Showing 11 - 12 of 12 annotations tagged with the keyword "Human Rights"

The Bride Price: A Novel

Emecheta, Buchi

Last Updated: Apr-04-2017
Annotated by:
Saleh, Mona

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is a novel set in Lagos, Nigeria among a polygamous peoples and follows the formative years of protagonist Ibo Aku-nna as she experiences the death of her father, the horror of starting menstruation, and falling in love with her teacher, Chike, of whom the elders in her family do not approve because he comes from a family that was previously enslaved. 

Throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to several traditions, which speak to how women are valued less than men in this setting. For instance, when Aku-nna’s father dies, her mother must go through a special procedure for mourning, described here: 

“Ma Blackie was to remain alone in the special hut; not until the months of mourning were over could she visit people in their homes. She must never have a bath. No pair of scissors nor comb must touch her hair. She must wear continually the same old smoked rags” (p. 71). 

Another tradition is  the concept of the bride price, which is the sum of money paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s family in exchange for her hand in marriage. The more valuable a daughter is (whether in appearance or family status), the higher the bride price. Further, if a girl’s bride price is not paid, it was the belief that the bride would die during childbirth.

When Aku-nna is sixteen, she finishes her schooling and learns that she has passed an examination that qualifies her to be a schoolteacher. At the same time, a youth with a limp in her village, named Okoboshi, sets his sights on her to become his wife. His family then kidnaps  Aku-nna. When a bride is kidnapped, her bride price does not apply, and it does not have to be paid. Also, if a man cuts away a lock from a girl's hair, she becomes his wife and he, again, is not responsible for paying the bride price:

“Some youth who had no money to pay for a bride might sneak out of the bush to cut a curl from a girl’s head so that she would belong to him for life and never been able to return to her parents: because he had given her the everlasting haircut, he would be able to treat her as he liked, and no other man would ever touch her. It was to safeguard themselves against this that many girls cropped their hair very close; those who wanted long hair wore a headscarf most of the time” (p. 103). 

When Okoboshi tries to have sex with Aku-nna, she refuses and says that it is because she has already lost her virginity to Chike, even though she really had not.  In disgust, Okoboshi stops trying to have sex with Aku-nna and beats her savagely, vowing to keep her as his wife in name only but then marry other women, whom Aku-nna would have to serve. Through initiative and luck, Aku-nna escapes from Okoboshi’s house and elopes with Chike. Despite how much money Chike’s family tries to pay Aku-nna’s family as her bride price, they will not accept it.  

Meanwhile, Aku-nna finds work as a school teacher and Chike is also successful at his work. They are very happy together for a time, and Aku-nna becomes pregnant. She struggles very much with her pregnancy and becomes quite weak as a result. One night, Aku-nna becomes sick and is admitted to the hospital, where the doctor informs her and Chike that she must undergo a Cesarean section and have her baby prematurely.  A baby girl is born healthy, but Aku-nna perishes due to extreme anemia, according to her doctor. Thus, the novel ends in confirmation of the superstition that if a girl’s bride price is not paid, she will die in childbirth. 

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Summary:

This is an ethnographic work written by a Swedish anthropologist who has lived in Cairo, Egypt for several years curating the cultural tropes that are woven into the lives of her traditional Egyptian subjects. Malmström sets the scene for her work by describing a 1994 incident wherein CNN broadcast live the female genital cutting of a young girl in Egypt. A secret practice made public, Malmström uses this event to springboard her commentary on how female genital cutting is practiced, experienced, and viewed among Egyptians.  

Female genital cutting is defined as the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for non-medical (i.e. cultural) reasons. This is largely a practice carried out in Africa and some parts of the Middle East. Egypt has one of the highest global rates of female genital cutting, and the cutting usually occurs at the age of 9 years. Many reasons are cited for the cutting, and in Egypt it is done to decrease a woman’s sex drive as well as to fit the standards of beauty (i.e. labia minora are considered unattractive). It had usually been performed by a traditional practitioner, but more recently, this human rights violation has been medicalized in Egypt and is often performed by doctors in an operating room using anesthesia. Even though Egyptian law and Muslim as well as Coptic Christian clerics have issued bans on female genital cutting, the practice continues in secrecy.  

Malmström starts her book by saying that female genital cutting may actually be carried out in large part as Egyptian political protest against the West. She uses excerpts from interviews with women of different generations, social strata, and degree of devotion to Islam to describe their different experiences and opinions on topics that center around womanhood and the many components of womanhood in Egypt.  

While the title suggests that Malmström will tackle female genital cutting  head-on throughout this piece, she actually takes a more circuitous route. She spends several chapters describing other woman-centric issues to familiarize the reader with Egyptian culture. For instance, Malmström describes how sexuality is expected to be expressed at different points in life: in girlhood, adolescence, and after marriage. She focuses on how Egyptian women are expected to straddle many expectations regarding sexuality depending on the context: sexually receptive to the husband only, for instance, but not so much so that the husband struggles to satisfy her.
  One of the most telling quotes regarding the meaning of womanhood is,

“A woman should always be soft towards a man...She should never accuse her husband of anything or argue with him. A woman should be strong and never show her true feelings. A woman must be beautiful. A woman will win through beauty, softness, and through cooking....A woman should not show her sadness because of him [her husband], since she turns ugly, loses her health and eventually, her husband. She should be even softer towards him and give him everything in life” (p. 169).  

Malmström delves into the centrality of cooking, pain, and endurance of suffering in the lives of traditional women and how these items, as well as being “cut” are seen as necessary to the satisfactory construction of Egyptian female identity. This exploration of many parts of womanhood in Egypt allows the reader to attempt to engage in a nuanced understanding of female genital cutting in the context of a broader, textured Egyptian culture. 

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