Feminism takes different dimensions: the men haters who are the extremists and the moderates who seek for dialogue between the genders for mutual benefits. Among the extremists are Julia Kristera. She calls for a non-sexist language. Jucie lrigaray’s thesis was her medium of launching attacks against freud’s light/darkness imagery. This work titled speculum de l ’ autre femme (speculum of the other woman) brought her expulsion from Lacan’s Ecole Freudienne at Vincennes. Helene Cixous took men on the sexist binary opposition.
The extremists whose goal is to push men out of the centre stage and replace them hardly win any admiration or sympathy from the male gender. On the other hand the moderates easily win sympathy and solidarity even from the men. Reasons being that they are considerate, and understanding and subtle in their critique of the excesses of the male gender. They believe that men and women share mutual weaknesses as well as mutual efforts. Buchi Emecheta used to be among the extremists in The Second-Class Citizen and The Bride Price. Later she sheated her sword and noted that “ we need our men ” . The idea that women need their men just as men need their women and children for the good of the micro- and macro- society forms part of the kernel of womanism.Feminism has long crossed the threshhold of men- hating and complaint-commission and has entered the realm of Gender- Complementality(cf. Orjinta: ,,Womanismus als Methode der Interpretation Literarischer Texte. Zur Religioesen Struktur Moderner Frauenbilder in Ausgewaehlten Werken Heinrich Boells, 2010 ”). Simone de Beauvoir: The second sex (trans 1976); Sembene Ousmane: Guelwaar, novel and film; Alice Walker: The Colour Purple; Mariama Ba: So long a letter; Camara Laye: L ’ enfant Noir; China Achebe: Things fall Apart and Aminata sow fall: L ’ ex pere de la Nation; fall within this group. Indeed, everybody should be concerned about justice and harmony. Issues about justice cuts across religion, culture, race and gender. No wonder then we observe a section of the men writers highlighting womens efforts, frowning at their weaknesses, and sarcastically challenging their fellow men to eschew chauvinism, segregation and violence in their relationship with women. As we study women in the artistic world of Achebe we shall corroborate his views with instances drawn from the literary creations of Sembene Ousmane, Camara Laye, Aminata sow Fall and other selected writers. For better appreciation of our study we shall arrange our findings under the following headings: women’s participation in Religion. Women’s roles in cultural Nationalism, Leadership roles and experiences of women and economic contribution of women.
2.BACKGROUND TO CHINUA ACHEBE’S LITERARY WORLD.
2.1 Genesis of African Literature
It is indeed difficult to divorce creativity from historicity in any literary canon. A creative writer is essentially a historian in his capacity to recreate the world in a historical mode. In the vein of a porter, she/he can embark on an imaginative reconstruction of history or even in a flash of artistry, attempt at altering the past … (Adebayo2000:278)
Chioma Opara attempts to make a reference to the idea of the realistic novel as alluded to by Stendhal in Le rouge et le noir namely that ‘ un roman, c ’ est un mirroir qu ’ on promene le long d ’ un chemin ’ - a novel is a mirror that one takes along the road. The mirror image of the novel means that the novel faithfully reflects the realities of the societies to which it refers. The French fiction and literary works from the 18th to the 19th centuries purported to make realistic presentations about Africa. These presentations were however full of distortions and prejudices. The African fiction written in French and English by Africans effectively attempted to correct these negative image. Unfortunately many of these pioneer African writers, most of whom were men ended up re-enacting similar stereotypes and prejudices, this time against African women. The African woman personality, which has been portrayed in francophone African writing by these male writers, failed to match the true nature of African women. Therefore the novel as a mirror or glass that reflects the truth does not hold for the African woman looking at her image as painted by the male writers. Hence these male champions who purportedly claimed that they were correcting and re-reading the literary history of Africa ended up marginalizing women, who form a majority of African people.
In Au Coeur des Tenebres (Trans: Heart of Darkness), Joseph Conrad created images of Africans leaping and howling in the bush. He portrayed Kiertz, one of the characters as someone once civilized but who on coming to Africa degenerates mentally and physically. By so doing Conrad endorsed a stereotypical vision and image of Africa. The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe refers to Joseph Conrad as a bloody racist’. Joseph Conrad was even considerate in his literary presentations of Africa.
