Sunday, 3rd December 2023

When the gods of women get mad at patriarchy

By Maria Diamond
15 December 2019   |   3:21 am
“Mutilating of our genitals has not put an end to promiscuity. Rather, it ignites in us an insatiable search for satisfaction as the horror between our legs only brings with it a feeling of numbness.

“Mutilating of our genitals has not put an end to promiscuity. Rather, it ignites in us an insatiable search for satisfaction as the horror between our legs only brings with it a feeling of numbness.”That was how a circumcised young girl, who was forced to marry a man as old as her own father, put it. The young girl, who eventually became a victim of vesicovaginal fistular, was banished to Banza, a town reserved for sufferers of the abominable disease. Ironically, the men of Rolami, who banished these unfortunate young women to Banza, still sneak into town at night to sleep with these ‘smelling witches’ who have been forced by tradition to be cast out of society.

Australia-based Nigerian psychiatrist, Wole Akosile’s deeply psychological study in The Gods of Women Have Gone Mad is at once a disturbing and relieving novel that takes its aim at an African society and its rigid tradition that are at a crossroads. The supposed fear of the gods that imposed circumcision is still a reality and the elders’ council holds onto this tradition with utmost rigidity. But the times are fast changing.

Although there is no mention of school or education, yet awareness is fast spreading. A few of the young girls know what they know are already challenging the evil tradition. At about 14 years old, they ought to be circumcised, but the ring leader, Lami, daughter of Rolami’s scribe, is a vocal thorn on the skin of the elders: she has vowed she would not undergo the knife. Four times she has escaped the ordeal. But she knows she is fighting against a powerful tide. Her friend Halima had been married off by her reprobate father to his fellow chief of a friend. When Halima has her son, she falls into the ill-fated vesicovaginal fistularwhere the emerging baby tears through the vagina and anus and the poor mother is condemned to unable to control her urine flow. Halima is banished to Banza, where debased Rolami men patronize at night for sexual satisfaction.

Buzu’s response to his son ‘s challenge when Halima is to be married off is telling of a rigid tradition and those who uphold it: “Mudi, the gods are greater than we are. Our traditions pre-date us.i will not stand by and allow our traditions to be trampled upon by anyone. Anyone who challenges our culture will pay irrespective of who they are! I will crush and any of my children who dare!”

But Lami will not hear of this madness. The elders’ council is averse to allowing the nurses into town to treat women sufferers like Halima, insisting their illness is a curse from the gods. For a community founded by a warrior woman, Aminata, it is ironic that women are forbidden to give sufferers of the affliction attention. They are equally made to execute the devilish commission of men. The men have iron grip of control. Men like Halima’s father, Buzu, and her aged husband, Itsi, are custodians of a reprobate kind, whose lives are woven around sensual pleasures derived from sexual exploits with as many women as possible.

The heroine Lami, aware that she is only postponing the evil day, chooses to commit suicide instead. But things go awry and she is discovered in time and taken to the circumcision room where her clitoris is cut in the most crudely and devilish manner by one of the women, Haditha, as punishment for her failed revolution that seeks to incite Rolami’s young girls against age-old tradition. Of course, many young girls have died from the cruel tradition, girls whose clitoral wound would not heal. Lami fears such fate would befall her for betraying her parents and Rolami and that she will die. The pain of her circumcision is simply unbearable. Not even the intervention of her childhood heartthrob Mudi with herbal cure does much to alleviate her pain.

Her parents are angry with her for rebelling against tradition, although her father is more tolerant of her sensitivity and has not opposed her all through her rebellious period. Interestingly, her parents also have an interesting history that is supposedly hidden from everyone else, but which isn’t so hidden after all, as walls also have ears. Lami’s mother is from a neighbouring community where such hideous tradition is not performed on women; it explains Lami’s father’s tolerance of her daughter’s supposed excesses in her vocal opposition of circumcision.

But Lami’s rebellion deserves punishment in Rolami’s tradition. At the elder’s council it is decided that she be married off at once as a lesson to other girls to stop questioning Rolami’s ancient ways of life. Her father is incensed, but powerless against the council’s tradition. At last Mudi’s father Buzu is the man the council chooses to marry Lami. Her father Magda almost faints. He would commit suicide a day before the marriage is to take place; he could not bear to deliver her beloved daughter into the disgusting bed of a man infamous for his unbridled sexual appetite.

But Lami’s young lover and son of Buzu, Mudi, has his own plans. When news of Lami’s fated marriage to his own father breaks, he simply disappears from Lami’s side and becomes more energetic in his activities for Rolami community. With his gang of young men in tow, he makes his way to be a member of council to fill Madga’s position since his expulsion. But while the council of elders and his own father are fooled into believing Mudi has turned a new leaf and has begun to see the world in a mature light, Mudi strikes. As a member of the council, he is able to persuade the elders to allow the nurses have access to the suffering women in Banza. Who will be taken to the city to be treated.

But Mudi has more in store for his ‘fellow’ elders. One after the other, he and his gang of young men eliminate all of them including his own father.

Akosile has woven a quietly bursting story of a society stuck in the ancient past and in sharp opposition to modernity. In The Gods of Women Have Gone Mad, Akosile examines patriarchy at its most stark form as it dictates how women’s bodies should be treated simply for their own pleasure and castigates women as accomplices in the ordeal women go through. Akosile exposes the sham that an unchanging tradition is and how men exploit it to satisfy their sexual appetite, as Rolami’s chiefs sneak to Banza for sexual adventure.

The author proposes Lami’s revolution as anti-dote to all such ancient traditions that refuse to go away: they need being challenged even from unlikely quarters like Lami, daughter of a prominent council member. Of course, there is always a price to pay, which Lami pays for her revolutionary fervour. But ultimately she wins her struggle for women’s right. A small starting point in Rolami is that the ostracised women Banza will receive medical help and be rehabilitated into Rolami society to escape the outcast tag. With Lami as queen, more revolutionary changes will at last come to Rolami such as female genital mutilation.

But the important question: is Akosile’s The Gods of Women Have Gone Mad in service of western view of Africa and her customs? This is in view of charges preferred agsinst many African writers living in the west who play up local and supposedly harmful traditions so they could be validated and accepted. While Akosile has written on a subject that the west campaigns against in Africa, his handling is not patronising or condescending. Rather, it is mature and evenly narrative, as it holds a young heroine up as standard even for older people who fear to interrogate the status quo, but who end up benefiting from the struggle of one young woman who will not keep quiet in the face of an evil tradition that violates her body and person. Akosile deserves commendation as the practice of female circumcision is still prevalent in parts of Africa in spite of campaigns to stop it.