By Elechi Amadi
The Concubine is the debut novel by Nigerian writer Elechi Amadi originally published in 1966 as part of the Heinemann African Writers Series.
Set in a remote village in Eastern Nigeria, an area yet to be affected by European values and where society is orderly and predictable.
The story concerns a woman "of great beauty and dignity" who inadvertently brings suffering and death to all her lovers.
By Elechi Amadi
THE TITLE OF THE NOVEL
The Concubine by definition: is a woman who, in some societies, lives and has sex with a man she is not married to, and has a lower social rank than his wife or wives. The book title (The concubine) is symbolic as its meaning is only revealed to the reader in the closing chapters of the novel.
It becomes clear that ‘the concubine’ is none other than Ihuoma – the beautiful lady and main character in the novel who is believed to be the wife of the Sea-King who is jealous and kills any man who falls in love with her. However it is revealed that if some rites are performed and the Sea-King is persuaded, then he could allow someone to live with her as his Concubine not his wife thus the name “The Concubine”.
That is the reason Emenike, Madume, and Ekwueme died since they tried to live with her as a wife not as a concubine. The author says; “well she could be someone’s concubine. Her Sea-king husband can be persuaded to put up with that after highly involved rites. But as a wife he is completely ruled out” (p.196).
The novel is set in a pre-colonial rural Nigeria and the author mainly talks about African traditional way of life in its totality bringing together all aspects that constitute the life of a rural community including but not limited to its religious, social, cultural and economic practices.
To sum up the rural setting the following have been used to build the African authenticity and put events in their relevant African setting.
Ø A number of Nigerian villages have been mentioned; Omokachi, Chiolu, Aliji, and Omigwe.
Ø Traditional practices like belief in the witch doctors, the role of supernatural spirits on human life, gathering for night dances at the village arena, traditional marriages like early childhood betrothal, polygamy, spouse beating, taboos, and dressing styles (wrappers), etc. constitute a rural setting.
Ø Economic activities like farming, hunting/trapping wild animals, and selling their agricultural produce at seasonal markets.
Ø Time telling is also done by looking at the length of the shadows or the position of the sun during the day and at night they depend on the moon site or the cock crow. They also tell time by counting a number of market days to come or past market days.
Ø Fetching water from the stream (well) and living in thatched houses also tell more about rural setting.
The plot is chronologically divided into thirty chapters narrated in a straightforward narration with few flashbacks. It shows how Madume’s fight with Emenike is attributed to the later death of Emenike. This makes Ihuoma a widow and Madume wants to use that opportunity to woo Ihuoma. As she refuses his advances one particular day he tries to stop her from harvesting the plantain from the land that caused argument between him and Emenike. In the process the cobra spits in his eyes resulting to his blindness and death.
Ekwueme the young man takes over wooing Ihuoma. After tirelessly trying to win Ihuoma’s approval and the discouragements from Ihuoma, he finally marries Ahurole a girl betrothed to him from childhood. The marriage doesn’t work and in the process of mending it by applying a love potion it breaks completely apart and Ihuoma find herself submissive to the proposal of Ihuoma.
However divine inquiry suggests that it would be a misfortune for Ekwueme to marry Ihuoma as she was a wife of the Sea-king who was responsible for the death of Emenike and Madume. Ekwueme and Ihuoma insist to go on with the wedding preparation something that causes the death of Ekwueme.
The Concubine is a unique novel written in such a way that we as readers see ourselves in it. The language used to depict the struggles, pain, love, hate, death and other issues treated therein are indeed a reflection of our humanity. The author has employed different techniques to deliver his message to the intended audience.
Ø Dialogue – there is conversation between and among characters to bring events and characters to life. E.g.: The conversation between Nnadi and Ihuoma (p. 69)
“It is that wicked fellow, Madume, She managed to say between sobs.
Who? Nnadi roared
Did he touch you?
Did he beat you?
He as good as did it
Where is he? …..