What do we say of the French colonial writer Pierre Loti (the psendonym of Julien Viaud)? His work on Africa has received critical studies from Leon Fanoudh-Sieffer and Martine Astier-Loutfi. Alex Hargreaves points to the intellectual and artistic shallowness of Loti’s works. In his appraisal of French colonialist literature, Fanoudh-Siefer stresses Loti’s role in creating the distorted myth about Africa. Although Loti saw just a small part of Africa, residing in Dakar from 1873 to May 1874, he generalized his particular experience:
Africa is a hostile inferno in which the sun, heat, and fever destroy the Europeans taking part in the colonial work.
Fanoudh Siefer notes that Loti( 1965:79) meant:
Une Afrique noire, desolee, epouvantable, etrange, mysterieuse, infernale; une terre de cham, une terre maudite et ubliee de Dieu
In other words Loti’s Europeans transported to the African continent are not only menaced by a hostile climate, they are threatened by Africans themselves. Jean Peyral; the protagonist of Loti’s novel Le Roman d ’ un spani published in 1981 was a courageous and upright youth from rural France. In Africa, he was seduced by the sensual and primitive Fatou-Gaye. Fatou Gaye’s lack of character formation and morality was further manifested when she repeatedly stole Jean’s money and belongings.
As a result of the above distortions in French literature, the African pioneer writers threw to the winds the idea if ‘ l ’ art pour l ’ art ’ that is literature solely for the esthetics of language, the beauty of language and literature for pleasure. They insisted that literature without socio-political struggle should wait for then(Fatunde 2001):
Les Romans Africains, C ’ est un temoignage historiques de leur people, ecrit en langue etrangere dans une situation ou la majorite ne s ’ expriment pas dans cette langue. Malgre ca leurs ecrits etaient un instrument de mobilization pan-africanists parmi les intellectuels Africains.
The African novels are historic witnessing of the African people, written in foreign language in a context where the majority could not express themselves in this language. Inspite of this, these writings became an instrument of pan African mass mobilization among African intellectuals.
The context is a situation of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism which have sapped Africa of every natural and cultural values. Hence literature becomes both an intellectual exercise as well as a historic witnessing by the writer to the experiences of his people. Literature becomes a personal artistic creation of the writer. The artist gives a subjective interpretation in fiction of his experiences and witnessing. Of all the continents, none has undergone the type of humiliation and oppression that Africa has been accustomed to. Four centuries of trans-Atlantic slave trade, with a total deportation of 25 million Africans excepting the dead on transit. We are ruling out the trans-Saharan slave trade during which period the Arabs brutalized Africa. Coupled to these are a hundred years of social, political, religious, economic and cultural invasion, otherwise known as colonialism. African literary artists sought to use fiction to interprete these experiences, mobilize the people against the perpetrators and uplift and defend African civilization. Aime Cesaire, Frantz Fanon and Sedar Senghor were the founders of African literature. In this liberating literature, Africans became for the fist time the subjects of the first and exalted position as well as the primary actors. This was contrary to the European fiction in which Africans played secondary, negative and mere support roles. Initially the term La Negritude as created by Aime Cesaire became the driving philosophy and force of this literature(Desalmand,1981:7):
“ Le Negre veut etre un homme a part entieret e non plus un homme entierement a part ”.
The above statement speaks of political emancipation. Another statement that articulates cultural independence and re-evaluation joins the first statement to form the two axis upon which African literature is built(ibid)
Contrary to the prevailing propaganda within colonial literature that:
Le Colonialisme reussit meme ce tour de pass é -passe qui consistait a persuader les Africains eux-memes que leurs cultures etaient des sous-cultures et que leur but etait l ’ accession a la civilization, la civilization avec une majuscule etant evidemment la civilization occidentale(ibid.)
Colonialism came to surprise Africans with the fraud that their culture is a subculture and their goal should be to embrace civilization, and this civilization in capital letters being the European civilization.
African writers insisted that before colonialism, Africa had cultures and civilizations which had positive and negative dimensions, their virtues and their vices just like every other culture. It was colonialism that made itself an unnecessary obstacle to the normal evolution of this civilization. In order to achieve these goals, the African writers tapped the resources of African oral literature (fables, folklores, narratives and epic) and the French literature.
