By Osman Conteh
About the Author
Dr. Abdulai Osman Conteh was born on August 5, 1945 in Pepel, Port Loko District. Raised mostly in Freetown, he attended the Albert Academy and later Fourah Bay College before traveling to the UK for further studies. Dr. Conteh has the following educational qualifications: Ph.D, (International Law), 1974, King's College, Cambridge; LLB (Hons): 1971, King's College, Cambridge; LLM: 1971, London University, United Kingdom; LLB (Hons): 1969, King's College London; Barrister at Law: Called to the Bar of England and Wales, 1970, at Lincoln’s Inn, London, United Kingdom; Harold Porter Prize man In Land Law, 1968. He returned home in the early 70s and worked for the SL Law Officers Department. Dr. Conteh later went into private practice and taught Law at Fourah Bay College for several years.
He is from the Susu people of Kambia, Sierra Leone, and was part of the All Peoples Congress (APC) party.
By Osman Conteh
Olabisi at home.
Olabisi is sitting washing the dishes when she hears the sounds of drums and singing. She asks her mother for permission to go and watch what’s happening but her mother refuses. Later on after a long conversation her mother agrees and Olabisi takes a camera with her to take some photos/pictures. Makalay (Olabisi’s Mother) stresses that Olabisi should be circumcised as well in order to earn a respect and become a responsible mother. Olabisi wanders how a girl can be circumcised while she doesn’t have a penis. Her mother gives her a sound slap believing that she has started sleeping with boys. She calls her a gborka.
Olabisi Fights Salay and Rugiatu
Olabisi, Salay and Rugiatu (Ya Posseh’s daughters) are on the way from the stream to fetch water. She curiously asks Rugiatu whether she is agborka. She is surprised to see Rugiatu becoming angry and the two fight vigorously and Salay joins in to help her sister. In the process Rugiatu and Salay fall down and Olabisi starts to tear their pants to see what they have between their legs, that was circumcised. Suddenly Salay hits Olabisi with a rock and she falls down unconscious. She later quarrels with her mother on the same issue. Then Ya Posseh arrives with a crowd of armed women demanding Olabisi to be taken to the bondo camp to undergo female circumcision for what she did. Ya Posseh threatens to do something bad to Makalay who is pregnant. Olabisi overhears it and prepares to run away. Her Step father –Dauda and Makalay chase her but she manages to push a bucket towards Dauda that sends him down.
Olabisi in the forest
Olabisi enters a thick forest and goes through it hoping to find a nearby village. She comes to a fenced hut and begins going around looking for the entrance. As she runs her footstep echoes and she thinks that an invisible creature or Ya Posseh is chasing her. Before she finds the entrance she hears the voices of women and climbs up the tree to hide but she falls down. She climbs up again and watches inside the fence. She realizes that it is a bondo camp. The women are accompanied by a young girl who is going to be circumcised. She tries to run away but she is overpowered. She gives a loud cry but it goes unanswered. Seeing this, Olabisi decides to climb down only to find herself surrounded by Ya Posseh and her two daughters welcoming her to the bondo camp.
Makalay looks for Olabisi
Makalay dreams of Ya Posseh coming to punish her for disobeying the gods. She decides to search for Olabisi no matter the cost. Dauda comes back complaining for what Olabisi did to him. Makalay leaves the house and disappears into the bush looking for Olabisi. She meets Pa Amadu (a hunter) and promises to give him a goat if he finds Olabisi.
Back at the Bondo camp
Olabisi is still with Ya Posseh and her two daughters who welcome her to the bondo camp. To free herself, Olabisi fights the three of them and manages to overpower them. She then runs away but unfortunately comes to the river. On trying to cross the river she sees a crocodile coming her way and runs back only to find herself in the hands of Amadu- the hunter.
