Tag Archives: family

An Igbo woman writes from the grave: A story of domestic violence.

First of all – as a disclaimer – let me just say that I hate stories that are designed to tug at the heart especially if they are true stories. Just give me the facts and let me make my own judgement. I find those stories are more powerful that way, stripped of artifice. This is obviously a device of the writer and not a fault of the ‘victim’.

So I did have to filter out a fair bit of the maudlinism to get  to the nub of the matter:

1) The woman is dead.

2) She suffered emotional and physical cruelty at the hands of someone sworn to love and protect her until she died.

3) She left behind two children whose future now looks uncertain – one is a boy with developmental problems. The other is a girl. In this story, it seems their father would simply want them not to exist.

But there are other questions which simply refuse to go away:

1) Why, why, WHY did she stay a whole 12 years while the man stripped away her humanity? A lot of women think that a man has only broken his vows when he cheats. In my view, a man who beats you after he vows to cherish you has broken his vows. The signs were there from the beginning. A person that loves you will not allow you to be exposed to ridicule of ANYONE no matter if it’s their mother, sister-in-law or extended family. (Speaking of which, the sister-in-law was married into the family as well so she has just as many rights as the dead woman.)

2) Dead woman is the last of nine children. WHY could she not go to anyone in her family (obviously the writer of her story knew. What did he/she do to help?)  if things were so bad? She died like a fly with no kinsmen. Sad.

Biko nu, Igbo men if you are not ready to get married, simply stay single. A man is not mature by age. If after you marry you still hold your mother in higher esteem than your wife then marriage is NOT for you. Same goes for woman and their fathers. You’re better off staying with them rather than carrying your wahala to someone else’s house.

Seriously. Forgetting to buy anara for your mother is no reason to let your wife die alone.

See the dead Ogochukwu’s story here

I’m still interested in the man’s point of view – not excusing that the woman is dead and all – so if you’re he or you are privy to the info, please share.

Thou shalt eat the meat on your plate last.

Jollof rice and chicken
Image from ifood.tv

My mother looked around the room, pausing to watch my siblings eat. Glancing over at me, she asked “Why are you all eating like peasants?” Everyone stopped. My siblings and I darted our eyes around the room until the lot fell to me to ask since it was my house.

“How do you mean?” I speared a pod of green beans with my fork and transferred it to my mouth.

“You’re all eating your meat last, as if it’s a precious thing. Like peasants. Why are you doing that?” I took my time before replying, after all, she must have been joking.

“You taught us to eat like this, remember? You used to beat us if you caught us touching our meat first.” My mother laughed. My siblings flashed worried eyes at me.

“Yes but that was when you were little. Don’t tell me you’re all still doing that now?”

I groaned. Now she tells me. After I had almost caused an international debacle at an oyibo friend’s house.

It was Christmas 2005 and my friend didn’t want me to spend the day alone so she invited me to lunch at her parents’ house. Her parents were lovely and warm and Scottish. Her father carved the moist turkey while her mother dished up the mashed potatoes and vegetables.

“This is lovely, ma’m,” I said shoving forkfuls of the creamy mash into my mouth. I sipped my wine and joined in the conversation. I soon observed that my friend’s mother had stopped talking. She was looking at me, her dual-coloured eyes intense with concentration.

“Is your food alright?” she asked eventually.

“Yes, thank you,” I replied, eating some more carrots and smiling to show how delicious the food was. She smiled and nodded. My host asked questions about Nigeria and we went back to our conversation. I noticed my hostess looking at me again.

“Are you sure everything is fine with your food? Would you like something else?” She asked. I wondered, was she an inexperienced cook? Everything on my plate attested to her expertise. And even if she wasn’t a good cook, I would have chewed my wineglass before I mentioned it.  I ate some more potatoes, drank some more wine and smiled broadly to show just how much I was enjoying myself.

“Is the turkey not to your liking?” My friend asked. She was on my Communications course at Uni and knew that as a Nigerian, we tended to be more direct. She knew I couldn’t hear what exactly her mother was asking me. I felt my face heat up.

“Oh sorry!” I cut into the meat, feeling as if I was going to receive a slap from my mother, and chewed it. “The turkey is really succulent, thank you. I do apologise for that. It’s just where I come from, we eat the meat last. It used to be a luxury item in the old days, see?” There was silence at the dinner table. I could see that they wanted me to continue. “Only hunters and priests could afford to be surrounded by meat all the time. Children were rarely given meat and when they were, they had to eat it last to show they were not greedy and so likely to steal or compromise themselves to get those things. I guess, my mother brought us up the same way even though things have changed since then.”

“How fascinating,” my hostess said. I could see she was more relaxed. “Is it just meat or does it apply to other things?”

“Meat and eggs…”

“It seems to me that this was mostly foods high in protein?” My friend’s father piped up. He was a medical doctor and tried to find a scientific reason behind this. Conversation resumed and I sighed in relief.

I looked down at my plate and thanked God that the turkey was a slice of meat; there were no bones to crunch.

That might have made for a whole other kind of conversation.

The fear of shame is the beginning of wisdom.

Igbo mothers love The Bogeyman. That’s a reason why a lot of Igbo folklore has to do with actions and consequences, mostly of people who have disobeyed their mothers with dire results. For the longest time, the shame of pregnancy was the major one. Many an Igbo girl crossed her legs for fear of rubbing poti (Putty; figuratively, shame) on her family’s face. It was all very Victorian.

Then HIV came along … and that was the end of the pregnancy lecture.