Tag Archive: Feminism


It’s taken me so long to post this book review because I struggled to find the right words to summarise what I deem a message about the neglected and rejected in society. I cannot give a brief summary to this insightful novel, so here is my review of Amma Darko’s Faceless…

When Maa Tsuru tells Fofo that Baby T’s mutilated body has been found at Agbogbloshie, Fofo sets out to find justice for her sister’s murder. In a twist of fate, she runs into Kabria who works with a non-governmental organization called MUTE which functions as an interventionist and alternative library for every social, gender and child issue.

Kabria takes an interest in Fofo’s case and determines to find out what led to Baby T’s death. With the help of Sylv Po, the reporter from Harvest FM, they work their way into a syndicate led by Poison, the street lord, that trades in child prostitutes, drugs and is linked to all manner of street crime.

In one of the most hostile parts of Accra, Fofo’s story draws Kabria and her colleagues’ attention to the socioeconomic menace that comprises a community of drifters and hustlers in a slum called Sodom and Gomorrah, so named after the Biblical city that God destroyed because of its numerous sins.

Amma Darko’s quest to find out how Accra’s squalid Sodom and Gomorrah sprung up out of her old neighbourhood at Old Fadama led to a series of revelations that inspired Faceless, her third novel.

Although the author uses ficticious names, she narrates what can possibly be described as real-life events at venues that really exist. Agbogbloshie, Makola Market, Korle-Gonno, Kaneshie, Abossey-Okai, Abeka and the all-notorious Sodom and Gomorrah can really be found in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana.

SOME IMAGES OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH

In making up the various characters and narrating their stories, Darko enlightens her reader about the information she amassed after nearly two years of research into street children, life in Sodom and Gomorrah,  Agbogbloshie and its environs.

Fofo would have spent the Sunday night into Monday dawn with her friends across the road at the squatters enclave in Sodom and Gomorrah watching adult films her fourteen years required her to stay away from, and drinking directly from bottles of akpeteshie, or at best, some slightly milder locally produced gin. Ultimately, she would have found herself waking up Monday morning beside one of her age group friends, both of them naked, hazy and disconcerted; and oblivious to what time during the night they had stripped off their clothes and what exactly they had done with their nakedness. Sucked into a life on the streets and reaching out to each new day with an ever-increasing hopelessness, such were the ways they employed to escape their pain.

Darko draws her audience’s attention to the AIDS prevention campaign versus the situation prevailing in such communities:

Sylv Po’s female studio guest was on and complaining about the AIDS prevention programme not driving home the message of abstinence and faithfulness with the same intensity as the use of condoms. Then she touched on the AIDS issue versus the street-children phenomenon…

“During a recent survey we conducted for a programme, all the girls we talked to out there were already sexually active. And we also established that, for many of them, rape was their first sexual experience. And I am talking about girls as young as seven. Many were child prostitutes. They had no idea at all about the extent of self-damage to themselves. Sex to them was just a convenient means of survival. Many were roaming about, oblivious to whether or not they were HIV positive, so…”

In the course of her narration, Darko compares and contrasts Kabria’s family life with that of Fofo and her street companions. She outlines the benefits of family planning, especially in communities where womanhood is proven by having many children and barrenness is abhorred, and mentions some old wives’ tales about the correlation between how a baby is born and its behavioral pattern.

Kabria is the backbone of her family. She multitasks as a mother, wife and social worker. Adade, Kabria’s architect husband, contents himself with his work, joining co-workers to drinking spots to release tension, and returning home for dinner. Their constant argument about Creamy, Kabria’s stubborn hand-me-down VW Beetle, does not get in the way of a stable marriage because Kabria handles the situation tactfully. Their children – Obea, Essie and Ottu – are all in school. Each child’s character is a force to reckon with, but their parents take care of their needs. In a chaotic, but stable environment, the family is able to get along.

What of Fofo and the other street-children? How did they end up on the streets in the first place?

Darko uses the story of Maa Tsuru’s curse to unravel the process of birth to street life.

