"Emecheta's fluent prose...is steeped in the tradition of a difficult rural African life."The New York Times.
An allegorical tale, in which a collision between Westerners and tribal members imperils the stoic traditionalism of the Africans.
|Publisher:||Braziller, George Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(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.
Read an Excerpt
The Rape of Shavi
By Buchi Emecheta
George Braziller, Inc.
Copyright © 1983 Buchi Emecheta.
All rights reserved.
The Bird Of Fire
It was good to rest after such a long drought. King Patayon had thought it was going to carry every man, woman and child away to their ancestors. Evidently this time the ancestors had not been ready to receive them. Even to fifty-year-old, slow-thinking and easy-going King Patayon, descending to the ancestors, however beautiful Ogene the river goddess had said it was, was not a rosy prospect. Not that he distrusted the prophets and priests of Ogene, it was just that nobody had been to the ancestors and back to tell them what it was like. The priests and prophets claimed that the dead ones spoke through them, but King Patayon, indulgently called "the Slow One" by his subjects, sometimes had his doubts. The priests and the prophets were very useful in instilling fears into the minds of the people of Shavi, by adding a tinge of the supernatural to everything. So the King was not going to go out openly and ask the people, "But how do we know the dead really do speak through the priests?" They were doing their work, and he was doing his. And on a day like this, when everything was working as expected, why should he complain?
It was blissful to sit with one's advisers, reminisce leisurely about the past, and ponder a little about the future. For the present, there was plenty to eat and the children were in excellent health. The sun was going down in the west, the date palms threw long, spindly shadows, and the palace walls fat, robust ones, as if in competition. Among the shadows, colourful birds sang twitteringly in their nests. The palace parrots hopped about in their cages, impatient with the twittering birds. Even the King's bush cat sat lazily by its master, looking from one end of the vast palace compound to the other, or stretching and letting out a watery yawn before starting to lick himself. From the nearby lakes, which had decided the founding fathers to settle here in Shavi, and given them their goddess Ogene, water, and fish, a breeze wafted over the palace walls through the date palms and onto the king and his closest friends, reclining together in the piazza.
Two of the palace dogs started to bark at the same time, but in that relaxed welcoming tone known to King Patayon, from which he could guess that whatever was approaching was not dangerous. One of his wives perhaps, or one of his many children, or a friend. There was no need for him to stir. He merely changed from resting on one arm to the other, selected another toothpick and started to rid the gaps in his teeth of the particles of roasted goat he and his men had eaten for the afternoon meal. He had hardly settled down to this, when he saw six of his chiefs slowing making their way to the piazza. They walked leisurely, looking very dignified, not only because it was a restful afternoon, now bordering on early evening, but also because they were chiefs, middle-aged, and, above all, men. Middle age such as theirs demanded dignity. They were not ruffled by the barking of the dogs.
The chiefs, as if they were one man, knelt on one knee, moved their white body cloth from their shoulders to their armpits, and bowed their heads. King Patayon smiled, inclined his head in return and motioned them with his hands to get up. He gestured them to their seats, and the chiefs, slowly but with subtle calculation, moved, three to each side of the king. They too reclined on the scented skins of animals that had been scattered on all the elevated sitting places built into the inside walls of the palace. Young boys, who worked in the palace as servers and bodyguards, padded in like silent locusts, distributing chilled coco-palm drinks, honeyed bushmeat, nerve-relaxing grass, jenja nuts and eggs. Despite their busy air, not a word was spoken.
King Patayon, known as the Slow One, hated approaching any topic in haste. After a quarter of a century of his reign, his men had come to value this and to accept these long communicative silences as the behaviour demanded within the palace walls. The king knew his men came to the palace for a reason, though he didn't know what it was, but since they were using his own method in approaching the matter, he didn't wish to hurry them. So with them, he changed from reclining on one arm to the other, and gazed at the shadows lengthening along the palace walls.
As the silence was getting longer than usual, Patayon smiled into vacancy. His men had come to complain about something, something embarrassing, so they didn't know how to start. And he wasn't going to help them. The king and his men had sworn with their life blood that no one should oppress or use his position to treat the other subhumanly. They had learnt through their ancestors what it was to be enslaved, and Shavi prided herself on being the only place in the whole of the Sahara, where a child was free to tell the king where it was that he had gone wrong. And the child knew that not only would he not be punished but also that he would be listened to and his suggestion might even be incorporated into the workings of the kingdom. That King Patayon and his fathers before him had been able to do this and still retain their respect and dignity, was always a marvel to other kingdoms around.
