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Monday, January 23, 2023

Womanhood and Renegotiation of Cultural Imperatives in Cheluchi Onyemelukwe The Son Of The House And Ndidi Chiazor If They Tell Their Story

 Womanhood and Renegotiation of Cultural Imperatives in Cheluchi Onyemelukwe The Son Of The House And Ndidi Chiazor If They Tell Their Story




This study explores womanhood and renegotiation of cultural imperatives in Cheluchi Onyemelukwe’s the son of the house and ndidi chiazor’s if they tell their story. The study has shown that over the years, the major challenges facing female folks are discrimination and unfair treatment in society. It is also discovered that several cultural practices discriminate and oppresses female folks. Such practices are identified in the selected texts for this research work and critically examined. The researcher uses Clenora Hudson-Weems’ womanism theory in analyzing the novels under study thereby mirroring to the entire society the ill-treatment that women are facing in African traditional society and the need parents should always guide their female children not forcing them against their will just to please culture not minding of the pains and agony the girl-child will pass through.     

1.1     Background to the Study

Womanhood is seen in the African patriarchal society as weakness, subordinate, emotionally devoid of rationality, and subservient. The patriarchal nature of African societies builds around the woman, different myths which help to suppress and oppress the women, thereby relegating her to the background in the sociocultural discourse and the political economic affairs of the state. Hence, the African woman is rarely found in the fore front of leadership at various quartos (except in recent times in some civilised societies) because of the embargo placed on them by the obnoxious cultural norms, customs and values which are held in patriarchal societies, most at the detriment of the women and young girls. It is worthy to note that it is as a result of the entrenchment of these ‘anti-female’ values and norms in the cultural of society that women become psychologically and socially handicap.

Therefore, having been conquered and deprived of active and full participation in the socio-political and economic affairs in the society, the woman becomes withdrawn to the domestic sphere where she has been assigned the portfolio of child-bearing, cooking, cleaning, caring for the children and responding to every command of the head of the house, the “dictator husband” whose orders can neither be disobeyed nor questioned.

Therefore, womanhood, in the context of patriarchy, denotes the realm of oppression marginalisation, torture, ridicule, slavery, and many other inhuman and horrible experiences. The main space of the woman in a male dominated society has always been the domestic space, where the kitchen and child- labour room serve as anadjourning spheres for her existence. Consequently, any woman who dares to operate outside the domestic or private domain is seen as being stubborn, ambitious, and deserving of punishment. Gloria Fwangyil buttresses this fact, thus:

The concept of womanhood in patriarchal culture has always been associated with the perceived feminine virtues of docility, subservience.... A woman is meant to exhibit her womanhood as a wife and mother and as such, she should be contented in the domestic sphere with her roles as a child bearer, nurturer and care giver. Any woman that tries to operate outside the private sphere is perceived to be ambitious and trying to assume roles that are the sole preserve of the man. (31-32)

The excerpt above makes clear that the primary functions given the woman are that of child bearing, caring, nurturing, and never any other. Patriarchy, therefore, associates womanhood with child-bearing machine, object of torture and exploitation. The cultural norms and values of patriarchy, thus, precondition women to subservient duties at home, thereby degrading their social status, eroding their self- esteem and dignity, as well as robbing them of the opportunity for self-actualisation.

Ayi Kwei Armah in his Two Thousand Seasons points out those bugging women with the burden of child bearing and caring for multiple children is a systematic deprivation of the woman the opportunity to engage in intellectual and leadership discourses and activities in society. In Armah’s point of view of the patriarchal scheme against women, to restrict them from political and economic independence, men hold that “the raising of a multitude of children and the provision of a home for them would be work sufficient for all female energies” (60).

This accounts for the concept of female inferiority and the logical making of the domestic space they preserve for the woman. Moreover, a childless woman is regarded as a cursed human, since the primary function of the female is that of reproduction. In most situations of infertility, patriarchal society does not blame the man but woman. The woman suffers maltreatment from the husband, assaults from the mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, mockery from neighbours, among others. Remi Akujobi notes that “motherhood and womanhood are influenced by socio-cultural indices” (2). The barren woman is, to the members of African patriarchal society, obviously incomplete.