Ø Songs – to enrich his style he has made frequent use of songs to engage the reader to visualize the life of this traditional community. E.g. (p.80)
She is a champion wrestler
A mighty leg twist
Sent her husband down
She is a champion wrestler
Ø Point of view – The story is told from a third person point of view. In most cases it is the author who tells the story, in some more specific cases he uses first person point of view to tell stories related to the supernatural world in which case a character like Anyika tells what he knows about the spiritual world.
v She is the main character and the wife of Emenike. Ihuoma is Emenike’s twenty-two-year-old wife, married to him for six years. Before her marriage and move to Omokachi, she lived in the nearby village of Omigwe, where her parents, Ogbuji and Okachi, still reside.
v She is a caring woman. She spends the majority of her time caring for her three children and her husband. She showed great devotion to her husband in every way she could think of. Even when he was sick she prepared dish after dish and tempted him (p.7). She also took care of Ekwueme until he fully recovered.
v She is pretty and beautiful but not arrogant. Ihuoma is a beautiful and attractive lady whose beauty calls for the attention and admiration by all in her village. Despite her beauty she gracefully conducts herself in her duties of housekeeping and shows no arrogance.
v She is sympathetic, supportive, gentle and reserved. Ihuoma was not hesitant to show her sympathy when it was needed. She offered to help in any possible way to see to it that someone’s life is restored to normal. She agrees to arrange a make-believe marriage with Ekwueme if that was the only option available and it worked. Speaking to Wigwe, she says in (p.184) “You don’t know how sorry I feel about the whole thing. I wish I could help you even more.
v She is very intelligent. She would assess any situation before agreeing to take part in it. After her husband’s death she refuses many men who woo her for marriage considering the distress and shame she is going to cause to the village.
v She is a good advisor and peace maker. She offered to advise other women especially when they were in conflicts. She herself avoided any serious quarrel with other women six years of her marriage. The author says “She found herself settling quarrels and offering advice to older women” (p 12)
v She has a firm stand. After the death of her husband there is a high pressure mounting from her mother and other men from the village proposing her for marriage. She refuses to get married to any man as a way of making her forget about her late husband. She tells her mother “If you mean that I should get a lover, then let us discuss something else because I won’t.” (p. 40)
v She is a widow. Ihuoma is left a lonely widow with her husband Emenike. The final chapters of the book reveal that her widowhood is predestined by the Sea King who becomes jealous when any man loves her, killing the man and leaving her a widow forever alone on Earth.
v She is believed to be a goddess. Ihuoma is believed to be a goddess – the wife of a Sea-King, the ruling spirit of the sea who sought the company of human beings against the advice of her husband and was incarnated. That’s why she is quite right in everything almost perfect.(p. 196)
v He is Ihuoma’s first husband, well respected in Omokachi as the “ideal young man” because of his striking appearance and intelligence.
v He is a handsome young man. Apart from being an ideal young man he was well-formed, a favourite with the girls.
v He is an average but lucky wrestler. While he was an average wrestler he had a devil’s luck of throwing people in a spectacular ways which onlooker remembered long afterwards.
v He is involved in a land clash with Madume. During a journey through the forest near the village, he encounters Madume, a man he had recently quarreled with over rights to a piece of land.
v He dies of lock-chest. He wrestles, with Madume but Madume’s sheer bulk overpowers Emenike, who is thrown against a tree stump and seriously injured. He survives only to die of “lock-chest” days later.
v He is a husband of Wolu and a father of four daughters.
v He is gender stereotypical. He fathered four girls with Wolu but he used to call then Wolu’s children because they were girls. He even thought of using his daughters’ dowry to marry another wife who would bear him baby boys. (p.4, 56)
v He is big-eyed (unsatisfied). One of the things the villagers didn’t like about Madume was that he was never satisfied with his share in anything that was good. (p 4)
v He is a dishonest land grabber. He first quarreled with Emenike over a piece of land which belonged to Emenike. After Emenike’s death he also quarreled with Ihuoma over the same piece of land.
v He is quarrelsome. Madume was constantly quarreling with villagers over land, palm wine trees, plantain trees and other such things. (p. 5)
v He is jealous. He hated Emenike just because he managed to marry Ihuoma the most desirable girl from Omigwe that he loved. Also he hated Emenike since old men cited Emenike as an ideal young man. (p. 5)
v He is hot-temped and cruel to his family. He is very cruel to his children and harasses both his wife and children. Even after losing his sight he was still harsh to his wife.
