African Literature: The Joys of Motherhood

by Kasia Blanchard

Today, an excerpt from Buchi Emecheta’s novel The Joys of Motherhood. Emecheta’s work is generally speaking very cultural, making a lot of references to Ibo traditions and customs. In summary, the book is what the summary on its cover states: “the story of Nnu Ego, a woman whose country undergoes bewildering changes, bereaving her of the pleasures that traditionally would be accorded her as a mother.” Here An excerpt from Chapter 5…

She was not old; in fact, judging from her straight back and agile body, she must be rather young. But she was behaving in a curious way, almost as if she was doing some sort of acrobatic dance. Nwakusor wanted to take a closer look. […]

His impatience was far from diminished as he saw from where he stood what that woman was actually trying to do. She was trying to jump into the lagoon! “Good Lord,” Nwakusor thought, “look at me jubilant for being given another opportunity to live, and see this foolish woman eager to end her own life when her Maker is not ready yet.” […]

As he approached the other side, there was a roar from the crowd as the woman floored a man who was trying to wrestle with her and free her from the railings which she was climbing in order to facilitate her leap to death. To be floored by an opponent in wrestling meant defeat, but to be laid flat by a woman was more than defeat, it was humiliation. The crowd, while eager to be at their places of work, appreciated this free entertainment, though none of them wanted the woman to achieve her suicidal aim, not when they were there anyway. None of them wanted to start the day with such an incident on their conscience. Another man tore himself from the crowd in an attempt to save her, but though the woman did not floor this one, she fought fiercely and expertly, so that the fear of everyone was that the man would give in and say, “After all, it’s her life.” However a thing like that is not permitted in Nigeria; you are simply not allowed to commit suicide in peace, because everyone is responsible for the other person. Foreigners may call us a nation of busybodies, but to us, an individual’s life belongs to the community and not just to him or her. He must interfere, he must stop it happening. […]

“Nnu Ego! Nnu Ego, the child of Agbadi’s love, Nnu Ego! What are you doing? What are you trying to do?”

She stopped abruptly in her fight. She looked up at the bystanders, her eyes roaming over their heads and not on their faces. She was shocked, someone in this crowd knew who she was! […]

Nwakusor, breathing heavily, gasped in Ibo, “What are you trying to do to your husband, your father, your people and your son who is only a few weeks old? You want to kill yourself, eh? Who is going to look after your baby for you? You are shaming your womanhood, shaming your motherhood.”

For the first time since Nnu Ego had seen her child there on the mat, tears of shock and frustration flowed down her cheeks. Who was going to give her the energy to tell the world that she had once been a mother, but had failed? […] She tried several times to talk, but her voice produced no sound. She could only shake her head negatively at Nwakusor’s angry tirade, trying to tell him that he was wrong.

Another Ibo woman, carrying a large basket of yams on her way to the market, was not satisfied with Nwakusor’s verbal chastisement. She stepped forward and slapped Nnu Ego on one side of her face, adding, “You mean you have a baby at home yet you come here disgracing the man who paid for you to be brought into this town? I don’t know what our people are becoming; as soon as they step near the coast they think they own themselves and forget the tradition of our fathers.” […]

Then Nnu Ego cried, put so much force into the use of her voice that the sound broke through, and it sounded roughly like that of a man:

“But I am not a woman anymore! I am not a mother anymore! The child is there, dead on the mat. My chi has taken him away from me. I only want to go in there and meet her…”

It was then the people understood the reason for her irrational behaviour. Even some of the men had tears of pity in their eyes. […]

“She is not mad after all.”


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