Unfortunately most of these writers, in carrying out this onerous task of harnessing and defending African literature against European literary bias misplaced their aggression. They ended up doing to the women exactly what the colonial artists did to Africa; namely Gender bias in literature. A few exceptions however tried to balance their characterization and plot such that women were not totally marginalized. Writers like Chinua Achebe, Sembene Qusmane, Camara laye. Alioum Fantoure and Ahmadou Kourouma. We shall explore some of their works and appreciate their levels of women character involvement.
2.2. ACHEBE’S LITERARY AESTHETICS.
Achebe’s works are quite numerous; Things fall Apart (1958); No longer at ease (1960); Arrow of God (1964); A man of the people (1966); Girls at War and other stories (1977); Anthills of the Savanna (1988) and others.
Achebe falls within a class of African writers who have tapped the resources of language and their literary prowess to highlight the virile and dynamic nature of African civilization. He agrees of course that the Africans had a solid and rich civilization whose life was cut short by European incursion. Hence his central theme is colonialism and its influence and impact on African continent. Sub themes such as materialism, non-conformity with ancient traditions, betrayal, abuse of power and communalism, resilience and courage could be gleaned from his works. For the purpose of this discourse we shall be citing copiously from Things fall apart (1958): Things fall Apart takes its title and theme from a poem with the title; The second coming, by an rish poet, W. B. Yeats. Excerp from this poem reads(Agboje,2000:v):
Things fall part: the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
By the virtue of hindsight Achebe looks at his Igbo society, a society that is representative of African societies before the advent of the white man who came as a missionary, a soldier, a trader and as a dictator. His arrival urshered in anarchy and chaos in a once serene and peaceful civilization. Obierika sums up the event thus(ibid):
Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.
In Things Fall Apart as well as in Arrow of God, two towns Umuofia and Umuaro feature prominently, Achebe portrays how religion, and by extension, traditional norms and values emanating from it had given each of these towns reasons and foundations for her existence. Each town is united in thought, word and deed. An essential feature of the worldview of this community is the part played by the gods in shaping her destiny. The oracles have the final say in sharpening the harmony that exists between the living on the one hand and the living dead on the other hand. Everyone acknowledges the presence of powers and principalities beyond oneself. The living see themselves as invitees and devotees whose chief hosts are the gods. These gods are immanent in the community, they are agents of the supreme deity and they in turn officiate through the ancestors. The Ancestors in this principle of subsidiarity are embodied in the elders of the community (TFA p 126-127). Hence the community is ruled by a council of elders. The german title of The Things Fall Apart captures this concept best when it prefers the title: Das alte sturzt (The Old way crumbles or gives way). Okonkwo, as an elder and protagonist of Achebe’s world of Umuofia has the obligation of custoding the community’s prized and shared values and beliefs, and handing them intact over to the succeeding generation. To watch in disbelief as this civilization is forced to expire and go into extinction was Okonkwo’s greatest nightmare. Achebe rightly says(Innes& Lindfors,1977:8):
… African people did not hear of culture for the first time; from Europeans that there societies were not mindless but frequently had a philosophy of great depth and beauty, they had poetry and above all, they had dignity.
As one of the Lords of Umuofia Okonkwo carries the Egwugwu Mask to administer justice. The Egwugwu cult is the supreme court of the town. Usually the belief is that the Egwugwu cult “ was the ancestors of the clan who had been committed to mother earth ” (TFA 131), (c.f TFA 121). Okonkwo sees himself as interwoven with the clan and if the ship slips off his control and sinks what else is he living for? Similarly in Arrow of God Ezeulu who custodied the priesthood of Ulu was disappointed by his Deity. He even refused to serve the new civilization by openly snubbing Mr. Winterbottom, the District officer who offered him the post of warrant chief in preference for the religious duty of his gods. But his gods kept on disappointing him and his people the crucial and urgent moments they needed them. It was like their gods have capitulated in the face of a more powerful white man’s deity:
When was it ever heard that a child was scalded by the piece of yam its own mother put in its palm? What man would send his son with a potshered to bring fire from a neighbour ’ s hut and then unleash rain on him? Whoever sent his son up the palm to gather nuts and then took an axe and felled the tree? But today such a thing had happened before the eyes of all. What could it point to but the collapse and ruin of all things? Then a god, finding himself powerless, might take flight and in one final, backward glance at his abandoned worshippers cry: if the rat cannot flee fast enough, let him make way for the tortoise (AOG 229).
