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Taking A Hard Stance On Forced Marriage, Wife Inheritance

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A scene from the play

A scene from the play

IT must be noted that Johann Pestalozzi, the Swiss educationist, was not only addressing the Swiss, but the whole world, including Africans, when he said: ‘Man must search for what is right and let happiness come on its own.’ It may be in search for what was right that made most traditional African societies in the past adopt matchmaking and wife inheritance, perhaps, to check promiscuity among its people and direct the various communities aright.

Though, these age-long practices have their pros and cons, it however, must be noted that their negative aspects far out-weigh the good they had intended to achieve in this era. Owing to this, most people now frown at these practices, as they are no longer relevant to the present age, where men and women now choose who they want to marry or remain single at the death of the wife if he wants.

The Thespian Muse and Theatre At Terra for the month of May presents Oh, How Dearly I Detest Thee to bring these old African culture to the front burner, and why those still practicing them should jettison them for healthier relationships. Written by Jeanne Ngo Libondo, a Camerounian, the play tells the story of a couple forced into an arranged marriage by their parents. Three years after marriage, the couple, Tambe and Ako, remains strangers to each other, as they are unable to settle their differences and consummate their marriage.

Ako tells Tambe to his face how dearly she detests him. She taunts her husband with his impotence and refuses to obey every instruction he gives. She challenges him in every thing, even in performing little chores like tidying their sitting room. Ako wishes the marriage never held and even threatens to poison her husband, as a way of breaking free from the accursed union.

While Ako cries over her husband’s inability to make her a woman and mother, Tambe for want of peace in the home, stomachs all the insults, and reacts with his own verbal abuse of his wife’s stubbornness. He agonises over his inability to sleep with his wife lest he makes her pregnant; he cites the difficulties as excuse. While Tambe lives with his fears, he never wants the public, not even his family members, know he is impotent. He rather projects Ako as a troublemaker that needs to be avoided for peace to reign.

As the shouting match goes on, the unexpected happens. Tambe dies in an auto crash. At first, the news brings shock to Ako; shock for losing someone she has lived with for three years, in a dog and cat fashion. But the shock soon turns to sorrow, when the head of the emissary that brings the news, a traditional chief, begins to make advances at her while the pains of losing her husband is still fresh. He reminds Ako of how either of the siblings of her late husband –– Solomon or Benjamin –– would inherit her as wife or else she would be ostracized if she refuses.

This troubles her, as she can’t imagine being treated like a property to be passed from hand to hand. More so, the options are not just the right set of people to choose as husband. She imagines the shame she is going to face if it comes to light that she has been living with her late husband as a virgin –– a married virgin!

Written in the 1970s as a radio drama, the play is still topical, especially as some African communities still hold tightly to the culture of wife inheritance and matchmaking young people.

Though the caste tries to interpret their roles, it must be pointed out that Ako, as the protagonist, lacks the mien to effectively interpret her roles; her body language gives her away; she does not reflect the messages she is passing to the audience. She was too ordinary and created the impression that she was merely reciting her lines. One would have expected her to cry to reflect the pains and sorrow she is going through. Her voice is dry; she is consumed by her own predicament, the possibility of being willed to someone else and her virgin status as wife made public.

Although, there is no particular way to end the conflict in a play, using suicide is a simplistic solution to the issue. Ako, an educated lady, at least from the storyline, should have made a difference in her community by crying out to the world of the humiliation women face. She is educated at a time a few women had it and those that are privileged to have it back then really made use of it. The play from this standpoint projects the African woman as a docile being.

Again the storyline presents the African society as being individualistic, while in the true sense it is a communal society, where we are our brothers’ keepers. Knowing this, Ako should have gone back to her parents to explain her husband’s situation and a solution would be sought; she could have also shared it with her husband’s people. Keeping the issue away from her people is not a true representation of the African society, where couples are expected to bring forth children as soon as they get married. No member of family from both sides pays them a visit.

However, Thespian Muse must be commended for bringing to public domain the evils of parents forcing their children to marry those they like. The evil inherent in it could be more dangerous to the parties involved than the selfish motives behind it. It calls for a reassessment of our culture.

Oh, How Dearly I Detest Thee is directed by Toritseju Ejoh. The command performance will be held today, Sunday 31, 2015 in two shows at 3pm and 6pm, at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.



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