The Usage of Marijuana During Wartime

Maybe it’s my attuned attention to detail or maybe it’s my ability to pick up on subjects of relevance to me, but a very interesting parallel that I observed was the reference to and usage of marijuana in both The Memory of Love and Dog Days. Although it was more frequently referenced to in The Memory of Love, the minuscule reference to marijuana in Dog Days (see below) is presented in nearly an identical way as it is in The Memory of Love. That is, it seems that marijuana is a substance used or possibly abused by the perceived “bad guys” of the stories: the policemen in Dog Days and the child soldiers in The Memory of Love.

The notion of substance usage in Dog Days is relatively straightforward, as we see the manifestations of the crisis in the civilians through their frequent alcoholic stupors, some citizens just looking for the small escape of a beer’s buzz and others reaching the edge of suicide with alcohol seeming to be an added push. There is also the cigarette vendor who sells cigarettes to the smart-alek kid, Takou without much hesitation. Still, none of these instances of substance usage seem to be as negative as the way marijuana is presented in both novels.

“A strong smell surrounded the police, announcing their presence. At first I thought it was the acrid smell of death, but later I heard people from the quarter saying the police were lurking in the shadows, getting high on mbanga” (200).

In a way, the usage of marijuana by soldiers/policemen during periods of violence makes sense; cannabis’ properties and side effects include feeling mellowed out, maybe even complacency, granting the user to disregard the moral implications of their actions and to just keep carrying out their “duties”. Gauging from a little more research, marijuana usage in many African nations has been integrated within numerous African societies for reasons similar to the Western world; many places use it for its medicinal properties such as relief for symptoms of dysentry and malaria, and many other nations regarded it in a religious setting, using it in rituals and many attributing it to God. This has resulted in a trickle-down effect for cannabis as it has also become socially integrated in many modern African societies (as it must be in Cameroon if they have their own word for it!)

Despite this, it seems that both Forna and Nganang decidedly presented marijuana only within the context of violence and wartime, potentially to imply that even the oppressors of these two different wars needed a coping mechanism to get through their respective crises’. In The Memory of Love, the reader held more sympathy for the soldiers as we see them through their difficult story-telling sessions. Senseless violence seems to go hand-in-hand with marijuana, as the TCH could potentially numb the need for sense and order. However, in Dog Days, Mboudjak relates the smell of marijuana to death, as it is a smell that he only associates with the human ruin caused by the policemen. The question still remains for me, however, as to whether marijuana is only a negative force under the pretenses of violence or whether it is in general a negatively-viewed substance in these societies.

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Posted on October 31, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I also noticed this portrayal of marijuana in both novels, and found it a bit odd. Particularly in Memory of Love, it’s given a lot of the blame for the revolts. As an outsider, I can’t say that that’s untrue, of course, it just seemed at odds with my understanding of marijuana’s effect on people.

    In terms of Dog Days, I would argue that alcohol has a much larger negative effect on the characters, who use it as a crutch to ignore their problems rather than protesting the unfair circumstances that they find themselves in. Yet, as you point out, it is marijuana that is demonized and likened to death. I was fairly disturbed by Takou smoking cigarettes, and as you pointed out, no one seemed to mind this very much.

    I did a little research about the history of marijuana in Africa and found this interesting link (www.parl.gc.ca/content/sen/committee/371/ille/library/spicer-e.htm#2.) which suggests that marijuana has a long history in Africa and was not introduced by colonizing powers. This source maintains that Africa was home to a number of “cannabis cultures long before the arrival of Europeans. Despite the Europeans’ attempts to outlaw the psychoactive use of cannabis, it continues to be deeply ingrained in the cultures of several African tribes.”

    There is also a reference to marijuana’s connection to war in several tribes like the Zulu and Sothos. “‘Young Zulu warriors were especially addicted to dagga and under the exciting stimulation of the drug were capable of accomplishing hazardous feats.’ . . . Similarly, the Sothos tribe used dagga to strengthen their spirits prior to an onslaught.” Perhaps this cultural connection is part of the reason that marijuana is demonized. Taboos are often fairly complex, but this may be a contributing factor.

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