Play reflects on the girl child, wife inheritance
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 the search for what was right that made most traditional African societies in the past adopt matchmaking and wife inheritance, as part of their culture. This, perhaps, was to check licentiousness among the people and to direct right conduct among the various communities.
Though these age-long practices have their pros and cons, it must, however, be noted that their negative impact far outweigh the good they are intended to achieve. Owing to this, most people now frown at them, saying such practices are no longer relevant to the present age, where a suitor now chooses who he wants to marry and may decide to remain single at the death of the wife if he wants.
The Troupe recently presented Oh, How Dearly I Detest Thee to bring these old African culture to the front burner, thus shedding light on reasons those still practising them should desist.
Written by Jeanne Ngo Libondo, the play, which is set in Douala, a Camerounian community, tells the story of a couple forced into an arranged marriage by their parents. Three years after marriage, the couple, Tambe (Akin Olumide) and Ako (Grace Emevo), remains strange bedmates, 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 on every count, even with doing little chores like tidying the walls of their sitting room. Ako wishes the marriage never held and even threatens to poison her husband, as a way of breaking free from the prison called marriage.
While the woman cries over her husband’s inability to make her a mother, lose her virginity; Tambe, desirous of peace in his home, stomachs all the insults. Though, most times he reacts to the wife’s barbs. He also blackmails her with poison. He agonises over his inability to sleep with his wife, lest he makes her pregnant. While Tambe lives with his fears, he never wants the public, not even his family members, to learn he is impotent. He rather projects Ako as a troublemaker who needs to be avoided for peace to reign.
As the double standard 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. But the shock soon turns to sorrow, when the head of the emissary that brings the ill news, a traditional chief, begins to make advances at her, while the pains of her husband passing away is still fresh. He reminds Ako of how either of the siblings of her late husband –– Solomon (Femi Oguntade) or Benjamin (Lasis Idris) –– would inherit her as wife else she would be ostracised if she refuses.
This troubles her, as she can’t imagine being treated like a property. More so, the options are just not the right set of people to choose from as husband. She imagines the shame she would face if she reveals she has been living with her late husband as a virgin –– a married virgin! She kills herself instead.
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, matchmaking with little regard to those involved, especially the girl-child.
With a fantastic storyline, the cast, especially Ako was at her best in interpreting the play. In fact, her acting: body movement, tonal inflexion explain the pains women pass through when they are denied the joy of marital conjugation. Her tears, self-fumbling and wishful ogling at men reflect some of the pains and sorrows she undergoes.
Though, there is no particular way to end conflicts in a play, using suicide appears a simplistic solution to the issue. Ako, an educated lady, should have, with her high school education, made a difference in her community by crying out to the world of the humiliation women in Douala were facing. She had education at a time a few women had it and those that were privileged to have it really made use of it. From this standpoint, the play projects the African woman as docile and being unable to fight for their rights.
Again the storyline presents the African society as being individualistic, whereas in the true sense, it is a communal one. Despite this, Africans are known to be their brothers’ keepers. Knowing this, Ako should have gone back to her parents to explain her husband’s predicament and a solution would be sought. Keeping the issue hidden 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.
Apart from effectively managing space, the director, Kunle Sotunde, employed his ingenuity by using light and music to reflect the moody periods of Ako. These added effects, such that raised emotions and drew sympathy for Ako. Some members of the audience whimpered as the play rounded off.
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