Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1024
Lagos, the port city and at one time the capital of Nigeria, was given its name by the Portuguese who settled in Nigeria as early as the sixteenth century. It was out of Lagos that the Portuguese exported their flourishing slave trade. The Portuguese maintained control over the city until 1861 when the British took control and eventually abolished the trade. In the early 1950s, Nigeria was still under British control with a British governor ruling from Lagos.
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Villages, especially among the Ibo people, usually consisted of scattered homesteads called compounds. Each compound housed a man, his immediate family and some relatives. A number of compounds made up a village that was usually populated by people all claiming a common ancestry. Each village had a chief who was, on the whole, left alone to rule his village in a traditional manner. There were, however, European officers, nearby, who guided the chiefs. Sometimes this guidance included influencing the choice of a chief based not on the qualifications of the candidate but rather on the ease with which the British could manipulate him. The British, in an attempt to prevent united opposition to its authority, kept Nigerian groups separated, using their chosen chiefs to help them in this effort.
Just prior to the 1950s, Nnamd Azikiwe, an Ibo man, joined Herbert Macaulay (called the father of modern Nigerian nationalism) to establish the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons. African men trained as soldiers in World War II as well as restless youths, market women, educated villagers, and farmers, joined the National Council to protest the British tax laws and to demand political representation. Eventually succumbing to the pressure, the British gave up control, and Nigeria was granted independence on October 1, 1960.
Before the colonization of Nigeria, traditional Ibo people were not united as a single tribe but rather lived in autonomous local communities. A typical village might include as many as five thousand people who could, in some way, trace their lineage back to the founder of the village. Linguists, who have studied the Ibo language, believe that some of these villages may have existed in the same location for as many as four thousand years.
Although the village was traditionally ruled by men, the people believed in common deities that included both gods and goddesses. Also, both men and women farmed, with women's work seen as complementary to the man's. Many women were, in fact, economically independent. Women were expected to give birth to many children, hopefully sons, to ensure the future of the group, but as she grew older, the woman received assistance from younger wives who took care of the children, so the older wife could farm and make crafts, thus allowing her the opportunity to achieve impressive economic status.
In the oral tradition, women were prominent storytellers. These stories were peopled with women characters as heroines and founders of great dynasties and civilizations. The women not only performed the stories, they also composed new stories or transformed old ones in order to incorporate a woman-centered perspective on village life. Women storytellers were also known to use political story-songs or abusive songs as forms of social control.
European colonization influenced village life in many areas. There was the introduction of Western style education, the English language, and Christianity as well as new forms of money, transportation, and communications. The Europeans also brought with them the Victorian concept that women belonged in the home, nurturing the family. With this concept came the emphasis on the man as the primary source for the economic stability of the family. It became the man's sole responsibility to grow cash crops like yams, while the woman was relegated to growing only subsistence crops that brought in less money. In addition, cheap goods from Japan and Europe were imported, thus diminishing the demand for local craft work that had, before colonization, been another source of income for the African women.
Victorian colonizers praised and encouraged the creation of a social and political hierarchy that privileged Nigerian men. One of these privileges was the encouragement that boys received to attend school. With males graduating from school in far greater numbers than females, it was not surprising that the first voices to be heard in Nigerian literature belonged to men. Stories, from that time, that concerned Nigerian women were always interpreted through the vision of the man. The first few women who emerged on the literary scene thus used male literary themes as their role models. Some Nigerian women were very active, during this time, in organizing protests against the colonial influences.
Nigeria is marked by great differences not only in physical landscape and climate, but also in social organization. To the north, Moslem communities thrive. While the central area is sparsely settled and is the least developed part of Nigeria, the southern area, in contrast, is the most economically developed and is dominated by three distinct groups of people: the Yoruba to the west, the Edo in the center, and the Ibo people to the east.