The capitulation of the gods of Uniuofia and Umuaro apart, Okonkwo and Ezeulu were great men of great stature. Okonkwo came from nowhere and became somebody somewhere. His father Unoka was a perpetual debtor and a weakling. Everybody however acknowledges the greatness of Okonkwo. He fought poverty through industry and resilience. At an learly age he had achieved fame as the greatest wrestler in the whole region. It was because of his bravery as a warrior that Umuofia sent him as the town’s emissary to Mbaino. Okonkwo said yes and his personal god or chi acquiesced. He deserved his success. Hence when the oldest man in Umuofia threw in innuendo alluding to Okonkwo the proverb:
Those whose palm-kernel were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.
Not many people supported him, for Okonkwo was a self-made man. Okonkwo, without doubt is obsessed with power, greatness and success. He has a great phobia and fear for failure. Naturally he would not have wished to participate in the expedition that brought about the demise of Ikemefuna; but how should it be heard that a robust, virile great man like him showed signs of weakness as though of a weakling. Hence in a show of valour he slaughtered his own foster son. Achebe’s protagonists are usually men of strong character, will and stature. Achebe is known to create and equip his heros with immense strength and power coupled with all the solid-political appurtenances of power, finance, and self-imposition. In Achebe’s world of Umuohia one would get the impression that Okonkwo was everything: a town’s ruler, a town’s chief wrestlers, a justice of the supreme court, the chief delegate or ambassador to neighbouring towns, a chief warrior, a wealthy baron, a custodian and emissary of the oracles. Okonkwo has three wives, large barns of yams, titles, and thirteen children including the two that were given birth to while he was exiled for seven years at Mbanta. Infact to show the extent of his riches, two men could hardly carry the proceeds from the sale of some of his yams on their heads:
It was in the second year of Okonkwo ’ s exile that his friend, Obierika, came to visit him. He brought with him two young men, each of them carrying a heavy bag on his head, Okonkwo helped them put down their loads. It was clear that the bags were full of cowries (TFA 96).
In short Okonkwo was a materialist by every dimension of it. In Arrow of God, Ezeulu almost replicates the position of Okonkwo in Umuaro. Though the chief Priest of Ulu, his influence, wealth, self importance, and personality loomed large in the whole town. He was such a powerful figure both in physical stature and socio-political standing that even the white colonialist longed to appoint him as the warrant chief of Umuaro.
Yes I told you the story of the fetish priest who impressed me most favourably by speaking the truth in the land case between this people here and Umuaro …” Well, I have now decided to appoint him the warrant chief for Umuaro. I have gone through the records of the case again and found that the man ’ s title is Eze Ulu. The prefix eze in Igbo means King. So the man is a kind of priest- king. (AOG 107).
Achebe imbues in his characters very rare and valuable human qualities. Each of them always ended up getting intoxicated with these powers and passion for insatiable greatness. They barely attained their climax before they fell from grace to grass. Similarly Obi, a great-grandson of Unoka, a new generation grand son of Okonkwo in No longer at Ease, like his father sought with great passion to be great. He studied abroad, came back home with academic laurels. Yet he was not yet done. His insatiable quest for the white man’s money which has by then replaced the opulence that was earlier on measured by barns of yams and numerous wives got him into trouble over a graft of 30 pounds. President of Umuofia Progressive Union rightly sums it up:
A man may go to England, become a lawyer or a Doctor, but it does to change his blood ” (NLAE 42).
Mr Green was even more satirical and acrid in his criticism: “The African is corrupt through and through” (NLAE 3).