v He is lazy and unsuccessful. By the time he reaches his early thirties he had no any notable achievements to brag about. He had a small compound with only two houses because he hated thatching then in rainy seasons.
v His actions become his downfall. Soon after his confrontation with Ihuoma, on the land he wrongly considers his own. He is blinded by a spitting cobra and shamed in the eyes of the villagers. In response to loss of his vision, he hangs himself.
v He is a son of Wigwe and Adaku. He was an only child for almost twelve years. Being the only chid he waswell taken care of and given the required attention of the only child until Wigwe accused Adaku of trying to make a woman out of a man (p. 131)
v He is shy of girls. Ekwueme was shy of girls and he had hard time to express his feeling to Ihuoma.
v He is a singer. He is a reputed singer who sings along with Wakiri, Adiele the drum beater, Mmam the drummer.
v He is a very hardworking young man. Ekwueme was a hardworking, dutiful and a sensible young man which is why among other reasons his father Wigwe loved and respected him. (p. 106)
v He has true love and a firm stand. Ekwueme showed strong conviction of love to Ihuoma and was not easily moved. Although he forcibly married Ahurole – a girl he was betrothed to since childhood his love for Ihuoma grew day by day and he died for it.
v He was betrothed to Ahurole at the age of 5. Ekwueme was engaged to Ahurole, when she was 8 days old and he was about five years old. Ahurole later turned out to be an overly emotional and often irrational mate making him unhappy in his marriage until Ahurole administers a love potion that drives him to passivity and then to the brink of insanity.
v He is an animal trapper and hunter. He is an accomplished trapper and is well-liked in Omokachi. He traps animals and supplies the meat in his family and his friends.
v She is a young woman from Omigwe, the daughter of Wagbara and Wonuma.
v She is Ekwueme’s wife betrothed to him since childhood. She was engaged to Ekwueme, when she was 8 days old and he was about five years old.
v She is a pampered wife. She would cry without any apparent reason something that gave hard time to her husband trying to understand her and brought a family quarrel most of the time.
v She is superstitious. Advised by her mother she used a love potion to win her husband’s heart something that broke her marriage completely apart.
v She is a fugitive. When the potion fails to elicit the expected results, and instead endangers her husband’s mental state, she flees Omokachi, returning to her parents’ home at Omigwe.
v The father of Ekwueme and Adaku’s husband living at Omokachi village.
v He is a traditionalist. He betrothed his son to Ahurole when he was only 5 years old and worked hard to make the marriage negotiations that were to take a year to last in six months. He did so partly because he was suspicious Ekwueme would marry Ihuoma instead and it was an abomination to break the childhood engagement.
v He is superstitious. He believes in the power of the witchdoctors like Anyika and Agwoturumbe and he consulted them whenever he had issues to be sorted out.
v He is remorseful and apologetic. After Ihuoma had given a hand of cooperation to ensure that Ekwueme’s mental health fully recovers, he apologised for his recent rudeness and felt full of remorse. (p.188)
v He has a thanksgiving heart. He appreciated the service rendered by Ihuoma and thought of how to reward her but he ended up saying “Thank you my daughter. The gods will reward you” (p.184)
v He is a medicine man (the dibia) who said he came from Eluanyim and is believed to be the mediator between the villagers and the spirit world.
v He is superstitious. He believes in the power of the spirits and their influence on human life. For example he tells Madume that his injury at Ihuoma’s compound was a result of the sea spirits that had sworn to kill him there and said Emenike’s father was among them.
v He knows the ways of the village gods, and villagers consult him for rituals of healing or appeasement.
v He recognizes Ihuoma’s spiritual origins and predicts the fates of the young men who love her.
v In a way he is an honest and sympathetic witchdoctor. He for instance rejected Ahurole’s proposal to administer a love potion to her husband because he knew it has side effects to men. He says; “I am sure you have seen active and intelligent men suddenly become passive, stupid and dependent. That is what a love potion can do. So go and settle your differences with your husband peacefully. If you insist, then you must go somewhere else”
Also sympathising with the Wigwes he offered to pay for them the two manillas required for his divination to work since they had paid so much in the past.