After gaining independence from the British in 1960, these ethnic, as well as economical and educational, regional divisions caused very serious problems for Nigeria. Each region fought for power, fearful of domination by the others. Stress from ethnic competitiveness, educational inequality, and economic imbalance between the regions caused a breakdown in government, which ultimately led to the need of military control. Assassinations, ethnic massacres, and a further breakdown in military rule eventually lead to an attempt of the Ibo people in the East to declare secession from the rest of Nigeria. On May 30, 1967, the Republic of Biafra was created. A war ensued over the next two years between Biafra and the ruling Nigerian government, leading not only to heavy casualties, but also to a plea by the Biafran government to the international community for food. The Ibo people were starving. On January 11, 1970, Biafra surrendered to government officials in Lagos.
Nigeria was subsequently divided into twelve different states to ease the ethnic tensions, but by 1976, the year that Emecheta published The Bride Price, civil rule had not returned to Nigeria.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1091
Emecheta foreshadows many of the issues that she will eventually present in the body of the story. For instance, in the first chapter, Aku-nna's father, in his farewell, tells Aku-nna to "always remember that you are mine." This statement foreshadows both the claim of Aku-nna's stepfather that will be held, literally, over Aku-nna's life, as well as the more sentimental version of this statement that Chike will voice in his attempts to express his love for Aku-nna.
In the second chapter, Emecheta discusses the group mind of the Ibuza people as they come together to take care of Aku-nna and her brother upon her father's death. This group mind, in this incident, is beneficial. However, it is the group mind that will eventually push Aku-nna toward her own death, as she is forced to leave the village. The group mind would rather see her dead than see her happily married to a former slave.
Aku-nna's father lived and died in what the narrator defines as "a conflict of two cultures." In the third chapter, Ezekiel is mourned and buried while the Ibo people, his relatives, try to decide whether to rely on their traditional beliefs or to take up and lean upon the newer, European customs. In this way, Emecheta foreshadows yet another conflict that is woven throughout the story: the clash between traditional and foreign definitions of law and custom.
Aku-nna's eventual defiance of her parents' traditional ways is foreshadowed by her refusal to take off her clothes and bathe in public upon her arrival in the village of Ibuza. Later, her defiance becomes more overt when she refuses to eat the ceremonial chicken that has been sacrificed in honor of her first menstruation. These actions foreshadow her climatic escape from her kidnappers and eventual denial of her culture when she marries a former slave.
Early in the story, Aku-nna is referred to as an ogbanje, or living dead. She is a child who picks up diseases so easily that her mother begs her "to decide once and for all whether she is going to live or die." Later in the story, Aku-nna's relatives also refer to her as an ogbanje, foreshadowing her untimely death.
The Bride Price is colored with stories of African mythology. The first is presented in the opening pages, as the reader is told that Ma Blackie, Aku-nna's mother, has returned to her ancestral village to "placate their Oboshi river goddess into giving her some babies." The river and goddess were a gift "to all Ibuza people from the greater gods. It was the right of all Ibuza's sons and daughters to come to have themselves cleansed by the river whenever they found themselves in difficulties." There is another story about the river goddess who had claimed the lives of hundreds of young Ibuza girls as they were crossing the swollen river on their way back from the market. The myth resolves the tragedy by conveying the thought that the young women "had been chosen to serve at the court of the beautiful goddess of the river." After mourning these young women, according to the myth, their mothers became pregnant. When most of these women gave birth to girls, it was believed that the river goddess had replaced "the ones she had taken."
There is also a god of the river that Aku-nna finds herself praying to when she crosses the river while in the midst of her second menstruation.
The myth of the ogbanje, or the living dead, is mentioned. Aku-nna is labeled with this name early in the story. One of Okonkwo's wives explains the fate of someone who is an ogbanje. "They are only in this world on contract, and when their time is up they have to go. They all die young, usually at the birth of their first baby. They must die young, because their friends in the other world call them back."
Emecheta uses extended metaphors in this story. The first exemplifies the conflict that Aku-nna and her brother feel, caught, as they were, between traditional culture and European customs. She creates an image of fish caught in a net, referring to Aku-nna and Nna-nndo as
helpless fishes ... [who] could not as it were go back into the sea, for they were trapped fast, and yet they were still alive because the fisherman was busy debating within himself whether it was worth killing them.
