First published in 1979, The Joys of Motherhood is the story of Nnu Ego, a Nigerian woman struggling in a patriarchal society. Unable to conceive in her first marriage, Nnu is banished to Lagos where she succeeds in becoming a mother. Then, against the backdrop of World War II, Nnu must fiercely protect herself and her children when she is abandoned by her husband and her people. Emecheta “writes with subtlety, power, and abundant compassion” (New York Times).
|Publisher:||Braziller, George Inc.|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||8.50(w) x 5.40(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
She writes, according to The New York Times, with "subtlety, power, and abundant compassion." Her numerous novels include The Slave Girl, The Family, Bride Price, and The Joys of Motherhood.
Stéphane Robolin’s essays have been published in several journals including Research in African Literatures, Modern Fiction Studies, and Literature Compass. He is an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University.
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THE JOYS OF MOTHERHOOD
By Buchi Emecheta
Copyright © 1979 Buchi Emecheta.
All rights reserved.
Nnu Ego backed out of the room, her eyes unfocused and glazed, looking into vacancy. Her feet were light and she walked as if in a daze, not conscious of using those feet. She collided with the door, moved away from it and across the veranda, on to, the green grass that formed part of the servants' quarters. The grass was moist with dew under her bare feet. Her whole body felt the hazy mist in the air, and part of her felt herself brushing against the white master's washing on the line. This made her whirl round with a jerk, like a puppet reaching the end of its string. She now faced the road, having decided to use her eyes, her front instead of her back. She ran, her feet lighter still, as if her eyes now that she was using them gave her extra lightness. She ran, past the master's bungalow, past the side garden, and shot into the untarred gravel road; her senses were momentarily stunned by the colour of the road which seemed to be that of blood and water. She hurried on beyond this short road that led to the big tarred one, ran like someone pursued, looking behind her only once to make sure she was not being followed. She ran as if she would never stop.
The year was 1934 and the place was Lagos, then a British colony. The Yaba housing estate, a little distance, from the island, had been built by the British for the British, though many Africans like Nnu Ego's husband worked there as servants and houseboys; a few foreign blacks who were junior clerks lived in some of the modest estate houses. Even then Lagos was growing fast and would soon be the capital of a newly formed country called Nigeria.
Nnu Ego darted past the Zabo market stalls covered with red corrugated-iron sheets which, just like the wet grass and the gravel on the ground, were glistening with the morning dew. She in her state did not seem to be seeing all this, yet her subconscious was taking it in. Little sharp stones in the footpath pricked her soles as she reached Baddley Avenue; she felt and at the same time did not feel the pain. This was also true of the pain in her young and unsupported breasts, now filling fast with milk since the birth of her baby boy four weeks before.
Her baby ... her baby! Nnu Ego's arms involuntarily went to hold her aching breasts, more for assurance of her motherhood than to ease their weight. She felt the milk trickling out, wetting her buba blouse; and the other choking pain got heavier, nearing her throat, as if determined to squeeze the very life out of her there and then. But, unlike the milk, this pain could not come out, though it urged her on, and she was running, running away from it. Yet it was there inside her. There was only one way to rid herself of it. For how would she be able to face the world after what had happened? No, it was better not to try. It was best to, end it all this way, the only good way.
Her strength was unflagging. One or two early risers saw her, tried to stop her and ask where she was going. For they saw a young woman of twenty-five, with long hair not too tidily plaited and with no head-tie to cover it, wearing a loose house buba and a faded lappa to match tied tightly around her thin waist, and they guessed that all was far from well. Apart from the fact that her outfit was too shabby to be worn outside her home and her hair too untidy to be left uncovered, there was an unearthly kind of wildness in her eyes that betrayed a troubled spirit. But so agile and so swift were her movements that she dodged the many who tried to help her.
