The Book Banque is an organisation committed to empowering children in disadvantaged communities in Nigeria through education, and enriching Nigerian youths through an appreciation and understanding of cultural heritage.
I get tired of the blood And the coughing and more blood I get out of that flat real fast to some cool quarrelling bar and talk big to bigger comrades washing down the blood with Castle an’ Label shaking hands about Tsitsi bombed to heaven trying to forget I don’t like cooking in dead people’s pots and pans I don’t like wearing and looking smart-arse in dead people’s shirts an’ pants (They said yoh mama an’ bra been for you said these are your inheritance) I’m soon tight as a drum can’t drink no more It’s back at the flat on my back swallowing it all red back hard down I woke up too tired to break out so bright red a bubble.
His poetry, collected together in Cemetery Of Mind, was published posthumously in 1992. Today, Marechera’s work, ideas and defiance live on in Zimbabwe, particularly amongst the youth, for his willingness to be the lone outsider, challenging conventional and authoritarian views.
In The Hundred Wells Of Salaga, Ayesha Harruna Attah, through the stories of Aminah and Wurche, explores slave trade in pre-colonial Ghana. Encapsulated in this exclusive excerpt provided by Cassava Republic Press is the emotive use of language Attah employs throughout the book, which transposes the reader to Salaga — a town in Northern Ghana doubling, both historically and in this novel, as home to hundred hand-dug wells used to wash slaves prior to their sale. In just 8 pages, Attah mirrors the captives' collective yet futile battle against pain, loss and death.
hey walked and walked. The horsemen raided villages and led their captives to an unknown destination and, as their numbers grew, bound them around trees in rings like obscene jewellery. The horsemen stole cattle, sheep and goats, and mixed up their captives so they wouldn’t plot escapes. Aminah had managed to hold on to Hassana and Issa, whose skin clung to his bones, but they had lost Husseina. The horsemen had pried her from Hassana’s grip and tied her to another group of people. Every chance she got, Hassana craned forward till she could see her twin, and only then would she relax. Children and women were tied neck to neck, their hands free. The wrists of the men – there weren’t many of them – were bound with cord, and the strongest were restrained with wooden chokeholds. Once, when a horseman was retying the cord around Hassana’s neck, she choked. Her skin almost turned purple, and only then did the horseman relent. Husseina had stuck her head out and didn’t break her gaze until the person behind her tripped over her.
A man tried to run away. Aminah didn’t see the horsemen hang him, but in the bright morning light his slack body swayed from a tree, his feet dangling above the muddy soil. His hairless head, shaped like a cone of shea butter, rested against his right shoulder, his bare body gashed with lines of blood. The horsemen chatted around a fire. The smell of roasted meat wafted the way of the captives, digging into the emptiness in their bellies, into their nausea.
‘I hope they have nightmares,’ Hassana shouted. With sunken eyes, she leered at the horsemen.
‘It’s okay,’ said Aminah, trying to hush her. ‘It will get better.’
Hassana stopped talking but her eyes were fixed on the dead man. Aminah didn’t think it was going to get better. She knew nothing, really. And she was wracked with guilt at possibly having enabled her mother’s death. She should have gone into Na’s hut to wake her up.
One woman – also Gurma like Aminah’s people, but not from Botu – had said they were being sent to a lake with no beginning and no end. An infinite lake. She called it ‘big water’. Her weaver husband had gone south to sell in the markets and had seen these pitiful people chained to the fronts of houses. He was told they would be put in boats controlled by white men and sent on the infinite lake. Her husband was shaken by the whole thing; he stopped asking questions. The woman had gone to visit her mother when the raiders attacked her mother’s village. When they started tying her up, she knew her fate.
At least she’d had some preparation. For the rest of the captives, it was like walking in the forest on a night with no moon. They groped, bumped into things. Wild animals lurked and, sometimes, the animals bit.
A gust of wind sent the lifeless body swinging and wafted the smell of meat in Aminah’s direction. A lump pressed hard against her sternum, from inside her body. The muscles of her belly contracted and convulsed. Up came bitter liquid. She swallowed it, suppressed it. It was horrible. She’d never had to swallow vomit before.
After the horsemen feasted, they poured water to quench their fire. They gave their porters the leftovers, and the porters gave some of their captured the bones and gristle. Issa didn’t eat the tiny morsel of meat Aminah gave him. Then the horsemen split into two groups. A porter ran along the file, counted up to a point and cut the cord. The group ahead of Aminah, Issa, and Hassana went to the left. That group included Husseina. They walked until the tall grass swallowed them. Where were they going? Would the two groups reunite?
Aminah wanted to chase after them to get Husseina back, and just as she thought this, a shriek cut all the noises around to silence. It came from Hassana. Her scream froze blood. She doubled over, folded her arms over her belly, and wouldn’t stop. A horseman trotted over and yelled something at her. She was now curling into a ball on the ground, her nails digging into the red soil. The horseman dismounted and walloped her with his riding whip. She didn’t stop screaming. He kicked her ribs, but still she screamed. Only when a patch of red stained her dress, did Aminah break out of her trance. She fell to the ground and wrapped her little sister with her body and tried to stop the shrill scream by covering her mouth. The man’s riding whip whacked Aminah’s body until Hassana quieted down. Hassana whimpered all afternoon. Aminah had lied; it wasn’t getting better.
The captives tried to function as one. They urinated and emptied their bowels at the same time, under watchful eyes. When they were given food, they made sure every one got at least a small piece. But it was impossible to stay united in such conditions. Some of them were in more pain than others.
Issa struggled to walk, slowing down everyone behind him. Aminah begged one of the porters to let her carry him even though she herself had very little strength. He now weighed next to nothing.
After walking for what must have been a week, like they were never going to stop, they arrived at a place unlike any other they had crossed. Rocks jutted up from the ground and trees grew everywhere. Okra-green grass carpeted the land, and even in her despair, Aminah found the green fresh and beautiful, the rocks mesmerising. Not far off, vultures flew in circles.
The horsemen dismounted, trussed up their stolen sheep and goats, and led the captives towards clusters of large rocks and trees with gnarly crowns. On a large boulder, people were gathered, eating. Aminah’s heart pinched itself in what must have been excitement – the first time in a long time she had felt any hope. Perhaps that was the group that had left first. They could be reunited with Husseina after all. Aminah watched Hassana, but said nothing. Her reddened eyes stared ahead, focused on nothing in particular, as if she were sleepwalking.
If they died, would they become spirit walkers? She had to stop herself from thinking like that. She pressed Hassana’s hand – to transmit that something good might be on its way, but also to convince herself.
Up on the boulder, Aminah searched for faces from Botu. The group was unfamiliar. Suddenly, their captors whipped them and shouted at them to move. Aminah didn’t understand the language, but the word ‘Babatu’ was repeated. It was a name she’d heard in Botu, a man who was feared by the people of the caravans. If these ruthless horsemen were also afraid of him, he had to be a terrifying person. As that group left, any hope she had harboured dwindled.
