Tale of an African Woman
331 Pages
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Tale of an African Woman


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331 Pages


The village of Yakiri has been cursed by ancestral wrath because of the treatment of Yaa, the first girl who wrestled her male goatherd peers to earn the right to be initiated into the society of manhood. Her struggle is taken up generations later by Yaya, the granddaughter of Tafan and Wirba. Orphaned like her forebear, Yaya becomes a star student in the village's primary school and promises to go far. But, ask the villagers, is it right to invest in an education for an African girl who may become the property of another village? An educated woman will abandon the farm where she is needed, wear high heels and try to order men around! In the midst of it all, one Irish missionary, living in Africa and for the most time with Africans, literally wiggles his way into hearts and minds. With his intervention, Yaya leaves the village to school in the city, but her troubles as a woman have not really begun. Yarns of cultural borrowing, indigestion and transcendence reveal the simple and complex ways in which community matters are confronted and decided. This happens in shrines where seers are consulted and cowry shells thrown, in palm wine houses, but also around the school and presbytery. The untold stories and perspectives of girls and women burst through in illuminating and uplifting ways. Quarrels, squabbles, near collisions and mutual conversions give way to innovative traditions.



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Published 15 January 2008
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EAN13 9789956716562
Language English
Document size 2 MB

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Tale of an African Woman
Thomas Jing
Langaa Research & Publishing CIG Mankon, Bamenda
Publisher: LangaaResearch& PublishingCommon InitiativeGroup P.O. Box 902 Mankon Bamenda North West Province Cameroon Langaagrp@gmail.com www.langaapublisher.com
ISBN: 9956-558-09-5
© Thomas Jing 2007
First Published 2007
1 ave a seat,” I declared politely after my visitor from much oldHto her when we began our discussion.er,” I confessed Ireland was ushered into my office and I shook hands with her. “I was actually expecting someone Slim, young and tall, with penetrating blue eyes, she was a far cry from the elderly and motherly figure I had in mind. I was probably too used to Irish women as nuns that I might have cast her in that mold. Whatever the case, she turned out to be more than what I had bargained for when we started to talk about the main object of her visit. I was still not really convinced about what she wanted me to do as we went into our conversation. “Excellency,” she then began formally after we seemed to have become used to each other and had actually started sharing some jokes and pleasantries, “I’ve come as I suggested in my letter to investigate and report on your life for our newspaper.” The Dubliner,” I declared, a bit nervous, still not sure the way I wanted her to address me as I cited the name of the paper for which she reported to let her know that I had taken her request very seriously. “I would like to apologize that I’ve been unable to be with you ever since you arrived here because of numerous pressing national commitments but I hope you’re beginning to get used to our environment and discovering lots of new things.” “I can’t ask for more,” she replied. “The company you sent to assist me has been very useful and friendly and I would like to express my appreciation for that.” I nodded and smiled. “Coming to the object of your mission, as much as I would love to help I still don’t believe I have to recount my own story personally,” I stated, taking her completely unaware. This declaration set the tone of the rest of our opening discussion.
