Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1124
Thirteen-year-old Aku-nna and her brother, Nna-nndo, two years younger, arrive home from school to find Aku-nna’s father, Ezekiel Odia, unexpectedly standing in the middle of the family’s one-room apartment. Obviously ill at ease, he tells his children that he is going to the hospital to have his foot examined. He had earlier injured his foot during service in World War II. He says that he will be back for the evening meal, adding that Aku-nna and Nna-nndo should remember always that they are his children.
Despite a patriarchal social structure in which daughters are devalued, Aku-nna feels a special bond with her father and knows that he, in turn, loves her. Her name means “father’s wealth,” and Aku-nna has resolved to make a good marriage so that her bride price—the money paid to the family of the bride by that of the groom—will please him.
It is now evening, and Ezekiel has not returned from the hospital. More than three weeks later, the children realize that their father had died in the hospital. His funeral is a mixture of African and European traditions. Brother and sister are now in a serious plight: A family without a father is deemed one without a head or shelter, a family that does not exist. Aku-nna hears an aunt say that she will be married quickly so that her bride price may pay for her brother’s schooling.
Before Ezekiel’s death, Ma Blackie, his wife, had returned to her home town of Ibuza in the hope that indigenous practices could help restore her fertility and enable her to give him another son. Alarmed by rumors of her husband’s ill health, she now decides to return to Lagos, where she learns of his death. Some weeks later, she, Aku-nna, and Nna-nndo take the only course of action open to them: They return to the mother’s home town, the lack of a breadwinner making life in expensive Lagos impossible. The three arrive in Ibuza and happen to meet two young men on bicycles, one of whom is Chike, the handsome young headmaster of the local school. The ambition of Aku-nna—delicate, sensitive, and intelligent—is now to acquire enough education to become a teacher herself and thus help her mother. Chike, however, is not allowed to associate with the daughters of good families, so Aku-nna hopes Chike will at least be able to help her get the necessary certificate.
During the journey from Lagos to Ibuza, Aku-nna had noticed how the modern city had gradually given way to a more simple rural life. She comes to learn that Ibuza, in midwestern Nigeria, is much more traditional than Lagos. Okonkwo, Ezekiel’s brother, marries Ma Blackie as his fourth wife, according to custom. She soon becomes pregnant and, therefore, happy. Okonkwo wishes to take the higher title of Eze, which will require an expensive sacrifice to the gods, and thinks that Aku-nna’s bride price will help him attain this social ambition. Okonkwo is prepared to accept his stepdaughter’s education for some time, as educated girls command a higher bride price, and he is determined that the money will come to him. Meanwhile, Ngbeke, his senior wife, jealously suggests to her sons that Ma Blackie will insist on keeping at least some of the money. She also suggests that Aku-nna, fourteen years old, physically undeveloped, and not yet menstruating, is an ogbanje, a living-dead person who is bound to die young, perhaps at the birth of her first child. To Ngbeke’s sons’ indignation, their mother also claims there is a special closeness between Aku-nna and Chike, who is not merely a foreigner to Ibuza but also the descendant of slaves.
Aku-nna and Chike are indeed falling in love. When Aku-nna is unable to concentrate in class due to her sense of isolation and consequent depression, Chike, disturbed by a growing attraction, loses his temper with her. He permits the weeping girl to leave the classroom and later follows her to a secluded part of the school grounds. He attempts to find out what is troubling her. Suddenly, Chike sees that she is menstruating. He asks her to keep her condition quiet until after her school examination. Later the same day, the two declare their love and, despite the barrier of custom, Aku-nna asks Chike to request her hand in marriage from her family.
It soon becomes clear that Aku-nna is marriageable. She had menstruated during a firewood-collecting expedition and could no longer hide the fact. Now, she is obliged to endure the crude attempts at love-play of Okoboshi, a spoiled youth lame from a snake bite. As part of a culturally sanctioned courtship tradition he grabs her breasts. The enraged Chike, who is present, knocks Okoboshi down. Soon, however, in another culturally accepted practice, Okoboshi’s family has Aku-nna kidnapped with the intention of marrying her to him.
Confused and now a prisoner, Aku-nna knows that should she resist, custom permits Okoboshi to get help to have her held down while he consummates the marriage. Heartened by hearing Chike’s distinctive whistle nearby, she resolves, at this defining moment in her life, to resist. Okoboshi approaches Aku-nna, who falsely tells him that she is not a virgin and that the descendant of a slave had repeatedly possessed her. Even if Okoboshi were to take her by force, rape her, and get her pregnant, he cannot be sure that he would be the father. Okoboshi punches Aku-nna in the face and, in the morning, arranges for her to be put to work carrying water.