Hence, the worst thing that can happen to any woman in a typical African society is for her to be barren. Akujobi posits that “motherhood is so critical in most traditional societies in Africa that there is no worse misfortune for a woman than being childless” (4). This, again, demonstrates that women in Africa are valued based on their role in the progression of the man’s lineage. A typical African patriarchal society, therefore, regards the woman as a “child-bearing-machine”. Lauretta Ngcobo avers that “every woman is encouraged to marry and get children in order to express her womanhood to the full” (44). Deducing from this, therefore, the basis of marriage in African patriarchal societies is that which sees womanhood only through child-bearing. It is not surprising then, to see these societies ridiculing and mocking those married women who do not bear children, probably because of infertility on the part of their husbands. The young ladies who are yet to marry are most often mocked at, and subjected to trauma. Where marriage has been made the ultimate medium of expressing womanhood and motherhood, most women suffer various abuses, oppression, suppression, subjugation, and trauma under this social configuration in patriarchy.

Furthermore, the subjugation, victimisation and marginalisation of women by patriarchy stretch beyond the private and family circles. Women are most often treated as social outcast within the social and political structures. These are many obnoxious laws and practices which hold the woman as ransom for no evil she has committed, and equally keep her in perpetual socio-cultural captivity. For instance, there are in some communities very degrading and humanising traditional widowhood practices which aim at abusing the integrity of the woman and at the same time destroy her self-esteem. This is consequent upon the inherent hostility of patriarchy against the self-identity, value and the existence of women. Many African female writers have creatively and graphically captured this in their various art works. For example, Mariama Bâ explicates on the terrible condition of women during widowhood rituals in African patriarchal communities. In her So Long a Letter, Bâ brings to the fore the sufferings, victimization, and oppression of widows in African society, as reflected in the letter sent to Aissatou by Ramatoulaye. Ba’s letter reveals the ordeals of the African widowhood. Ramatoulaye tells her friend, Aissatou, of her forceful confinement to a room for four months and some days.

This confinement, it is worthy to note, is a metaphor for the mental slavery of women, and the correspondent psychic trauma, social and political embargo placed on women. Ramatoulaye recounts that she is confined within ‘. . . walls . . . for four months and ten days’ . . . (So Long . . . 18). This is an obvious conspiracy by patriarchy against women. In most cases, some widows are deprived or say, robbed of their right to their late husbands’ property. This is not only a form of oppression against women, but a criminal act committed against widows. This could be seen in Phil Nwoko’s Dancing with the Ostrich where Benita’s mother, Madam Nkechi is robbed of her late husband’s property by her husband’s kinsmen. Nkechi is deprived of her right to inherit her late husband’s property because she has gone against the traditional rite which demands that she marries her late husband’s brother, that is levirate marriage.

In Bayo Adewale’s Lonely Days, Fafoyin is a victim of patriarchal norms and tradition. She suffers humiliation and all kinds of abuses her kinsmen unleash on her through the invocation of their obnoxious and horrible widowhood rituals on her. Fafoyin’s widowhood and, indeed, womanhood ordeals in African patriarchal society are given, thus:

Cut the hair to root. . . .Even if the skin on the head has to be bruised in the process!

Bruise it, for goodness sake! We hope your razor is sharp enough to do the job the way we want it done? Cut this woman’s hair totally down her scalp! Sprinkle her head with wood ash and oil it with paraffin ointment. (Lonely. . .26-27)

The above excerpt reveals the wickedness of patriarchy against womanhood. It portrays the wickedness and conspiracy of men against women. Fafoyin’s horrible ordeal during her widowhood ritual practices foregrounds the extent of victimisation, oppression, and cultural abuse of females. The use of ash and paraffin on Fafoyin’s absolutely shaved head is a metaphor for the abuse and humiliation of womanhood in African patriarchal society. Hence, womanhood within the patriarchal context is seen as weak, inferior, and profane. The female are regarded as mere objects for exploration and exploitation, oppression and victimisation under the guise of archaic socio-cultural and traditional beliefs.