“What do you mean?” she asked, visibly shaken by what I had said. I could see disappointment on her face, but she seemed determined to sell her point. I had an idea of the strength of her logic in the brief correspondence we had before she set out for Africa. Now, I sensed for sure she wouldn’t go down without putting up a fight. “You see, I belong to a tradition which preaches humility,” I resumed, attempting to explain the circumstances which might have led me to such a decision. “Me too,” she cut in quickly and then instantly apologized for the interruption. She seemed to have read my mind and probably wanted to preempt any argument I had to advance. “Irish Catholicism also preaches humility,” she continued. “Of course,” I responded, aware that she had raised a valid point which formed a major component of the argument I wanted to present. However, I was determined to let her see what I was getting at. “I don’t believe that it’s fair for me to recount my own story myself, especially when there are many friends and relatives still alive who’ve known me since I was a child and who I’m quite convinced are in a better position to make a fairer assessment of my life. I…” “I don’t doubt that,” she conceded with another interruption and then excused herself as though she felt she was overstepping certain bounds. It made me feel bad because I did not want her to be intimidated by my position. I wanted us to build not on sentimental but solid intellectual and rational grounds and this could only happen if our discussions were conducted in a free and fair atmosphere. “Shannon,” I addressed her by her name and smiled to let know I meant well. “I really want to be convinced before I go ahead with this narration. You see, generally, most people, depending on how they’ve been raised, tend to exaggerate or downplay their own accomplishments, so when given the opportunity to talk about themselves, they often end up painting a poor or even inaccurate picture. I don’t think that I’ll be any different. To this, also add the fact that my African tradition puts a lot of emphasis on humility. Finally, as you already know, being as much an Irish as I am an African product, I also adhere to Roman Catholic values.” 2
“I can fully understand why a person of your background would feel reluctant to go ahead with the narration of her own story, at least from the scanty knowledge I’ve gathered about you,” she admitted with a warm smile. “But still it’s only you who can recount your own story since nobody knows you better than yourself.” “You may be right in that sense but how can I be my own judge and you expect me not to be partial?” “I know,” she said calmly. “But coming from you, your story becomes more credible, don’t you think?” she asked. “In the light of your position, how credible is an account of you given by relatives or friends, since to curry favor with you they may likely inflate some accounts? This is a practice very common among court attendants, so I’m not telling you anything new.” “Shannon, tell me, just how important is this story?” I asked, seriously jolted by the strength of the last argument she had launched. And, without even giving her room to answer, I took up a new line of argument. “For centuries, the story of my life has already been told in different ways by different women in different parts of the world. In other words, I don’t think that the challenges I’ve faced are peculiar to me and so need to be recounted; nor am I even convinced that by recounting them, that’ll make any great difference since the cries of women echo throughout the generations and seem all through to have always fallen only on deaf ears.” “For sure your account will make a tremendous difference!” she exclaimed reassuringly. “How so?” I asked, still disturbed by this feeling that the world might take my action as an attempt at self-promotion. “Yes, I would like to know,” I insisted and then continued, “Set more female hearts bleeding with grief or make tears roll down some already miserable cheeks? No, we’ve been through that before and I don’t think I’m prepared to back up that same road again.” I think deep down I was looking for some form of vindication to go ahead with the narration. “I won’t blame you if you don’t,” she concurred, a strategy of seemingly taking my side during our debate, if I may term our discussion as such, even as she worked on arguments to counter me. “I’ve read a lot of stories about the plight of women and I 3
would like to point out that your own stands out, at least from the bits I’ve listened to and read about. Not in the magnitude of the horrors and injustice you faced, nor the challenging obstacles you had to overcome. No, none of that, for I’ve come across cases far more terrible than anything you’ve experienced.” “So what attracts you to my story then?” I asked hastily. I had never felt that the situations I encountered in my life came close to what many women have experienced or are experiencing but I was really humbled by her declaration. “You see, if your story were being recounted just for women to shed some more tears, then I wouldn’t have had to travel all the way from Ireland to Mungo to be here with you. As you’ve rightly pointed out, the cries of women echo throughout the centuries and even if they wanted to shed tears, they aren’t left with any,” she started to lay the foundation for an all-out assault by tapping on some of the things I had already said. Then the bomb landed. “Your story isn’t about tears but rather about hope. Hope for millions of women across the world who tremble before their men as we talk, who live constantly in fear and stoically face brutalities of the worse kind, women on the verge of giving up. For those women who have already fallen, your story will strengthen their resolve to stand up, and for those who feel like giving up, your account will provide them with the ammunition to continue to struggle. Hope is a powerful weapon and, if you want to know, it’s the main reason for my presence here today, asking you to recount your own story.” How could I resist such an argument and ever claim to speak for women and justice? So to the long list of voices which had already urged me to recount my story and I had so far resisted was added that of Shannon, a journalist who had read excerpts of my life in a newspaper in Ireland and had come to collect the entire story to share with the rest of the world. I had always thought of myself as a simple woman, an orphan at birth, lost in distant and unknown Africa, with a voice which counted for little. Never had I thought of myself as one whose life story was worthy of holding out hope to other women across the world. . But why would a woman travel thousands of miles and squander resources to come and collect a story which was not important? Fighting injustice, I reckoned, was 4
a collective responsibility and if she had taken the pains and time and spent the resources to come to me, the minimum I could do was not to disappoint her and the world. To me, that would be acting responsibly. Stirred by her provocative words, I found myself face to face with her and, for the first time, decided to recount my own story in its entirety. Of course, her strong arguments might have compelled me to get to this point. Still, there was another reason, a purely sentimental one, why I decided to tell the story. This reason, I will trust in the intelligence of my readers and leave them to divine by the time they get to the end of this narrative. This is my story in my own words, told in two parts because of its length and maybe complexity; it is exactly as I told it to the Irish woman. It is fraught with details and segments which I considered not only very essential but also relevant, especially in light of the main purpose for which it was being collected, the desire to revive the hope of millions of women suffering from various forms of persecution. I started the story’s narration at a place and time I deemed appropriate, and included all the characters I found very important, to make it really complete by providing the various forces which have inspired and shaped me into the person I am. I recounted the story the way my grandmother taught me and it started the way most African stories do.