Olabisi arrives in Freetown
Ade Jones is in the house with Oyah (his new fiancée). She wonders how she got on Ade’s bed while she had just slept on the sitting room couch. They quarrel over the matter of Ade Jones’ relationship with Yamide. But Jones insists she’s only an ordinary friend. Oyah determines to leave the house but is stopped at the doorway by Jones’ question” will you marry me?... this year. December’
Suddenly a sound of someone running is heard and Olabisi enters. She narrates what happened and what was about to happen to her. She then goes to the bathroom to take a shower with Oyah supervising her. While in the bathroom they hear a violent knock at the door. Makalay comes in demanding to take Olabisi to the bondo camp. After a long debate with Ade Jones Makalay says Olabisi is not a legitimate daughter of Ade but of Abdulraman. He grips her throat and forces her to confess the lie until she renounces her statement. Then Ade says he’s going to take the matter to court.
Olabisi’s case is taken to court
Both Olabisi and her father feel nervous about appearing in the court. His father helps her to rehearse the words used in court as taught to her by Oyah. Words like ; ‘objection’, ‘sustained’, ‘overruled’ etc. On the first day of hearing the case bondo women appear in the streets of Freetown in hundreds and thousands singing songs of protest. They carry a banner with words:
“FEMALE CIRCUMCISION! A MOTHER’S DECISION!”
Olabisi, Oyah, Makalay, Salaam Sesay (Makalay’s lawyer) judge Lansana Kanu and other spectators are all in the court. Olabisi becomes the first witness to be called, Oyah cross-examines her, she narrates what happened, and then Mr. Sesay follows. Olabisi admits her relationship with Edward Cole that they made love at age fourteen. Ade is called as the next witness and asks the court to differ with Mrs Makalay Kamala. Then Mr Sesay asks him a few questions and Ade stands for his decision that Olabisi should not be circumcised. The judge adjoins the court. Eddy appears to comfort Olabisi but she tells him to stay away from her. She kicks him in the shin. Then she runs off.
Olabisi takes pregnant tests.
Olabisi is ashamed and asks for forgiveness from his father. Oyah comes in and suggests that Olabisi should see a gynaecologist-(a doctor who treats women). Ade is shocked but Oyah insists that Olabisi must take pregnancy test. On hearing this, her stomach becomes upset and she starts vomiting violently.
On Monday, the case continues. This time Dr. Asiatu Koroma is called as a witness and explains the medical reasons why Olabis should not undergo FGM. She even says her own daughter is soon to die of HIV AIDS acquired during FGM.
Finally Ya Posseh the Digba sowey is called as a witness on Makalay’s side. She also gives the history of bondo tradition from the days of the ancestors. They nicknamed it mama Africa. She then gives the benefits to girls of going through the bondo ritual. She says it teaches women to be committed in their marriage, preparing women for their role as parents, the bondo initiates are taught the skills needed to successfully manage the household etc. Oyah then steps in to question Ya Posseh. She asks Ya Posseh to justify her claims since there are millions of good mothers who handle all the women responsibilities and they never went through bondo ritual and the fact that some girls die in the process. Nevertheless, Ya posseh defends her position by saying that death can attack someone at any moment, so it does to bondo women.
The last witness to be called was Makalay. She gives reasons why Olabisi should be circumcised, including helping her to control her sexual desires, be taught how to be a real woman and being beautifully dressed.
Oyah wonders how a college educated woman support such a tradition based on medical ignorance and superstition. She also challenges Makalay to prove how FGM helped her because she was once a girlfriend to Ade then to Dauda and was already circumcised.
When the questioning session was over, Judge Lansana Kanu concluded that Olabisi Jones shall not be forced against her will or the will of the father to undergo FGM. Olabisi was happy for the decision. Three months later Ade and Oyah were married.
The title of the book can be discussed looking at both literal and non-literal meanings. On a broader sense the latter implies to refuse to grant/fulfil someone’s desires, claims or wishes as expected. In this novel we see a lot of claims that are not answered/fulfilled.
So we have the following cries that are unanswered;
First, there is a literal cry that is made by a young lady but her cry is literally unanswered. Look at the following paragraph from page 29.
“Suddenly the bondo women started pounding their drums and the whole camp broke into a song. The shrieks of the girl were drowned.Her cries went unanswered. Her clothes and pants were torn off her body. She fought like a wild cat, kicking and punching and shrieking and scratching. Without any success.”