Their horsemen led them to a patch of bald rock and one of them approached three women sitting behind large pots. Aminah couldn’t see what was in them, but she had sat behind enough pots to know the thick, gurgling sound of boiling porridge. The horseman returned and, with his accomplices, divided the captives into smaller groups and sat them before oval troughs smeared with the muddy dregs of the previous group’s leftover porridge. The women slopped the thick porridge into the troughs and the hollows steamed. Aminah cupped her hand to scoop the scalding gruel, blew on it, and led it to Issa’s lips. He shook his head and pinched his lips shut tight. No matter how much she begged him, he wouldn’t eat.
The sight of the skin puckering above his lips began to annoy her. She felt a strong urge to slap him. Hassana swallowed a handful of porridge and twisted her face but kept eating. Finally, Aminah ate what Issa rejected. The millet porridge was sour, with no sweetness. After eating, they were led to larger holes, where water had collected, and from that they quenched their thirst. For the first time, Aminah’s mind and body had pause. Something about having a full stomach calmed her.
She thought of Baba and Na, wondering what had become of them. She had left things incomplete with her mother. And then she hadn’t called her out of the room. How would she ever right that?
When the horsemen said it was time to go, Aminah got up, feeling full. Not satisfied, like after a good meal, but her body had more energy to keep going. Then down the hill they went.
Below them spread groves of trees nestled in lush green grass. It was never this green in Botu, where Aminah wished she could return, and strangely, the sentiment of loss and nostalgia made her hope the big water would come soon. She didn’t know what future it held, but she just wanted to stop walking.
Issa fell. He didn’t trip or stumble. His body was sucked down, as if called by the earth. His skeletal form stacked itself against the grey metallic sheen of the rock. Aminah stared at the way his bony legs had crisscrossed, as if someone had delicately arranged him into a neat pile. It was Hassana who got down and tried to revive him. When they realised Aminah and Hassana were stalling, a horseman and porter raced over, shouting. As they drew closer, they saw what had happened.
The horseman muttered and dismounted. He peeled Hassana off Issa and picked him up as if he were a bird. They carried him, then flung him over the rock. Above the rock, the circling vultures. Vultures were attracted to death. Aminah imagined below them was a cemetery of people like Issa who hadn’t found the strength to go on. She pictured skeletons stacked on skeletons or flesh on skeletons, in Issa’s case. Suddenly cold and afraid, she took Hassana’s hand, small and dry, and tried to think of to say something to comfort her sister, but more to comfort herself. She felt the heaviness of her tongue. She swallowed several times, before words could come out.
‘Maybe this is better for him,’ she said. ‘He was so weak.’
‘I hope he comes back as spirit walker to haunt these people,’ said Hassana, snatching her hand away to wipe her face, wet with tears.
When they left the rocky place, dying began to seem an attractive option. Running away was too costly; Aminah was so disoriented she didn’t know which way home was, and she could fall into a worse situation. The name Babatu was frightening, if even these horsemen were afraid. And how would she do it? Die? Swallow a poisonous bark? But she looked at Hassana and blocked her thoughts. They needed each other.
Ayesha Harruna Attah is the author of three novels: Harmattan Rain, nominated for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize; Saturday's Shadows, shortlisted for the Kwani? Manuscript Project in 2013; and The Hundred Wells of Salaga Cassava Republic Press, UK. A 2015 Africa Centre Artists in Residency Award Laureate and Sacatar Fellow, she is the recipient of the 2016 Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship for non-fiction.
In February 2018, Omenala Press played host to a celebration of Buchi Emecheta in London; launching 6 of 12 imprints of Buchi's books. A day of rekindled memories, healing, story telling and conversations, Niki recounts the event and its reinforcement on the importance of Emecheta's work and life.
Image: George Braziller, Inc.
f you are unfamiliar with BuchiEmecheta’s story, do yourself a favour: pick up any of her books and start reading — immediately, too. A prolific writer, her body of work includes articles, plays, both adult and children books, and an autobiography. Her books, though mostly works of fiction, were inspired by her experiences and those of others around her. Just in her 20s, Buchi found herself being breadwinner, mother, wife, dreamer and goal getter in cold racist Britain.
Fearful that a woman could be greater than he imagined, her husband, Sylvester Onwordi, burnt her first manuscript, The Bride Price, in a fit of jealousy. This feeling, which she likened to burning a child, in addition to her deep connection to her Igbo heritage and ancestral hometown of Ibusa, formed Emecheta’s voice — the very voice hundreds gathered to celebrate over eight hours on a wintery Saturday in London.
Over the course of an exceptional career, she lectured at Universities around the world, including the United States, United Kingdom and Nigeria - a place she always longed to call home but was never able to. In the 60s and 70s when she began writing, there were but a few Nigerian women, like Flora Nwapa and Zaynab Alkali, being celebrated for this craft. There were even fewer writing as raw and as unapologetically as Emecheta did in all her work.
The event, organised by Omenala Press and The Buchi Emecheta Foundation, was held a year after her passing in 2017; primarily to re-launch her classics. To this, the covers of 12 of her 20 books were redesigned by Victor Ehikhamenor, with 6 released in February. Beautifully abstract, undeniably centred in old artistic traditions yet maintaining a newness, these covers are sure to incite the reader to embrace Emecheta’s narratives with a fresh eye.
This blend of the old and new is reflective of the work everyone involved in the project sought to achieve — that is, giving young(er) generations access to their history and having the older generation see their legacy honoured. Going by the attendance at the Celebrating Buchi event, this intergenerationality was indeed reflected. For an attendee accompanied by her daughter, re-discovering Emecheta whilst going through a divorce was a saving grace, and an affirmation that she could survive the loss. To hear of such a powerful effect that Emecheta’s work could have on one woman and to also see that her daughter could join such a space was symbolic.
There Is Joy In Motherhood
The imprints of Buchi Emecheta’s work come as a result of Omenala Press - an independent publisher established by Buchi’s son, Sylvester Onwordi. Following her passing, he shared, he discovered mounds of unpublished Emecheta work, which inspired a journey that has seen him now wear the title ‘publisher.’ This, one can say, is a full circle journey as Emecheta was also a publisher; setting up Ogwugwu Afor Publishingb for the distribution of her books and others like hers in both Britain and Ibusa, Nigeria.
Onwordi’s dedication to his mother’s work contradicts some of the portrayals of the payoff of motherhood in Emecheta’s work. In particular, the ironically named The Joys of Motherhood - her sixth novel which brutally portrays an image of what raising children as a poor woman in a patriarchal society can be like. There was gratitude for Onwordi and the Omenala Press team from both panelists and audience alike.