v Wakiri the Omokachi village singer who provides comic relief for Ihuoma, Ekwueme, and other villagers by telling jokes. A gentle character accompanies his wit. He helps Ihuoma take care of affairs after Emenike’s death; he also provides Ekwueme with advice and support.
v He is Emenike’s brother and protector of Ihuoma after her husband’s death. He defends her honour and aids in maintenance of her home and lands.
v He is the father of Ihuoma and Wonuma’s husband who live in Omigwe village. He is a traditionalist as he betrothed her daughter to Ekwueme when she was only 8 days old. He is also a polygamist with two wives Wonuma (Ahurole’s mother) and Aleruchi and he has kept a timetable for his wives to feed him.
v She is Ahurole’s mother and Wagbara’s senior wife. She is superstitious as she believes that a love potion would make Ahurole win her husband’s heart. She ends up breaking her daughter’s marriage with her witchcraft sending it to a devastating end.
AFRICAN TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS
Superstition and witchcraft
ü Superstition is one of the themes in the novel. In the traditional African life, superstition and witchcraft surround the people and creates a state of fear and uncertainty. Superstition is discussed in the following scenarios.
ü Small pox is considered extremely ominous. The disease is so dreaded that people dared not call it small pox. Instead, they call it “the good thing” when referring to it. Also, when a person dies of small pox, people are forbidden to mourn him.
ü That is not all, even some animals are attached to some superstitious belief. For instance, it is believed that a vulture does not perch on anyone’s roof except that it brings a divine message to the household. And after this, people go to consult the oracle on the import of the message and the befitting sacrifices must follow.
ü It is believed that Ihuoma is a sea-goddess of the Sea-King. To marry women like her an expert in sorcery must be consulted if her husband’s spirit was behind her but if it was the sea King it was impossible since he is so powerful.
ü It is believed that in any case people did not just die without reason. They died because they had done something wrong or because they had neglected to minister to the gods or to the spirits of their ancestors.
ü To sort out things dealing with the spiritual world they consult witch-doctors like Anyika and Agwoturumbe (the dibia) to help them. These use that opportunity to exploit their clients by demanding a lot of items to complete the sacrifices.
ü With all these scenes of superstition in the novel Amadi seems to be concerned with how much harm people must have brought upon themselves due to ignorance. Due to ignorance in the form of beliefs, lives have been lost, property and resources wasted and bright hope and future dashed.
Rooted in most African societies is the theme of Bride price which has to be paid before the girl is sent off to her husband. In this novel or rather society bride price is taken as a source of income. Speaking of Madume the author says “but there was time enough to marry another wife and the problem did not bother him unduly. Moreover his daughter’s marriages would provide him with the money for another wife.
Ekwueme also paid the bride price for Ahurole and it was refunded when she fled back home and it was to be paid to Ihuoma’s brother in law (Nnadi) before he got harried to her but he died before being able to fulfil this traditional requirement.
Wrestling is part and parcel of recreation in this traditional society. They hold wrestling matches as part of amusement and enjoyment. However there is a certain honour attached to those best wrestlers which earns them the societal respect.
Traditional dances (oduma) are also part of the recreation of this society. During the moonlight nights they hold the dances at the village arena for refreshment and enjoyment. Mmam, and Adiele beat the drums while Wodu Wakiri and Ekwueme are singers.
Shaving after death
There is a traditional custom of shaving after death. To fulfil the requirement Ihuoma also had her hair closely shaven according to the tradition. (p28)
Second burial ritual
There is a ritual called second burial ceremony. A responsible man like Emenike was to be given the second burial in honour of his contribution during his lifetime. They believed that his spirit rejoiced when the second burial was performed. But again it was done to officially terminate the days of mourning so that the family members of the deceased may go on with normal life.
However, people who hanged themselves like Madume did not deserve the second burial because their bodies were considered an abomination to the society.
Polygamy is one of the strongest and reputed African traditions practised in almost all traditional societies. There are many cases of polygamy in this novel.
The father of Mgbachi (Nnadi’s) wife had had four wives when he died. She says “I remember when my father died, six no seven, years ago. My mother and the three other wives nearly collapsed under the strain of the rites” (p.31)
Wagbara (Ahurole’s father) had two wives- Wonuma and Aleruchi.