Second, in a more general sense it refers to the cry of many girls who are forced by their parents to undergo FGM against their wishes. Their cries are not answered because nobody cares. Their parents never listen to them. For example Olabisi is not listened to by her mother.
Third, the cries of the whole traditional society led by Ya Posseh in wanting all their girls to be circumcised including Olabisi are not answered. They claim it up to the court demanding that their cause is right and defend their position but eventually the court judge gives a decision against them. This is to say their cries were not answered.
Fourth, Makalay’s desire and wish to have her daughter Olabisi circumcised are not answered. Makalay and other traditional women led by the Bondo secret society, believe that through circumcision a girl would be able to prepare adequately for parenthood, be submissive, faithful and loyal to her husband and possess self-control over her sexual appetite. This cry is also unanswered as the court judges against her.
Fifth, the cry of Eddy to have Olabisi back is not answered. Edward Cole apologises for what he did to Olabisi by revealing their relationship to Salaam Sessay who later humiliates her in the court in front of her daddy. Eddy’s cry is not answered as Olabisi kicks him and runs away signifying the end of their relationship.
She’s Ade Jones and Makalay’s daughter. She almost becomes a victim of traditional practices by being forced by her own mother to undergo female genital mutilation.
v She is inquisitive and curious -she asks a lot of questions for knowledge. Her curiosity lands her in trouble when she ignorantly asks Rugiatu and Sallay whether they are Gborka (a disparaging term for an uncircumcised girl). They get furious and fight vigorously. Her experience of living in town makes her believe that only boys undergo circumcision so she wanders what in the woman is being circumcised in the process.
v She is very intelligent and streetwise. Being streetwise means having the knowledge and experience that is needed to deal with the difficulties and dangers of life in a big city – this is evident to Olabisi if we consider;
o First, the way she flung the bucket behind her towards Dauda who fell on his face like a log of wood and hence stopped chasing her.
o Second, the way she fought off attacks from Rugiatu, Sallay and Yah Posseh hence avoiding grievous and actual bodily harm and forced FGM.
o Lastly the way she manoeuvred her way out of dangerous situations in Freetown whenever students went on rampage.
v She is Religious- she repeatedly calls upon God for help whenever she finds herself in a dilemma or difficult circumstances. For instance when she finds herself in the unfamiliar and unfriendly territory around Bondo women’s circumcision camp with Ya Posseh and her girls closing in on her, she said ‘what am I to do? God if you are there help me’’
v She is so brave, courageous and risk taker- Olabisi is a daring girl in many ways. By standing up against her mother and saying no to female circumcision, she showed great courage and fearlessness and also by manoeuvring herself out of danger after danger the way she did when escaping from the village back to the city, she showed great courage and heroism.
v She is an agent for change /revolutionist. – She is a revolutionist who wants to see FGM stopped since it is mostly done against the girls’ will. Although in Sierra Leone female circumcision is considered to be sacrosanct, and the only best rite of passage that every girl must undergo, Olabisi finds no value in it. She advocates for change in the society by tabling a dialogue whether or not FGM is important for girls today because she is aware of the dangers of FGM and thus protests being circumcised according to bondo tradition
v She is a fornicator. Fornication means to have sex with somebody that you are not married to. She is engaged in premarital love affairs with Edward Cole. Their relationship is exposed by Sessay in court and she feels humiliated.
v She is remorseful and apologetic – when her secret relationship with Edward Cole is finally disclosed, she regrets for having done so against the wishes of the parents and apologizes by promising to take care of herself not to offend her daddy again. She even breaks her relationship with Eddy in public. On pg. 65 we are told that she apologized for the hundredth times the moment they stepped into the house.
In some cases she is worthy being emulated in the society.
v This is Olabisi’s mother, an educated woman and a school teacher.
v She is uncivilized and very abusive.- she uses lots of abusive and foul language against Ade and Bisi; for instance she calls Ade a skirt chaser, useless man and a hopeless father.