As echoed by an attendee, The Buchi Emecheta Foundationserves as an important first step in ensuring Emecheta’s work becomes as common a place in British Libraries as Shakespeare and Dickens. That Emecheta’s work needs to be included in curricula across as many educational years as possible was stressed by a panelist, who noted a lack of awareness of the author’s work by librarians. This means that for those looking to explore reading outside certain education pathways, the chances of discovering Emecheta’s work are unlikely.
The day was broken up into panels, workshops and a gallery exhibitionc - The Legacies of Biafra at the Brunei Gallery. The panelists ranged from academics who have spent time studying her work to individuals who had personal connection to Emecheta. As a reader, it was enthralling to be sat in a room with people who had spent time with Emecheta in both professional and personal capacities. To hear about Buchi - the mother, friend and business woman - was to hear about parts uncovered in her novels. It was beautiful to experience an idol being fleshed out from places of love.
Chaired by Delia Jarrett Macauley, one of the panels focused on love and discovery in the work of the author. Panelists linked Emecheta’s work to the personal; family, friendships, marriages and self, emphasising the relatability of Emecheta’s work in the present. The sweetest of all panels, however, was that on legacy and heritage and chaired by Bola Mosuro. The discussions ranged from the disparity in which the wealthy and poor in Nigeria raise their children in Nigeria; to a showcase of Emecheta lecturing across Universities in the United States, and fraternising with beloved African American academics.
The Afrikult. workshop provided further insight into how personal and influential Emecheta’s work has been to Black British women. People shared their first encounter with Emecheta’s work; dissecting quotes from certain novels from critical, personal and emotive perspectives. For one woman, reading Emecheta’s biography, Head Above Water, while training to become a social worker in the 80s, changed her approach to her career. She explained that the book made her understand the cultural aspects of the increasing wave of Commonwealth migrants to the UK; giving her a wider perspective that many in her field lacked.
Emecheta remains an enigma to me as her books enveloped realities too often brushed under the carpet by the women around me, and the expectations that cripple them. For many women and young girls, alike, these expectations are not contextualised, and a necessary fleshing out of the good and bad parts of meeting these expectations is mostly ignored. Emecheta, in her writing, did stretching. By creating her work and in turn, a space, Buchi spelt out the good and bad; thus determining, long before death, her own legacy.
Omenala Press will launch the new reprints in Lagos, Nigeria at the Nigerian International Book Fair on May 9, 2018. Find out more about the event on our What's On segment here.
b In this article, originally written in 1990 and published in print, Emecheta shares with The (New York) Times on why she embarked on the journey of setting up a publishing house. Likewise, in her interwiew with Joyce Boss, Buchi touches on her frustration with Western publishers and her reason for creating her own platform and publishing.
cEmecheta's Destination Biafra remains an important contribution to literature on Biafra; thus, the exhibition made a great fit for the event. This is because both stories - Biafra’s and Emecheta’s - are centred around trauma: living with trauma, surviving trauma, experiencing trauma, and what it does to future generations.
In 2017, we started a series on where to read in Nigeria. Extending the series to other parts of the continent, Phathu, a literary enthusiast and the co-founder of the Literary Alliance Bookclub, shares 4 recommendations on where to read in Johannesburg, South Africa.
As someone on a mission to read 52 books this year, I can easily be found stuck in the pages of a book while nestled on my couch, or in between my sheets. Sometimes, being surrounded by familiar walls eventually gets a little tiring - even for a self-confessed recluse. The experience of reading a good book and glancing away, only on occasion, to enjoy frothy coffee or chilled wine is always a win. When reading needs to be done away from home, here are a few spots in Johannesburg that I enjoy visiting.
Bridge Books, Joburg CBD
Image: Bridge Books.
If you are in downtown Joburg, Bridge Books has a great selection in African literature and doubles up as a coffee shop; serving some great cappuccino. The store boasts of beautiful reading tables that are customised with covers of some highly-acclaimed books such as Mohale Mashigo’s ‘The Yearning’ and Yaa Gyasi’s ‘Homegoing.’
Owned by the friendly and helpful Griffin Shea, the indie store is perfectly positioned on the bustling Commissioner Street, and is home to a diverse and delicious range of brand new and second-hand books. On a good day, a previously loved book on your to-be-read list can set you back only R20 (roughly 2 US Dollars) – a real steal by any standard! A bargain hunter like myself will definitely find Bridge Books a dream.
Joburg-based book clubs such as Literary Alliance regularly make use of the space, so, a random Saturday visit could result in you witnessing a passionate book discussion and perhaps, you meeting your favourite local author.
Tip: The second-hand books are right by the entrance. Start there and see what gems you can discover.
Go For: Books by African authors, children’s books, and coffee.
Avoid If: The busy Joburg CBD is not your cup of tea. Fortunately, they have another branch in Maboneng.
A big fan of grounded coffee beans? Choose to wear your sweet tooth on your sleeve? Well, Exclusive Books is the spot for you! On any given day, you will find fellow bookworms occupying intimate reading spaces, or the more accommodative long reading tables that rest alongside bookshelves amassed with multiple genres of local and international books; some of which you can also find at their other stores nationwide.
There rarely is a shortage of good books to choose from, and I always stop by the delightful Pan-African section, which seems to improve with every visit. One of my favourite things to do there is sample books and authors I am curious about and keen on exploring. Even on a chilly day, everything above - coupled with the tasteful décor - is enough to tempt. My visits there are usually after work, which, fortunately, is a stone’s throw away.
Tip: There is a restaurant, EB Social Kitchen & Bar, adjacent to the bookstore. If you have time to spare, stop there for a quick bite. You could even buy a book and enjoy solo dining.
Go For: Good coffee and book launches.
Avoid If: You are on a sugar-free diet.
Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens
Sometimes, the outdoors provide a refreshing and even inspiring atmosphere to soak up nature’s goodness. When I manage to find time on a summery Sunday, I prefer to give the couch a break and lie on the grass to read. However, when I crave for a change of scenery, the tranquil Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden in Roodepoort gives the perfect opportunity to read and reflect in a picturesque environment.
The award-winning Garden makes for the ideal place for picnics, bird watching and hiking. It is also a great place to take some pictures to adorn your social media accounts. Naturally, some slightly distracting moments may grace you with their presence, though usually minimal: think of glorious birds chirping about, people enjoying relaxed strolls, and jovial kids running around. A pretty butterfly could also land on your book while you are looking away.
Tip: The Garden gets busy at times but if you take a walk around, you may find a quieter, intimate space to read. Entrance is between R15-50.
Avoid If: You are easily distracted and have a hard time locating your spot in a book.
Go For: A relaxed and breezy reading environment outside your comfort zone.
If you are looking for a relatively peaceful location to read, a library is probably the perfect place. Just outside one of Johannesburg’s most loved tourist attractions - the Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton - lies the resourceful Sandton Library. With three stacked floors, there is ample space to get lost in your favourite piece of literature, or discover different titles. The library also affords you some privacy, which is extremely welcome; especially if, like me, you can only visit on a weekend when it is quieter. Sadly, drinks are not allowed inside, however, the peaceful environment allows for a productive reading session.
