HELON HABILA: MEASURING TIME
Helon Habila’s classic novel Measuring Time is a novel that cannot be hurriedly read neither is it a book that can be easily forgotten. Through the creative use of language, strategic setting and a complex yet simple plot and other literary devices, the writer through the lives and experiences of a single family paints us the history of Africa’s history, pain and leadership.
The titular character Lamang, is an renowned womanizer whose legendary promiscuity and skills with women earns him the nickname “King of Women” by the people of Keti, a local government in the northern part of Nigeria. Not only does he get nickname but a song is also composed to laud his conquest of the women of his town. Unexpectedly, Lamang settles down to marry Tabita, the daughter of a rich farmer; although he is in love with another woman, Saraya. He however marries Tabita because his marriage to her accords him the opportunity to benefit from his rich father-in-law who sets him up in the cattle business. Unfortunately his sojourn into the world of dirty politics brings him to a dishonourable end.
We have the characters of twin brothers, Mamo and LaMamo. They are Lamang’s only children given birth to by Tabita who dies during childbirth. The twins despise Lamang, they have heard the numerous stories of how he cheated on their mother and never loved her back, driving her to despair. They indirectly blame him for their mother’s death and set on making his life a misery. They even go as far as putting a scorpion in his bed when they were children. While Lamang takes a big portion of the book, the novel’s true protagonists are the twins; Mamo and LaMamo are as different as chalk and cheese. Mamo is the sickly, frail and intellectual twin while LaMamo is the strong, healthy and adventurous one. Their health and intellectual differences maps out different destinies for them. Mamo stays back in Keti to be a village school teacher and later a renowned biographer, LaMamo becomes a rebel fighter who partakes of gory wars across Africa.
The novel Measuring Time expertly tells of the greed and corruption of African leaders and its resultant effect on the entire society. Through the shameful story of the Mai and Waziri, we see how African leaders carry themselves as demi-gods while in power living in opulence to the detriment of the citizens who suffer and live in abject poverty. Asides the theme of corruption and greed, the author tells of the aftermaths of war on a people and soldiers. We see that in the life of Haruna who returns to Keti deranged and finally commits suicide or even LaMamo himself who loses an eye. There is also the theme of misguided faith and man’s quest for happiness. Zaraya has a failed marriage and despite her sexual relations with Mamo, she is still unhappy and can’t seem to find peace. Not least is the theme of cultural retrieval which the author expertly uses the character of Mamo to talk about.
The language of the novel is advanced and definitely a book set to improve the vocabulary of its reader. Through the use of language, the author makes us aware of the social and intellectual strata of the various characters. The colourful use of language as well paints us vivid images of the things the author is writing about. Measuring time is set to be a Modern African literature classic and a must read for all as it cuts across a subject that affects both the rich and poor, the old and young, the ruler and the ruled.