Really the invasion of European civilization through colonialism dislocated the old order, but Africans still retained quite a number of her values intact. Clunua Achebe highlighted the sense of communalism which featured in pre- colonial era. Okonkwo attained economic greatness through the assistance of Nwakibie, a Kinsman who offered him 800 seed yams. Seed cropping is a communal way of assisting emerging couples to build up their own barns of yams. A farmer gets a quantity of yam seedlings and returns two thirds of the harvest to the donor. (TFA 16). In the same vein Umuofia Home and Umuofia Abroad represented by the Umuofia progressive Union were very supportive of obi before and after his studies abroad. Hence on the eve of his departure, they gathered to offer him their widow’s mite and last minutes advice. The use of “we” denotes a sense of communalism:
Today we send you to bring knowledge … I have heard of young men from other towns who went to the white man ’ s country, but instead of facing their studies, they went after those sweet things of the flesh. Some of them even married white women … A man who does that is lost to his people … I would have suggested getting a wife before you leave, but the time is too short now. We are sending you to learn book. Enjoyment can wait. Do not be in a hurry to rush into the pleasure of the world like the young antelope who danced herself lame when the main dance was yet to come. (NLAE 9-10).
Ezeulu in Arrow of God had reasoned well by asking Oduche his third son to go and learn the secrets of the white man’s magic” AOG 125. With his sense of foresight as an arrow in the bow of the gods, he would want to be on the safer side. In the ensuing battle between the Igbo gods and those of the white man, he does not want to loose out should either of the deities carry the day. Ezeulu in this case was wiser than Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart. Okonkwo had ostracised his son Nwoye for embracing the god of the whiteman. Even when Oduche desecrated the sacred python following what he was taught in the whiteman’s church, Ezeulu did not change his mind. Similarly Nwoye got his son Obi to follow in his footsteps by studying the white man’s secrets. In Achebe’s A Man of the People (his 4th novel), the thrust of the novel is that the advent of the white man’s secrets otherwise known as modernity is the root of all forms of corruption: social, political, economic and religious. No longer at Ease and Anthills of the Savannah pursue this theme to greater levels. When Achebe was not yet done with the above works, he decided as well to launch The Trouble with Nigeria. G. D. Killam thinks along this line of when he notes(1973:37):
The Price of modernity for an African society: it is Nigerian society itself which is ’ no longer at ease ’ and not merely Obi himself, though of course the social unease centres on Obi, ‘ the “ only palm fruit Priorities in life and societal scale of preference took a turn for the worse. In pre-colonial era, an African shows appreciation of service or good done him or her by presenting “a cock and a keg of palm wine”. Appreciation was usually shown at the end of the transaction. It may be expected or may not be expected by the recipient. Naturally everybody was traditionally brought up to show gratitude. People are not known to bite the finger that feeds them. With European aggressive incursion into the Igbo world of Achebe, bribery and corruption was introduced into the societal vocabulary. Appreciations had to be negotiated or most of the time dictated by the serving agent. There are no yardsticks for determining the amount of money to be paid or its equivalent. The serving agent says whatever he likes. Sometimes, though he might be considerate, some other time he could be sadistic and intransigent. His words are always final especially when the receiving or consuming agent is in dire need of his service. Joshua Udoh of Umiofia Progressive Union had to part with some money so as to get a job. The common parlance for bribe became “envelope”.
Further manifestation of the erosion of societal values is exemplified in the practice of Boy friendship-Girl friendship. In Anthills of the Savannah Chris and Beatrice are neither in courtship nor are they married. The same is applicable to Sam and Elewa. In No longer at ease, Obi and Clara are similarly boyfriend and girlfriend to each other. The exact opposite was the case in a typical African social setting. There is always a test of virginity on the night of the bride’s final arrival to her matrimonial home. Obika in the Arrow of God bought an enormous goat as a gift to his parents-in-law should the wife to be turn out to be a virgin after their first night of marital consummation. (AOG 118)
Although Okuta emerged at dawn feeling awkward and bashful in her unaccustomed loin-cloth it was a very proud bashfulness. She could go without shame to salute her husbands parents because she had been found at home: Her husband was even now arranging to send the goat and other presents to her mother in Umuezeani for giving him an unspoilt bride. She felt greatly relieved for although she had always known she was a virgin she had a secret fear which sometimes whispered. In her ear and made her start. (AOG 122).