In another, longer metaphor, Emecheta has Aku-nna and Chike sitting under a tree, watching a group of brown ants.
No single ant deviated from the main column, all followed the same route one after the other, as if at the command of a power invisible.
With this metaphor, Emecheta uses the ants and their willingness to follow that invisible power as an example of the people of Ibuza following the traditional ways without questioning the reasons behind them. When Aku-nna asks Chike why the ants are following one another, Chike responds: "Because each ant would be lost if it did not follow the footsteps of those in front, those who have gone on that very path before."
Aku-nna's death could be read as a metaphor. Why did she die? Was it because she was too young and malnourished as suggested by the doctor? Or was it because her stepfather, in vengefulness and voodoo-like practice, calls her spirit back home? If her death is looked at as metaphor, it plays out the main conflict of the story. Inside of Aku-nna, the clash between the European (scientific) world and the African (traditional) world ultimately lead to her death. Aku-nna's death acts as metaphor for all young African women who struggle with the new culture that cries out for independence and reliance on self, and the old culture that thinks with a male-dominated, group mind. Her death is symbolic of the psychological deaths that these women must pass through in an attempt to be reborn into a new role for themselves.
Emecheta, however, reminds the reader that contrary to this interpretation of the metaphor of Aku-nna's death, the villagers used it differently. Instead of freeing the women, the story of Chike and Aku-nna became a metaphor for death—a death with no heaven on the other side. "Every girl born in Ibuza after Aku-nna's death was told her story, to reinforce the old taboos of the land. If a girl wished to live long and see her children's children, she must accept the husband chosen for her by her people, and the bride price must be paid."
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 244
Emecheta's principal technique in The Bride Price arises from African oral historiography and folk storytelling traditions. Her written account of history, tradition, and culture also reflects a shift from an oral "literature" to a written one—from tradition to modernity. While the mode of transmission has changed, the essence of the storytelling genre remains intact. As if to signify the tale's inherent orality, toward the end of The Bride Price, Emecheta tells how Aku-nna's story lived on after her death "to reinforce the old taboos of the land." It is storytelling and the storytellers who are the carriers of culture and traditions that, as Emecheta notes, continue in spite of modernization "until the present day." Yet the text also serves as a critique of traditions that outlive the rationale behind them, especially those mores that keep women subjugated.
While steeped in African tradition, Emecheta's text is a feminist narrative. The Bride Price and her other novels are concerned with the plight of African women caught in the midst of the conflict between tradition and modernity, slaves to men and/or motherhood, and seeking liberation through education. The end of The Bride Price may seem to assert that there is no compromise between freedom and tradition and that the price women pay for autonomy is isolation or death. But the birth of Aku-nna and Chike's little girl, Joy, implies that change may occur, but at a gradual pace, perhaps only one daughter at a time.
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Changing social values are a universal concern, but for the postcolonial subject, those changes are rife with contention, trauma, and the challenges of restructuring fractured national and ethnic identities. The unstable marriage between tradition and modernity is a primary concern of postcolonial discourse as indicated by Emecheta's text. At the crossroads of this conflict stands the fate of women, forced to choose between self and tradition. The Bride Price takes on the challenge of grappling with these dilemmas and seems to insinuate that though tradition need not be supplanted by modernity, it does need to evolve to accommodate contemporary needs.
1. The Bride Price bears an obvious resemblance to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. What conclusions may be drawn from Emecheta's use of such a familiar literary trope? What can be said about her borrowing a trope from Western literature and applying it to an African context? Might she be speaking to the universality of discrimination?
2. The color red occurs in the novel twice as a portent of death, once in the beginning and then again at the end. In the beginning of the text, when Ezekiel Odia leaves his home, never to return again, his children fix their eyes on the red color of the road, "The dust from the lorry obscured him completely, and when at last it cleared it seemed to have eaten him up, just as that prophet Elijah in the Bible was eaten up in his chariot of fire." Toward the end of the text, when the ambulance arrives for Akunna, the paramedics cover her with "horrid red blankets." Does the use of this symbol somehow connect Aku-nna and her father and if so, how? Why might Emecheta have compared Ezekiel with Elijah? What is significant about the novel both beginning and ending with death?