2 long, long time ago, even before my country, Mungo, came TheA village was just one of many scattered all over Dawa, a vast to be administered as a colony of the Europeans, in the northern part of it, there was a small village called Bankim. savannah of rolling hills and valleys. All the villages had a common culture and traced their roots to the same ancestry, the great Wotikar farmers and warriors. The climate of Bankim was harsh and swung from one extreme to another like a pendulum. Bankim was a sweeping plain set in the midst of hills and for most of the year, it gurgled with numerous streams. A big river, the Noun, set its western borders with some other villages. The village was covered mainly with grass, randomly offset here and there with patches of tiny forests. In the dry season, when the tropical sun burned brightly, the vegetation withered, turned brown and sometimes died. This made it susceptible to the numerous bush fires often started by hunters in search of a quarry. It was during this season that the streams and tiny rivers dried up and their beds, under the suffocation of the blistering heat, formed cakes with countless cracks. Once bush fires had erupted and swept across the land, they left no plant standing in their wake. With the vegetation gone and the entire village almost reduced to a bald and sprawling black carpet of soot, it looked miserable and destitute. Then came the first bursts of rains and the plants sprang back to life, becoming green and luxuriant again. Most of the insects, which had been reduced to silence, resumed their chirping in the underbrush. From the treetops the birds twittered and the monkeys chattered in celebration. The streams which looked so miserable exploded with laughter of joy as they came tumbling and splashing over rocks. Boulders, laid bare by the scorching heat and the blast of the winds, started to turn green again with moss.
Since Bankim was a very hot place, with temperatures sometimes rising to sweltering and intolerable levels during the day, the rains constituted a balm. They made the environment more attractive to the existence of man, plants and animals. Back then, the relationship among the different Dawa villages could not have been described as friendly. There were incessant quarrels over arable land and sources of water supply, but out of the need to survive in the midst of great odds, they had learned to tolerate one another. As long as there was peace and they could come to the aid of one another in times of serious crises, they often met to exchange goods and services. Occasionally, as it is often the case when different people live side by side, a young man and woman would defy their communities and get together in a union or elope. This kind of union set tongues wagging for a while but gradually the incident receded further and further away into the collective mind and then was eventually forgotten as things returned to normal. Among the villages, Bankim stood out for three main reasons. It was the largest, its soils the most fertile and its people law abiding and extremely hardworking. These factors, which were interlocking and tended to spur and complement one another, had caused the village to explode into a populous and wealthy community. With almost all the land of the villagers brought under the hoe, their barns were filled with all kinds of foodstuff. Their animals, often kept in enclosures not far from their homes, were usually healthy and fetched good prices during their weekly barter trades. A Council of Elders elected by the people ruled Bankim. The Council came under the authority of a wise man whom it designated. He was given the title of Tabih. Apart from convening and presiding over some of the meetings of the Council, his other functions included setting the dates for and presiding over ancestral sacrifices, adjudicating disagreements which cropped up in the village Council, ensuring that people were law abiding, as well as a wide range of other minor duties. The village was made up of many large families whose ancestries went far back in history. The most notable of them were the Konchus, the Gings, Bamus, the Forsuhs, the Mbis, the Ndas, 7