Madume was also thinking of having a second wife who would bear him baby boys since his wife had born him four daughters something that was most annoying to him.
Children ought to observe table manners when eating. One day as Ihuoma visited her parents they were eating with her children and Ogbuji his father commented when Nwonna was talking “Stop talking Nwonna, you are eating. Ihuoma is this how you are bringing them up?
Most traditional societies have a series of restrictions that the forbid the members of the society from doing certain things. There are several taboos portrayed in this society.
ü No ordinary man was allowed to take down the body of a person who committed suicide except the dibia (medicine man) (p.76)
ü The bodies of people who committed suicide like Madume are not buried nor given a second burial rite. They are thrown in the Minita forest since they are considered to be an abomination. (p.76)
ü Food taboo: Women are forbidden to eat neither the meat of a kite nor the gizzard of a bird.
ü A girl is not allowed to go to the farm during her four days of stay at her husband’s compound before official marriage. (p. 124)
ü No woman is allowed to enter the room of divination 7 days before the dibia’s occupation. (p 207)
ü It is an abomination to break early childhood engagement. (p 107)
Sex preference. (Gender stereotype)
In African context a girl is not expected to inherit the properties of her father when he dies. As a result getting baby girls only becomes a distress to the father. Madume is annoyed because his wife has born four daughters.
“Wolu, Madume’s only wife, bore him four daughters – a most annoying thing, despite the dowries he knew he would collect when they got married. But who would bear his name when he died? The thought of his elder bothers sons inheriting his houses and lands filled him with dismay”(p.4)
At times he referred to them as Wolu’s children and not his. Which brought a family conflict. Wolu complains “It is the way you keep talking of my children as if they are not yours. If they were boys you would regard them more as your children, I am sure. Well I am not Chineke; I do not create children” (p. 56)
ü This traditional society has a traditional way of telling time. Since they do not have clocks and calendars they rely heavily on natural ways of telling time which is however not very accurate.
ü One, they tell the time of the day by looking at the length of the shadows and the position of the sun. as in page 84 Ekwueme says “I wonder how long the shadows are, he went outside. He looked at his shadow and glanced at the sun”
ü At night they rely on the moonrise and the cock crow.
ü Two, the time of the week is determined by a number of market days.
Early childhood betrothal.
ü Ekwueme was engaged to Ahurole, when she was 8 days old and he was about five years old. This brings conflicts to the concerned parties because their marriage is not based on mutual love but parents’ preferences. Ekwueme says “My parents selected Ahurole as soon as she was born. I could hardly pull a bow by then. I really had no choice” (p.91)
ü Ahurole later turned out to be an overly emotional and often irrational mate making him unhappy in his marriage until Ahurole administers a love potion that drives him to passivity and then to the brink of insanity.
ü Wife (spouse) beating has always been a method used by African men to discipline their wives. It is illogical to treat your spouse like a child. Speaking of Ekwueme the author says “Many men beat their wives; he hadn’t done so yet” (p.140)
ü Later when Ahurole’s behaviour did not change he also beat her. The author says “Suddenly Ekwe got up and ordered her to get off in an awful voice. Before she could move he gave her several slaps on the face and pushed her back violently” (p .142)
The theme of love seems to be central to everything that is taking place in the events of the story. Love, being a universal theme, often forms a major concern of most African novels. In this novel the author takes a different view of the subject of love.
The question that we are often bound to ask is whether the author is trying to show that love is blind to convention. Truly, parties in love, especially for the first time, are usually blinded by their own inclination so much that they tend to ignore everything else. This is the case with Ekwueme in the story. Despite his awareness of the position of custom and tradition of the land that a betrothal marriage must be sealed, he goes ahead to propose to Ihuoma, the beautiful widow.
The question is, what does true love imply? Must two people in love with each other necessarily get married? Does love between two marriageable opposite sexes always end up in sexual intercourse, in the form of boyfriend and girlfriend or in the form of married couple? No doubt, Ekwueme’s relationship with Ahurole comes to a sad conclusion, not because the young man does not enjoy sexual pleasure with her, but because his heart longs for someone else, which is Ihuoma.
