The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma – through the eyes of a feminist

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma – through the eyes of a feminist

In three hundred and one pages, Chigozie Obioma weaves a tale about a family, the family of Eme Agwu, a Banker, who leaves his family in Akure because his employer, the Central Bank of Nigeria, transferred him to Yola.

Back in Akure, his first four boys break free and do the things boys do and more, while under their mother’s watch. An apocalyptic prophecy followed this freedom tumbling the family into a seemingly endless tale of horror.

When you pick a copy of The Fishermen, sit down, and make sure you get a bottle of chilled beer. It will help in the digestion of all the well-manicured sentences in the book, as the book is an intelligent book that says what it intends to say and doles out words, unsparingly, like a generous mother.

While you’re reading it, you will discover that this resplendent book is about the women that waited on their husbands to survive. Women who watched their empire fall apart because of the absence of their husbands, because they have been raised to be nothing but women; primed to depend on men for their survival. And if, per chance, the man of the house leaves, these women wear the gait of a wet mouse and murmur about being left alone with growing boys, and in the case of death, they become petty traders, hawking groundnuts, and raising malnourished sons, having a sea of endless wants and telling tales, running around their houses naked till their almost insane son rapes them, and kills their other son, and finally run mad.

When you encounter the numerous tragedies that are splattered on almost every page of the book, close your eyes to how it pulverizes and pummels the female characters, and simply shrug, after all, they are women; another name for ‘the insignificant other’.

It is horrendous to break a tear for them, and please do not even sniffle like them because it is very womanly to shed a tear.

Real men don’t cry.

Be a REAL man.

Always bear in mind that The Fishermen is a book about a ‘head honcho’ of a father who leaves his home in Akure because his employer prefers him to be in Yola. As he leaves, he leaves his six children with his insignificant other who is ‘only fully realised in presence, the woman whose maternal vigilance falls apart with her husband’s momentary absence’.

It is, therefore, natural that while she carries her children in the earthenware pot she carries on her head, while focussing on the other things in her hands, her four boys break the pot and run free. Bouncing around with their ball to hit the disabled, shatter glass windows, and then when the ball becomes what it shouldn’t be, they become fishermen, fishing in Omi-Ala, that dreadful river where even adults dread to go.

And so, in there, they fish out the madman who utters an ugly prophecy that will fiberize the four fishermen.

And these women, when they weren’t able to bear a child for their dead husbands, wouldn’t mind seeking solace in the loins of a ‘mad’ man, after all, a mad man is also a man. A mad man is better than a drunken husband who comes home naked and couldn’t bring money for his sick child, a man who visits violence on his family when asked to perform his fatherly duties.

Such a man is better off killed with a chair.

Obioma’s The Fishermen depicts the consequences of pushing women to the margin of the society. And even when Eme Agwu sketched a pattern for the future of his children, the functionality of gender, as it stands today, isn’t thrown aside. Ikenna was to be a pilot, Boja was to be a lawyer, Obembe the family’s doctor, Benjamin a Professor, David an engineer, and Nkem… a woman.

This can be an immediate indoctrination for the female child to believe that she is a second class citizen, the one who functions like the vassal conditioned to serve the suzerains, and who in likewise manner, favour their hard deeds in a superior way. In similar vein, the women are expected to serve the men in their lives, and then depend on them for their survival; a system which readily showcases an imbalance of power.

The first sentence shows the boys’ new career as fishermen and the event that sparked up this choice: ‘…father moved out of Akure.’ And the realization of this news created a new mother for the Agwu family. ‘Mother emerged a different being. She had acquired the gait of a wet mouse, averting her eyes as she went about…(9)’ She also missed the church because she was busy priming her primary duty as a woman: taking care of her husband. The news, that her husband would be leaving their six children and the home with her, shook her. She says all she could to dissuade Eme as he drives out of the life they know, but Eme is almost sure that his wife could do it, that she could run the home without him.  Eme, just as the many men who are not aware of the gender problem in Africa, wasn’t aware that in his absence, mother isn’t human enough to keep her boys together because the society had socialized her to shrink herself, to silence herself, to always wait on the man. She is a falconer, who sees all, she staves off all ills from the hills where she stands, however, she couldn’t see that her young birds were fishing curses from the cursed river, Omi-Ala, and she still would not have seen it if her neighbour, Iya Iyabo, did not burst the boys secret.

In fact it is ignorable and forgivable.

The Fishermen does nothing to challenge the society.

The book is a perfect example of why we need to re-evaluate our postures on women and their place in the society. It shows a need for us to reign in our impulse to stereotype the Nigerian woman especially in this day and age and particularly in works of literature.

A society will be safer if it glories in the functionality of its women rather than in their passivity.

*Published by Cassava Republic in 2015, Obioma’s debut novel, TheFishermen, was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize.

Ada Chioma Ezeano

 

Superheroes Inc.: The Enablers!

Superheroes Inc.: The Enablers!

There have been a lot of articles both on and offline, recently, about how there is little or no diversity in superheroes – in comic and video forms.  This lack of diversity shows in the limited number of women and people of different races being represented as superheroes.