By the time she reached Oyingbo market, the sun was peeping out from behind the morning clouds. She was nearing a busy part of the town and there were already people about. The early market sellers were making their way to the stalls in single file, their various bundles tied and balanced unwaveringly on their heads. She collided with an angry Hausa beggar who, vacating one of the open stalls where he had spent the night, was heading for the tarred road to start his day's begging;. He was blind and walked with his stick held menacingly straight in front of him; his other hand clutched shakily at his begging calabash. Nnu Ego in her haste almost knocked the poor man down, running straight into him as if she too was without the use of her eyes. There followed a loud curse, and an unintelligible outpouring from the mouth of the beggar in his native Hausa language, which few people in Lagos understood. His calabash went flying from his shaky hand, and he swung his stick in the air to emphasise his loud curse.
"Dan duru ba!" he shouted. He imagined that, early as it was, he was being attacked by money snatchers who were wont to rob the beggars, especially blind ones, of their daily alms. Nnu Ego just managed to escape the fury of the beggar's stick as she picked up the calabash for him. She did this wordlessly though she was breathing hard. There was nothing she could have said to this man who was enjoying his anger, recounting what he thought was about to happen to him in Hausa. He went on cursing and swinging his stick in the air as Nnu Ego left him.
She began to feel fatigued, and from time to time whimpered like a frightened child; yet she walked fast, resentful that she should feel any physical hurt at all. As she walked, pain and anger fought inside her; sometimes anger came to the fore, but the emotional pain always won. And that was what she wanted to end, very, very quickly. She would soon be there, she told herself. It would all soon be over, right there under the deep water that ran below Carter Bridge. Then she would be able to seek out and meet her chi, her personal god, and she would ask her why she had punished her so. She knew her chi was a woman, not just because to her way of thinking only a woman would be so thorough in punishing another. Apart from that, had she not been told many times at home in Ibuza that her chi was a slave woman who had been forced to die with her mistress when the latter was being buried? So the slave woman was making sure that Nnu Ego's own life was nothing but a catalogue of disasters. Well, now she was going to her, to the unforgiving slave princess from a foreign land, to talk it all over with her, not on this earth but in the land of the dead, there deep beneath the waters of the sea.
It is said that those about to die, be it by drowning or by a gradual terminal illness, use their last few moments of consciousness going through their life kaleidoscopically, and Nnu Ego was no exception. Hers had started twenty-five years previously in a little Ibo town called Ibuza.
The Mother's Mother
Nwokocha Agbadi was a very wealthy local chief. He was a great wrestler, and was glib and gifted in oratory. His speeches were highly spiced with sharp anecdotes and thoughtful proverbs. He was taller than most and, since he was born in an age when physical prowess determined one's role in life, people naturally accepted him as a leader. Like most handsome men who are aware of their charismatic image, he had many women in his time. Whenever they raided a neighbouring village, Agbadi was sure to come back with the best-looking women. He had a soft spot for those from big houses, daughters of chiefs and rich men. He knew from experience that such women had an extra confidence and sauciness even in captivity. And that type of arrogance, which even captivity could not diminish, seemed to excite some wicked trait in him. In his young days, a woman who gave in to a man without first fighting for her honour was never respected. To regard a woman who is quiet and timid as desirable was something that came after his time, with Christianity and other changes. Most of the women Nwokocha Agbadi chose as his wives and even slaves were those who could match his arrogance, his biting sarcasm, his painful jokes, and also, when the mood called, his human tenderness.
He married a few women in the traditional sense, but as he watched each of them sink into domesticity and motherhood he was soon bored and would go further afield for some other exciting, tall and proud female. This predilection of his extended to his mistresses as well.