Then, as if on cue, one of the men started to talk banalities. King Patayon, the Slow, smiled again and joined in the spirit of the game. Then there was a rustle, subtle yet determined, from the part of the palace that belonged to the King's wives. Patayon, who had eight of them, and was about to marry a ninth, knew from experience the rustle of each woman's waist wrap and body cloth. He could tell that that particular nervous rustle was coming from no other than his senior wife, the trouble-maker and great talker, Shoshovi. Now King Patayon was ruffled. For it was one of the prerequisites of respectability in Shavi that a man must be capable of keeping his house in order. The approach of this woman, with her long and rather undignified strides like a man's, spelt trouble. The languid smile disappeared from King Patayon's face and in its place came a fixed grin. He sat up with deliberate slowness, and for once, the stress of ruling over twenty thousand people and of making sure that his family was a model of respectability showed slightly on his face.
The Queen Mother, Shoshivi, did not look at her husband's face. She made straight for the centre of the gathering and knelt in salutation: "I greet you, our King and our owners."
"Get up, Shoshovi, you know you're always welcome to come to the gathering of men at any time," King Patayon said cynically.
The King's men noted this, but wore faces so blank that they were almost mask-like.
The King's big cat, Kai-kai, left its master's side and walked slowly to Shoshovi, purring and rubbing its big overfed body against her. She started to stroke him as she got to her feet. She felt like holding the cat for reassurance but it was too big and heavy, so she clasped her hands to her front and looked over the heads of the reclining men. Not that they would kill or harm her if she said something stupid, it was just that in a place like Shavi, people knew so much about each other that shame killed faster than disease.
"My owners," she began, "I invited you to the palace for a purpose. You all know what they say, that women are the softness on which our men recline. But sometimes that softness has gently to give a reminder to our men and our owners. I beg you all to go to the heart of the matter, to tell your friend and your King why it is that you are here. For if one's friend behaves badly, one is not entirely without blame. Ogene our goddess says that we are all responsible for each other, and forbids that we should let the communal spirit die and go back to the way our people were forced to live in Ogbe Asaba."
The men all beat their left sides, nodding as they chorused gravely, "Ogene forbid!"
As usual there was a long trembling silence, broken only by Kai-kai's loud purring. Then the King looked at all his men, his eloquent silence demanding explanation from them. His eyes rested on his oldest and most trusted friend, Egbongbele, who shifted from one arm to the other in embarrassment. He coughed and began to speak.
"Our Queen Mother's grievances are not unimportant. For is it not known that if one's women are contented, life will offer one contentment?"
Patayon broke in, coolly, "You are free to get on with it Egbongbele. This is a free kingdom. And sometimes things do happen in one's own home of which one is the last to know. No person in Shavi should be afraid to speak to the King. Even Shoshovi is speaking her mind."
Egbongbele didn't know what to make of this statement, so he delegated the nasty job to a young member of the group who was well known for tactlessness.
"Mensa, stand up and tell the king where he's gone wrong."
A young and over-enthusiastic man, in his early thirties, got up with jerky energy and spat, "The King must give Shoshovi a cow before taking the beautiful and dutiful daughter of Ayi to be his ninth queen. Shoshovi wants a cow."
Egbongbele now looked very confused and Shoshovi started to wring her hands. Why let the tactless Mensa speak to King Patayon like that? What were these men up to? Trying to amuse themselves at her expense? Trying to trivialise her anger and her pride? "Shoshovi wants a cow", just like that, as if she was a lion hungry for flesh. They were well behaved enough not to laugh, but she knew that they were laughing in their hearts and that her husband, King Patayon, was laughing the loudest behind that noncommittal face. She felt humiliated, ridiculed. To march out of the gathering was her first impulse, but such ungracious behaviour was not expected of the King's wives, to say nothing of the Queen Mother herself. For, being the first wife of the reigning King, having seven younger wives after her, and being the mother of the King's heir, Asogba, was she not the Queen Mother? Her life and position demanded calm and compromise.
Shoshovi had her argument clear in her head, and no amount of ridicule was going to make a thing she had thought out so clearly look and become ridiculous. She stood there, her arms held tight to her front, her head held high, helped by her close fitting ehulu neckband, made from the precious glistening stones found underneath the foot of the hill by the Ogene lakes. Only the king's women were allowed to wear these ehulu neckbands. She had four layers which helped in propping her chin up. A queen was never seen outside her house door without the band. She had to wear it until the day she died. She now concentrated her gaze beyond the palace wall, where the dome of the palace buildings stood in silent silhouette against the sky.
The King's best friend, Egbongbele, was laughing again, this time foolishly. The shame and embarrassment was now theirs, not hers. She had presented her case as befitted the queen mother, and it was left to them to treat it as befitted the King's men. If they had set out to embarrass her, they had misfired. Her determined toughness and calmness were calculated to rattle them too. And she knew that her husband, King Patayon, couldn't help them.
The rest of the kingdom called him "the Slow One" and he didn't encourage people to think of him otherwise, but she, the woman who bore him his first son, Asogba, who had seen him cry when his father King Kofi died, had seen him doubt himself many, many a time, knew that behind that overplayed slowness was a mind that worked very fast and calculated rapidly. She waited.
