Have you read a book that gets you revving madly from the beginning to the end? His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie is that book.
His Only Wife is about 21-year-old, Afin, who agrees to an arranged marriage to Elikem at the request of Aunty, his mother
.Afin is the best weapon in Aunty`s arsenal. She is supposed to win back Elikem from the claws of the foreign woman.
The opening line of the novel grips the reader immediately with a promise of a scandalous tale. `’Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding.” I have heard about this happening in Uganda where the groom’s photo is put in the chair where he would be seated were he present during the traditional wedding. Honestly, it does not make sense to me and I would not settle for it. Utter nonsense!
Afin is reliably informed of her duty in this marriage but she is not given full details of the mission. Talk about being ill-prepared for a mission that is supposed to please your mother-in-law, your relatives and the village at large!
The book starts the reader off strategically hating the foreign woman. Thinking to yourself, how dare she try to separate her husband from his people? With her ugly self, all she has to do is behave and stop being a drama queen.sha! In Africa, we value family and tradition. No wife in her right mind prevents her husband from visiting his people or them visiting him. But in a dramatic turn of events, we realise that the problem is not with the foreign woman but with the husband’s people. This part of the novel heavily reminded me of Nsuuta in The First woman by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. She was called the village witch for nonconformity. Which is the case for all women who do not conform to society’s rules and regulations. They hurl insults and evil names against them. The foreign woman was no exception.
Peace`s novel boldly interrogates ideas that are the core of African tradition and culture. I want to focus my review on them as seen below:
In-Kind Payback. It is believed that no one helps you without wanting something in return. This is clear with Aunty. She helps Afin and her mother when they lose everything. The time comes when they must pay her back. And they don’t have a say in how they pay back. Aunty being rich sets the terms and conditions. In some African homes, due to poverty or the death of parents, other relatives and well-wishers take on children and begin to care for them. However, these children are turned into some sort of house helps but with no pay. They do all the work and must jump when the caretaker says jump. Afin and her mother were no different. At their lowest point, Aunty helped them gain dignity and stability. How could they refuse her request?
Leave & cleave VS Letting go
The bible says in Genesis 2:24, ` a man will leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.’’ I believe many Mothers struggle with letting go of their children even when they enter marriage. Elikem and his brothers are no different. They are practically ruled by their mother aka Aunty. Elikem seemingly defies his mother and keeps his foreign woman while agreeing to her whims to marry a homebred woman. This raises the question: how should children and parents prepare to let go? Should boundaries be discussed with your partner`s family beforehand or should cultural expectations prevail?
Aunty wanted Afin to stay in the marriage even when things were going south. Afin defied her and her mother paid the price. In simple terms, Aunty showed them her true colours. She liked you best when you did not defy her.
The author raises pertinent questions on marriage and acceptance. Who determines who one should marry-parents, relatives, tradition? Does tradition have room for foreigners? Is marrying from one`s people the best solution for a man? Will a man not cheat simply because he has taken a wife from his people? If a parent is not pleased with his or her child`s choice-then what? It is clear that Elikem loved the foreign woman but his mother did not. His brothers did not understand that Elikem`s woman had her own rules of family engagement. Honestly, I was not surprised by this behaviour. As people, we like things ‘our way’. We cannot perceive that other people have their way of doing things.
In marriage do A, B, C, D and finish the alphabet for the man`s sake and he will love you deeply and stay with you.
Afin is cautioned to feed her husband, spread her legs for him, get pregnant for him, give him a boy, love his mother and listen to her, accommodate his family and friends. Which she does with merit but still, Elikem does not leave the foreign woman. How many times have women been subjected to-dos and don’ts for the sake of a grown man? They do without question but still, the man cheats. In confronting this notion, the author is simply stating, if a man wants to cheat, he will cheat. No amount of thick thighs, respect, baby, love for his mother and family will stop him. Women relax. Go about your life. Stay moisturized. Chase the bag. Do not lose sleep over a man.
Afin breaks the cycle of culture and tradition that has been passed down to women. A culture that makes them stay in situations that don’t serve them. She walks away from big man Elikem and begins afresh in spite of the pain she feels. I must admit that I eyeballed Afin whenever she complained. She had everything -a good car, house, money in the bank, a child, business but she still wanted more. I thought she should have been content with that and not caused trouble. I guess I too need some mending. I am willing to settle for less. God help me.
”Black tax is a term used in South Africa for money that a Black professional provides to their family every month outside of their own living expenses, usually out of obligation. It is caused by continued economic imbalance that can be traced back to apartheid and slavery. ”-Wikipedia
Afin`s Uncle Pious has no shame!! He wants to reap where he did not sow? Simply because he is an uncle.Elder.Worthy of respect. As is a norm in African culture. He comes and demands money which is given. Later he sends two of his children unannounced to Afin so she pays for their fees. Mind you he had packed their suitcases and school uniforms. I guess this happens in many African homes where expectations are not discussed by the elders. I am not against supporting relatives and neither is the author. But there must be boundaries put in place, conversations had before any action is taken. Then again, there is never room for that since elders have the last say.
His Only Wife is a powerful novel that candidly confronts strong societal expectations and pressure mounted on women. I loved how Afin`s character is thoroughly fleshed out. She grows from a timid 21-year-old to an empowered woman who will not settle for what society has handed down to her. She fought back.
The novel`s fast pace stringed with humour is guaranteed to keep you flipping the pages, quarrelling with and at the characters while learning through it all.
I highly recommend this read.
Would you marry a man or woman in their absence? What are your thoughts on the black tax?