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An Artistic Journey of Bereavement: Jindu Enugbe

by Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera

JINDU ENUGBE GREW UP with his elder sister in a home where she bought him books when he did well at school, or did something good. And when he faltered or did something bad, she bought him even more books, and gave him an assignment to write what he learned from those books. So there was no escape for him from the world of books because no matter what he did, he would be rewarded or punished with them. And when he had not done anything, there was always a pile of books waiting for his attention. Reading the books did not turn out to be a grueling task. He warmed up to the world of stories and poetry and began to look forward to the world in them. 

It was the assignment to write about the favourite characters in the book that gave him trouble; not because he did not learn anything from them, but because of the peculiar difficulty of articulating one’s thoughts on paper. When he was eight, his sister gave him a copy of Kola Onadipe’s Ralia the Sugar Girl, which he read. Not wanting to write about the book, he told his sister he had no favourite character in the book. And she made him write about all the characters in the book since he had no favourite. It was in this way that writing became a part of Jindu, out of the compulsion of his guardian.

By age twelve to thirteen, Jindu also lived with another sister whose husband was a soldier and disciplinarian who was often extremely strict. When Jindu lived in their house, he was not allowed any friends. He only had friends at school, and the four walls of his school was the limit of any friendships he kept. He was not allowed to visit anyone. Neither was anyone allowed to visit him. His friends knew that whatever they had with him was not to cross the place where he stayed. Jindu recalls the punishment meted upon him when an unsuspecting friend checked on him. His sister’s husband “…tied me with a handcuff on the window and was flogg[ed] me.” The times grew lonelier and darker, hence at some point, Jindu had no option but to turn to writing for solace.

Jindu Enugbe in his painting corner.

Jindu really came to fall in love with literature while he lived with his brother in Asaba. He was at the time, in his coming-of-age years, close to the end of his secondary school education. He enrolled at Uncle  Ken’s, a popular lesson centre where in his words, “I met a whole other world of people. The teachers were intelligent, the students were intelligent.” And this encounter of a more refined set of people than Jindu had ever met rubbed off on him positively. It was at Uncle Ken’s that he met Uncle Chuks, the teacher who “wasn’t teaching literature because he wanted to make money from it, but because he loved it and you could feel it and he made me love literature too.”  Jindu would write and he would read tirelessly. When what he learnt at the lesson no longer satisfied him, he began to go to the State Library. There he read and soon he began to cart away with some books which caught his fancy. His favourite writers were Wole Soyinka and Christopher Okigbo. He wrote a lot of poetry and, at some point, believed he was a reincarnation of Christopher Okigbo. He took this belief so fervently that even those around him began to see Christopher Okigbo.

This passion for literature led Jindu Enugbe to inform his brother that he wanted to study English and Literature in the university. Perplexed by this, his brother asked him what he intended to do with a degree in English and Literature. “I can write,” Jindu answered. Telling me this story, Jindu recalls, “What did my brother really know of writing? He didn’t know anybody who had made money from writing. He was confused. Then I told him that I could teach too and that was the end of that conversation.” Jindu eventually studied Law at the Delta State University, Oleh. But his academic pursuit had less effect in shifting his focus from his creative pursuit, but intensified it. After university, Jindu proceeded to Law school, but dropped out and instead, wrote a collection of short stories in Pidgin English titled Street OT

The society Jindu grew up in, like most places in Nigeria, stifles the dreams of many young people: people who were brilliant as children amount to nothing, bright university students who made great results in their younger years get frustrated, creative people lose their minds to its philistinism, and gifted people watch themselves unable to get to where they deserve, for the lack of a system of meritocracy. Hence, the only way to exist as a creative was to become a sort of rebel or vagabond, if not a lunatic. It is by running this wild template that Jindu has lived most of his adult life. “I no dey fit stay one place for more than one year,” he said. Since graduating from the university in 2017, he has lived in Asaba, Jos, Abuja, Niger, and generally spends a lot of time just traveling and roaming. His story corroborates Albert Camus who said “the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”  

READ BY THE SAME AUTHOR

I have written elsewhere about Jindu Enugbe’s Street OT being “…a collection of stories that, without trying to, shines the torch on the people on the streets from an adventurous and often human point of view. Their very lives are defined by danger, adventure, in some cases crime—but, here, their stories are being given the attention it deserves.” Written in Pidgin English, the collection strives to represent life in the streets, as it is, warts and all. In the book, Jindu Enugbe bears witness, not with a bird’s view, but as one who is himself boots-on-ground in the streets. The stories in the book, though fiction, are autobiographical in mirroring the different timelines in the author’s experience: childhood, adolescence, teenage days in university, and even adulthood. 

© Jindu Enugbe, Exodus 22:18

Jindu narrates to me about having to bury so many loved ones and how the deaths happened. “At one point, it was almost like one death after another. People we don’t expect to die. People very close to you and you just hear one day that they have died. And you don’t remain the same after this kind of experience.” He became someone who talks so often about death. Not because he enjoyed talking about it but because it had happened so frequently to those around him, becoming an inescapable part of his experience. “The day my mother died,” he recalls, “I slept on the same bed with her. She wasn’t sick, nothing. I just woke up to a cold, lifeless body.” Besides his mother, the shocking news of the death of one friend after another served to stir his mind in those days. Being an observer of these numerous deaths formed in his imagination a sort of exit door from which many people who he knew and lived with walked out unexpectedly. And though Jindu has not written about death in great detail, becoming a painter was a response to the death of a very beloved childhood friend.

