By Amarachukwu Okpunobi
They call me African because my skin is dark. They said my mind is dark too, even darker than my skin and that nothing productive can come out of me other than being a wife and bearing children. They said I’m inferior in the presence of my brothers. My life is limited. My mind is restricted. I must not think about or do certain things.
They say my brothers have more value than me. I’m not to take decisions for myself because my life is a subset of another bigger life. I must not be greater than my brothers and must not have a say over family, village or even communal matters. I must not be seen playing among my brothers because I’m an African girl. I must sweep the floor, cook food, fetch water, clean the house and do other things that father wants.
They said I wasn’t meant to go to school; that my role begins and ends in two places, the kitchen and the bedroom. This I must continue to do even when I’m married. They made me believe this is all about my being as an African girl. That not meeting up with these set expectations makes me ogbanje, or elsewhere emere.
I’m an African girl, and now I’m grown. They say I must marry a man my parents chose. I have no choice for myself. I cannot decide not to marry. I have no right of celibacy, as names designed for people like that will be given.
My marriage is mortgaged; it is collateral for loan when my parents were broke. I will be married to a man with whom I have no emotional connection. If this is not my lot, then I’m told to wait until the man finds me. I must not propose to him even if I admire him; he must not know I admire him.
They call me names if I make him know. “I’m loose; I’m spoilt and I’m an abominable child.” I must wait for him to ask me out, and propose to me. I must love or like him, at least; and must say, “Yes I will marry you” – and only when my parents approve of him.
I’m an African girl; and now I’m married. My bride price has been paid. They said all my rights as a person are now bequeathed to my husband, the man who paid my bride price. They call it ego nwanyi, or in another place, owo-ori iyawo, and because I’m the bride and my price has been paid, I change my name to his name.
I’m a chattel, I have a sellable value. He has bought me, his property. He has unlimited, unquestionable and unclassified right over me: right to sex, consented or not. He gets drunk, comes back late at night and turns me to a sex slave, a punching bag; and yet I must tell no one because my life exists in his life. I must keep my marriage; I must keep and keep up the sanity of African marriage.
He can use me as he pleases. He has my right of ownership, my title-deed. I live because he lives; my existence is in his existence. I do nothing without his approval. He is always right, I’m always wrong. All glory goes to him, all blames come to me.
I must bear children for him, the number of them that he desires. If I bear no child, it is my fault. I’m infertile, my womb is unproductive. He is not impotent; I’m just infertile. Then he is compelled to take another wife, and my place in his life is displaced. But I must stay with him because he has paid my bride price.
I’m an African girl; and now I have kids. My children bear his name and not mine because I have no name except that which my husband gives to me. They are his children and must therefore bear his name. My seed is corrupt when I bear a girl child. No one wants her; she is a reproach to the man among his fellow-men.
They say they want male children who will take after them and inherit their properties. The children are like their father when they are prosperous, and like their mother when they misbehave.
I’m an African girl; but now my husband is dead – and they said I killed him to own his wealth. I may need to drink the water used to bath his corpse to prove my innocence. I must mourn him for months: must not be found outside, must scrape my head bare, and must be dressed in black all through the months. I desecrate the African tradition if I don’t comply. They would call me akata – somewhere else, ajẹ. It’s the same witch label everywhere.
That was the reality of how we existed in Africa. Africa of pre-twentieth century. The Africa I used to know. The Africa we call our Africa.
She paused, and then came silence across the entire hall where she stood for 40 minutes making her speech as the best graduating student of the entire University. She expected a clapping ovation from the attentive audience but gets none.
She scanned the entire hall, saw this acoustic look on the faces of her listeners, particularly the male folk, and then she knew she had said something unpleasant. Not bothered by the looks on their faces, she proceeded to making her conclusion but couldn’t manage through the end before she fainted. Then the hall was thrown into pandemonium. They said she has been struck by Amadioha’s power, for speaking too loosely about African people and in such a despicable manner.
The above story is dedicated to all girls in celebration of International Girls day, marked yearly on October 11.
Opurum Chibuike Timothy is a lover of fiction and the other literary genres, and arts and craft.