“‘Someone does not become a beggar; we are made beggars.'” (31)
This quote comes from the so-called “King of the Beggars” who Elvis encounters one evening in a slum of Lagos. Elvis decides to share what little money he has in order to buy some food for the King and himself. The quote immediately brought to my mind the concept of Liberation Theology. Father Gustavo Gutierrez is a priest from Lima, on the opposite side of the world where Elvis’s story takes place. Gutierrez is seen as the father of Liberation Theology which basically attempts to answer the question, how do you say and show people living in the context of violence, social injustice or seeming insignificance that God loves them? While the religious aspect of Gutierrez’s message may not necessarily apply to Elvis, the underlying point does. How do you make people living in poverty know that they matter?
One of the ways that Liberation Theology begins to answer this question is by making people understand where poverty comes from. Rather than understanding it as being born unlucky or just accepting it as a reality, it is essential to realize that poverty is created as the King points out. It is not simply the fate of some to be poor and others to be rich but it is structures put in place that create inequality both in wealth and quality of life. This concept especially rings true in much of post-colonial Africa. Understanding the colonial legacy of a place like Nigeria and the context of when Elvis tells his story is essential. Rapid urbanization during the late colonial period (ie post-WWII to independence in 1960) caused serious problems for both the British and Nigerians. Because the British were not interested in creating a place for Nigerians to live and be successful in urban Lagos, slums like the one Elvis lives in developed. The priority of the British was to keep themselves separate from and above Nigerians. Then, as Elvis alludes to when he tells us about his cousin who “had been a boy soldier in the civil war that ended two years before” (20), there was a period of unrest in Nigeria which further exacerbated the problems that come with poverty. The struggle we see even today is to change structures that have been in place for decades in order to uplift the poor.