She also calls Bisi a stupid girl and a Gborka which is a derogatory term for uncircumcised girl; pg 19 (‘you did worse than that you stupid girl, you stripped two bondo girls naked and looked at their private parts. You! A Gborka!’’)
v She’s quite strict and a hot-tempered mother. She treats Olabisi rudely to make her behave well. This is exhibited by the way she easily gets angry at the slightest provocation. For instance she slaps Bisi for being too inquisitive and she’s also angry at Bisi for dancing pg 14 (Makalay’s slap hit Olabisi on the face like a small bomb, toppling her off the stool), she also twists Bisi’s ears pg11(‘’Makalay grabbed Olabisi’s left ear and twisted it hard like a driver twisting the ignition key of a stubborn car’’)
v She is an upholder and custodian of African culture. She implores Bisi to be circumcised and also advocates for her to learn her native tongue. We see her telling Bisi ‘one day you will come and stay with me permanently and learn your native tongue’’ she further goes on to claim that the only way people will ever respect and stop calling her (Bisi) Gborka is if she gets circumcised.
v She is Superstitious – She believes in the power of spirits. She trusts the spirits would make her childbirth difficult if she doesn’t obey them. That’s why on page 22 we see her meekly submitting herself to the fate of the spirits by saying ‘whatever the spirits say I will do’’ and ‘don’t say that. Please! I’m pregnant.’’ Pg 22.
v She is Desperate- She is so desperate to get her daughter circumcised (all in the name of obeying the fictitious spirits) that she is ready to move heaven and earth just to ensure her beloved daughter is circumcised. Some of her desperate acts include; bribing Pa Amadu the hunter with a goat of his choice from her husband’s herd if he brings Bisi back to her. She represents those people whose education has only helped them to solve their financial problems and never the change in attitude. She forces Olabisi to be circumcised because she fears the bondo spirits.
v She is a Hypocrite – This is a person who pretends to have moral standards or opinions that they do not actually have. She believes that FGM helps to reduce sexual appetite to girls and makes them committed to their husbands, but fails to explain why FGM failed to make her committed to Ade as she conceived Bisi at the tender age of 16 years of age and out of wedlock but she later moved again to Dauda. Pg 83.
v She is a traditionalist and Conservative – Despite her education, she supports FGM which she was supposed to condemn with all her mighty. She is resistant to change despite the fact that she is educated and knows the potential dangers of FGM and the belief in fictitious spirits, she still holds on to these outdated traditional practices. Because she doesn’t want changes in the society she is not worthy being emulated.
v She is Salay and Rugiatu’s mother.
v She is Superstitious and traditionalist. She is believed to have powers even to speak with the spirits. Like Makalay she also believes that FGM has a way of making girls real women and creating a sense of commitment to their husbands
v She’s the Digba Sowey i.e. the chief circumciser. She is among the women who perpetuate FGM in the name of ancestral tradition..
v She is a strong custodian and champion of African traditions and practices. She undertakes this responsibility with great zeal and pride as it can be evidenced through her words in the court. “I am the Digba Sowey, the head of the female circumcisers.” Pg 74
v She does not want changes in the society and thus not worthy being emulated.
DR. ASIATU KOROMA
v She is a medical doctor by profession.
v She uses her education and position in a positive way educating the people on the effects of FGM. She helps the court in reaching the decision of setting Olabisi free from the traditional practices.
v She is aware of the possible complications that can arise as a result of going through FGM both immediate and long term.
v She advocates for change in the society. She is worthy being emulated.
v She is professionally a lawyer and uses her education positively by defending the rights of women. She stands as an advocate in Olabisi’s case and helps her to come out a winner and Makalay with her Lawyers become losers.
v She is forgiving – She She is aware of Ade Jones unfaithfulness in relationship and asks for more commitment unless otherwise they should stop the relationship. Notwithstanding Ade Jones infidel and promiscuous behavior, and fake promises to marry her, she still finds it in her heart to forgive him like a mother forgiving a spoilt child. pg 43
v She is Supportive and caring – she supports her husband-to-be when he has a brief conflict with Makalay over Bisi’s circumcision. She categorically states that ‘’if I’m going to be your wife, I must stand by you’’ pg. 47.
v She is Responsible and has true love– she has true love for Olabisi and wants her to be happy by protecting her from traditional influence. She exhibits qualities of a responsible parent by giving Olabisi motherly advice to stay away from boys until she gets married. She also helps clean Olabisi like a loving mother would do to her own daughter, as Olabisi’s soon to be Surrogate/ substitute mother; she thrives in this role which only serves to forge a strong bond of friendship between the two. Pg.45
v She is Liberal and agent for social change – she is an open minded person, someone who changes with the changing times. Despite being circumcised herself, she’s against this barbaric tradition.
v She later becomes Ade Jones wife officially. She represents women who are revolutionists and in need for change in the society so she is worthy being emulated.