The male-dominated society seems to be absolutely ‘anti-woman’ because not only do men exert their dominance over women in their socio-political and economic affairs, they equally enslave the females. Zainab Bulkachuwa comments that “in many areas of human endeavor, women are still subjected to the men, in the family for instance, they are in constant check and control of their husbands or male relatives” (15). Oseni Afisi traces the oppression of woman to the era of colonial rule. Afisi points out that “. . . Since the era of colonialism, women have been placed on the lower rungs of the proverbial ladder. . .” (223). This, therefore, affects the attainment of independence and self-actualisation of women in the public arena, and social discourses. The lordly roles of men who act as God’s given guardian to women and young girls have actually played these women and girls to unimaginable abuses ranging from assaults, physical violence, rape, child trafficking, prostitution, among others. In Yejide Kilanto’s Daughters who walk this Path, the central character, Morayo, suffers sexual abuses by her elderly cousin, brother Tayo (Bros T). In another context of the same novel, little Morenike is equally raped by her father’s friend and business partner, chief Komolafe. These young girls are victims of rape perpetrated by their trusted male relatives and friends. The most horrible part of these evil acts is the traumatic impacts they create in the mind of these young girls. It is quite appalling that upon the knowledge of this evil against these little girls, and of course womanhood, society and even members of the family do not blame the patriarchal lords who committed this atrocity. The blame is usually technically shifted to the women. For instance, Morenike’s father blames Morenike’s mother of being incapable of training her daughter. Patriarchy either blames the woman for no just cause or remains indifferent to the plight of womanhood, seeing it as a natural occurrence. It is on the verge of this that Helen Cousins opines that:

. . . Incident of violence against women are rarely publicly condemned except for extreme physical abuse, yet African women’s lives are shaped, if not by violence (physical, verbal or mental) then by threat of violence present in cultures underpinned by patriarchal ideology (2).

Cousin’s opinion clearly demonstrates that violence, rape, victimisation and oppression of women have been culturally enshrined in the practices of the people, their beliefs, norms and values of patriarchal communities. It, thus, suffices to state that the horrible condition of womanhood in practically every patriarchal society is regarded as the norm.

In African literature, the male writers have always portray female characters in line with the patriarchal ideologies, in which they seen women as a sub-set or second class citizens in the society, they ale writers belie that women where only to be seen but not hard. Such characters were usually portrayed as weak, subordinate, and inferior as could be deduced from the kind of roles given them in those works by male authors. Rose Acholonu, an African feminist critic states that “the dishonourable image of the female is a written tradition” (38). Acholonu notes with dismay, the sordidity with which female characters were portrayed in those earliest Nigeria fiction. She takes a particular note on the sordid and humiliating presentation of the female character, Jagua, by Cyprian Ekwensi in his Jagua, Nana’s Daughter. For Acholonu, such portrayal of womanhood is humiliating. She sees Ekwensi as a typical patriarchal African man, a sadist who takes pleasure in the maltreatment and humiliation of women. She states unabatedly, thus: “Ekwensi, the creator of the woman Jagua, seems to derive pleasure from Jagua’s suffering and humiliation” (41). Concluding from the foregoing, therefore, Acholonu states subtly that the likes of Ekwensi in the African literary scene represent the sadistic and ‘anti-woman’ patriarchal men in society.

However, like the colonies wrote to their colonial lords in their empires, trying to reclaim their self-identity through countering the grand narrative, there has been a new trend in African literature where African female writers have arose to reclaim the lost glory of womanhood in African literature. The female writers have taken up to the duty of telling the true qualities of African women, correcting the hitherto battered image of female characters in African literature, especially those fictions authored by males. Such female writers include Buchi Emecheta, Akachi Ezeigbo, Zaynab Alkali, Ama Ata Aidoo, Flora Nwapa, among others.

