Memorable books continue to be celebrated through the decades and even over the centuries...Shakespeare's work is a case in point here. In Africa although Chinua Achebe published his classic, Things fall apart almost 60 years ago, the novel still remains the most popular and saluted ever in the continent. Leonard Woolf - alas, one has to add here for the sake of many that this great writer in his own right was Virginia Woolf's husband - wrote the work, The village in the jungle, over 100 years ago, and till date many literary experts worldwide still consider the novel to be very important, a work focusing on an erstwhile colonised third world country so to speak.
It is often posited that Mr Woolf in the work, very unusually for the time dealt with the pertinent denizens of the struggling area with sympathy and somewhat criticised the powers that be who were ruling the country. It is also conceded that the book has a lot of literary merit. And so it does.
This work is set in the former British colony of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). It focuses on a particular village, its activities; and essentially on one family which has Silindu as the Father. His daughters, Hinnihami and Punchi Menika are key characters too, as is Babun, the husband of Punchi. There is the notorious ‘headman’ of the village, Babehami, and Fernando, the debt collector who wants Punchi as a mistress. The headman (with Fernando in tow) manages to get Silindu and Babun arrested and tried by the colonial authorities. Babun is incarcerated, whilst an incandescent Silindu shoots Babehami and Fernando. The law has to deal with Silindu, who has become a
In this remarkable story, we see how the life of the village(ers) is anchored on ‘chenas’. As the author explains, ‘The life of the village and of every man in it depended upon the cultivation of chenas. A chena is merely a piece of jungle, which every ten years is cleared of trees and undergrowth and sown with grain broadcast and with vegetables. The villagers owned no jungle themselves; it belonged to the Crown, and no one might fell a tree or clear a chena in it without a permit from the government…’
The stultifying, even frightening impact of the jungle on the village is distinctly emphasized throughout this novel. ‘The Jungle surrounded it, overhung it continually pressed in upon it. It stood at the door of the houses, always ready to press in upon the compounds and open spaces, to break through the mud huts, and to choke up the tracks and paths…’
- O Bolaji