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Battling the evils of arranged marriage, wife inheritance on stage


A scene from the play

A scene from the play

The Swiss educationist, Johann Pestalozzi, 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 have been the search for what was right that made most traditional African societies in the past adopt matchmaking and wife inheritance among its people.

Though these age-long practices have their pros and cons, it must, however, be noted that their negative aspects far outweigh the good they had intended to achieve given modern temper. As a result, 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. Some remain single at the death of the wife or the husband if they so choose.

Tade Playhouse recently presents Oh, How Dearly I Detest Thee to bring these ancient African culture to the front burner, and why those still practising 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 (Adekunle Adamu) and Ako (Florence Bamgbose) remain 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. She 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 verbal abuse as response to his wife, 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, to 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 with the pain of losing her husband still fresh. He reminds Ako of how either of the siblings of her late husband –– Solomon (Michael Dada) or Benjamin (Bolaji Idowu) –– would inherit her as wife or else she would be ostracised if she refuses.

This troubles her, as she can’t imagine being treated like a property to be passed from hand to the other. Moreover, the two are not just the right set of people to choose from as husband. She imagines the shame she would 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 when they have no idea what marriage is.

Although the cast tries to interpret the different roles, it must be pointed out that the antagonist, Ako, lacked the ability to effectively interpret her role. She gives away too much; she failed to embody the messages she was 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 shed tears to reflect the pain and sorrow she was going through. Her voice was dry; she is consumed by her own predicament, the possibility of being willed to someone else and her status as virgin wife made public.

Though there is no particular way to end conflict in a play, using suicide suggests a simplistic solution to the issue. Ako, an educated lady, should have made a difference in her community if she had cried out to the world of the humiliation women face. She is educated at a time a few women had access and those that were privileged to be educated back then really made good use of it. From this standpoint, the play projects the African woman as a docile being, which isn’t true.

Again, the playwright, Libondo, does not present the storyline to reflect the typical African society. He hinges it on individualism, but in the true sense, Africa thrives on communal society format, where everyone is his brother’s keeper. In this respect, Ako should have gone back to her parents to explain her husband’s situation for a solution to the problem. 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.

However, Tade Playhouse must be commended for bringing to public light the evil inherent in parents forcing their children to marry those they like, instead of allowing them to make their own choices. Such arrangements usually end up more damaging than intended. It calls for a reassessment of our culture. Luckily, such practices are no longer binding.

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