3. How is the nature of communalism or the "group mind" explored in the novel? How does a collective identity strengthen the community and maintain tradition? What challenges does it pose for individuality, particularly in the case of women?
4. "It is so even today in Nigeria: when you have lost your father, you have lost your parents. Your mother is only a woman, and women are supposed to be boneless. A fatherless family is a family without a head, a family without shelter, a family without parents, in fact a non-existing family. Such traditions do not change very much." In accordance with this statement, how are the roles of motherhood and fatherhood defined? What values are placed on these roles? Since motherhood does not exalt women very much, why does childlessness demean them to such a great degree?
5. Emecheta describes colonial Africa as a "mixture of the traditional and the European" with more emphasis "placed on the European aspect." What does her description suggest about the conflict between tradition and modernity, specifically the presumed superiority of European culture? How might this cultural clash impact African identity? How does Christianity factor into the overall imposition of European culture on African people, according to the novel?
6. Emecheta presents readers with a detailed illustration of Ezekiel Odia's funeral. How does her depiction reflect the importance of funeral rites in Ibo culture? What might such elaborate funeral rites communicate about the Ibo's perception of death?
7. In Ibuza, a collective women's community is highlighted as Aku-nna begins her rites of passage with her age mates and Ma Blackie settles in with her cowives and other women in the village. Yet even with a women's support system in place, women do not join forces to change their condition. On the contrary, they concede, "This is the fate of us women. There is nothing we can do about it. We just have to learn to accept it." Does Emecheta critique women's fatalistic acceptance of their status and if so, in what ways?
8. The Bride Price has been characterized as a feminist text. What qualities inherent in the novel suggest such a distinction?
9. Some critics have suggested that a woman- centered African text like Emecheta's The Bride Price further impedes any constructive dialogue between women and men by portraying African men in a negative light. How might one respond to such a critique?
10. One of the most crucial themes of The Bride Price is the value of education for girls and women. In what ways does education liberate the oppressed?
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500
Pre-Colonial Times: Traditional rule is centered in the village with the chief as the head. Women affect decisions due to their strong economic status.
Colonial Times: Due to the influence of European standards, women are subjugated to a domestic role and ruled by the male leader of the family. Although chiefs retain some autonomy in the village, they are overseen by local, European-based, government officials.
1960: Nigeria is given full independence.
1967-1970: Ibo people unite, secede from Nigeria, and form the country of Biafra until their surrender in 1970, when they are reintegrated into Nigeria.
Pre-Colonial Times: Traditional religions based on multiple gods and goddesses prevail.
Colonial Times: European influence brings Christianity to the Ibo people. During this time, a mixture of Christian and traditional Ibo religions prevails, although Europeans try to outlaw the traditional practices.
1980: The majority of Ibo people are Christians, although some traditional beliefs still linger and are practiced openly. The practice of traditional religion is no longer illegal.
Pre-Colonial Times: Children in the Ibo culture are trained to carry on their adult roles according to gender. Young boys learn about the agriculture of specific crops through apprenticeship training. Young girls learn their roles, which include agriculture and crafts from the women of the village. They also learn how to rear the younger children. There is no formal educational system.
1843: The first missionary school is established in Nigeria. Girls are discouraged from attending.
1914: There are fifty-nine government elementary schools, ninety-one missionary elementary schools, and eleven missionary secondary schools in all of Nigeria.
1950: A three-tiered school system is established that includes: primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools. Over one million children attend elementary schools throughout Nigeria; thirty-six thousand attend secondary schools with 90 percent of this group coming from the southern portion of Nigeria (where the Ibo people live).
1980: Forty-seven percent of all children attend school, and over one hundred thousand go on to college.