The new generation men and women turned out to be a total disappointment and betrayal of their roots. Elsie Mark was sexually available to Obi so as to secure scholarship not withstanding her teenage age. Earlier on her brother came for similar assitance but got a total refusal. In traditional African setting, requests are made in a systematic and dignifying way. The needy usually goes in the company of an elder. The needy’s parents could solicit on his behalf. At times the needy may go through notable personalities. In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo arms himself with a Keg of palm-wine and a cock as he was accompanied to Nwakibie’s house for assistance.
Nna ayi (our father), he said I have brought you this little Kola. As our people say a man who pays respect to the great paves the way to his own greatness. I have come to pay you my respects and also to ask a favour. But let us drink the wine first. (TFA 14)
Then step two follows:
I have come to you for help … perhaps you can already guess. I have cleared a farm but have no yams to sow. I know what it is to ask a man to trust another with his yams, especially these days when young-men are afraid of hard work. I am not afraid of work … if you give me some yam seeds I shall not fail you. (TFA 15)
We could see from the foregoing that there is a modus operandi of making requests in African culture. Such a traditional methodology can at best be handled by elders or experienced persons. For a girl of seventeen or eighteen or even a boy of the same age to go and broach such a request would amount to and result in a stillbirth response.
Elsie Mark on her part went about it the European way, thanks to the advent of European oriented modernity. She simply offered her own flesh as kola and palm wine and wise saying.
Apart from moral degradation and depravity, the advent of the white-man’s modernity equally ursheded into Achebe’s world a recalcitrant and non- chalant spirit of non conformity. One could naturally dissent, albeit prudently to certain ideas or practices that may not urgur well with one’s likes and dislikes. It is however a different issue when one throws ones genuine roots to the winds in the name of non conformity. Nwoye in Things Fall Apart; Oduche in Arrow of God, and Obi in No longer at Ease were expected to go and become ambassadors of their clans in the whiteman’s world. They were not voluntarily allowed to go to learn the whiteman’s secrets. It was either as self-resignation or as a last resort that they were let off the hook by their people. The words of Ezeulu to his son Oduche corroborates the above contention:
The world is changing … I do not like it. But I am like the bird Enekenti-Oba. When his friends asked him why he was always on the wing he replied:
Men of today have learnt to fly without perching ” . I want one of my sons to join these people and be my eye there if there is nothing in it you will come back. But if there is something there, you will bring home my share. The world is like a mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place. My spirit tells me that those who do not befriend the Whitemen today will be saying had we known tomorrow. (AOG 45-46).
After acquiring the whiteman’s magic, they turned against their African roots. The African writer-Chinna Achebe took time out in cataloguing these manifestations of the beentos.
Obi got engaged with a girl by name clara from the Osu caste system of Igboland which culturally was abominable. Ogbuefi Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart must have been proved right after all. He had then cursed Nwoye who in No longer at Ease answers Isaac Okonkwo for rebelling against him by joining the whiteman’s church. In No longer at Ease, Nwoye begets Isaac Okonkwo, the father of Obi Okonkwo who now perpetuates his dad’s rebellion and is consequently sharing in the ancient curse:
I left my father ’ s house and he placed a curse on me (NLAE 125).
Chief Nanga in A man of the people frowns at such an education that makes one turn against his people and culture:
Our true leaders are not those intoxicated with their Oxford, Cambaidge or Harvard degrees but those who speak the language of the people. Away with the damnable and expensive university education which only alienates an African from his rich and ancient culture and puts him above his people …
Obi Okonkwo in No longer at Ease for instance, turns out an hybrid and an uprooted person. He looses all sense of personal identity. He is more of an individual who apes the white-man than of a truly erudite African. Quite alright, Achebe did not close his eyes to African cultural deficiencies, but at the same time he expects his characters not to throw way the child with the bathing water. Obi, after his initiation into modernity, came out with a total loss of self-emancipation, self- fulfilment.
Self determination. Of what use is the whole education and foreign civilization if they can not establish a person wholistically in life. Obi in No longer at Ease could only send money home at the demise of his mother instead of making a physical appearance. Where in traditional African society does a child treat the funeral of his mother with that type of callousness. He reasoned that:
It was more useful to send all the money he could for the funeral instead of wasting it on petrol to get home ” (NLAE 147)