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The Miracle by Cameroonian born Ba’Bila Mutia is the third short story from the Anthology of Contemporary African Short Stories (edited by Chinua Achebe and C L Innes) to be reviewed.

In the Miracle, the issue of opposing and different faith is given prominence by a couple whose only son, Ba’mia, is born with a deformed left leg. The mother, Manyi a Christian who has embraced the Catholic religion, believes strongly in the power of a miracle to cure her son’s leg.

God has a purpose for him. He belongs to the church. The Holy father arrives from Rome this week. He is celebrating the Easter mass in Mende. This is a chance for Ba’mia to receive a cure.”

On the other side is her husband, Gwan-Fumbat, the epitome and custodian of the traditional beliefs of the people. Gwan-Fumbat believes in re-incarnation and knows that his son Ba’mia who was conceived six months after the death of his own father, is actually the old man who has come back to life, especially so when it is detected that the baby has inherited his grandfather’s withered left leg. When the visiting medical doctor confirms that the left leg was just a tiny bone and dead tissue, Gwan-Fumbat would want his wife and indeed his son to accept the deformity and play his traditional and divine role in the family as ordained. To Gwan-Fumbat, his son is not deformed and so does not need a cure.

He does not need a cure, ……….he is not suffering form a disease. He was born that way and it is our responsibility to help him accept his condition…….Ba’mia’s condition is his personal load he carries from the world of our ancestors……He is a reincarnation of his grandfather. My father too had the same disability.” P 170

The author Ba’Bila Mutia uses this seemingly ordinary domestic disagreement over faith and beliefs to explore the delicate balance between Christianity and traditional religion in a modern world. In a country or society where both religions are practiced by the people, how does one walk the road of faith without antagonizing the other? How prudent is it to place one’s faith in a new and foreign religion, while discarding the norms and beliefs of one’s people? The author also seem to explore faith healing and seem to question the fairness in placing one’s faith in another human being to heal. The following moving dialogue says it all:

‘The Pope laid his right hand on the boy’s head and smiled. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Ba’mia’ the boy barely whispered. He was trying to stop his body from the sudden chills of trembling that had seized him. He coughed and cleared his throat. ‘I want you to make me walk upright……….”

‘I will pray for you…..’ the Pope began

‘But….but’ the boy stammered in a faltering voice. ‘My mother said you are here for God. You speak with him. She said you’ll make me walk erect.’

‘I speak for God,’ the Pope said.  ‘I am only his voice, his messenger’

‘Tell God to make me walk properly. I want to walk like other children. Help me with a miracle.

“You are God’s miracle, a miracle of His love and creation.” P 175

I was sad when I read The Miracle; I actually wanted Ba’mia to have a cure or be healed so that his desire to be like any normal child would be realised, at least. I felt his disappointment too, though I knew that his mother’s wishes born out of her desire to see her son whole, may not be realistic. However, what I found endearing about the story is the fact that Ba’mia is accepted and loved by his family, despite his handicap. African societies must love the physically challenged, as God’s creation. Society must learn to accept and nurture them to realise their full potential. It seemed Gwan-Fumbat was vindicated in the end.

The language is also simple and the narration is straightforward. An enjoyable 14-page story that I would love to recommend for one’s reading relaxation. Indeed, reading the whole anthology would be a fine way of understanding different African cultures, and what makes the African tick over here.

About the Author: Mutia Ba’Bila was born in Victoria (now Limbe) Cameroon and he teaches African and Modern British Literature at the Ecole Normale Superieure, University of Yaounde. His work has been broadcast on the BBC.