A Long Way Gone: Novel Summary: Chapter 6 - Chapter 10
Chapter 6 - Chapter 10
As Ishmael and his five companions walk on, they find that people are scared of them. This is because many boys their age have been forced to join the rebels and commit atrocities against civilians. One day the boys are stopped by armed men from a nearby village. The village chief has asked for them to be brought in. At the village, the boys are tied and interrogated at the chief’s compound as a large crowd watches. At first the people think the boys are rebels or spies. Ishmael tries to explain that they are students who dance to rap music , and that they used to attend school in Mattru Jong. The boys are helped by another boy from Mattru Jong, who says he remembers them. Ishmael and the others are then released, and they continue on their way.
That evening they arrive at an abandoned village. Ishmael is worried because his brother Junior has gone very quiet. The next morning some people pass through the village. One woman tells Gibrilla that his aunt was living in a village named Kamator thirty miles away. She gives them directions and they make their way there.
They are welcomed at the village and appointed watchmen. The villagers are concerned that they may be attacked by the rebels. The boys watch from a hill outside the village from early morning until night. They do this for a month, and no danger appears. For the following three months, they help out with the farming. All the men in the village are farmers, but Ishmael does not enjoy the work. Finally, the rebels do attack the village. Everyone runs away, and Ishmael is never to see his brother again.
Analysis, Chapters 5-6
As Ishmael and his friends continue to face terrible dangers, Beah’s writing style is simply to report what happened to them in a factual way without trying to build up the emotion or drama of the scene. Much worse is to come, but in these chapters Ishmael and his friends have already been caught up in some horrifying events and situations: they have witnessed the taunting and near murder of an old man; and even worse, Ishmael has been within moments of being shot by his own brother, on the order of the rebels. Beah conveys the trauma of that incident in subtle ways. In the wake of it, he and Junior do not show much emotion, but when they start walking again, “Junior and I exchanged a look, and he gave me that smile he had held back when I was about to face death.” In this way he conveys the sense of a bond between the brothers, but without a lot of fuss. Similarly, Ishmael is numbed by what they have been through, but again he conveys the shock of it in very spare, unemotional language that nonetheless gets the point across. As they walk on in the night, “I knew we were walking, but I couldn’t feel my feet touching the ground.” It is as if part of his sensory system has shut down because of the traumatic experience.
Ishmael describes the attack on the village, which came at night, when the people are in the mosque. The local imam (the leader of the mosque in this Islamic society) is killed by the rebels. Ishmael runs alone into the bush, where he spends the night. He does not have time to find Junior before he flees. He and Kaloko return to the village in the morning. The village has been burned. For two weeks, Ishmael and Kaloko stay with a family who are hiding near the swamp. They return to the village every few days but find it still deserted. Ishmael decides he must leave their hiding place to find somewhere safer. Kaloko decides to remain where he is, so Ishmael sets off on his own.
Ishmael is now twelve years old. The year is 1993. He walks for five days, meeting no one. He sleeps in abandoned villages and eats whatever he can find, including many coconuts. Then he encounters a family swimming in the river. The father is wary of him but tells him where he can find people who will be able to tell him how to get to Bonthe, an island in the south of the country. Ishmael has heard that Bonthe is a safe place to be.
Ishmael walks for two days without sleeping. He passes through villages littered with dead bodies. But on the fourth day he finds himself inadvertently walking in a big circle in the forest, ending up where he started in the morning. He realizes he is lost, but decides for the moment to remain where he is. At least he is safe. He decides to eat a fruit he has never seen before, taking a chance that it might be poisonous. There is nothing else available to eat, and he suffers no ill effects from it. He washes himself and his clothes, and eats some more of the fruit. For a few days, this nameless fruit is all he has to eat. The hardest thing for him to deal with is the loneliness of being in the forest. He again tries to find a way out, walking quickly, but he has no success. He has to climb a tree to escape from an attack by two large wild pigs. When the pigs are gone he walks all night and on into the day.
Ishmael spends more than a month alone in the forest before he sees people again. He encounters six boys, and three of them he remembers because they had been schoolmates of his at Mattru Jong. The boys tell him that they are heading for Yele in Bonthe district because they have heard it is occupied by government forces and is therefore safe. They walk for six days before they arrive at a village. An old man tells them that the villagers have run away because they have heard that “seven boys” are coming and assume they are armed rebels. The old man offers them food and tells them how to get to Yele. They continue on their way, and find that many people are scared of them. Often they are surrounded by men with machetes who only let them go when they realize that they are just boys fleeing the war, not child soldiers ready to kill.