The library occasionally hosts book sales where you can grab a second-hand book for as little as R10 or R20 (roughly 2 US Dollars). Book events and launches are a regular sighting, too. The library is said to be home to over 90,000 books which readers in the community can borrow for an annual fee of R48. Be sure to take a copy of your ID and proof of residence to sign up.
Tip: The library has different operating hours on certain days; be mindful when you go.
Go For: A noise-free environment is not your vibe.
Avoid If: A noise-free environment is not your vibe.
A few other spots in Johannesburg that I would recommend are Book Circle Capital in Melville and African Flavour Books in Braamfontein — both of which specialise in African literature and have just recently opened.
Got any favourite reading or working spots in Johannesburg we should know about? Share in the comments and let us know what to look out for!
From the author of Daughters Who Walk This Path, Kilanko, comes a novella on love and marriage - Chasing Butterflies. Titilope is married to Tomide, a handsome and charismatic man. She, however, spends each day anticipating his moods; living in fear of offending him. Alone at a crossroad, Titilope must choose between duty and survival. Meet the couple.
nder the spotlight, all Tomide Ojo could see from the stage was a faint outline of his wife’s face. He’d thought Titilope would vanish through the shiny hardwood floors when he told her he was going to sign up for an open mic spot.
Tomide balanced the guitar on his lap and pulled the microphone close. “This is for my beautiful wife, Titilope. Happy Valentine’s Day, darling. Here’s to sweeter days.”
He smiled when Titilope covered her face with both hands. Tomide strummed the guitar to an acoustic version of Timi Dakolo’s “Iyawo Mi.” As his voice filled the room, Titilope’s face blurred.
When things became serious between them, he’d been upfront about what he wanted from a wife. His expectations were not unrealistic. Bottom line, he wanted a woman who knew how to take care of a man the proper way. The way his mother had taken
care of his father. Titilope agreed to the terms, only to change after he’d placed a wedding band on her finger. Any sensible person would agree that Titilope’s behaviour was a breach of contract. To be fair, there’d been some good moments. He was also grateful for their son.
Tomide stood up from the stage stool and finished the song with flourish. He took a bow and stepped off the stage to enthusiastic whistles and applause. And that’s how to make a romantic statement, Tomide thought as he walked towards Titilope with
hands stuck in his pockets.
“Welcome back, Mr. Superstar,” Titilope said dryly as he took a seat beside her.
He leaned into her. “I remembered our song.”
She rolled her eyes. “Darling, that was sweet of you.”
Tomide grinned. They normally didn’t use terms of endearment. Up on the stage, it had felt like the right thing to say.
The silence between them stretched as Titilope stared into her glass of water. “So, what did you think of my performance?”
Titilope bit hard on her lower lip. It was what she did when she didn’t know what to say or felt the need to embellish the truth. “It was…nice.”
Nice was just another word for mediocre. “That’s all you’ve got?”
She held his gaze. “Tomide, love is more than grand gestures.”
Her melancholy was beginning to grate on his nerves. “I don’t do anything in half measures.”
Titilope’s eyes clouded over. “No, you don’t.”
Determined to hold on to his good mood, Tomide took a deep breath. “The plan was for us to have a fun, child-free weekend. We can sit here and rehash old issues or move to the dance floor and have some fun. Your choice.”
“If only it could always be like this,” Titilope said in a wistful tone.
He gave an emphatic nod. “It can be.”
Titilope snorted. “It can?”
He still believed so. “Things just get messy when we both forget to play our part.”
She searched his face and then visibly pulled herself together. “It would be a shame to waste our dinner and dance coupon.”
Tomide held out his hand. Titilope took it. “That’s my penny-pinching girl,” he said with
Chasing Butterflies will be available in bookstores nationwide from April 28, 2018.
Yejide Kilanko was born in Ibadan, Nigeria. She is a writer of poetry, fiction, and a therapist in children’s mental health. Her debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, was published by Farafina Books in 2014. Yejide currently lives with her family in Ontario, Canada.
This excerpt from Yejide Kilanko's Chasing Butterflies has been pubished with permission from the publisher, Quramo Publishing. It may not be republished, modified nor stored in a retrivial system without prior written permission from the author, Yejide Kilanko or Quramo Publishing. All rights reserved.
Anywhere in the world, to be female is to be instantly othered. It is to be in a constant fight for autonomy, for personhood, for control over one’s body and mind; for survival. In The Bride Price, Buchi Emecheta is a capable surgeon; slicing right to the heart of what it meant to be a girl in Nigeria in the 1950s. With an uncompromising deftness and an artless charm, she explores the minutiae of life in South-Eastern colonial Nigeria; holding up to the light the many microaggressions that add to the framework of patriarchal oppression institutionalised as culture and tradition.
This novel is the story of Aku-nna, whose entire life boils down only to how much money she will be worth to a prospective husband. Everything Aku-nna is told and taught is geared towards preparing her to be a good wife; to bring in a large bride price; to fulfill the prophecy of her name: father’s wealth. The death of her father, however, sends Aku-nna down an unprecedented path of pain and struggle against the ‘group mind’ to find her voice and assert her will against a tradition that sought to hold her captive forever.
Using Ibusaa as a case study, The Bride Price is a socio-cultural record of the customs and tradition of the Igbo people. Emecheta painstakingly highlights the many cultural practices that originate from, and in turn, legitimise the insidiously discriminatory view of certain members - usually women - of the society as inferior. In this book, Aku-nna is the conduit, and her life, as well as those of other female characters, explore the enslavement of women by traditional practices such as the payment of bride price, widowhood rites, courting games, marriage by abductionb and the Osu Castec system.
It is Our Tradition
After the death of her husband, Ma Blackie - Aku-nna’s mother - is forced to undergo brutally dehumanising rituals to mourn him. The Ibuza customs dictate that she is to remain in a ramshackle hut for nine months; visiting and being visited by no one, never to take a bath, neither cutting nor combing her hair, and wearing only rags. She, along with her children, is then inherited by Okonkwo, her husband’s brother — a custom which reiterates the status of women as property, rather than people.
After becoming Okonkwo’s fourth wife, Ma Blackie is slowly but completely absorbed by Okonkwo family politics and the Ibusa life. This leaves her young, confused and lonely daughter vulnerable to the many cultural snares that fetter and police her into near-muteness. Culture and tradition, which should bestow individual and communal identity and enhance social cohesiveness, are instead mostly predicated on the subjugation. Wielded by a heavily patriarchal framework, the reader sees them become weapons to ensure that men retain social, material, physical, sexual and moral dominance over women.
The title of the novel is derived from a practice which is still very prevalent in many African societies: the payment of bride price. The bride price refers to a previously agreed upon amount of money and/or material goods paid by a prospective groom to the family of the woman he wants to marry. This practice — based on the idea of male-female relationships as inherently transactional — has been shown to be a cause1 of domestic and gender-based violence, as it propagates the commodisation of women and strips them of autonomy and personhood. In Ibuza, as in many Nigerian communities, girls are brought up with the idea that they are to be a source of wealth to their families.