This is Olabisi’s father married to Oyah.. He has true love for Olabisi and wants her to be happy by protecting her from traditional influence.
v He is Promiscuous/womanizer – He is a womanizer as we are told he has five girlfriends apart from Oyah. He also had Makalay with whom they bore Olabisi. Makalay referred to him as a ‘skirt chaser’, Oyah also said something to that effect i.e. ‘’I’ve been doing that for the past three years while you chase after girls’’. Pg. 41
v He is Funny and comic – He tells Oyah some cock and bull story about being attacked by several friends (mosquitoes) they hosted the previous night. This joke shows how funny, inventive and humorous Ade is. Pg.40
v He is against FGM – He also wants changes and doesn’t want her daughter to be circumcised against her will. He firmly supports his daughter who refused to be circumcised. This can be evidenced from his words in the court where he firmly declared, ‘No Bondo woman is going to circumcise my daughter for the sake of superstition or tradition’’ pg. 62
v He is Irresponsible parent – he has been a bad role model to his daughter since he keeps on changing women day by day and tells his daughter “do as I say not as I do”. This makes Olabisi to start having a love affair with Eddy right under his nose. If he was responsible, maybe he would have detected this early on and stopped it. But then they were both embarrassed when the issue was revealed in the court.66
v He is hot Tempered – he easily gets angry, he threatens Makalay that he would kill her if she doesn’t vacate his premises.
v He has a changing attitude. He finally comes to his senses and admits that he has been a bad father and promises to change. In page 66 he tells Olabisi “from now on, it will no longer be ‘do as I say’ but ‘Learn from watching me”’
He is professionally a lawyer. He also represents people who would do anything in the name of money. Although he is educated and certainly knows the harmful effects of FGM, he supports FGM to get money from his clients. He is among the people who are a stumbling block in the way leading to development because to him what is important is money not humanity or dignity even when he knows the effects. He is not worthy being emulated.
He is professionally a lawyer who uses his position to grant justice where it is due. He conducts Olabisi’s case and makes a wise decision that Olabisi should not be forced to undergo FGM against her will or the will of the father. He is among the people who fight for the oppressed. He is also after changes thus worthy being emulated.
The novel is set in Sierra Leone, although scanning through the themes one can realize that the setting in a more general sense represents African communities where FGM is common.
Moreover, to drive the message home the author has employed (rural) village and urban (town) setting.
The village/rural setting includes the following sub-settings
Home; Olabisi always quarrels with her mom at home based on their disagreement on the issue of FGM. FGM is rampart in rural areas than in urban.
Bondo camps; we are also introduced to the practices at the bondo camp and what is going on there.
Forest; we also see a large forest where hunting is taking place. Hunting is typical feature of rural setting.
Additionally, drawing water from the stream sums up the village setting.
Urban setting in Freetown is also portrayed with the following sub settings.
Home; the urban home is different from the rural one. For example we are told that Olabisi went to take a shower in the bathroom.‘Exactly, Olabisi turned on the shower’ pg 45. This is common in town
Courtroom. We are also introduced to courtroom setting and how the case proceedings take place. Most courts are in town.
Streets in Freetown. Bondo women are seen all over in streets of Freetown.
Ø The novel is rich in its style. The novelist has employed the straightforward narration. We are told of Olabisi in the village, and the experience there, then forced to undergo FGM runs back to town then to court. In the middle there are cases of flashbacks like when Olabisi narrates what happened to her and when Ya Posseh narrates the history of FGM.
Ø The story is told using a narrative technique. But also there are cases of dialogue especially in the courtroom.