Pre-Colonial Times: Women have the capability of gaining impressive economic status. Women's work is complementary to men's work. Through the help of younger co-wives, older women are free to work in the market, selling their produce and crafts. Women are blamed if they did not produce children; male children are the preferred gender. When a woman marries, she has less influence in her husband's family than his mother and his sisters. Single women (whether never married, divorced, or widowed) are looked down upon.
Colonial Times: Male supremacy is encouraged. Economic status of women declines as they are not allowed to grow cash crops and are discouraged from working outside of the home.
1980s: Although polygamy is still practiced, the support of co-wives has diminished. In 1982, a national feminist movement is inaugurated, and it calls for the abolishment of polygamy. However, the general population of Nigerian market women are against this decree. Although laws have been created to protect women's rights, women rarely receive any of their husbands' property upon their husbands' death. Single women are easily exploited economically with their property often being sold without their consent.
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The Bride Price is an impressive addition to West African writers who compose in English. The mid-1900s witnessed a surge of West African writing dominated by males. Perhaps the most famous work produced during that time is Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, a critically acclaimed first novel that reclaimed the voice of the African subject from colonialist literature. Like Emecheta, Chinua Achebe's works focus on the Ibo (Igbo) of Nigeria. Though he authenticates the stories of his homeland by writing from within, he also presents a masculinist perspective of Ibo culture.
The paucity of African women writers in the early to mid-twentieth century may be attributed to illiteracy and other restrictions on women's education that proliferated in Africa during that time. One of the forerunners of African women's writing and an additional predecessor to Buchi Emecheta is another Nigerian writer, Flora Nwapa, whose writing career spanned twenty years. Like Achebe, Nwapa's texts explore discord and change in Nigerian society. Yet Nwapa allows readers to view Nigeria through the eyes of women. It is African women writers who most often repudiate the paradisiacal stereotypes and nostalgia for the "old ways" that are thematic in African male novels. In the tradition of Flora Nwapa, Ama Ata Aidoo, Mariama Ba, and other West African women writers, Buchi Emecheta writes about the predicament of African women. In addition to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (1959) and Flora Nwapa's Efuru (1966), The Bride Price may share a bookshelf with: Ama Ata Aidoo's Our Sister Killjoy (1977), Mariama Ba's So Long A Letter (1981), and Bessie Head's A Question of Power (1973).
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Boostrom, Rebecca. “Nigerian Legal Concepts in Buchi Emecheta’s The Bride Price.” In Emerging Perspectives on Buchi Emecheta, edited by Marie Umeh. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1996. A careful examination of customary Ibo law and British law and the social changes that had been already underway in 1950’s Nigeria, the decade in which The Bride Price is set.
Cox, C. Brian, ed. African Writers. 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1997. This compilation on African writers includes a biographical and critical overview of Emecheta and her writings. Also includes a brief bibliography.
Emenyonu, Ernest N. “Technique and Language in Buchi Emecheta’s The Bride Price, The Slave Girl, and The Joys of Motherhood.” In Emerging Perspectives on Buchi Emecheta, edited by Marie Umeh. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1996. A stylistic study of three of Emecheta’s works, part of a larger collection exploring her career.
Fishburn, Katherine. Reading Buchi Emecheta: Cross-Cultural Conversations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. A more demanding postmodernist approach to Emecheta’s work. For advanced readers with some knowledge of literary and cultural theories.
Katrak, Ketu H. “Womanhood/Motherhood: Variations on a Theme in Selected Novels of Buchi Emecheta.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 22, no. 1 (1987): 159-170. A thematic study of the biological and economic control of women displayed in Emecheta’s fiction, including The Bride Price.
Taiwo, Oladele. Female Novelists of Modern Africa. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984. This general study of African women novelists contains a short but good introduction to The Bride Price that also sketches out the novel’s major themes.
Uraizee, Joya. “’They Who Are Beneath’: Subaltern Voices in The Conservationist, The Day in Shadow, and The Bride Price.” In This Is No Place for a Woman: Nadine Gordimer, Na Yantara Sahgal, Buchi Emecheta, and the Politics of Gender. Trenton N.J.: Africa World Press, 2000. An ambitious use of the concept of subaltern consciousness of literary critic Gayatri C. Spivak, a concept applied here to an examination of power relations in The Bride Price.