In a way the author shows that love has to flow freely and unconditionally until it finds its own soul mate. The question of love is further complicated in this novel when it comes to our attention that the spiritual world also interferes human affairs deciding for them whom to love and whom not to. The Sea-king for instance is not ready to let go of Ihuoma to get married to any man but at the least he could allow someone to live with her as his concubine not as a wife.
There are various conflicts discussed in the novel most of which are caused of the traditional life of this society.
Ekwueme suffered an intrapersonal conflict because of his love to Ihuoma. Both Ihuoma and his own parents did not understand him. Ekwueme was betrothed to Ahurole since childhood and Bothe Ihuoma and Ekwueme’s parents were not ready to break this custom. It caused a great intrapersonal conflict to Ekwueme.
Madume vs Emenike
Madume has a conflict with Emenike over the question of land. Their conflict yielded to a serious fight that left Emenike seriously injured. The conflict was resolved by the elders but Madume resumed it even after Emenike’s death.
Madume vs Nnadi
Madume had a conflict with Nnadi. This resulting from Madume’s behaviour of bulling Ihuoma over the land issue and preventing her from harvesting the plantain from her husband’s plot of land. It is this conflict that made Madume receive the spitting from the cobra.
Wolu vs Madume.
Madume has a conflict with his wife over the question of gender stereotype. Because she bore four girls Madume was annoyed and at times he referred to them as Wolu’s children and not his which brought a family conflict. Wolu complains “It is the way you keep talking of my children as if they are not yours. If they were boys you would regard them more as your children, I am sure. Well I am not Chineke; I do not create children” (p. 56)
Ekwueme vs his family
Ekwueme has a conflict with his parents over the marriage question. On one side they wonder how a bachelor becomes interested in marrying a widow and they object it with all their might causing a conflict with their son. On the other side they wonder how they would dare to break the early childhood engagement that had been already done between him and Ahurole. It was considered and abomination to break such engagements. As a result Wigwe rushed the marriage negotiations that were to take place for a year and they lasted for only six months. However the marriage didn’t work out as it was thought.
Ekwueme vs his wife (Ahurole)
Since Ekueme’s marriage to Ahurole seemed to be a forced one, the two young couples were never at peace. Ahurole later turned out to be an overly emotional and often irrational mate making him unhappy in his marriage. He even dared to lay a hand on her resulting into a serious conflict until Ahurole administers a love potion that drives him to passivity and then to insanity. It ended when Ahurole fled back to her parents and Ekwueme recovered and was allowed to marry Ihuoma Ekwueme was certain of his fate if he marries Ihuoma, but went on anyway, driven by love.
POSITION OF WOMEN
v Women are not allowed to inherit properties. Madume is annoyed of his daughters because they won’t be able to inherit his properties when he dies. But who would bear his name when he died? The thought of his elder bothers sons inheriting his houses and lands filled him with dismay” (p.4)
v Women are portrayed as good advisors. Ihuoma is a good advisor and peace maker. She offered to advise other women especially when they were in conflicts. She herself avoided any serious quarrel with other women six years of her marriage. The author says “She found herself settling quarrels and offering advice to older women” (p 12)
v Women are portrayed as parents and caretakers. Ihuoma takes the responsibility of bringing up her children alone after her father’s death. Ahurole’s mother (Wonuma) and Ekwueme’s mother (Adaku) took good care of their children.
v Women are portrayed as weak people. Ahurole complains that Ekwueme is fond of scolding her (p 137). We are also told that many men beat their wives and Ekwueme ended up beating Ahurole. Women also are required to address their husbands as “My Lord”
v Women are treated as children. Wigwe advices Ekwe to treat Ahurole as a child. He says “Think of her as a baby needing constant correction. When a baby annoys you, you don’t carry the anger with you all day, do you? Treat your wife the same” (p. 139)
v Women are portrayed as superstitious. Wonuma (Ahurole’s mother) is superstitious as she believes that a love potion would make Ahurole win her husband’s heart. She teaches her daughter to be superstitious. She ends up breaking her daughter’s marriage with her witchcraft sending it to a devastating end.