As such, girls receive lifelong training to prepare them to be ‘good women’ who will attract large bride prices. After her father’s death, Aku-nna is only allowed to remain in school so that her education fetches a higher bride price. She is given no say in such a major decision that will affect the rest of her life. In local custom, she is little more than an item for auction to be sold to the bidder with pockets deep enough to afford her uncle, Okonkwo, taking the Eze title.
This auction takes place in her mother’s hut, where, as part of ‘night games,’ Aku-nna is visited by prospective grooms who grab and fondle her roughly — all while she is wracked with anxiety over which of these men will win the approval of her uncle. The uncertainty of her future, and her utter powerlessness against a tradition that threatens to swallow her, sends Aku-nna into a deep despair. Emecheta weaves the theme of the bride price through the whole work, as a means of symbolising the servile position of women in the society.
Feathered, Tethered, Fettered
Illustrating this further, she brings into play the Osu Caste system in the Igbo culture, and draws parallels between the way the descendants of slaves, girls and women are viewed in the community. According to Victor E. Dike, the Osu are “by definition, a people sacrificed to the gods in Igbo community.” In some circumstances, prisoners captured during inter-tribal wars were taken as slaves by their captors, which automatically marked them as part of the Osu Caste. Members of the slave caste in the Igbo society were ostracised, and prevented from intermarrying with the freeborn.
Though the practice was eventually outlawed by colonial rule, the sentiments that held the slaves apart from the community still persist in the lifetimes of their descendants. Chike Ofulue is rich, handsome and the headmaster of the local school. Unfortunately, he is of slave ancestry, and so, he cannot marry Aku-nna - the one woman he wants. As Ogugua says: “No decent girl from a good Ibuza family is allowed to associate with him.” In this sense, Aku-nna and Chike have something in common: both are fettered by tradition, but long to move beyond the confines of their society.
Unearthing A Voice
A love story, yes, but more than that, The Bride Price is a story of self-discovery. Aku-nna is born into a tradition that allows her no autonomy, no way to control the decisions that shape her life. Here is a community where it is considered normal and legitimate for a girl to be kidnapped into marriage, or have a lock of her hair cut off by a man unable to afford her bride price. Here is a community where “every young man is entitled to his fun” but the blame “usually went to the girls.”
Here is a community where girls exist forever in survival mode, taking what precautions they can, but always prepared for the worst. After the death of her father, Aku-nna is set adrift in the traditions of her people. At first, she is content to go with the flow. At the beginning of the novel, Aku-nna does not even seem to be aware that she has a voice and a mind. Instead, she blends into her community and accepts the groupthink as her own. It is in meeting and falling in love with Chike that she starts to discover within herself something contrary to her surroundings.
Chike is not a perfect man, and I do not think Emecheta meant him to be. Compared to the villainous authoritarianism of Okonkwo and Okoboshi and all the other men Aku-nna grows up knowing, Chike’s benevolent sexism is downright angelic. Chike is, however, attracted to Aku-nna’s helplessness, which, in essence, is a pretty way of saying he is attracted to the power that he wields over her. The main aim of the story is not for Aku-nna to marry Chike and live happily ever after. It is for Aku-nna to find her voice and assert her autonomy. In Chike, Emecheta gives her something to fight for, something to help her unearth her voice.
Her education and exposure to the European way of life – an alternate way - opens her eyes. At first, she is afraid: “she was beginning to feel it was unjust that she was not allowed to have a say in her own life and she was beginning to hate her mother for being so passive about it all.” In the novel, Emecheta pits Aku-nna against the communal will in her struggle for individualism, as in the background, she pits the Western culture against indigenous customs and values.
When Okoboshi - a boy who has “been brought up to think the whole world belonged to him by right” - orchestrates the kidnaping of Aku-nna into becoming his wife, Aku-nna realises that her life belongs to her and her alone, and no one else can save her — except herself.
“A kind of strength came to her, from where she did not know. She knew only that, for once in her life, she intended to stand up for herself, for her honour. This was going to be the deciding moment of her existence."
— p. 142
I always believe that given the Big E – education, the position of women can be very positive. In The Bride Price, the girl was not educated enough so she allowed custom to overcome her, and she died.
— Buchi Emecheta in an interview with Joyce Boss
Aku-nna does save herself, but only from Okoboshi, and not ultimately from the prison of tradition. After she elopes with Chike, her uncle Okonkwo is so embittered that he refuses to accept the more than generous bride price that Chike’s father offers. In Ibuza tradition, any girl married without her bride price paid is damned to die during the birth of her first child. Aku-nna - young, malnourished and under a mountain of psychological stress - unwittingly fulfils this prophecy when she dies during the birth of her daughter, Joy.
Nonetheless, Aku-nna lives the life she wants — if only for a little while. She dies, not because of a prophecy, or because her uncle keeps a voodoo doll of her in the shrine to his chi. She dies because she had lived a hard life filled with anxiety and stress; she dies because was malnourished and too young to carry a baby. Most of all, because she was unable to break free of tradition’s hold.
Have you read The Bride Price or any other Buchi Emecheta title? What do you think about her use of writing to address and/or defy tradition?
a Home, by ancestry, to Emecheta, Ibusa refers to a town in now-Delta state. In this novel, however, Emecheta creates a fictional town of Ibuza.
b Marriage by abduction is a practice in which a man and his family kidnap the girl he wishes to marry and detain her against her will. This practice is prevalent in many cultures across the world. An unmarried young girl who has been kidnapped and detained by a man who is not her husband will be considered as ‘tarnished’ and as such will have no other option than to remain with her captor as his legally married wife. However, marriage by abduction is now considered as a sex crime in many parts of the world, rather than a legal form of marriage.
c The Osu are considered as "the descendants [slaves] of people sacrificed to the gods, hundreds of years ago." (BBC). Another informative article on The Osu Caste system here.
1Okemgbo et al., (2002), “Prevalence, Patterns and Correlates of Domestic Violence in Selected Igbo Communities of Imo State, Nigeria.” African Journal of Reproductive Health/La Revue Africaine De La Santé Reproductive, Vol. 6 (2), pp. 101–114.
Alabi, Labi, the apogee The one whose marks shines and beam Alabi, Labi Owala The only heritage preserver.
Alabi Those dashes that pointed on Has given people various deception Some said you gamely fought lion And those are the injuries you carried on.
Alabi You go around with those imprinted scars Ached at the hand of primitiveness Alabi your advent has become resentment Of bemoaned vexatious art.
Alabi Makeups couldn’t hide your marks And your academic credentials Alabi, it is not a severed plague To be revered with tribal tag.
Alabi You’ve become the flag bearer Of those prudent westerners You’ve become the talking point On people’s mutual tongues.
