Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 333
Highlighting the story of one female character, Ojebeta, Buchi Emecheta shows the complexities of slavery within the social system of British colonial Africa. By focusing on this individual, the author indicates ways that specific people, including women, negotiated a patriarchal system that disadvantaged females and used the commerce of human beings as an important element of its economy. Emecheta uses a traditional African storyteller as the novel’s narrator, who provides background on the social organization of the fictional Ibuza until the early 20th century, when Ojebeta’s story begins.
The girl’s parents, Okweukwu and Umeadi Oda, also have two sons. Although the only girl child in the family is treasured by her parents, when they die in an epidemic, her eldest brother, Okolie, becomes her guardian. As he must pay the expenses for his coming-of-age ceremony, Okolie sells his sister to help raise the funds. At age seven, Ojebeta becomes the slave of Ma Palagada and moves to Onitsha. This relative, who is a market trader, has six other slaves.
While Ojebeta is living and working in the Palagada household, she is allowed to attend school. When Ma’s son, Clifford, desires to marry the girl, her status correspondingly increases. However, when his mother dies, he loses interest and agrees to his sister’s suggestion that Ojebeta serve as her maid. Instead, she returns home and, emulating Ma as a businesswoman, establishes herself as a trader. Another Palagada slave, Chiago, marries the widowed father, and two of the other slaves marry each other.
When she and Jacob Okonji decide to marry, he must pay the bride price to Clifford, who became her owner when his father died. They marry, however, without doing so and have two children. Jacob’s delay in paying is later is interpreted in causing her to miscarry in her next pregnancy. Jacob pays Clifford when he comes to town. Although slavery has already been outlawed under British rule, the traditional marriage payment system was allowed to continue.