POINT OF VIEW
Ø The author has employed all types of points of view. Omniscient point of view. The narrator seems to know what characters are thinking, e.g. “nothing exciting happens in this place, she thought” pg 5
Ø First person point of view. At times Olabisi and other characters speak in first person. E.g. “I must see this” pg 5
Ø Third person point of view. In most cases the novelist has employed this kind of point of view. The narrator tells the story in 3rdperson. E.g. “she dropped the dish back into the plastic bowl and …
DICTION/ LANGUAGE USE
Ø The language used is not only simple and easy to understand for an ordinary reader but also rich in its use of registers. The author has employed legal language, religious language and common language.
Ø Legal language
There is the use of legal vocabulary like “sustained, overruled, objection … etc to suit the courtroom setting”
Ø Religious language.
There is also the use of the language common in religious context.
‘Dear God I will start going to church this Sunday. Just make Mama lose this case.’
“You answered truthfully. For you have had five girlfriends and you are now living with a woman who is not your wife”
FIGURES OF SPEECH
The novel is rich in its employment of various figures of speech as follows;
The use of more than one language in a literary work.
“gborka, bondo, subanallah” etc
Onomatopoeia -imitation of natural sounds by words
BAM! Pg 63,
He hit the bench with his gavel BAM! Pg.86
Simile specific comparison by means of the words “like” or “as” between two kinds of ideas or objects.
“Sleeping like Lazarus” pg41
“She sat up listening like a dog sensing an intruder” pg 5
“She fought like a wild cat” 29.
“You are as hopeless as your father” pg 8
“Makalay sucked her teeth like a cobra”
This is a device by which an actor turns from the audience, or a writer from readers, to address a person who usually is either absent or deceased, an inanimate object, or an abstract idea.
“Dear God I will start going to church this Sunday. Just make Mama lose this case.”
“God if you are there please save me!” Pg 26, 61
(Olabisi asking herself)
“Who are they? What are they doing here? Are they the owners of the mud hut?” Pg 27
“Welcome to the bondo camp, white woman”
(This is Ya Posseh mocking Olabisi because she doesn’t want to be circumcised)
Auditory image – image of sound;
“She fell down rolling and screaming” pg 29
“The whole village broke into a song” pg 29
Kinetic image – image of motion
Olabisi running through the bush
Visual image – image of sight
“Camera bulbs were flashing all over the place” pg 88
(The bondo tradition) “It is mama Africa” pg 74
“A child is a bundle of joy” – pg 76
“Death is the enemy...”
Personification this is a representation of inanimate objects or abstract ideas as living beings
“Death is the enemy who has no respect for people and their privacy. He will come knocking at your door while you are sleeping …”
Bondo tradition is also referred to as mama Africa.
“You answered truthfully. For you have had five girlfriends and you are now living with a woman who is not your wife”. pg 62 (referring to the Samaritan woman in the bible).
Daddy says you are the best lawyer in the whole world.” Pg 47
The gavel – symbol of authority.
“Never laugh with your enemy, otherwise you might end up as friends” pg 75
“Do as I say, not as I do” pg 45
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (FGM)
o The whole novel seems to be centred on the debate whether or not female genital mutilation is worthy passing on. The novelist uses the main character Olabisi Jones who despite having half knowledge about FGM still determines that she will never undergo FGM. On the other extreme he uses Makalay, educated school teacher as a mockery to people whose education has helped them only to solve their financial problems and not to change their mindsets. Despite the fact that Makalay is educated, she supports FGM in fear of the spirits and bondo gods.
o Successfully, the author has set up a debate for the matter. He shows that education is needed to help those who support the bondo ritual to view it with another perspective. Through judge Kanu he says;
“I can see that there is an obvious need for dialogue between both groups for a better understanding of each other’s position”
o Arguably, female genital mutilation is an outdated tradition that undermines the dignity of women and robs them of their privilege to enjoy marital life. It also carries along with it a lot of complications at childbirth, excessive bleeding, psychological torture; infections of diseases and even the catastrophe of death are just few cases in point. This is to say FGM should be uprooted with both hands.
