Faceless is the pathetic and gripping story of children plunged into the streets by poverty and parental neglect. Amma Darko in very graphic details presents mind-boggling sociological issues of child-neglect, child abuse, defilement of girls, gender, child-trafficking, child-labour, absent fathers, reproductive health risks, violence and failed governance through the grim experiences of street children.
Amma Darko tells the world that every street child has a story, though rarely told. The common denominator in all of these stories is parental neglect. In Accra, MUTE, a non-governmental organisation seeks to unravel the mysterious death of Baby T, a child prostitute whose battered body was found in a slum behind a rasta hair salon kiosk. MUTE’s encounter with Fofo, Baby T’s sister opens an investigative trail into the lives of neglected children. Where do street children come from? Why are they on the street? Who are their parents? These are some of the questions answered unequivocally in Faceless.
Firmly embedded in Faceless is the loud and clear message that parents should take responsibility for their children. More pronounced is the message that no child should be brought into the world without visible means of providing for him physically, financially, psychologically and emotionally. Amma Darko’s Faceless is a well-researched story and a really good read.
About the Author
Amma Darko is a Ghanian writer and researcher. She studied Industrial Design and worked for a year in a center for technological counselling at the University of Kumasi. Afterwards, she travelled to Germany where she stayed from 1981 until 1987 and wrote her first novel, Beyond the Horizon which was published in German. Faceless is her third novel. Amma Darko enjoys research and spends a lot of time with interviews and in archives. For the novel Faceless, she put on dingy clothes and mingled with the inhabitants of the suburb “Sodom and Gomorrha” in Accra. In 2008, she received the most important literary prize in her country, the Ghana Book Award. Faceless has been selected for the official literature list of the West African Examination Council for Senior Secondary Schools and belongs now to the West African school canon.
- Attempted Rape
The novel opens with fourteen year old Fofo sleeping on an old cardboard at the Agbogbloshie market. Except for her new job of washing carrots at the vegetable market in Agbogbloshie, her life in Sodom and Gomorrah, a slum close to the market consisted mainly of watching adult movies and taking alcohol. In her sleep, she dreamt of living in a home with a roof and a toilet, a dream shared by other street children like her.
She was woken up suddenly by Poison, a street lord who attempted to rape her. Fofo resisted him and ran to Odarley, her best friend who lived in a rented wooden shack. She told Odarley about Poison’s attempted rape and her intention to see her mother whom she believed had some connections with Poison. Fofo’s mother, Maa Tsuru informed Fofo, that her elder sister, Baby T was dead and Poison had threatened her into silence over Baby T’s death. She therefore urged Fofo to leave for her safety.
- Kabria’s Encounter with Fofo
In sharp contrast to the life in Sodom and Gomorrah is Kabria’s life with her family. A mother of three lively children- Obea, Essie and Ottu, she lived in a decent neighbourhood in Accra, worked with MUTE a non-governmental agency and drove a problematic old car nick-named Creamy. She ran into Fofo at the Agbloghoshie market while shopping for vegetables. Kabria was standing with other spectators at the spot where Baby T’s body was found when Fofo, disguising as a boy tried to steal her purse. Kabria rescued her from the angry mob. Fofo revealed her female identity and told Kabria that Baby T was her sister. Meanwhile, a lot of people had been made to believe that the dead girl (Baby T) was a kayayoo(a market porter from the north) to conceal her true identity and discourage further enquiry into her death. MUTE (the non-governmental organisation where Kabria worked) got interested in Baby T’s matter and granted Fofo protection by taking her into custody temporarily while conducting investigations into the circumstances surrounding Baby T’s death.
The circumstances surrounding Baby T’s death was revealed through two main sources: Fofo and investigations by MUTE.
- How Baby T became a prostitute
Baby T was the third child of Maa Tsuru while Fofo was fourth. Their jobless father, Kwei had abandoned them mainly as a result of the superstitious belief that Maa Tsuru had been cursed from birth. Baby T was sexually abused by her mother’s second lover, Kpakpo and was further defiled by Onko, a generous uncle who lived in the same compound with them and in whom she tried to confide.
Through Kpapkpo’s gimmicks, Baby T was sold to a prostitution ring consisting of Madam Abidjan, Maami Brooni and Poison, the street lord and ring leader. She was made to work as a child prostitute in Maami Brooni’s brothel with her earnings sent to Maa Tsuru who simply turned a blind eye.
Meanwhile, Onko’s welding business had suffered great setback after defiling Baby T. A witchdoctor made him believe that his misfortune was caused by the defilement of Baby T whom he said was a cursed child. As a form of remedy, the witch doctor asked Onko to bring some sacrificial items which would include Baby T’s pubic hair.
- How Baby T died
Kpakpo helped Onko to connect with Baby T once again. Poison eventually led Kpakpo to Maami Brooni’s brothel where Baby T worked as a prostitute. Baby T remembered what Onko did to her in the past and totally declined to sleep with him. Enraged at her refusal, Poison slapped and tried to beat her into submission. Baby T was found dead on the concrete floor with her head split open. She was alone with Onko in the room at the time of her death. Onko committed suicide thereafter.