Alabi Those line; that are laterally laid off By the unblunted tooth of razor As become your tainted flaws And it has become what people plays on
Alabi They call your cheeks a plastic ball Some cruely call it palm-frond Alabi let your cheeks remain precious With those marks that symbolised fashion.
Alabi I don’t know if it was carved with axe Or with the butcher’s knife I just had to eerily sympathise For those people needless act
Alabi je ebure The panegyrics of appeal divination I knew you won’t like it at all Subjecting this embarrassment to your children and children’s children.
Alabi Remember your forerunner Lere Paimo and Akintola They were gashed with knife Still they dished among elites.
Alabi Let those marks not get you thwart It has nothing against your potential You can be cheekily awful And you can be dynamite too.
— Amore David Olamide
Amore David Olamide, is a revolutionary columnist and a poet that writes literally in parabolic style, conventional genre and sees scenes in epic dynamism of traditional epilogues, eulogies and captivating artistic poetry. He is typically known as Ajanaku for the words he trades cannot be neglected by mortals, gods or incubus.
Image: From the collection 'Hââbré: The Last Generation' by Joana Choumali
This poem was published with permission from Amore David Olamide. All rights reserved.
y head was on OK’s chest when I heard banging on the door. We were discussing the unruly Civil Service of Nigeria. It had gotten quite intense a few times and I had gently changed the topic by asking him to check if my daughter’s guitar would need new pegs soon.
When we had first began dating, I choked on words each time I asked him to do something. No matter how gently I brought the words out, it still always felt like I was disrespecting my own father. At fifty, he wasn’t as old as my father but he was just as grey. I was thirty. Twenty-seven, but I always bumped my age up. Not on official forms; when speaking to people, people whose faces would judge me if I told them I was twenty-seven, with a nine-year-old daughter.
We met on a bank queue. Me waiting to pick up my new ATM card, he wanting to clear his account, move all his money out so that he could teach the useless bank a lesson in proper customer service. I told him that most other banks were just as useless and persuaded him to calm down. He did, just before going into a little cubicle and demanding from the lady in it that my ATM be produced immediately as I would be waiting only one more minute. I would have waited thirty more, but his tone seemed to be working, so I played the role of urgency required, my hand tapping restlessly on the counter. In five minutes, I was signing for my card and thinking about the randomness of it all, a stranger helping me get my card at a bank I had convinced him to remain at. He even waited around till I had changed my pin. We talked, our conversation mostly involved cursing out Nigerian brands and exchanging customer service woes. I learned that besides being the school head, he taught guitar at Buttercups School twice a week because all the music tutors he had interviewed for the job were too pricey, and so he decided to teach the kids himself even with administrative work piling daily on his table.
“That’s interesting,” I said. “Interesting that you still find time to actually teach while being the boss. Well done sir.” My sentences had been propped with respectful inflections. But sir… you know sir… in fact sir… what I feel sir…
“My daughter is obsessed with her guitar,” I said, as if it was an afterthought. It was true that my daughter loved her guitar but I mentioned her as a buffer, to dispel any thoughts of him wanting his favour returned.
“You have a daughter? That is good. How old?” It was not the response I expected.
“9 going on 99,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Let her meet my daughter. She’s 13, but they can still be friends.”
OK was the first man who hadn’t flinched when I mentioned I had a child after noting the absence of a wedding band. The first who didn’t say, “Oh she’s nine, you must have married early o,” as a way to confirm their suspicions: unmarried mother. When I recapped my day that evening as I massaged night oil onto my face, it was his gentleness that remained the highlight. His humanity and tenderness. Maybe it was something that only came with grey hair for men. He simply asked that his daughter meet mine. Of course, this clearly meant he wanted us to meet again. At the bottom of the bank steps that afternoon, we exchanged phone numbers and just before I pulled my car into the road, he had sent me a smiley on WhatsApp. I took a quick glance at him through my rear mirror. And I allowed myself like him a little, grey hair and all.
He looked like a family man. One to have a dutiful wife waiting for him at home with freshly made efo riro, the palm oil and crayfish smell already greeting him by the gate even before getting through the door. But our conversation did not steer in that direction. Unlike him, from the moment I realized he had a daughter, I found myself wanting to know more. I became the one with the stylish questions in my head.
“Why was there no ring on his finger if he had a teenage daughter?”
“Why did he want the daughters to meet, why not the daughters and their mothers?”
As I lay in my bed, I checked the time to see if the hour was still godly enough to respond to his smiley. It wasn’t. I waited till morning and responded with a smiley too.
Almost immediately, he began typing and by mid-morning we had both successfully concluded that there was no point for the daughters to meet if the parents didn’t know each other first. School was on long holiday. My daughter was at her father’s, his was at her grandmother’s.
The general tone between us was delicate. He, still calling me dear, me, responding with laughing smileys because I didn’t know what to make of chatting with a greying man that was not work related. I asked him blankly about his wife, if he would bring her to the daughters’’s meet up. My head buzzed from doing the same thing I always had done to me, being profiled because of my child. But I needed to know. I regretted typing bring. It felt as though I was referring to her as some toy doll he owned and would bring to make a cameo appearance.
No response came to that message even though I saw that he was typing for a really long time. The conversation ended there, until he called me an hour or two later.
“How do people who have wives look?” He asked me, when we met up weeks later for a late lunch at an over-priced restaurant in Victoria Island. The silverware was so wide and shiny I could fix my smudged make-up with it. The food on the other hand was so tiny, so measured, an entire meal just tucked delicately in a corner of the wide plate as though it had been placed there only for viewing.
We had built over six weeks of friendship but it still felt pretentious to call him friend, to introduce him to an actual friend and say the words “Meet my friend Okiki.” I struggled all the time. It was very much easier to call him mentor, maybe even colleague, but he was none of those. He was my friend who sent me funny videos on WhatsApp and ordered me peppersoup to help with a sore throat. He noticed my struggle and asked me to call him Okiks.
“No one would notice,” he assured me.
“It sounds like some Yoruba salutation. People will think you are just hailing me.”
I laughed at his desperate attempt at wanting to be a cool cat and said Okiks out loud a few times, as if trying to test it, to feel its weight on my tongue but eventually, I settled for OK.
It kept the loose nature of the friendship intact and at the same time didn’t make me sound disrespectful.
As soon as I eased into this platonic phase, OK began running things by me almost daily. It was as though he was waiting all along for me to catch up. He suddenly wanted to know if I thought he should buy his daughter a phone or if he should still keep sending a monthly allowance to his late wife’s family. It had been seven years since she died suddenly, leaving him with a six-year-old full of many questions and because of her, he felt he owed them that much. A token. Nothing major.
I remember the slight relief I felt the day he called to tell me about losing his wife, the mother of his 13-year-old. I chided myself for it, for my audacity to feel relief in the face of someone else’s sorrow. I was just glad there was no woman to contend with, no woman to have mixed feelings about. She was better dead than far away in a village. Being alive meant being around, no matter how far away.