Later in the day, when alone, she again hears Chike’s whistling. He appears, and the two escape to a nearby village. Chike takes her to Ughelli, another town in the midwestern area, where he hopes to find a job. Chike and Aku-nna make love, and Chike realizes that Aku-nna is indeed a virgin. He says that the rumors to the contrary must be publicly denied. All Aku-nna asks is that her bride price be paid, for customary belief holds that a woman whose price is not paid will die in childbirth.
Aku-nna and Chike are married, and Aku-nna becomes pregnant. She is now sixteen years old but looks two years younger. She finds the pregnancy difficult. Meanwhile, her stepfather, Okonkwo, refuses the bride price offered by Chike’s father, saying he will not marry his stepdaughter to a slave. Aku-nna dies giving birth to a girl. Her story is told to young girls in Ibuza to reinforce the cultural beliefs that a girl must accept the man chosen as her husband and that her bride price must be paid so that she will not die during childbirth.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 652
The Bride Price, set in Lagos in the early 1950s, opens with the thirteen-year-old Aku-nna (whose name means “a father’s wealth”) and her eleven-year-old brother, Nna-nndo (“father is the shelter”) walking into their apartment and seeing their father, Ezekiel Odia, home from work. He explains that he is going to the hospital for medical attention for a foot wound he had received while fighting in World War II, but he promises to be back by the evening meal. When he does not return, two uncles, Uche and Joseph, come to assist, for the children’s mother, Ma Blackie (so named because of her black skin) is in Ibuza, visiting the river goddess because of fertility problems. Three weeks later, the father does return—to be buried. The children realize that they are orphans and that their lives will no longer be the same.
Once Ma Blackie returns to Lagos, the family learns its fate: They are to move to Ibuza, as Ma Blackie is to live with her husband’s older brother, Okonkwo. Ezekiel has made financial provisions for his family; consequently, they can remain together. Ma Blackie is able to invest in and trade palm oil, and Nna-nndo, as well as Aku-nna, who will be forced to marry so the bride price can be used to ensure her brother’s education, are able to remain in school. Ma Blackie soon becomes Okonkwo’s fourth wife.
Aku-nna quickly captures the attention of her twenty-four-year-old schoolteacher, Chike Ofolue, because she is quiet yet intelligent. Nevetheless, she is informed by her cousin that the Ibuza women are not allowed to associate with him as he is the son of former slaves, those who had been kidnapped to be sold to the Europeans. (According to a story that his mother told Chike, his princess grandmother was not sold because she was so beautiful. She was allowed to have children, and when the slave trade became illegal, her sons were given to the missionaries. As a result, they were educated and became teachers; their children became lawyers and doctors.) Aku-nna responds to Chike’s attentions, as he is the only one who takes an interest in her thoughts as well as her growing womanhood.
The love interest might have been a passing fancy for Chike and Aku-nna had it not been for the resistance from the community. Instead their love grows, and Chike, who affectionately calls Aku-nna “akum” or “my wealth,” is prepared to follow the village custom. His parents will ask her parents for Aku-nna and also pay the bride price. Insulted because an oshu, or slave, would dare think of marrying Aku-nna, another suitor, Okoboshi, kidnaps her as his bride. Deciding to fight back, Aku-nna tells Okoboshi that she has already given herself to Chike and, with Chike’s help, escapes. They travel to a town in midwest Nigeria and marry.
Since Okoboshi states that he has taken a lock of Aku-nna’s hair, and therefore is her husband, retaliation takes place in Ibuza: Okonkwo publicly divorces Ma Blackie and refuses to accept the bride price, the cocoa plants on the Ofolue plantation are destroyed, and the Ofolues, in turn, sue—and win. Although their actions cause much dissension in Ibuza, Aku-nna and Chike are happy. He is a manager for an oil company, she teaches school, and they soon are expecting their first child. In the midst of their happiness, Aku-nna takes ill, and even though she receives proper medical treatment, she dies in childbirth. Her last request to Chike is to name their daughter “Joy.”
The novel concludes with a paragraph that explains how Aku-nna and Chike fulfill the superstition that if a woman is to live to see her children’s children, the bride price must be paid. With this paragraph, it becomes apparent that the novel is a story, told by an omniscient narrator, that contains a philosophical lesson.