Analysis, Chapters 7-8
These chapters describe Ishmael’s extraordinary experiences as a twelve-year-old boy. It would be hard to imagine a more exotic adventure were the tale a piece of fiction. He is utterly alone in the jungle for more than a month, walking, walking, walking, having dangerous encounters with a variety of animals and reptiles—snakes, monkeys, wild pigs. He survives in whatever way he can. When he does encounter people, as at the end of chapter 7, he shows very clearly how the war has destroyed the bonds of community between people. When he encounters a group of people swimming they are very wary of him because they know such children have been recruited as soldiers: “I was glad to see other faces and at the same time disappointed that the war had destroyed the enjoyment of the very experience of meeting people” (p. 48). This small incident also foreshadows what will become of Ishmael. In the very near future, people will have good reason to be scared of him. When he joins up the six other boys, the distrust they encounter becomes even worse. In this society, the natural order has broken down and become reversed: adults fear children.
The boys finally reach the Atlantic Ocean, on Sierra Leone’s west coast. They are astonished by the loud roar the waves make as they break on the shore. They walk along the sand, enjoying the natural beauty of the scene. Then they reach a village, where some fishermen capture them and take them to the chief. The villagers fear they may be rebels. After the boys protest their innocence, they are released but the men take their shoes and chase them out of the village. Walking on the hot sand severely injures their feet, and eventually they take refuge in an empty hut. When the man who lives there returns he sees their distress. He heats some grasses, and the steam from them eases the pain in their feet. He also brings them food.
They stay in the hut for about two weeks. Then their host’s mother comes and tells them to leave. The people in the nearby village have found out about them and are coming to capture them. But the seven boys cannot escape fast enough. Twelve men run after them and capture them, tying their hands. They are taken to sit in front of the chief. At first the chief thinks they are dangerous rebels. But he also notices the rap cassettes that fall from Ishmael’s pockets. He orders them to be played on a cassette recorder. Ishmael explains what rap music is and how he used to perform the songs himself at talent shows. He gives a demonstration. Now convinced the boys are only children, the chief orders their release. He says they must leave the area immediately.
They continue on their journey from village to village, still subject to danger and sometimes attacked by men with spears and axes. Occasionally they get a more friendly reception. At one village the men invite them to go hunting with them, and also invite them to the evening feast in the village square. After the meal, everyone dances to the sound of drums.
The boys leave the village the next morning. That night they arrive at another village, which seems to consist of just one large house and a kitchen some distance away. They sit outside and Musa tells a story about Bra Spider—a trickster figure who features in many tales in west Africa. The boys have heard it before but Musa tells it in his own way and they are entertained.
That night Ishmael thinks back to some of his memories of his earlier childhood. He recalls his grandmother telling him about his name-giving ceremony. The entire village joined in the ceremony.
During the night a dog steals the boys’ smoked meat, making them angry. In the afternoon they search in the bush for edible fruit.
One night Ishmael listens to his companions as they explain what happened on the day the rebels attacked Mattru Jong, where they were living with their families. They tell horrifying stories of death and atrocities, as a result of which they were all separated from their parents.
The boys continue walking at night, while during the day they search for food. They hear footsteps approaching, and they hide as three people pass. Saidu gets sick, and they have to carry him for a while. They reach a crowded village, where a woman tells Ishmael that his brother Junior had been in the village looking for him a few weeks earlier. She also says his parents and younger brother are in a neighboring village which is only two days’ walk away. The boys decide to stay the night in this village before moving on. But that night Saidu dies. He is buried later that same day in the village cemetery. The boys are all stricken with grief at losing their friend.
The next day, still very distressed, the boys leave the village.
Beah intersperses his account of his wanderings as a refugee from the war with memories of his earlier childhood. This provides dramatic contrast and shows how the cohesion and sense of community in Sierra Leone has broken down. These reminiscences include the several pages in chapter 9, when Ishmael recalls nights spent sitting with his grandmother by the fire, especially the story she told him of the ceremony that took place on his name-giving day, a few days after he was born. It was a celebration that involved the entire village. There was dancing, singing, and lots of food. During the ceremony the baby Ishmael is passed around so that everyone gets the chance to hold him. What this signified, Beah writes, is that “I had become a member of the community and was now owned and care for by all.” This brings into sharp focus everything that Ishmael has lost, since now he is wandering from village to village, not belonging anywhere and having to fend for himself instead of being taken care of.