“Oya, I’m listening, how do people who have wives look?” He asked again, suddenly scattering all the thoughts in my head.
“I don’t know,” I said and shrugged. “Like you I guess,”
I sipped my water continuously not wanting to be the first to begin eating. When he had gobbled what must have been about five spoons, I began to pick gently at my potatoes, mashed to perfection.
“I don’t know why you ordered baby food,” he said in between laughter. It was not so funny to me but I laughed. I laughed a lot with him; exaggerated chuckles that covered for my inability to bring any decent topics to our conversation, chuckles that filled up the silence that sat between us every couple of minutes, like a third person.
But it was obvious I had developed a soft spot for him, because even in my lack of what to say, I always enjoyed his company. I wanted to be around him but didn’t want to be about him. I made no sense to myself but he did to me. I liked that he continued talking whenever he figured I had nothing to add. There was something odd about how fond stories he relayed about himself happened in the year or about the same year I was born but I liked that he was careful not to use phrases like “you won’t understand” or “back in the day”.
Our lunch at VI was the beginning of everything else. We began going everywhere together. I invited him to church, he invited me to PTA. He said he had not much of a social life and PTA was the only place I could see him in his elements. He was right.
His voice came out to the parents a little firmer than it did to me. He gave fee ultimatums for the new school year starting in a few weeks and told parents off for letting their children bring phones and gadgets to school. “This will not be condoned next session.” He said unfailingly and by God’s grace a lot. I watched him from behind the staff cafeteria that had been converted into a meeting hall, consciously averting my gaze but making sure still that I remained in his line of sight.
The more we went out, the more questions piled up at the back of my throat to ask him. Like – “What are we?” or “Do you talk about me to your family?” and “Do you make enough money from teaching?” but they all sounded desperate. So, I swallowed them, one after the other. I was hopeful it would come up eventually in conversation, as our friendship or love or whatever it was blossomed. I only asked if he was ever embarrassed, following me around everywhere like a child that needed adult supervision, buying fish in the market, choosing big ones for me, buying sanitary towels in a pharmacy and advising which retained more moisture, according to adverts he had seen on television. He said he was basking in the glow of my youth, being rejuvenated by it and didn’t care what anyone said or thought. I liked him a lot, enough to cook him lunch twice, sometimes three times a week and have him in my bed on some nights, enough to dismiss my worry of what my daughter would feel or how she would react when she met him, dismiss it until it crept back in right after we were done having inelegant sex.
I would take glances at his limp body sprawled on my bed and heaving peacefully almost immediately, as though sleep was his antidote to sex, rehearsing in my head who I would say he was if someone – my daughter especially – happened to find him trudging around my living room.
This was another hurdle I knew I would have to cross, very much like the hurdle of settling on a name to call him that wasn’t disrespectful. Sleeping at his own house may have solved the problem, but only partly. It didn’t solve the problem of the uncomfortable stares I had to endure from his neighbours, piercing me from behind heavy wall curtains and gentle whispers that my ears caught through the runny mouths of security men and cleaning women.
As the knock on the door increased with intensity, I found myself scampering for no reason. Arranging scattered slippers and re arranging throw pillows, pulling OK towards the kitchen. I sprayed puffs of room fragrance mindlessly into the air before speeding to the door, feigning surprise and trying to buy time.
“What’s going on, I thought you were out with your dad?” I probed, my words spilling out in a slight accusatory tone as I watched my daughter edge past me through the door into the living room.
“I’m just here to pick a few more clothes, daddy is waiting for me outside.”
“Your dad is here?” I balanced my shaky voice on the sudden shock that gripped me to keep it steady, to keep me from sounding too surprised.
“Yea, we went to the cinema near here, but there was no great movie showing, so I decided to …come … here...” her voice trailed off as she caught sight of OK.
“There’s a plumber here to fix the kitchen sink,” I said, a little too cheerily from behind her, my eyes averted from OK’s, hoping he looked plumber enough in his camo shorts and black t-shirt.
She walked past him with a slight nod and I walked into her room with her, staying there as she picked the clothes she wanted. Staying there long after she left. Staying there until I heard the ping sound my phone made, a WhatsApp message. I’m quite handy with sinks.
Tope is an Editor and Writer whose work explores the delicateness of love and effects of loss on people. In 2015, she was one of the 25 selected to participate in the Farafina Creative Writing Workshop. A literature enthusiast and collector of books, she runs a book club for kids age 3-6 in her spare time.
eing the most beautiful woman in the region, every man, including the chief of her village, sought Ese’s hand in marriage. Ese, refusing all their advances, chooses instead to marry Tanto - the man with she was in love with. This decision to follow her heart is, however, seen as an act of defiance against the chief, costing Ese her family who disown her. The protagonist’s insistence on following her heart is what gets her in trouble through Odafe Atogun’s Wake Me When I’m Gone.
Very early on, Tanto dies from a tragic accident on his farm, leaving Ese and their young son, Noah. Distraught, Ese closes her stall in the market on Main street in order to spend more time with her son. On finding out that Ese had closed her stall, the merchants - who all loved her - stopped coming to the market. Despite pleas from the villagers, Ese refuses. As a result, business drastically declines, causing the village to go into a recession. Adamant to not return, Ese is then turned against by the whole village.
Simultaneously, the protagonist battles a custom in the village which mandates widows to remarry six months after the death of their spouse, lest they give up custody of their child(ren) to the husband’s eldest male sibling. Again, the chief and other young men in the village flock around her, in the bid for her hand in marriage. Ese, however, refuses; standing by her decision to marry only for love. Here, the reader is introduced to Ese’s strong personality and the consequences she faces on the path to fulfil her destiny.
Tradition And Modernity - Parallels or Binary Opposites?
An underlying theme throughout Atogun’s story is the contrast between tradition and modernity. In the village, the people adhere to many superstitions cum customs which are enforced by the high priests. Ese, on the other hand, despite being a product of the same environment, is shown to think progressively. She is able to distinguish between what is right and wrong, can make objective assessments and come to her own conclusion.
What is interesting about how the author portrays the contrast is his approach, which strays from the conventional equation of progressive thinking exclusively to exposure or modernisation. It brings to mind, though in juxtaposition, a quote by Aristotle, who once said: “it is the mark of an educated mind to hold a thought without accepting it.” In Wake Me When I’m Gone, Ese has never received any form of education yet she exhibits the traits of an educated mind.
This forces one to rethink how an ‘educated’ person is defined; who is excluded from these definitions and the consequences of that follow. In this, I choose to look at Ese’s story as a metaphor for progress in Africa, and a critique of the modernisation theory of development. We, as Africans, can think of our own organic solutions, and do not need the validation from the West. Just like Ese, we also have the ability to be progressive, and to question what has come to be seen and accepted as the norm in our societies.