When a teenage girl is betrayed by the young man who impregnated her, she rains curses on him and all his descendants as life drains out of her in giving birth to the baby who will later be known as Maa Tsuru. Maa Tsuru grows up labelled as a cursed person. People distance themselves from her in her family house, where she also resides. After having two sons and two daughters with Kwei, he abandons them. Fofo and Baby T’s older brothers leave as soon as they are able to fend for themselves.

Then a new man worms his way into Maa Tsuru’s bed and connives with Maami Broni, who promises to find work for  Baby T  through Mama Abidjan’s questionable recruitment agency, in exchange for periodic payments to feed Maa Tsuru’s new family. Fofo too is forced to leave home because there are two new mouths to feed.  Baby T is later found dead behind a hairdressing salon.

Fofo’s best friend, Odarley, share’s a similar story. Odarley’s mother also has a new husband and children she’d had by him. She resents Odarley because her father abandoned them and constantly accuses her daughter of stealing from her.  So she drives Odarley out to live on the streets.

Then there is the story of the innocent boy who ran away from home to escape the constant abuse of a drunken stepfather. He ended up as a messenger in a brothel, worked his way up by bullying, raping and murdering and is now known as Poison the street lord.

A boy and a girl of about Fofo’s age and making their home on the streets of Accra like her were once asked by a reporter from one of the private FM stations during a survey about their most passionate dreams…

“My dream,” began the boy, “is to be able to go home one day to visit my mother and see a look of joy on her face at the sight of me. I want to be able to sleep beside her. I wish her to tell me she was happy I came to visit her. Whenever I visit her, she doesn’t let me stay long before she asks me politely to leave. She never has a smile for me. She is always in a hurry to see my back. Sometimes I cannot help thinking that maybe she never has a smile for me because the man she made me with that is my father probably also never had a smile for her too. One day she said to me, ‘Go. You do not belong here.’ If I don’t belong to where she is, where do I belong? But I know that it is not just that she doesn’t want to see me. She worries about the food that she has. It is never enough. So she worries that it may not suffice for her two new children if I joined. The ones she has with the man who is their father and who is her new husband. He hates to see my face. I often wonder what it is I remind him of so much.”

The girl said, “One day a kind woman I met at a centre made me very happy. Before I went there, I knew that by all means she would give me food. But this woman gave me more. She hugged me. I was dirty. I smelled bad. But she hugged me. That night I slept well. I had a good dream. Sometimes I wish to be hugged even if I am smelling of the streets.”

In an introductory essay by Kofi Anyidoho, Amma Darko is described as a major female Ghanaian writer whose works are akin to the likes of Efua T. Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo. Both her first and second novels, Beyond the Horizon and The Housemaid, focus on the plight of women and young girls in a merciless world dominated by greedy, irresponsible and often cruel men in their life. Faceless adds up to the other two novels to form what Anyidoho calls an important trilogy. Her stories revolve around feminism and abused women and children in society.

In using what I call simple ‘Ghanaian English’ to narrate the epic tale in Faceless, she gives her reader a feel of Ghanaian urban culture and idiosyncratic transliterations Ghanaians use as we blend our native dialects with English. Her narrative style may be a bit unusual, but she puts her message across well.

Faceless is about the children who have been long forgotten in the rush for modernisation and development in most countries. These young people can be an immense asset to the economy, but are lost to the machinations of poverty and illiteracy, losing their identities in the process.

In writing this book, Amma Darko reminds us…

The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth.

                                                         – John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)

 

If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation.

– Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey (1875-1927)

Since my last book review was on feminism, I thought it prudent to continue with the subject.

The Joys of Motherhood is a compendium of primary care-giving.  Drawing from her experiences as a single mother of five, Emecheta sculpts the quintessential West African mother out of the words in this novel.

Set in the early twentieth century, the story revolves around Nnu Ego, a true royal of Ogboli – one of the villages that made up the town of Ibuza. She is the daughter of Nwokocha Agbadi, the wealthy chief of Ogboli and of his untamed mistress Ona, daughter of Obi Umunna, another local chief of Ibuza.