Nwapa in her works such as Efuru, Wives at War, and One is Enough and Never Again, has creatively portrayed the woman as a human species that is strong self-reliant, thoughtful, and being capable of shaking off the shackles of patriarchal burden, thereby becoming free to make her personal decisions and choices, and take absolute control of her destiny. Theodora Ezeigbo is of the opinion that “it is significant that this new trend to recreate women’s experience more constructively is beginning to be reflected too in the works of many African male authors”(53). To Ezeigbo, these male authors are those who initially relegated the females to the background in their works, but later on gave the female characters important roles in their subsequent novels. Among such writers as noted by Ezeigbo are Chinua Achebe in his Anthillsof the Savannah, where the protagonist, Beatrice is portrayed as a sensitive and dedicated leader; Elechi Amadi in his Estrangement  is another effort by a male author to create womanhood in African literature; Camera Laye, Isidore Okpeuho, Nuruddin Farah among others. Acholonu relates this new development to the development of feminism. According to her, the new trend is in sync with the feminist evolution in the Nigeria fiction. Agbogidi Faith concludes that feminism has helped females come out to their hitherto deprived and marginalised state, to carve a name for themselves, assert their identities and determine their roles in family and society. The various travails of womanhood notwithstanding, it is possible for women and young girls to break the yoke of their burden and rise as shining stars. It is against this backdrop that the researcher is interested in the examination of the conditions of womanhood and ways in which women interrogate and struggle for their freedom from obnoxious cultural values in Cheluchi Onyemelukwe’s The Son of the House and Ndidi Chiazor’s If They Tell Their Story 

1.2     Statement of the Problem

Over the years, the level of oppression done by men to women in African traditional societies has become more alarming. Women are now seen as commodity which is to be own and controlled by men in African society and due to this, womenhood has become an heavy burden to women because their rights and wills as living beings has been shifted from them to the hands of men who sees them as “second class citizens” who are only to be seen but not to be heard.

Scholars both national and international such as Efua Sutherland, Mariam Ba, Grace Ogot, Alifa Rifaat, Flora Nwapa, Nawal El Saadawi, Miriam Tlali , Zulu Sofola, Buchi Emecheta, Angele Rawiri, Margaret Ogola, Zindzi Mandela, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe and Ndidi Chiazor have risen to bring to limelight various African cultural imperatives that has been hindering women in African traditional society to discover their full potentials as a woman compared to their counterpart in other western  countries.

It has also been observed that African tradition and norms place marriage as the greatest achievement which a woman should and must achieved before she is regonised as a complete woman in the society and this ideology has rubbed thousands of African women of their happiness and freedom because they want to stay under a man. African men now take undue advantage of the fact that women must be married by men to maltreat and enslave them (wives) and it is on this premise that this research work seeks to bring to limelight and redress this cultural imperative that has kept women in their current state through careful examination of Cheluchi Onyemelukwe’s The Son of the House and Ndidi Chiazor’s If They Tell Their Story.

1.3     Objectives of the Study

The objectives of the study are:

                     i.        To examine the various forms ordeals of womanhood in the texts under examination

                    ii.        To explore the cultural burden on women as presented by the authors

                   iii.        To investigate women’s response and interrogation of patriarchal cultural norms.

                   iv.        To examine some aspects of style, and draw conclusions on the pattern of women’s confrontation with patriarchal cultural values.

1.4     Significance of the Study

This study focuses on the examination of socio-cultural burden on womanhood, and how women have responded and tackled their problems in order to set themselves free. However, it reveals some cultural practices that affect the women. Similarly, the study will also reveal the root cause of these cultural practices which has hider women from displaying their full potentials in a typical African society. The study will also help to correct the negative portrayal of women as second class citizen in African literature. Equally, this work helps to bring libration to women in African societies and it will also helps to boost love and unity among men and women and possibly put an end to the clash between men and women.


1.5     Research Methodology        

The methodology for this research work is qualitative research which relies on textual extrapolation of the primary texts: Cheluchi Onyemelukwe’s The Son of the House and Chidi Chiazor’s If They Tell their Story, all analyses are based on textual examination of the two primary texts as the primary sources of data collection while relevant library materials like journals, magazines and internet sources constitute the secondary sources of data for this study under the premised of African womanism as a critical model deployed in the analysis of data.


1.6     Scope/Delimitation of the Study

This study is limited to “womanhood and the renegotiating of cultural imperatives in  Cheluchi Onyemelukwe’s The Son of the House and Chidi Chiazor’s If They Tell their Story”. The analysis therein is limited to the conditions of womanhood in the selected novels. Therefore, conclusions are drawn based on textual extrapolation of the chosen texts. This is to enable the researcher to complete the work within the specified period of time, and the available financial resource to her.

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