SUPERSTITION AND IGNORANCE
o FGM seems to be carried along in this society simply because the society is wrapped in the vicious cycle of superstition and ignorance. Even educated people like Makalay are afraid of speaking against the practice in fear of the bondo spirits.
E.g. in page 85 Makalay says “when a circumcised woman reveals to a gborka the secret of the gods, something terrible will happen to her”
o Additionally, complications at child birth are attributed to the disobedience of bondo gods than to FGM.
o She continues to say “that is one reason why many women suffer complications during childbirth. They talk too much”
o Ya Possey is believed to be very powerful because she can communicate with the spirits.
o Moreover, many people especially women seem to cheer up the practice because they are ignorant of the problems it carries along.
Awareness has been revealed in different scenarios.
o First, Olabisi is aware of the harmful effects of undergoing FGM and her rights of decision making thus she protests to go through the process.
o Second, Dr. Asiatu and Oyah are also aware of the medical complications and potential dangers that come along with FGM thus they help to prevent Olabisi to undergo FGM.
o Third, Ade Jones is aware of her child’s right to decide whether or not she should undergo FGM.
o FAMILY CONFLICT
o There is a family conflict between Makalay and Olabisi. This results when Olabisi refuses to be circumcised according to bondo tradition. It increases when Ya Posseh threatens that if Makalay doesn’t take Olabisi to the bondo camp something bad will happen to her at childbirth since she is pregnant. She decides to look for Olabisi no matter the cost
o Between Makalay and Ade Jones. This results when Makalay wants to take Olabisi by force to undergo FGM. They decide to take the matter to court where it is resolved.
o Between Oyah and Ade. This results from infidel behavior of Ade Jones who sleeps with many woman and has not officially married Oyah. It ends when Ade promises to marry her and they eventually get married
o SOCIAL CONFLICT
There is a conflict between Ya Posseh’s family and Makalay’s family which results when Rugiatu and Sayah fight against Olabisi for asking whether Rugiatu is a gborka. Also from the fact that women want Olabisi to be circumcised but she doesn’t.
o CULTURAL CONFLICT
Ever since the coming of whites the issue of cultural conflict has become a common phenomenon.
There is a conflict between old culture (traditionalism) and modern culture (modernism). While on one hand people like Makalay, Ya Posseh and other bondo women uphold outdated culture like FGM, belief in spirits and bondo gods, on the other hand there are people like Olabisi, Oyah, Ade Jones and Dr. Asiatu who embrace modern culture and see no need to carry on with such superstition.
There is intrapersonal conflict within Olabisi on different matters.
o One, because she is forced to undergo female genital mutilation. Two, because her relationship with Eddy is revealed and wonders what her father will do to her. She plans to kill herself. Three, she fears if Makalay wins the case what will happen to her.
o Makalay also suffers intrapersonal conflict for the fear of what Ya Posseh will do to her if she fails to take Olabisi to the bondo camps. She even dreams about Ya Posseh.
POSITION OF WOMEN IN THE SOCIETY
o Women have occupied different positions both good and bad.
o Women are used as tools for pleasure by men. Ade, is using Makalay for pleasure after impregnating her he goes to Oyah. We are told he has some more five girlfriends. “You answered truthfully. For you have had five girlfriends, and you are now living with a woman who is not your wife” pg 62. Olabisi is also used by Eddy for the same reason since they are not yet married.
o Women also show a picture of ignorant and foolish people. They should have been the ones to oppose FGM but surprisingly enough they are the ones supporting it. They are also ignorant of the dangers brought by FGM but they think only of the benefits ignoring the harmful outcomes.
o Women are portrayed as cruel people who perpetuate a cruel custom. If we consider how FGM takes place, we wouldn’t imagine a woman standing in court to defend it. Oyah asks Makalay “Mrs Kamara, do you not find it surprising to see a college-educated woman supporting and defending cruelty to a child…”
o Women are portrayed as superstitious. The whole process is carried out on the basis of superstitious grounds. The belief in bondo gods and spirits. For example Makalay says “when a circumcised woman reveals to a gborka the secrets of the gods, something terrible will happen to her.” Pg 85
o Women have been portrayed as revolutionists. In this case we see Olabisi, Oyah and Dr. Asiatu standing firm to fight for the freedom of women and rights of the child of decision making.