Overjoyed at the sight of his new daughter, Agbadi…

…bent down and peeped at the day-old child wrapped and kept warm by the fireside and remarked: ‘This child is priceless, more than twenty bags of cowries. I think that should really be her name, because she is a beauty and she is mine. Yes, “Nnu Ego”: twenty bags of cowries.’

Nnu Ego was the apple of her parent’s eyes.

About three years after her daughter is born, Ona becomes pregnant again and goes into premature labour. She senses her imminent death  as she gives birth and asks Agbadi to give Nnu Ego the same freedom her father Obi Umunna gave her.

‘… see that however much you love our daughter Nnu  Ego you allow her to have a life of her own,  a husband if she wants one.  Allow her to be a woman.’

But Agbadi marries her off to Amatokwu when she is sixteen. The marriage ends, however, after Nnu Ego endures the emotional and psychological trauma of childlessness.

The real drama begins when she travels from Ibuza to Lagos to become the wife of Nnaife, laundryman of the Meers. Nnu Ego learns to adapt to urban life where her husband is a white man’s servant and participates in a strange worship called Christianity. In Ibuza, chores like cleaning a household, washing and cooking are exclusive to women, but this is not so in urban Nigeria. It is the ‘woman-made men’ who do such domestic duties for the white man.

When  Nnu Ego confides in Cordelia, wife of Ubani the cook, she laughs at her moanings about Nnaife and says,

‘You want a husband who has time to ask you if you wish to eat rice, or drink corn pap with honey? Forget it. Men here are too busy being white men’s servants to be men. We women mind the home. Not our husbands. Their manhood has been taken away from them. The shame of it is they don’t know it. All they see is the money, shining white man’s money.’

Emecheta defines womanhood and the evolving role of women in an era of polygamy, male-dominance and colonialist oppression. If a West African woman was subject to her husband’s will in all matters, what of one who was married to the servant of a white man?

‘They are all slaves, including us. If their masters treat them badly, they take it out on us. The only difference is that they are given some pay for their work, instead of having been bought.

In a roller-coaster ride of bearing child after child for Nnaife, who loses one job after another and is at some point sent off by the British government to fight in the Second World War, Nnu Ego juggles the responsibilities of motherhood, bread-winner and obedient wife.

After much drama, discourse and dissension, Nnu Ego separates from Nnaife and moves back to Ibuza a ripe old woman who has seen life in the big city. She keeps going on and on about her sons abroad until…

… one night, Nnu Ego lay down by the roadside, thinking that she had arrived home. She died quietly there, with no child to hold her hand and no friend to talk to her. She had never really made any friends, so busy had she been building up her joys as a mother.

As I imbibed the last chapter of the story, I was awash with a mixture of anger and disappointment. After reading chapter after chapter of Nnu Ego’s struggles with loneliness, poverty and marital abuse, I expected a ‘happily-ever-after’ ending to the story. I was angry that the protagonist did not reap from the toil and hardship she had endured as she invested all her life’s work into the well-being of her children.

On the other hand, Emecheta reminds us of the glaring reality of what it means to be a mother in most parts of the world. Although Nnu Ego is a West African mother, many women around the world can relate to her story.

I suppose ‘the joys of motherhood’ for Nnu Ego, as is the case of most mothers,  was watching her children grow up strong and healthy, having provided for their basic needs. In an era when having children was a married woman’s pride, Nnu Ego had proven her critics wrong by bearing male and female children for her husband.

Nevertheless, the story speaks to the joys, not the perks, of motherhood.

Even though I am unable to exhaustively address the complex sociological issues Emecheta discusses in this novel, I review this book in honour of mothers around the world.

Esi decides to leave Oko because he is not supportive of her profession since she excels at her well-paid job and puts that before him and their marriage. She also resents Oko’s constant demand for another child when she thinks their daughter is enough and wants to concentrate on her profession. Oko on the other hand thinks Esi is selfish for putting her work before him and their only daughter, Ogyaanowa, and for refusing to have another child for him. The distance between the couple lengthens after six years of marriage. Oko feels emasculated by his profession as a teacher as compared to Esi’s prominent job as a data analyst with the government’s statistical bureau.