Nigerians, since we nor dey carry last, have been battling to rectify this grave injustice by coming up with our own set of superheroes. Esu, Sango, Amadioha, Oya and a lot more are being represented in their superhero forms. 

But we have noticed, with dismay, that a particular set of people have totally been ignored in the scramble to put our superheroes on the world stage.

Marriage is the ultimate goal for any Nigerian – living or dead, male or female, adult or child, dead broke or fantastically corruption rich.

Please do not argue!

Inventing new machines that make life easier; finding the cure for cancer, AIDS, Diabetes and other deadly diseases; making new art forms; writing codes – all these things are not as important as… wait for it – marriage!

Surprise!

Now these set of superheroes are the ones who help us to keep our morals intact, they keep marriages together (often till-death-do-them-part) and ensure our moral rectitude is … rectitudinal! They’re sometimes called the ‘Moral Police’ but this is a misnomer, and really it won’t sound nice as a superhero’s name –

Moral Police?

Nah…

As your friendly neighborhood aprokos, we have found a name to suit this group of people, we shall call them The Enablers! (Btw an enabler is someone who makes something possible. They create an environment for negative or self-destructive behavior to thrive. If you’re an addict – be it to drugs, cheating, lying, physical, emotional or psychological abuse – an enabler will empower you to do this better) gerrit?

The Enablers are made up of six superheroes with six different superpowers. They are as follows-

Virginato – Female, short, plump, with dimples in her shiny cheeks
Superpower – ability to spot virgins from a mile off with her laser beam eyes. And if you’re no longer a virgin, do not be worried, Virginato’s powers can restore your virginity – with creams or restorative surgery.
Motto: Your virginity, my business

Count Slutee – Male tall, thin, with protruding teeth
Superpower – ability to detect sluts. Just one touch on your arm he can decide whether you’re a slut or …you’re a slut. He keeps track of the number of men that you’ve ever spoken to. One blast from his fingers and your body count will be reduced to zero!
Motto: I help you keep and broadcast your ‘body count’

General Marital: Female, middle-aged, wears a lot of Darling Yaki
Superpowers: ability to advise you to pray especially if you’re in an abusive relationship. She can smell an abused woman a mile off and she readily hands out pamphlets about entering ‘war rooms’ and conquering an abusive partner on ‘your knees’.
Motto: If your partner is abusing you, then it’s your fault

Shitta the Cheater: Male, spots a goatee, dark sunshades and a beer-gut
Superpowers: knows with a certainty that men are babies and needs to be cared for, they are also subject to their penis. Can also help you find out if your partner is cheating on you. Very good at stalking women on Facebook and gives them advice about their lipsticks.
Motto: Men think with their dicks

Tape the Rule: Female, tall and fat, always has a tape rule with her
Superpowers: Her tape rule has a life of its own, measures the depth of a woman’s blouse or the length of her skirt. She knows the exact length, or depth, of clothes, which qualifies a woman for rape.
Motto: What were you wearing when you were raped?

Judgianna: Male short, thin, ascetic
Superpowers: Can be found on almost all gossip websites putting his ‘two kobo’ comments on every case involving relationships, sex and sexuality. Fights other commenters over whether Tiwa Savage should stay with her husband or not. Can slut shame with a flick of his fingers
Motto: Anti go an marry

We believe these people are heros and they deserve a place in the pantheon of gods. They are the ones keeping abused women with their abusers because ‘divorce is a sin’, they try to shame divorcees and ensure single women don’t remain single too long.

Go Enablers go!

On Abortion – Bunmi Tella

On Abortion – Bunmi Tella

I was asked where I stood on abortion in Africa….here’s my response…..

I’m definitely pro-choice and hate to see men legislating on matters which they know nothing about.

Just a couple of months ago the Sierra Leonean government tried to pass a bill legalizing first term terminations and it was vetoed by male religious leaders on the basis that it’s a sin. Meanwhile that country has the highest rate of maternal deaths in Africa and since the war a steady increase in incest and rape.

It is unfair that men get to decide such matters without much consideration for the mother – who is essentially then victimized twice.

The uncomfortable truth is that even if it’s not rape or incest, a woman should have the option to say ‘I’m not ready – I cannot handle this’.

A woman having unwanted babies is the fastest path to poverty and misery.

The other day I saw a video of 2 men “fishing” a baby out of a river. It had been abandoned by its mother.

When we force people, who are not ready to be mothers, into motherhood we sentence the child to a lifetime of neglect at best and outright abuse at worse.

Its unwanted children that become victims of sexual, physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Its unwanted children that become thieves, murderers and rapists.

During the first term, the fetus is barely a fetus and if i was a fetus I’d rather be terminated than condemned to a life of misery.

There is a reason China had its one child policy and African governments should be embracing terminations en masse to stop poverty if nothing else.

I don’t understand how you can care so much about some cells the size of a grape in a woman’s body but you can’t bring yourself to care about the abject poverty and the miserable life a huge chunk of your population is condemned to.