Agbadi was from Ogboli, a village of people who, legend said, had lived in that part of what is now Ibuza before the Eastern Ibo people from Isu came and settled there with them. The Ogboli people allowed the founder of Ibuza to stay, and bestowed titles on him and his descendants. They also inherited most of the widows of the newcomers. This was the arrangement for a long time, until the people of Ibuza grew in number and strength, and those of Ogboli somehow diminished. It is still not known why this was so, though some claim that many of them emigrated to neighbouring towns like Asaba. But that is by the way. The Ibuza people, who came from the eastern part of Nigeria, fought and won many civil battles against their hosts. They won their freedom of movement to the extent that they started crowning themselves and refused to send their wives to the Ogboli people again.
During the time of Nwokocha Agbadi the town had become known as Ibuza, and Ogboli was then one of the villages that made up the town. The glory was still there, and the Ogboli people still regarded themselves as the sons of the soil, even though the soil had long been taken away from under their feet. Two of Agbadi's wives came from Ibuza, two from his own village of Ogboli, three were slaves he had captured during his wanderings; and he also had two mistresses.
One of these mistresses was a very beautiful young woman who managed to combine stubbornness with arrogance. So stubborn was she that she refused to live with Agbadi. Men being what they are, he preferred spending his free time with her, with this woman who enjoyed humiliating him by refusing to be his wife. Many a night she would send him away, saying she did not feel like having anything to do with him, even though Agbadi was not supposed to be the kind of man women should say such things to. But she refused to be dazzled by his wealth, his name or his handsomeness. People said that Nwokocha Agbadi spent all his life on this earth courting his Ona.
Ona was Agbadi's name for her, not the name originally given to her. Her father was a chief, too, and Agbadi had seen her as a child following her father about. People used to find it strange that a chief like Obi Umunna would go about unashamedly pulling a tiny toddler with him. But her father told people that his little girl was his ornament. Agbadi then said, jokingly, "Why don't you wear her round your neck, like an ona, a 'priceless jewel'?" People had laughed. But the name stuck. It never occurred to him that he would be one of the men to ask for her when she grew up. Her father, despite having several wives, had few children, and in fact no living son at all, but Ona grew to fill her father's expectation. He had maintained that she must never marry; his daughter was never going to stoop to any man. She was free to have men, however, and if she bore a son, he would take her father's name, thereby rectifying the omission nature had made.
She was of medium height, and had skin like that of half-ripe palm nuts, smooth, light coffee in colour. Her hair, closely cropped, fitted her skull like a hat atop a head that seemed to be thrust out of her shoulders by a strong, long powerful neck. When she walked, her expensive waist-beads, made of the best coral, murmured, and for men raised in that culture, who knew the sound of each bead, this added to her allurement. She had been used all her life to walking in bush paths, so she knew the tricks of avoiding thorns, using the balls of her feet rather than putting her full weight on her soles. This gave her movement the air of a mysterious and yet exciting cat. She had a trick of pointing her chin forward, as if she saw with it instead of her eyes, which were black-rimmed and seemed sunken into her head. Like most of her people, she had little patience for walking, and as she ran, in the same way as young girls would run to the stream or run out of their homesteads to find but what was going on, she would cup her hands to support her breasts, which swung with bare health. She seldom wore any tops, neither did she tie her lappa over her breasts like the old women. But she had many waist lappas, and expensive changes of coral beads for her neck and waist. Greenish-black tattoos stood out richly against her brown skin. Though she was always scantily dressed, she frequently made people aware of being a conservative, haughty presence, cold as steel and remote as any woman royally born. When she sat, and curled her long legs together in feminine modesty, one knew that she had style, this only daughter of Obi Umunna.
Nwokocha Agbadi would not have minded sending all his wives away just to live with this one woman. But that was not to be. People said she had had him bewitched, that she had a kind of power over him; what person in his right mind would leave his big spacious household and women who were willing to worship and serve him in all things to go after a rude, egocentric woman who had been spoilt by her father? This story gained credence particularly when Agbadi's young wives showed signs of sexual neglect. He would be reminded to do his duty by them, then when...
Excerpted from THE JOYS OF MOTHERHOOD by Buchi Emecheta. Copyright © 1979 by Buchi Emecheta. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.