Year of Publication
Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
Arts and Sciences
Prof. Damaris B. Hill
Professor Frank X Walker
My name is Kasimma. I am from Igboland. I’m an MFA candidate in fiction writing at the University of Kentucky. My writing seeks to employ divinity as a tool for decolonization. My stories are rooted in occultism and feminism. I hesitate to define my writing in the speculative genre. What westerners might see as voodoo and juju is spirituality and worship in Igboland, and for us, it is not speculative; it is reality. Therefore, the best word to describe my writing is ọfọ.
Igbo folktales are embedded with cultural values such as ọfọ. These folktales unlocked the door of my heart to storytelling. My siblings and I usually gathered on the cemented ground of Grandma’s mud house kitchen; beside the cooking pot of ọha soup; chewing—if Grandma was so kind that night—pieces of dry fish from the ngiga hanging above the fireplace and enamored by Grandma’s folktales. In the sparkles of orange fire surrounded by three black stones was big me: big me, the storyteller. Now, I am a storyteller whose works extend from a sound literary legacy of Nigerian writers.
I deeply admire Chinua Achebe. Achebe extolls Igbo culture in Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, especially at a time when African books and stories were almost nonexistent. Western readers have told me that the Igbo words (names, characters, unitalicized Igbo dialogues) in my stories make it hard for the story to flow. English texts are forced on us in Nigerian schools. If we can survive that, westerners can also survive the sprinkles of Igbo in a story written in English.
Another author I deeply admire is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I attended Ms. Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop in 2019. Ms. Adichie taught me the importance of writing a human story. “Focus on the humans, on the feelings of the humans, on the complexities of being human, and the message will follow naturally.” I have abided by that rule.
Lola Shonenyin is another writer who has shaped my craft. She was one of the instructors in Ms. Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop. She taught me to “Write in your talking voice.” Readers have told me how humorous my stories are. I do not aim for humor when I write. I just write in my talking voice.
What I aim for, in writing, is to side with the oppressed. That is what Wole Soyinka taught me: writing is the tool with which I can fight oppression. His only caveat is that I do so in impeccable English (the only language I can read and write in). I was fortunate enough to be a resident at the Wole Soyinka Foundation residency, where the Nobel Laureate, who is also my mentor, taught me fiction writing. In addition, by reading his books, so many to name, I learned that humor is okay in writing too. Prof. Soyinka would probably cringe at my use of okay in the preceding sentence.
Igbo spirituality upholds the tenement of ọfọ. Ọfọ symbolizes that all life, animate and inanimate, are sacred and respected as God’s creation. An Igbo person cannot cut down a tree just because. If that tree must go down, it must serve a greater good else left alone. Even if it’s a leaf, one must ask permission from it before nipping it from its bud. Ọfọ says one cannot just pee in the river, because that river is God’s creation just as the urinator. All life is sacred in Igboland. If you take a life, you pay with a life. There was equality and respect for everyone regardless of social status or gender. Before British colonization, Igbos respected women as the givers of life. In Igbo culture, women and men are equal as enshrined by ọfọ values.
But with colonization, everything changed. The British colonizers used religion and storytelling to malign Igbos. In the colonizer’s religion, the punishment for offing a human life is simply repentance. In their religion, a tree is just that, a tree. They erased Igbo religion and replaced it with their Christianity in which the devil is black, evil is black, hell is black, deity worship is black, and even stubbornness is a black sheep! The colonizers’ folktales cast women as villains e.g., Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Snow White, etc. We grow up telling them, imbibing their “morals”, and believing that humans should look to man (not just any man, the colonizing man) to learn how to be humane. The colonizers insistently told us that we are inferior until we believed it and then became it. This, in occult philosophy, is called Suggestion by Repetition.
My writings suggest to Igbos, repeatedly, that we are not inferior. I write about Igbo rituals and the prowess of our dibia (priests). I write about how scared and mentally caged ideas like misogyny are. Misogynists are weak in the mind and spirit. They mask this weakness in violence. No one who is mentally free would want another person to submit to them; submission will be beneath them. That is what my writing is out to delete: mental slavery of all kinds.
I use the colonizer’s tools, religion and storytelling, to align Igbos. My stories strive to turn attention onto the pride of my ancestors, our spirituality, culture, language, dances, masquerades, food, on Igbo kingdom. I write stories about humans, facing the complexities of being human. I write stories themed on the dangers of misogyny from the point of view of both the victim and the victimizer. Nobody is a single thing: a homophobic parent can also be a loving parent. The oppressor and the oppressed are all children of God. The only superior being is God. (Divinity pervades all nature.). The rest of us are equals. Regardless of our religious inclination, gender, race, we are all equal children of God. (Feminism.). That is what ọfọ entails.
My art is the outward appearance of my inward creed, to remake the world while I am here, when I leave here, when I come back here.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Okani, Chinelo Kasimma, "FOLDING WATERS" (2023). Theses and Dissertations--English. 159.
Available for download on Wednesday, May 14, 2025