1. Discrimination Against Women
The women in this novel bore the hardship inflicted on them by the male characters who were mostly absent fathers, murderers and rapists. For instance, Kwei, Maa Tsuru’s lover and the father of her first four children abandoned her simply because of the superstitious belief that she was cursed. Poison the street lord brutally assaulted Baby T and even attempted to rape Fofo. Kpakpo and Onko took advantage of Baby T and defiled her. In fact, Kpapkpo masterminded Baby T’s venture into prostitution.
2. Streetism: Another important theme that runs through the novel is streetism chiefly represented by the life in Sodom and Gomorrah, a slum in Accra. Faceless portrays the rising menace of street life and its many underlying issues namely, rape, violence, broken home, theft, dirt, poverty, AIDS and illiteracy.
3. Parental Neglect: The theme of parental neglect runs through the novel. All the child characters on the street in Faceless were neglected by their parents. Fofo, Baby T, Odarley, Poison were all victims of parental neglect.
4. Superstition: The novel shows how strongly held superstitious beliefs affect society’s perception. It was believed that Maa Tsuru’s predicament was as a result of the curse placed on her at birth. Maa Tsuru herself believed this. Faceless illustrates the fact that superstitious beliefs often becloud people’s sense of judgment.
5. Failed Governance: The author portrays the weakness of government institutions and lack of confidence in the system. MUTE had to open investigations into Baby T’s case because the police authorities were not interested in the matter. The police authorities lacked basic work tools due to years of neglect by the government.
Fofo: Fofo is the fourth child of Maa Tsuru. She is fourteen years old and lives on the street. She is a dreamer and would often drift away in her own world of fantasy. She is quite brave and intelligent. She tactfully resists Poison’s rape attempt and disguises as boy to protect herself from further assault by Poison and his gang. Through her character, the reader gets more insight into the circumstances surrounding Baby T’s death.
Baby T: Faceless revolves mostly around Baby T and the circumstances leading to her death. She was Maa Tsuru’s third child and Fofo’s elder sister. She got defiled early by Kpakpo and thereafter by Onko whom she trusted. She was sold into prostitution through Kpakpo’s gimmicks. A victim of parental neglect like her sister Fofo, Baby T’s badly beaten and mutilated body was found behind a kiosk in Agbogbloshie market.
Maa Tsuru: Maa Tsuru is the mother of Fofo and Baby T. She was born under very grave circumstances and like everyone around her, she believed that she suffered from a curse stemming from the circumstances of her birth. Her two lovers (Kwei and Kpakpo) were absent fathers. They walked out on her leaving her to take care of the children, a responsibility she performed very poorly. Ravaged by poverty and being a victim of neglect herself, she craved for love but got entangled with irresponsible men.
Poison: Poison is a street lord and leader of a prostitution ring to which Baby T was sold. Feared by all, Poison assaulted Baby T before her death and almost raped Fofo. He also tried to interfere with MUTE’s investigations as he did not want Baby T’s true identity to be revealed. A victim of abuse and neglect, Poison enjoyed inflicting pain on others. The author uses his character to show that with male children, streetism takes a different twist as it makes them almost irredeemable.
Kabria: The wife of Adade and mother of three energetic children, Kabria worked with MUTE, a non-governmental agency and lived in a decent neighbourhood in Accra which contrasted sharply to the situation in Sodom and Gomorrah. With a problematic car called Creamy, she tried to combine career with her responsibilities as wife and mother. She was instrumental to Fofo’s rehabilitation and contributed in no small measure to unraveling the mystery surrounding Baby T’s death.
Odarley: Odarley was Fofo’s friend and confidant. Like Fofo, she lived on the street having been neglected and sent out of the house by her mother.
Onko: Onko lived in the same compound as Maa Tsuru. In a compound that reeked of poverty, Onko was portrayed as a man of means who gave generously. He took advantage of Baby T and defiled her. He bribed Maa Tsuru who kept quiet over the issue. His business suffered a downturn thereafter. He committed suicide after Baby T’s death. The author uses his character to buttress the fact that children are mostly defiled by adults who are close to them.
Kpakpo: Kpakpo was Maa Tsuru’s dubious, jobless and unscrupulous lover. He deceived Maa Tsuru and masterminded Baby T’s sale into prostitution. He also aided Onko’s visit to Baby T leading to the latter’s death.
The novel is set in Accra with locations in Agbogbloshie market and the notorious slum, Sodom and Gomorrah. However, the events in the novel happen everywhere in Africa including Nigeria.
The author’s narration is straightforward. She tells Baby T’s story mainly through Fofo and investigations by MUTE. Her style of writing is simple and easy to understand. In unravelling the mystery behind Baby T’s death, the author builds tension in her story line thus creating suspense and intrigue.
The author uses simple, everyday English language with some Ghanaian vernacular to portray the culture of her people. Examples are words like Kayayoo (porter), akpeteshie etc.