Tradition As A Tool Of Oppression
Conversely, Atogun explores tradition as a regressive tool. In Ese’s village, orphans are seen as bad luck, and treated very badly. If not taken in by a relative, as in the case of the group of orphan boys Noah meets, they are exiled. Sadly, this idea of the ‘cursed’ child - specifically the orphan child - is no different from existing superstitions upheld in places around the world like India and Nigeria. The belief is that these evil children are responsible for the misfortune that (often) befalls their parents. Thus, they are treated as outcasts and in other cases, killed.
Defiant, Ese takes in the orphans who live outside the village into her house as her own children. As a result of this, she has to flee for her life from the village or face death. On moving to another village after her exile, Ese finds tradition transcends her village. Nonetheless, she cares for an orphan, and this act of kindness results to yet another tragedy. This further fuels Ese in her fight to overturn this custom. With the support of a progressive chief, the villagers and a visiting professor, she is able to banish this custom despite threats of madness, blindness and death by the high priests.
The visiting professor’s contribution was particularly notable as he himself was an orphan that had be exiled from the same village, yet was luckily adopted by a loving couple. The professor, his travels and his accomplishments served as a testimony against the belief of orphans; showing that love and humanity, if given a chance, can go a long way.
“You see, the gods the priests they worship are a creation of their evil minds, which they use to put fear in people in order to control them. Such gods do not exist. And the laws they make are the wicked lies of a very ignorant people... there is God up in heaven to whom all power belongs. He is not a god you can access through tradition but through love and it is that love that is lacking in the heart of the priests and all who uphold their laws."
– The Professor.
Atogun, through his protagonist, encourages us to always question the norm, as opposed to accepting things because that is the way they have ‘always’ been. Sometimes, culture can be toxic and harmful, and can stand in the way of progress and development.
From honour killings to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), there are many traditions all over the world which are very backwards yet some refuse to let go of them despite how detrimental. Just like the high priests, people all over the world also use religion, culture and tradition to justify all sorts of horrific and unjust acts. Atogun, through his protagonist, encourages us to always question the norm, as opposed to accepting things because that is the way they have ‘always’ been. Sometimes, culture can be toxic and harmful, and can stand in the way of progress and development. Atogun highlights this.
The Representation Of The Nigerian Woman
I was highly impressed with Atogun’s construction and representation of the Nigerian woman, especially for one who lives in a village. Ese is a very progressive character who is constantly questioning and challenging the norm. She refuses to accept things in the name of tradition, customs and/or systems. This narrative subverts the conventional narrative surrounding women who live in the rural parts of third world countries. The stereotypes that surround such women include – ignorant, backwards and uneducated.
Postcolonial feminist scholar Chandra Talpade Mohanty perfectly articulates the way in which women, third world women especially are generalised and stereotypes as backwards, ignorant and waiting to be saved by the superior being (men or white people) in ‘Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism’. Mohanty critiques representation of ‘third world’ women as a singular monolithic subject. Ese, despite never going to school or visiting a city can be described as a feminist on all accounts. Despite growing up in a deeply patriarchal and misogynistic society, she advocates for equality without ever being formally taught about the concept. So, you who is ‘educated’, what then is your excuse?
Ese’s character makes the reader rethink their assumptions about the regular woman from the village — or any woman, in fact. She is a woman who personifies fortitude, bravery and resilience, yet kind and loving. She is strong yet gentle; she is a beautiful woman of substance. Through her, the idea of beauty and substance is normalised, subverting the misconception that beautiful women are only that, and lack substance. She shows that women are dynamic, and should not be essentialised and fixed to a few simplistic characteristics.
Surprisingly, I really enjoyed reading Wake Me When I’m Gone. I say surprisingly, because it is not a book I will traditionally pick up. I usually go for the more complex stories with less obvious lessons. This book, however, proves that there can be beauty in simplicity. Reading it brought back memories of my childhood days: watching tales by moonlight and listening to older aunties, parents and grandparents tell folktales. Atogun’s minimalist approach to writing makes it a book all age groups can read. His writing is very accessible with simple and direct sentences reminiscent of that of Ernest Hemingway.
Perhaps for the sake of telling a simple story or spotlighting Ese, the author applies this sense of minimalism to all other characters but Noah. As a result, I found that his characters were undeveloped. Though this does not take away much from the story, it would have been a plus to have more rounded characters. Another thing worth noting is a likening to Ben Okri and Elechi Amadi - by Leila Aboulela - in terms of magical realism.
It might thus be a good idea to allow yourself to be swallowed by fiction and be immersed the world the author creates, in order to maximise one’s reading experience. All in all, Wake Me When I’m Gone is a story that challenges yet embraces tradition. It reminds one that the path to one’s destiny is hardly ever linear but filled with questioning moments. For as long as one keeps his/her eye on the goal and works hard with purpose, even the most impossible is attainable.
An Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of Odafe Atogun's Wake Me When I'm Gone was kindly sent to The Book Banque by the author, in exchange for a review. All thoughts expressed in this review are honest, and that of the writer, Husseina. Odafe Atogun's Wake Me When I'm Gone was published in the UK by Canongate in August 2017, and will be published by Ouida Books in 2018.
ften, we African women find that we live in societies where there seems to be a collective ownership of our lives. Our bodies. Our futures. From young ages, our bodies (and minds) are policed, whether through words designed to mold us into meekness, or through physical acts that are often harmful. In Nigeria, for example, 25 percent of women1 between the ages of 15 and 49 are victims of Female Genital Mutilation.
That is only one example of how, from early years, force, coercion, and pressure dog the female life. Another, more prevalent, is the pressure to get married. To submit our lives over to the control and protection of a man, as it is believed that women need to. Because of this, early marriages are quite common, with 43 percent of Nigerian women married by age 18, and 17 percent2 by age 15.
While education may have significantly reduced the number of women forced into marriage overtly, it has not stopped the covert questions asked once a girl hits the turn of her 20s. Uncles, aunties, parents, even peers, wrap the pressure in words crafted to sound like well-meaning concern. No one asks what we want — if we even want marriage, or want it yet.
The Labour of Love Landscaping, a poem by Assumpta Victu, gives a voice to the women who are at the receiving end of this pressure to be meek; to give more while receiving less; to enter into matrimony or other ideas of what society thinks we should be. The poet speaks about the familiar feeling of bearing the burdens of loss and what is broken, yet none of the glory of what is good. Yet, in all of that, her voice and message are steady to those women: stand firm.
Quit beating your individualism into submission to fit close minded cookie-cutter stereotypes.
The Labour of Love Landscaping | Spoken Word - YouTube
Assumpta is a writer, poet, blogger and storyteller born in Nigeria, and raised in London where she now lives with her husband. She received her LLM in Law from Coventry University and her MA in Creative and Professional Writing from Brunel University. Assumpta's work centers on love, loss and deracination. This poem was written and performed by her. All rights reserved.
Image: Inès Longevial.
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