"Mensa," Egbongbele stood up and began to clarify, "put it rather crudely. What our Queen Mother, Shoshovi, is saying, my King, is that you have forgotten to come to her house and tell her your intention to marry the gentle daughter of Ayi. She said she heard about it from the other queens when she saw the arrangements being made all over the palace, and didn't know what those arrangements were for. It looked as if a new bride was expected, but how come she wasn't consulted? We are now requesting our King to consult her in the proper manner with a well-fed cow."
King Patayon took the trouble to lift the lids of his eyes and look at his wife, Shoshovi. This dry stick of a woman with shrunken breasts! He studied the two bones that held her neck to the rest of her body, which started from each part of her jaw, and dipped themselves into her neck, forming a bony triangle. Her teeth, which were once very white and one of her beauties, now had black gaps between them. She was still thin as previously, but this new juiceless thinness was that of old age, with most of the nerves of her body going crisscross, almost in relief. Why had she become like this? Was it because she was now given to talking to herself in monologues and that whenever she opened her mouth, it was invariably to nag, to criticise? She had made herself unlovable by the bitterness that poured from her mouth.
Patayon didn't like the idea of any of his wives or any member of his household exposing him in this manner. But it would be silly of him to show his hurt. He didn't like the way Shoshovi's case had been given to tactless Mensa to present to the King's friends. Surely Egbongbele could have chosen someone respected in the council of the Elders? It looked as if Egbongbele was making a joke at his expense. If Patayon had not tried his friend of many years, Egbongbele, several times and found him as steadfast and as unmovable as the rocks that guarded the Ogene lakes, he would have doubted his reasons for this undignified behaviour. But he knew that this was a mistake.
Maybe Egbongbele thought he would be pleasing his old friend by ridiculing his troublesome wife Shoshovi, but had forgotten that the people of Shavi said. "If a woman asks you to beat her badly-behaved child for her, one knows that those words do not come from the woman's heart". Only a silly person would take such utterances literally. This shows that one's best friends do not always know one thoroughly. Shoshovi was a troublemaker, but Shoshovi was his first wife, his first queen that his father King Kofi had married for him, and was Shoshovi not the mother of Asogba?
King Patayon's glance involuntarily went to Asogba who was leaning against an egbo tree, chewing something angrily. Like his mother his gaze was directed over the top domes of the palace and into the sky and somehow by this attitude of remote arrogance, he managed to reduce everything being said to a kind of irrelevance. Patayon knew that those eyes looking into distant vacancy missed very little. But how was he to know the way he felt about the treatment his mother was receiving from his advisers? Shoshovi should not have come here to complain about such a domestic issue.
Women! When they are angered, they forget how deeply they have loved. They throw all caution and reason into the empty air. They don't mind who they hurt in their search for justice. Patayon, who had loved Shoshovi, was suffering; Asogba, the son who would supercede him and who was borne to him by Shoshovi, was suffering too. All for what? Simply because he wanted to celebrate the end of a long drought the way any ruler he knew of would, by taking a new queen. Now troublesome Shoshovi wanted a cow. He had been going to give it to her anyhow on the night of the bride's arrival. But he had been going to make sure that all the arrangements were made before he informed her. Now she had found out. Only Ogene knew what trouble she would cook up to make the going difficult for him. He would now have to use more pressure on the parents of the girl a rather undignified move that would not befit a king. But what was there for him to do? Shoshovi should not have come to the gathering to expose him in this way ...
A big, fast moving cloud suddenly loomed and tore itself from the sky, one minute a cloud, the next looking like an unusually long house, another minute the shape of a bird. It was spinning very fast, faster than any woman's spinning needle. Now it was smoking and coughing, and before the people could think what to do or say, the bird of fire arched and crashed into Shavi, just outside the palace walls, close to one of the Ogene lakes. The ordinary people of Shavi, the king, his men and their wives and children, every living thing, ran and hid.
Excerpted from The Rape of Shavi by Buchi Emecheta. Copyright © 1983 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Rape of Shavi is a good class discussion book. It has been a very interesting learning piece something you can conversate wtih others about and lead to bigger conversations and create useful opinions about. The beginning and ending piece both give you an idea of the people who they are and why they believe in the things they do. There is a great story that develops and your able to see it from every characters eyes. The book is a bit short but if your interested in something short but has meaning behind it, I would definately request this book to be read by book clubs and classes. After reading this book your left with the sense that the world we live in is very one sided and shows how we do not look at the world through any one elses eyes but our own. I read this book for a English class, I did not imagine it would be interesting and surprisingly I enjoyed the story and the messge behind it. There is more then one moral to the story that is what I found so captivating about the book. It's ficitional and yet it's as if we live it every day as it entails morals, friends, deceit and strength.