After the usual arguing one morning, Oko crosses the line.

… Oko flung the bedcloth away from him, sat up, pulled her down, and moved on her. Esi started to protest. But he went on doing what he had determined to do all morning. He squeezed her breast repeatedly, thrust his tongue into her mouth, forced her unwilling legs apart, entered her , plunging in and out of her, thrashing to the left, to the right, pounding and just pounding away. Then it was all over. Breathing like a marathon runner at the end of a particularly grueling race, he got off her, and fell heavily back on his side of the bed. He tried to draw the bedcloth to cover both of them again.

Esi lethargically sits in her office about half an hour later feeling unclean. As she thought about it…

It all came to her then. That what she had gone through with Oko was marital rape.

Her analysis of this disturbing phenomenon  leads to a rather puzzling epiphany. She could not think of any native African word or expression for marital rape.

‘And, dear lady colleague, how would you describe “marital rape” in Akan?’

‘Igbo?… Yoruba?’

‘Wolof?… or Temne?’

‘Kikuyu?… or Ki-Swahili?’

‘Chi-Shona?’

‘Zulu?… or Xhosa?’

Or…

Oko’s treachery is the coup de grâce that ends their marriage.

Esi’s best friend, Opokuya has a different marriage. Opokuya is a nurse and Kubi is a civil servant, but neither puts work before family.

Opokuya had decided she wanted four children and upon consulting with her husband Kubi, they had had all four.

To the contrary, Opokuya and Kubi settle their differences quietly. Kubi is sensitive to Opokuya’s moods and Opokuya respects Kubi’s position as the head of the family. Although she is not happy that Kubi monopolizes the only car they share, she does not press the issue unduly.

Ama Ata Aidoo speaks to the issue of societal discrimination against independent, single, professional women in Africa. She expounds on the age-old problem of such women being constantly misconstrued as wanting to be ‘men’ since they will not acquiesce to the expectations of some of their fellow women to heed the beck and call of the male society. This includes having a well-rounded body for bearing children.

This obsolete paradigm is well adhered to by Esi’s mother.

The poor woman shared the popularly held belief that a young woman who is too tall, too thin and has a flat tummy and a flat behind has a slim chance of bearing children. The longer she waits after puberty, the slimmer those chances get!

Esi is further perplexed by Nana, her grandmother,  as she advises Esi about love in marriage.

‘Love?… Love?… Love is not safe, my Lady Silk, love is dangerous. It is deceitfully sweet like the wine from a fresh palm tree at dawn. Love is fine for singing about and love songs are good to listen to, sometimes even to dance to. But when we need to count on human strength, and when we have to count pennies for food for our stomachs and clothes for our backs, love is nothing. Ah my lady, the last man any woman should think of marrying is the man she loves.’

A. A. Aidoo does well to compare two very different relationships – that of Esi and Oko’s with Opokuya’s marriage to Kubi.

Esi ends up falling for the suave Ali Kondey, who pursues her without feeling any remorse about neglecting Fusena, his wife. Esi has high hopes for this relationship because of Ali’s sensitivity and constant attention, but this turns out to be short-lived. The romance meanders to an unforeseen predicament.

Although Changes is another enlightening novel about the struggles of women living in male-dominated societies, I found it difficult to follow Aidoo’s narration of the story. Her frequent interjections with history, sociology, culture, et cetera interrupted the flow of the story. It took me longer to read Changes because I had to adjust to Aidoo’s unique style of writing since I was so used to other authors’ various styles of writing.

I am also at a loss as to why this novel is dubbed a love story. I am not sure which of the relationships in the book is the love story.

Nonetheless, the novel made me appreciate feminism and the need to pay particular attention to women’s global fight for equality. All in all, Changes is truly  an eye-opener to feminism.

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