his exceptional intelligence. A Machiavellian, like all dictators, he welcomes the animals that take refuge under him because he needs them for different (and varied) purposes: for food, (goats, sheep, cows) as beasts of burden (horses, donkeys) and for his personal security (dogs). We are witnesses to political scenes where hitherto diehard opposition figures join the regime they could not defeat and henceforth excel in political parasitism and sycophancy.

At a social level, the author portrays a society where the disparity between the privileged and the unprivileged is uncommonly wide. The hippos and the elephants, who refuse to take part in the rebellion because they consider themselves formidable as a result of their gigantic sizes, are not unlike those economic giants in society who seldom understand the calamities of the common man.

Like such people these gigantic members of the jungle feel the pangs of isolation only after their herbivorous kindred pitch camp with Omnipotent Man. The book, however, ends on a note of hope because of the author’s conviction that this disparity, just  like all other forms of  injustice, must end one day.

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