Last Updated September 25, 2023.
Beginning in the city of Lagos in post-colonial Nigeria, The Bride Price tells a story of the struggles of a Nigerian girl as cultural traditions and patriarchal expectations attempt to control her life.
The novel begins with thirteen-year-old Aku-nna arriving home with her younger brother, Nna-nndo. They are both surprised to see their father, Ezekiel, there and not at the factory where he works.
Ezekiel tells them he is going to the hospital to check his foot. It has been giving him trouble since he was injured in the war. Aku-nna promises her father she'll have a hot meal ready for him when he gets home. Ezekiel responds by telling her and Nna-nndo to "'Always remember that you are mine.'" He never returns home.
Ma Blackie, Aku-nna's and Nna-nndo's mother, is away in her hometown of Ibuza, praying to the river goddess for another child. She hears news of her husband's absence but does not return to Lagos until he is dead and buried.
The children's aunts and uncles look after them and take care of Ezekiel's funeral. Being the daughter, Aku-nna is expected to cry out for her father and show more emotion than her brother. This behavior is expected at a funeral combining Nigerian and Christian ceremonies due to the country's colonization by the British.
Ezekiel's death brings much hardship to the family. It is known in Nigeria that "When you have lost your father, you have lost everything." It is difficult for a mother to provide for and protect her family.
This concept is so ingrained in Nigerian culture that Aku-nna's name literally means "father's wealth" in reference to the price she will earn her father upon becoming married. Similarly, Nna-nndo translates to "father is the shelter."
Thus, with no male head of the family, Ma Blackie and her two children travel to the rural town of Ibuza. Soon after their arrival, Okonkwo, Ezekiel's eldest brother, inherits all of Ezekiel's wealth and takes Ma Blackie as his fourth wife.
Despite Aku-nna's loneliness, life isn't too bad at first. Most importantly, she and Nna-nndo can continue their education. But there are two problems with this: their education causes jealousy among Okonkwo's children, and Okonkwo plans only to allow Aku-nna to go to school once she becomes a woman and can fetch a large bride price.
Okonkwo is motivated by money because he plans to become a chief and earn the title of "Obi." He needs a certain amount of wealth to be able to accomplish this.
At school, Aku-nna and her brother are introduced to a set of customs unlike what they learned in Lagos. Their school is also a church with services led by a white man. In this new environment, and with only three girls in the entire school, Aku-nna and Nna-nndo are forced to adapt:
They were trapped, like two helpless little fish, between the two sets of traditions.
On top of her education, Aku-nna gains more: a relationship with her teacher, Chike.
Having come from a family of slaves, Chike is not well-respected in the town despite his education and wealth. Knowing this, Chike's father tells him not to get close to Aku-nna. Even so, Chike is not good at hiding his feelings.
Aku-nna experiences her first menstruation while at school. Chike helps and encourages her to hide this development from her family until she earns her school certificate. If she does not, It is likely that Okonkwo will marry her off now that she is a "woman."
Time passes, and...
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Aku-nna and Chike meet in secret. They love each other.
Unfortunately and without warning, Aku-nna is kidnapped and forced to marry Okoboshi, an insufferable boy from school.
Aku-nna saves herself by telling Okoboshi that she is Chike's girlfriend and no longer a virgin. With this knowledge, Okoboshi wants to make Aku-nna his slave instead.
Chike, devoted and in love, shows up and runs away to Ughelli with Aku-nna. They become married and live in a comfortable house together. With much kindness on Chike's part, Nna-nndo comes to live with them, and Chike pays for his education.
Chike works at an oil company, and Aku-nna is a teacher. The couple live a happy life together for a while. The only sadness is brought by Okonkwo's refusal of the bride price offered by Chike's father. Without the bride price, Aku-nna's family will not acknowledge her marriage.
In time, Aku-nna becomes pregnant with Chike's child. Although happy about having a child together, not everything is well: Aku-nna is ill. At this point, she is hardly yet sixteen years old.
Meeting a tragic end, Aku-nna dies after giving birth to her baby girl.
Back in Ibuza, Aku-nna's and Chike's story is told to girls as a method meant to persuade them to marry the husbands chosen for them. They are taught to fear an unpaid bride price because it guarantees death at birth.