On a quest to pursue further studies, Kumato, a respectable son from Molumbu village in Cameroon, wins a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the United States. While his father welcomes this great news with pride—for his son to study abroad—his mother laments the loss of her only son to Western cultural values.
Abroad, Kumato’s conflicting emotions about the United States continue to haunt him. He becomes torn between respecting the traditions of his people and adhering to the emotional turmoil that tears him apart. Moreover, he falls passionately in love with Susan, a beautiful, blonde, white American.She left Washington, DC, to pursue a medical career in Carbondale, Illinois. Will Kumato forfeit his promise to his mother? Will Kumato’s and Susan’s love stand the test of time?
From the hills and valleys of Molumbu village to the campus of Southern Illinois University, The Taboo Promise shares an unusual American love story set in the late 1970s, a story that unfolds against a backdrop of interracial love, tolerance, and acceptance.
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The Taboo Promise
By Joseph Anchangnayuoh Ngongwikuo
iUniverseCopyright © 2017 Joseph Anchangnayuoh Ngongwikuo
All rights reserved.
News of Kumato's impending departure for America spread like wildfire across Molumbu. Everywhere in the village, people asked about Kumato and his forthcoming journey to study in America. Such opportunities were rare, and Kumato was the first from Molumbu village to have the opportunity to further his studies in the States.
Yet while the village rejoiced at the news of her son's departure, Nawain Nabi didn't want her son to travel to the land of the red men. Bobe Kumalua had five wives. Kumato's mother was the second wife, and Kumato was her only son.
Nawain Nabi had just prepared her evening meal of corn foo-foo and kene-kene soup, and she took her husband's share to his house. "Emaa wainbi," the husband said to his wife. "You must have returned very early from the farm today."
"Yes, I didn't have much to do on my farm today. My partners came to help me finish the ridging," she replied. She put the big basket of corn foo-foo and pot of kene-kene soup by the big stone near the fireside.
"I am sure you have heard what everybody is saying about your son. I have shaken many hands because people tell me they are very happy that one of the village's sons is going to study in the land of the red men," he continued. "Let my son also go there and bring home this magic. You see, the red man's book is magic because it is power. When you know many things, you are a powerful person. When my son goes and learns many things, he shall come back to be very powerful in the land. I want him to learn the red man's law so that he can return and help me get back all my land. You know, some people in this village have seized our family land. With the knowledge of the red man's magic and the power that goes with it, he will return to help us. The people will accept whatever he says. I say God has heard my prayers. My child shall never suffer as I did, going down to the coast in Fitoya to work in the plantations or carrying potatoes or kola nuts to Adema."
Nawain Nabi listened to her husband, her eyes fixed on the floor while her hands rested on both knees.
"Emaa Nandou," he said to his wife, "I am talking to you. Why are you not answering me? Don't you want your child to go to the country of the red man?"
"Boundou nema," she calmly said. "My partners have several children, but Kumato is my only son. I want him to marry women of this land and bring forth children for me, to honor them with family names of my relatives who have gone to the land of the ancestors. I do not want my son to go to a strange country. I am not sure he will return. If he dies, I will never have another one. I want him to marry as many women as his father and save me from the curse of infertility. I am told that in the land of the red men, people only marry one wife. I do not want my son to go there and come back with such strange ideas, because if he marries only one wife who, like me, doesn't bear many children, where shall I go to hide my face? If she has only one child, as I have, what shall I do? I do not want my child to run into strange ways and return a stranger to his own home. My child will never go to that country of the red men. You have many other children — let them go, but leave my son alone. I am the mother, and the memories of my struggles to get Kumato still worry me today. No, no, no! Not my child!" She shook her head from side to side and waved her right index finger in a gesture of disapproval.
"Hmm," Bobe Kumalua said. "What is wrong with my wife today? Are you well?"
"I am well. There is nothing wrong with me. I fear you are the one who is not well," she retorted.
"Bring me water to wash my hands and eat this food, before it gets cold. I am hungry," he ordered. He was getting bitter, and her voice was rising with rage. Eating at this moment was going to keep them silent and give him the chance to think in calm. Besides, it was in bad taste for his wife to talk down to him while he ate.
"Here's the water," she replied. "I'll come back with Kumato as soon as he has eaten. I know my son will not want to disappoint me; he knows he is my only son. You will be surprised to see that your son is not interested in that power and magic."
"Bring him with you after his meal. He is the one to travel, not me. Whatever he chooses to do is up to him. But knowing my son, I have the feeling that he will not listen to your womanly story," he told his wife.
"Whether it is a womanly or manly story, I know my son will never step foot in the land of the red men. He knows how much he means to me. He won't leave me alone to travel so far away, knowing that I don't like it. No, not my son Kumato," she said, walking back to her house.
Kumato was eating his corn foo-foo and kene-kene soup when the mother came back from his father's house. "Eat quickly, and let us go back to see your father," she told him.
Kumato nodded; his mouth was too full to talk. He loved corn foo-foo and kene-kene soup. When he swallowed it, he asked his mother whether she was going to eat.
"I ate a lot on the farm today. I only made the meal for you and your father," she told him while he hurriedly finished.
He then said, "Na, why does my father want me with you? Have I done something wrong?"
"No, there is nothing wrong, my son. I'll tell you when we get to his house."CHAPTER 2
Bobe Kumalua had finished his meal and was waiting for them. As Nawain Nabi stepped over the door, she hit her left foot against the stone step. "Eee hmm, don't you see? You are hitting your wrong toe. Your ancestors are warning you not to interfere with this child's thing," said Bobe Kumalua.
"I know I have hit the wrong toe, but it is not my ancestors. They may be yours," she replied.
"They can't be mine. Have you seen me hit my toe?" he asked her.
"But you don't hit your toe sitting down. You have to be walking," she argued.
"Get a chair and sit down, my son," he told Kumato.
"Mmm, you only want your son to sit down. I'll stand," she told her husband.
"No, Nandou. Your chair is behind you; I thought you saw it. You know we are going to have a long talk, and you ought to be seated. Kumato doesn't know. That is why I told him to get a chair. Sit down and tell your side of the story to your son. I have not opened my mouth to him about it. This is your chance to tell your son whatever you want him to believe. As for me, my hands are open. Whatever decision he takes, I'll support it. Now, go ahead, and don't keep us waiting," the husband told her.
"Kumato, my first and only son," she said. "You know that I have you and only you. I have no other children. I have gone past the age of bearing children. I am waiting for you to marry your own wives, as your father did. They will bring forth children for me to name after your ancestors. Since the beginning of the week, people of the village have been honoring your father and me with handshakes because they say that you are going to the land of the red men. I am surprised that your father would accept such a thing. He knows as well as you do that you are my only son. He has many other sons like you; let him send them to America. They have also been to colleges, as you have. I want them to leave my child alone. Do you hear me, Kumato? It is your mother talking to you. Your father already told me how happy he is that you are going to go to the land of the red men. I do not want it. I do not want it!
"I have been looking around for your wife. She is the daughter of my friend Nawain Tung. You are already of age to marry. I was going to talk to you about her. She is a fitting wife for my son. She is strong, healthy, and plump — strong enough to farm and feed you and her children. My dear child, do not disappoint me. Her mother has many farms and grows a lot of food; she would give our family a lot of food. I need a mother-in-law like Nawain Tung. She will feed my whole family. My son, are you hearing me? There is no problem about a dowry. Your father has several barrels of palm oil, salt, and dried meat stored since he gave out your stepsisters in marriage.
"You will be the first son to get married. You have nothing to contribute as a dowry, except to accept Fulai as your first wife. I have spoken for your father and for myself. Now it's your turn. Speak and defend your mother. Speak, my son!" she finished.
Kumato said to his mother. "Na, if you do not want me to go to America, you should not have allowed my father to take me to school when I was young. Now that I have tasted the fruit of knowledge, you want me to withdraw? Mother, I can't. I was told in college that it is good to learn, because knowledge is better than silver and gold. I also learnt in college that it is good to read books, go to university, and get degrees. What I have done so far is only the beginning. Many of my friends envy the chances I've had because they can't get them. Na, you are my mother. You brought me into this world, and I adore you. My mother is my mother. I only have one in this world. I want my mother to look after me and not condemn me. If I go to America, I shall live to be a great man. If I don't, I shall live to be miserable."
As he talked, his mother sat looking at her son and wondering what had gone wrong with him. It was clear that he wanted to go to the land of the red men. "Listen, my son. Please listen!" she interrupted. "Are you thinking of what you are saying, or are you just talking without thinking? Kumato, it is your mother talking to you. Answer me thoughtfully, not hastily!"
"Na, I do not even have to think before I answer you. Instead, I want you to reflect properly before you answer me. You say that you want me to remain to marry wives and produce children for you. I have not refused to marry, but my ideas about marriage are different from yours."
"I am happy you say you'd like to marry. That is the main thing I want you to do. Marry and give me children, my dear son! That is all I want from you. Now you are beginning to think," she said.
"Na, I shall only marry one wife. I will never go into this big problem my father has of looking after many wives and children. And I shall only marry a girl I love, not just anybody. You talk of Fulai, your friend's daughter. I want to marry a well-educated girl, not a girl like Fulai who doesn't know how to write her name. She will need an interpreter to read my love letters to her. No, Mother! You don't know what you are talking about."
"I know you think that I don't know what I am talking about, my son, but it is my place to tell you what you ought to know and do. I did not say that you should marry a woman whom you love. Who told you that we marry for love? We marry to have children. You would say that your father married five of us because he loved us? He married us to give him children."
"Nandou nema," Bobe Kumalua interrupted, "do not say that I am supporting my son, but I want to tell you that Kumato is saying something with a lot of sense in it. You have to admit that their values after learning the red man's magic change, and they begin to think and behave like the red man. I love all my five wives, and they love me too. If I care for my wives and children, I love them. I hate to hear my son saying that he will only marry one woman. I have only five, but my father had ten. Now my son only wants one. You see, Nandou, when I took Kumato to the red man's school, I knew the red man's magic would go into his head and enable him to grow up and be happy in his own society. For him to be respected and feared in his society today, the red man's magic must go into his head, and it has started to make him forget his tradition. Like you, I really pity my son. Marry only one woman? Pfff!"
He paused and continued. "What if she's sick? Who will cook for you? And when she is nursing for three to four seasons, will you sleep with your hands between your thighs? Pfff! There is something wrong with these children who have learned the red man's book."
Nawain Nabi was beginning to warm up to her husband's remarks. "My son," she said, "you have heard what your father has been saying. He says that those who learn from books forget their traditional ways. I don't want you to be like that. Now, you know both ways. You know the tradition, and you know the red man's books. Did your father and I feed you and pay your fees, just for you to learn strange customs that will drive you away from us? No, my son. Not you, Kumato, my only son!"
As his mother spoke, Kumato sat still on his chair, tapping his right foot on the floor. "Bobo and Na," he said, "I have heard all your worries. They are yours and not mine. For me, I see a great future for me if I travel to America. I am very anxious to live in another world. No young man gets a chance to go to America and refuses it. It would be foolish of me to do so, and I may never get the chance again in my lifetime. I want to prepare and pack my things. Let me know what you say tomorrow. I have to go out to a far-off country, and I need your blessings. I do not want my mother to be unhappy when I leave; her misery will disturb me. I am not going to die in America. Even if I remain here and death comes, I won't be spared if it's my time to die. Allow me to go to sleep; I am tired." He stood up to go.
"Did I not tell you, Wain Bi? I told you that your son would want to go to the red men's country! Now you see it for yourself," Bobo told his wife. "I have heard my son speak to his mother today. Our people say that a child is only yours when you carry it in your stomach. But as soon as the child is born, it is everybody's. That is how I look at my son now. He is no longer mine. He is the son of everybody."
She replied, "You remember that I told you I did not want you to take him to the red man's school when he was young. You did not listen to me. Now you see what the books have done to him. It has turned him against his mother. I see I have no power to stop my son from going to America. I do not want to turn my back against my only son. Our people say that a mother's door is always open and ready to receive her children. Now I see what they mean. I cannot reject my beloved child. I know he will be pleased to know that I have changed my mind, though I do not like it. But my son will give me one promise: not to marry a red woman. He must return and marry from the tribe. There are many girls in the tribe who know how to read and write. I want in-laws who can give us food. A red woman would not understand our customs. I have given out a lot of food for friends' marriages. They will have to pay me back. Because I only have Kumato, he must not deprive me of this single chance. Boundou, is it not so?"
"Now you have spoken like a mother. A mother always has two hearts so that she can change from the bad to the good when the need arises. Better go and sleep; you look tired. We shall bless our child together before he leaves for the land of the red men," he told his wife.
"Thank you. Sleep well, and we shall see tomorrow," she said as she stepped out.CHAPTER 3
During the week, Kumato's relatives from all over the village came to bid him good-bye. The women brought corn foo-foo and vegetables, and the men brought fowls. Her mother cooked the corn foo-foo, Kumato roasted the fowls, and they all ate together.
Kumato's uncle, Bobe Tinalai, came with his three wives and fifteen children to bid farewell. His wives brought corn foo-foo and vegetables, and he brought a goat. It was a feast for everyone in the compound.
When they had all eaten, Bobe Tinalai called his young nephew to stand in front of him as he sat between his father and mother. "Zindou nema," he said to his nephew, "I am the elder brother of your mother. I carried your mother on my back when she was young. I fed her with food I chewed in my mouth. We were the only two from our mother. Now, see the difference. I have so many children, and she has only one. You are the only one, my son. I am old, and you are young. You are my only successor to look after these children when I have gone to the land of our ancestors. I want you to see all your wives and children before you leave. If I die before your return, please look after your wives and children — they are yours, not mine. I look after them on your behalf till your safe return from the land of the red men."
Then he turned to his wives and children. "You all have heard me speak. My children, this is your father. If I die before his return, obey him, for my wives are his wives, and my children are his children. My sister, if I have forgotten anything, remind me."
"My brother, you have said it all. There is nothing left. You have spoken to your child, and he has heard you. I have nothing to add. I thank you, my brother," she told him.
To Kumato's father, he said, "You are the husband to my sister. My successor is from your seed. I feel greatly dignified to have Kumato. He is our child. You are the father. I join you and your wife to wish him a safe journey to the land of the red men till his safe return to us."
Excerpted from The Taboo Promise by Joseph Anchangnayuoh Ngongwikuo. Copyright © 2017 Joseph Anchangnayuoh Ngongwikuo. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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