Uwakweh, Pauline Ada. “Carving a Niche: Visions of Gendered Childhood in Buchi Emecheta’s The Bride Price and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions.” African Literature Today 21 (1998): 9-21. A comparative essay arguing, in part, that gender identity, as evidenced in The Bride Price, is created by socialization.
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Cima, Richard, Review, in Library Journal, April 1, 1976, pp. 922-923.
Cunningham, Valentine, Review, in New Statesman, June 25, 1976, p. 856.
"(Florence Onye) Buchi Emecheta: Criticism," in DISCovering Authors, Gale Research, Inc., 1996.
Frank, Katherine, "The Death of the Slave Girl: African Womanhood in the Novels of Buchi Emecheta," in World Literature Written in English, Vol. 21, No. 3, Autumn 1982, pp. 476^97.
Nnaemeka, Obioma, "From Orality to Writing: African Women Writers and the (Re)Inscription of
Womanhood," in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 25, December 22, 1994, pp. 137-158.
Osa, Osayimwense, "Africa in Literature for Children and Young Adults: An Annotated Bibliography of English-Language Books," in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 27, March 1, 1996, pp. 221-226.
Porter, Abioseh Michael, "'Second Class Citizen': The Point of Departure for Understanding Buchi Emecheta's Major Fiction," in International Fiction Review, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 1988, pp. 123-129.
Ward, Cynthia, "Emerging Perspectives on Buchi Emecheta," in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 28, June 22, 1997, pp. 182-186.
Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart, Heinemann, 1958.
Read Achebe to get a male's perspective on some of the same issues that Emecheta writes about in reference to the African experience. This is Achebe's first novel about Nigerian tribal life, and it takes place during Nigeria's fight for independence. It tells of the downfall of one Nigerian man as his traditional African culture crumbles around him.
Comparative Literature and Culture: A WWWeb Journal, http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/clcwebjournal/clcweb00-1/as-ante-darko00.html (March 2000).
Professor Kwaku Asante-Darko from Lesotho, Africa, discusses post-colonial literature written in Africa. He examines the differences between aspects of African literature and European and colonial literary tradition.
Fraser, Gerald, "Writer, Her Dream Fulfilled, Seeks to Link Two Worlds," in New York Times, June 2, 1990, p. 15.
Fraser gives a brief literary biography of Buchi Emecheta. This article has several long quotes from Emecheta, as well as some background information on her struggles to become a published writer.
Hooks, Bell, Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, South End Press, 2000.
Writing from an African-American perspective, hooks offers a clear and inspired overview of what feminism is and how it affects everyone.
Lagos Online, http://www.lagos-online.com (May 8, 2000).
For an interesting and personal perspective on life in Lagos today, visit this web site to read postings written by Nigerian students and community leaders. One particular posting written by Reverend Felix Ajakaye, "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," discusses the problems Nigeria faces concerning the vast diversity in cultures between multiple Nigerian ethnicities.
Maier, Karl, This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria, Public Affairs, 2000.
This interesting book is about the history of Nigeria, told with a sense of humor despite many horrifying details. Although, according to Maier, the outlook for Nigeria's future is grim, he tells inspiring stories about the people's resilience and sense of humanity in their struggle for independence.
Marriage and Slavery in Buchi Emecheta, http://landow.stg.brown.edu/post/nigeria/emecheta/marriage.html (June 25, 2000).
This web site, dedicated to post-colonial literature in Nigeria, discusses one of Emecheta's main themes: Nigerian women's enslavement to men.
Post-imperial and Post-colonial Literature in English, http://landow.stg.brown.edu/post/nigeria/ (June 2000).
At this web site, students from Brown University English classes have researched the role of women in Nigeria during pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial times. This site also offers information on Buchi Emecheta and other Nigerian writers.