Ikenga!

Ikenga!

She looked to her left, then her right. There was no one in sight. She could see light from afar but no shadows or figures. She kept walking, almost running. She knew that everything ends tonight.

It used to be sweet and good, but now, it’s painful.

Pain-ful. And bad.

Ugly-bad.

She continued to run-walk.

Everything had been good and beautiful until her husband, Ikenga, brought that witch of a sister to live with them. She had protested the decision, but Ikenga had promised her that it was just for some time. Maybe a month or two. But that month or two had stretched into six, seven, eight, nine months and half, and that girl became pregnant.

Pregnant! She almost screamed, she clamped her mouth with her left hand.

Pregnant for Ikenga!

Who would believe this?

And he never attempted to deny it. All he said was that she wasn’t related to him .

But how could she have been so foolish? How could she not have seen that they were not related? That the girl was his new wife, sent from the village by her mother-in-law, to come and take her Ikenga from her.

That witch of a mother!

She kept walking and running.

Crying.

That girl with her nonsense pregnancy! Ha the way she’d been flaunting it, as if she wants to torment my childlessness. It’s not my fault that my stomach cannot hold a pregnancy.

Ikenga had been so supportive of her, consoling her and fighting his mother for her. He had comforted her and followed her to all the doctors and pastors that were recommended. He had cooked and drank and bathed with all the oil and herbs and potions and concoctions they were given. He had prayed and fasted and thrown small parties for children like they were told, parties because children are spirits and if treated well and kindly with love and generosity, could bring babies to those who sought them.

Ikenga!

Why didn’t you tell me that you wanted a baby badly? Why humiliate me?

A light flashed from afar. A thick voice, almost like leather, asked who it was. She stopped.

Police! Yes. It was the police.

She ran towards them.

They kept the torchlight shining into her face, blinding her.

“Woman, what is the problem? Where are you coming from this late in the night?”

“I killed them! My husband and the pregnant girl. I killed them both with poison. Please arrest me… arrest me now!”

 

Som’Adina Kambilinudo is a writer, a human being. 

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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

 

Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi on Handshake deals, Her love for books and Parresia

Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi on Handshake deals, Her love for books and Parresia

9jafeminista: You started Parresia about five years ago as a working girl, with some years as an editor with Farafina and absolutely no experience as a business woman. How would you describe this journey?

AOO: The groundwork, the thinking, the conceiving and all the molecules that would make up the structure of Parrésia Publishers Ltd, began in 2011. So that’s four years ago not five. Yes, I worked as an Editor for Farafina Magazine before then and Yes, I absolutely had no experience as a business woman. The only thing that made sense was the fact I loved books and I wanted to see more of them published. And this only happened after Femi, my brother, asked “why would you want to start a Literary Agency, when you can go the whole nine yards and publish books?” So I said Okay in that clueless way I normally do and Parresia after the name was chosen, was birthed with the help of Richard Ali who came on as co-owner.

The journey happened and that’s why I almost gave up at one point when I discovered publishing isn’t just about loving books or getting them published but making money out of it, which ensures your operational side stays lubricated.

9jafeminista: Oh wait! So you mean the rumours making the rounds in literary circles that Richard Ali owns Parrésia is true?

AOO: They aren’t rumours Richard Ali co-owns Parrésia Publishers. When Parrésia started, it was a company between friends. I was the financier and he would be the operations person. It was a handshake based on mutual respect Yes. A lot has also happened to create several impressions. But you don’t see me for instance going up in people’s faces laying claims or saying the company revolves around me. No, you won’t. What’s important is I love books, I print Books. I see it as a business which must survive. The titles, the ownership structure, are Secondary. I’ve never been in a forum where I had to emphasise my role or my importance, if I was, I wouldn’t be caught doing it anyway. Parrésia is about the passion for Books and not the fight for ownership nor the extreme importance of its titles. And this is something I learnt and I came to adopt from Farafina. The structure was flat. The titles of the individuals did not matter. Getting the work did. That is what was important.

9jafeminista: Do you think this handshake kind of agreement can bring about bad blood?

AOO: Yes! But we [Richard Ali and I] understand that this is based on the fact that Parrésia was a fledgling publishing house when it started but in such a short while it has become one of the big publishing houses to be reckoned with. [But this largely] depends on the Individual. If in the beginning, I chose to use the title Managing Editor because I felt more comfortable with it, and out of necessity (because things have evolved) I now use CEO and Managing Editor despite the fact that I think it’s totally cumbersome. So certain things had to happen to ensure bad blood was not allowed to spill physically.

9jafeminista: Any plans to make an improvement in both service delivery and structure?

Life constantly evolves and so will Parrésia. We have things we keep working on. Ideas we keep having and mistakes we keep making in the process to be better. Parrésia is still a long way off from being a Company that can stand in line with let’s say Farafina or Cassava Republic. There’s still so much to do, but we’ll get there. And what’s important is we have the Passion to make it succeed.

9jafeminista: One of the common things the new publishing houses in Nigeria (those that evolved in the 2000’s Farafina, Cassava Republic to name but two) is their love for Nigerian literature and determination to spread our literature across the globe.But as we know this doesn’t mean that these you guys have bottomless pockets or unending sources of funding, how have you managed to keep Parrésia above the waters of incompetence, the governments apparent disinterest in Nigeria’s struggling publishing industry and all the other risks associated with this industry?

I’d like to say it isn’t just Nigerian Literature Parrésia is interested in, African Literature too. But yes, what is closest to the mission is to see the best of Nigerian Literature published first. In our first year or second, Toni Kan predicted that if we were not careful we might end up shutting down. He was right. So right, I had my first major desire to throw my arms up and walk away. But then things have a way of working out. I have a very supportive family and they came to the rescue. Especially my husband. From this experience, I learnt to be more careful.

Then there’s the Origami Imprint which is for self-publishers. This imprint manages to keep our account from being red even if there’s nothing in it at the end of the day.

9jafeminista: One of the falsehoods usually peddled by ‘anti feminists’ is that women are jealous of one another’s successes, would you say you’ve found this true of yourself?

AOO: Hell no! Although I think Women should have a more united, indivisible front. My friend and sister Ayodele Olofintuade recently officially announced her publishing company. To be jealous of her or any other progressive woman would be a show of daftness.

9jafeminista: And finally, how would you describe your transition from a working girl to a business owner?

AOO: From Fawning to Naïve and then a Total Wreck to Facing My Demons, Fighting and most importantly staying Focused!