o Women have also been portrayed as child bearers and caretakers. Makalay is the mother of Olabisi who is very strict in ensuring that Olabisi observes good family standards like avoiding boys until she gets married. Also Oyah takes good care of Olabisi as her child although she is not her real biological mother.
o As agents for social change. We see Oyah, Olabisi and Asiatu standing firm as agents to bring about changes in this society particularly as far as FGM is concerned.
o CORRUPTION AND BETRAYAL
Ø Although it takes only a small part but that isn’t a reason to ignore discussing it. There have been cases of corruption in the novel. Pa-Amadu -The hunter is given a task by Makalay to look for Olabisi in which case he would be given a goat if he succeeded to find her. Unfortunately, she finds her and receives some money from her and helps her to escape. This shows how our society fails to reach some intended goals because of individualistic tendencies of few members of the society who use every opportunity coming their way for private gain. Olabisi says:
Ø “I ran back and… and bumped into this man, a hunter. He said if I gave him enough money to buy two goats instead of one, he would show me the way out of the forest instead of taking me back to my mother”
Ø Makalay is betrayed by Pa Amadu the hunter in this case. Olabisi is also betrayed by her boyfriend Edward Cole by revealing their secret relationship which is later used in the court to humiliate her in front of her daddy.
o INFLUENCE OF EDUCATION
Ø Meaningful education is that which helps to build a person by helping him/her to change the society by changing the way he/she thinks. When education fails to change a person’s mindset and the way he/she looks at things, that education was but a waste of time.
Ø In the book both scenarios have been manifested. Makalay and Salaam Sessay represent a group of educated Africans who for them education is just a means to earn salaries and manage the family budget. She still upholds the harmful traditions despite the fact that she learnt in school how harmful FGM is.
Ø On the other hand there are people like Asiatu and Oyah who have used their professionalism to bring about changes in the society by condemning what is bad. Without fail, they join hands and fight for Olabisi until they successfully snatch her from the bondo ritual. This is the positive effect of education.
o HUMILIATION and OPPRESSION
Ø There are many cases that show humiliation to women in this novel. But generally the act of forcing young girls to be circumcised against their will is by itself humiliation. Most girls are taken to bondo camps at the age when they are unable to defend themselves. Olabisi narrates how she saw a girl trying to escape for her safety but was overpowered by older women who held her screaming but her cries went unanswered.
Ø Also Olabisi is humiliated by her mother for examining her secret parts when she is unconscious and discovers that she has lost her virginity. The author says;
Ø “Olabisi flushed with shame. She felt invaded, assaulted, raped! By her own mother. How could you do this to me, Mama?”
Ø Also Olabisi feels humiliated in the court when her secret affair with Eddy is revealed. She thinks of throwing herself into a fast moving truck to cover up her shame.
There is actually a lot to learn from the novel.
Ø Female Genital Mutilation is very dangerous and risky as it may lead to death or HIV infection.
Ø Parents should respect children’s right and not simply press their wills on their children even when they affect the children.
Ø Some of our traditions like FGM are outdated so they should be discarded.
Ø Not every educated person is necessarily civilized. So education should be used as a means to bring about social change and not to prevent changes.
Ø Parents should be good role models to their children lest they pick bad behaviours. They should also be responsible for taking care of their children.
Ø Ignorance and superstation are obstacles to development.
Ø Corruption and betrayal are obstacles to development and the building of an ideal society. We should fight against corrupt people like Pa- Amadu.
The novel is relevant in a number of ways;
v FGM is still a common practice among most African societies. It is practiced in rural communities by ignorant masses ignoring all the consequences that come along with FGM.
v There are educated people who support outdated customs like FGM, Superstition etc as did Makalay.
v Most girls are forced by their parents to undergo FGM and when they stand against such practices nobody listens to them. Their cries go unanswered. This is common among the Kuryans of Northern Tanzania.
v We also have girls who are now aware of the effects of FGM as a result they are now protesting to undergo the process.
v Corruption, ignorance and believing in superstition are also common phenomena in our country and Africa in general.