By Uthman Shodipe
Among the warrior tribe, there is a tradition which was first invoked on the steppes of Asia when courage defined the totality of human value, when the apotheosis of valour achieved the highest signification in the affairs of men. It is a tradition which inheres in metaphoric poignancy, signifying an end as well as a referential continuity, reifying a deathless paradigm as well as a terminus. It is about a passage, instructing the living, moralising the dead, affirming an emblematic permanence, reaching into the past, pointing into the future in an eternal cultural cadence.
It began with Genghis Khan, perhaps the greatest warrior ever in the history of arms. A child prodigy, conqueror and statesman, his attainments were greater than the vast heroic exploits of Alexander, greater than the strategic majesty of Caesar, greater than the tactical eminence of Hannibal, greater than the bold combative bravura of Douglas McCa-rthur and George S. Patton Jr. But even the ultimate warrior who overborne the heroic personification of his age could not overcome the caprice of mortality. Like everyone else, he was stricken by the transmutation of the flesh.
And in mourning him, his people thronged the fields and the plains in pronounced emotive cord. Here, spread in dazzling array, were bands of men stretched in the full dramatic accoutrements of the warrior’s armour. In this spectacle of flashing weaponry, of blades glittering in the afternoon sun, of arrows and cudgels glaring in intimidatory venom, there was an hallowed parting where a solitary, riderless horse trotted along in a slow, sombrous motion. The stirrups of the horse were reversed, strung to a pair of Mongolian boots.
From this inventive provenance on August 18, 1227, the riderless horse, the reversed stirrups and the bare Mongolian boots achieved the metaphoric fusion of a fallen leader, the symbol of unyielding, heroic activism, the signification of conquest and the unconquered, a witness to one defined by permanent moulding in an unceasing fray; spartan, resolute, unshaken till the intervening might of fate. This imagery would be invoked at the funeral ceremonies of John Kennedy and Douglas McCarthur. It is no longer a primeval metaphor of the steppes of Asia. It is no longer a moral of martial triumphalism. It has become a modern constituent of exemplary, relentless articulation of the human will; the defiant ardour irradiated in the grandeur of endless crusades.
In the modern accommodation of the Mongolian metaphor, the figurative imagery of the boots that once dangled on the solitary horse 770 years ago has become the most representative evocation of the warrior’s infinitude. To die with the boots on is not a mere literal refrain. It is an allegorical substantiation of one who is happiest at war, who is etched in the great devotions, framed in the great cause.
It is a testimony of immoveable, righteous compulsion. It is a stamp of inner containment; the wilful bearing marshalled by the purity of conviction, inspired to stay the course, to endure the stern embattlements of fortune. It is a portrait of one sprung upon the Churchillian ruthless fixity of purpose, mocking the cruel odds; unbowed by adversity, disdainful of the claimant of a force majeure.
But the warrior’s armour is not necessarily defined by a heedless, collisional rampage. It is not observed in the ill-motivated virulence of self-magnification. It is unseen in the riotious clatter of mercenary stampede. And it does not reside in the licentious liberty of self-seeking messianic holler.
No. It resides in the clarity of spiritual afflatus, privileged motivating spur of heaven; the revelatory epiphany that is only discernible in the enlightened groves of the great. In this glorious swell of transcendental habituation, the crusader is entranced in sacrosanct fixity. His gaze is locked upon the signified emanations of heaven. Because he has evinced the profound arcana of the plumbings of tomorrow, his probings are firm, audacious, defined in a stern certitude.
Here is the repose of the fighter latched in the infinite exactitude of the boots of moral struggle. Such a one does not inhabit extenuating refuge in the swamp of oppositional gauntlet. Such a one does not withdraw from the harsh fatidical pronouncements, cringing in escapist orbit.
Thus, the portrait of truth in eternal stretch, the signification of the uninterred, the deathless reference; alive, whole, unmarred by the rumblings of cyclical influence, unvitiated by the wanderings of the odious licence.
Do you not see the imagery of these eternal boots perfectly adorning the immortal rectitude of Adekunle Ajasin? Now beyond power’s cudgel, now beyond the instruments of animadversion, can such a one really die? Can such a one be entombed in some concrete banishment, eclipsed from instructive memory?
No. There will always be the haunting imagery of the boots, the imperishable etchings of the struggles, the moral writ of oracular effulgence yet glowing still beyond the grave.
We will continue to see the visage of Ajasin among the living, in the emblems of kindness to the deprived, in the selfless salvage of the denied, in the bold, unfurled banner of progressive, democratic largeness inhibiting the treachery of despotism. He will remain in vast oracular latitude, girdling the waverings of the trenches, strengthening the unsteady gait, instructing, inspiring, etched in moralistic halo.
First Published, Tuesday, October 14, 1997