v Women are portrayed as source of income. Men with daughters expect to earn some money when their daughters get married. That is how Madume considers his daughters not as his heirs.
v The indisputable fact that all human beings are bound to their fate is also an important issue in The Concubine. The freer we think we are from our fate the closer we get to it. Whether we like it or not, what will be will be.
v This moral essence seems to be the major thrust of the story. Ekwueme's determination to marry Ihuoma by all means is also to no avail. Much as he tried to run away from what might have been his downfall he ended up meeting his fate at his own door way.
v With this, Elechi Amadi appears to suggest that nothing in life is done or undone except that there is a supernatural touch to it.
MOTALITY (DEATH) AND WIDOWHOOD
v The theme of death and widowhood are closely related and this novel is no exceptional. The maltreatment and psychological trauma the widow goes through in the name of custom and tradition is never left out. This practice is so rampart on many traditional African cultures that one wonders if being a woman in some parts of Africa is a curse. If not, why should there always be widow's rites and not widower's rites? Why on earth must a woman go through pain and suffering because her husband died?
v Ekwueme’s love affair with Ahurole then Ihuoma reflects these questions. In short, when we consider Ihuoma's reluctance to accept Ekwueme's advances and Ekwueme's defilement of the tradition of betrothal, we would realise that neither love nor sexual desire precedes a successful marriage. What happens when two people are "forcefully" made to enter into marital union is reflected in Ekwueme's disappointment in himself a few days after marrying his betrothed Ahurole.
v About this, the narrator observes:
"Ekwueme was annoyed with himself. Before marriage he thought he knew all the answers to domestic problems and vowed that when he got married he would never have to call in a third party, not even his parents, to decide anything between him and his wife. He used to despise men who had to beat their wives call in arbitrators to settle disputes every other day. Now that he was one of them, he felt confused." (p. 143)
v There are traditional beliefs attached to some cases of deaths; Madume’s case for instance, the tradition dictates that he must neither be mourned nor be given a grand second burial. This is because suicide is considered a taboo. In order to prevent his evil corpse from affecting others, his body will have to be disposed of in the deep forest, like an animal.
v Also noteworthy in relation to death in the story is the idea that, there is no natural death; that one way or another a man's death must have been caused by either man or a supernatural force. For instance, both Emenike and Madume's deaths are linked to the Sea-King who loves, and is jealous of, his mysterious wife Ihuoma, he punishes anyone that threatens or loves her with death. Even the fine, admirable character in the story, Ekwueme, is not spared the wrath of the fiery Sea-King.
THE ROLE OF THE SUPERNATURAL ON HUMAN LIVES.
Most African traditional communities seem to believe in the power of Supernatural forces and their supposed influence on their lives. Evidently, it is seen in the novel, that the ‘Sea King’ has a hold on Ihuoma’s life and eliminates all who try or succeed in winning her love.
In line with the theme of the role of divinities in human lives, is the theme of superstition. Superstitions were/are common in tradition African societies and seen in the novel when community members consult mediums (mediators) like Anyika and Agwoturumbe before undertaking various decisions.
Every other event and situation that occurs in the society or to an individual is carefully evaluated against the wishes of the gods and the ancestral spirits upon which sacrifices and divinations are carried out to please the spirits so that they may shower blessings on human endeavours.
§ We should not believe in superstition and witchcraft as it creates unnecessary fear.
§ Polygamy, wife beating, bride price and early childhood betrothal are out-dated customs they should be discarded.
§ One cannot run away from fate. What is planned to happen will happen anyway even if there are some efforts to prevent it.
§ Love is natural and it cannot be forced otherwise. However, love is a journey should not be undertaken blindly ignoring the warning signs.
§ Family conflicts may result into total family separation.
§ We should cherish good African customs and practices like traditional dances and wrestling contests as they bring people together and strengthen the communal spirit.
§ We should avoid gender stereotype. All children (both boys and girls) should be treated equally.
The novel is relevant in a number of ways:
Polygamy, bride price, superstitions, wife beating, and early marriages are still common practices in African traditional set up.
True love still exists and there are people who are ready to die for love.
In some societies there is serious gender stereotype and women are just treated as source of income.