Ebrimoni Samuel, as Jindu called him, was very special as a child. “He was those kind of children who everyone who met them agreed they were a genius.” As children, they were both very intelligent. But what Jindu admired most about his friend was his artistic dexterity. “Ebrimoni could draw a perfect spider man. A perfect elephant. A perfect lion. And at some point he started teaching me how to draw. But I couldn’t draw.” They stayed friends all through the years but when Jindu left Abraka, where he grew up, to Asaba, it became hard to keep up. They attended the same university but different campuses. Then one day, Jindu went to Abraka to search for his friend. In Abraka, he met Samuel’s younger brother who told him Samuel had taken his life the previous week. The circumstance surrounding his death was talked about in hushed tones, but after examining the trajectory Samuel’s life had taken, Jindu said he understood why. “Samuel had been born in Abraka, a university town. And in university towns, people come and go. He gained admission to study anatomy there. And he was spending seven years studying a four year course. And all his friends must have left and even those who met him studying here must have left too. The last time I saw him he had become a pastor. And Samuel would take me to church even after I had smoked weed. And you know when a man finds God in this part of the world, it engrosses him so much. Even though he looked out of place, he was stuck. And what he was stuck in couldn’t save him.” In honour and memory of his friend, Jindu returned to drawing. He went back to Jos with an inspiration fueled by grief and began to draw and paint. And after a long struggle, he finally surrendered to the lack of the talent to bring image to life as Samuel perfectly would. But then he had an image, however imperfect, and what he had drawn carried the weight of his emotion, so he decided to try out painting. “In my head, it was the only thing that could have saved him. And me, the guilt of not doing anything to help.”

Jindu’s drawings and what they represent transverse the landscape of memory, activism, and even spirituality. Their artistic merit doesn’t totally lie on the themes they explore but on their premise. On his drawing titled “I Never Die,” which commemorates the painful death of Chibuike Daniel (Sleek), a 20-year-old, then emerging, Nigerian artiste who was shot by SARS and left to die while he pleaded with people to take him to the hospital, that he wasn’t dead. Jindu says, “There are many people who are in society like that, being plundered, and almost forgotten and yet screaming, I never die.”  He tells the story of a brother-in-law who drove a bus. Someone had been kidnapped and a so-claimed witness brought the police and laid an accusation that the kidnap was carried out with his brother-in-law’s bus. “This man [Jindu’s in-law] kept saying that on the day the kidnap was said to have happened, he was at the workshop with his bus. His bus was faulty and he didn’t go anywhere with it. If his vehicle had been good, perhaps, he would suspect some people took his bus and did some shady things without his knowledge. But his bus was bad that day. The police kept interrogating him. And he stuck to that narrative. But this man spent five years in jail. They left him there even when the actual kidnappers were caught and they confessed to not knowing him. He remained there. This painting is for people like him. People who have been unjustly plundered by society and begging for their lives, telling  us, I never die.”

When Jindu was seven he watched his 10-year-old cousin Chukwunyelu walk away from home, crying as the sun shone on his fair skin, and his bow legs heavy with grief, after his father chased him out of the house. It was Chukwunyelu who had been Jindu’s closest childhood friend. Their friendship was so close-knit despite Chukwunyelu’s reputation of being possessed. He was a weird child, but it was his weirdness that attracted Jindu to him. They would hunt lizards, kill and cook them. And Jindu would listen to him tell all sorts of weird stories. “Even from a young age, I knew this boy was just the kind of person who said whatever came to his head. But it was precisely those things he used to say that put him in trouble and gave him the reputation of being a wizard.” One day, Chukwunyelu had fallen from the zinc of the house and broken his leg. And while everyone was exasperated and running around to see how to relieve Chukwunyelu, he said it was in a coven he was pushed down from. And his fall and broken leg was only a manifestation of what had happened in the spirit world of the coven. This unwieldy “confession” caused a great stir in the neighbourhood, intensifying the contempt in which they saw him. Chukwunyelu’s parents were separated and he lived with his father who increasingly grew uncomfortable with his son, and one day, overcome with the shame of having a wizard for a son, sent him away. Jindu titled this painting Exodus 22:18. “Do you know why I titled it Exodus 22:18?” Jindu asks me. “Because it is the portion of the Bible which says suffer not a witch to live,” he said, laughing.

© Jindu Enugbe, I Never Die

Jindu paints to preserve memory and to deal with the painful indentation they have left in his mind. Sometimes he is haunted by the painful reality caused by loss. “Sometimes, I don’t even remember my father’s face. I don’t have his picture. It is only when I go home that I can look at his picture and remember him again,” he says with an emphasis that elucidates the pain that comes with such reality. Of having experienced so much loss that sometimes the mind fails to keep up adequately with the memories. It is sometimes as though so many people have died and the memories which kept them alive somehow dies with them. Living, for Jindu, has also become a metaphor for dying; a prodding reality standing alert in the corners of his mind, a restless affair. And one way to endure is to keep creating art. Writing, painting; about loss and death. Always moving, one exodus to the next, making something more colourful of life, even when it is more difficult than death.♦

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Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera is a literary and cultural essayist and journalist. He is interested in the often-avoided topics by the Nigerian literati, and critical thinking on all aspects of arts. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in Jalada Africa, The Republic, Kalahari Review, Brittle Paper, Olongo Africa, Afrocritik, Afapinen, African Writer, Havik, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @ChukwuderaEdozi.