Many of Africa’s current problems were born at the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference . This conference ranks among the most offensive acts of Europe against Africa. In a scramble to amass more wealth, a group of people with no knowledge of a population (except of their land’s resources) drew lines on a map to lump together and divide people of previously existing nations. This is why many believe Nigerians will never really be at peace with one another—we were horribly divided and united. We were never meant to live together the way we are. As if colonizing the land wasn’t enough, the Europeans also went on to possess the minds of the people through Western education, religion, and customs. Some days I find I’m incredibly quite angry at the fact that even though Nigeria is now independent (and has been for almost 50 years), we are mentally colonized. A Western manner of reasoning and behaving is what comes naturally. And then there are days when I read books like Flora Nwapa’s Efuru and think to myself, “Maybe this Western education thing isn’t all bad.”
Efuru, the main character, is an impossibly beautiful young woman from a well-respected family living in an Igbo village. She has a mind of her own, which she demonstrates when she elopes with her lover. (The man, Adizua, is not very rich and cannot afford the dowry, therefore cannot marry her the proper way according to tradition. But Efuru is so in love that she doesn’t care. In fact, she tells him that if he does not marry her, she will drown herself in the lake.) As a result, their marriage is tainted by controversy and gossip. A series of unfortunate events take place in Efuru’s life which eventually strip her of her family. She later discovers that she has been selected by a river goddess to be an honored worshiper. Because of this, she must remain alone.
What constantly surprised me when reading this book was not the strangeness of the premise. (For some reason, when you’ve lived for a few years in Nigeria, stories of minor deities tampering with the lives of humans become commonplace.) What was shocking was the ease with which the author wove details of a woman’s life at that time into the tale—the casual description of Efuru’s circumcision (without anesthesia!); the fact that when she had trouble conceiving, not only was it her fault, but because of it, she was not even considered a woman, so talk of a second wife began; or the fact that it was understood that a woman must kneel in the presence of men. The list goes on and on. All I could think while I read this book was, “Good God! This could be my life. Had Nigeria not been colonized, these are things that I could be living right now!” These things are devastatingly alien to me and even my girlfriends who are living in Nigeria. Today, I see more and more women getting an education (a Western education) and pushing back at the slightest suggestion of what they should or shouldn’t, or can or can’t do because of their gender. Today, I see more women freeing themselves from the trappings of the old ways, and joining the global struggle for women’s rights.
So even though singer Femi Kuti has a valid point when singing “ Oyimbo don kill Africa finish,” I have oyimbos and their education to thank for the freedom I get from my mental colonization.
Bio: Adaeze Elechi is Guernica’s assistant blog editor. Read her last recommendation on The Woman Who Walked into Doors “here”:http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1464/rec_room_adaeze_elechi_the_wom/.