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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wisdom from Africa: On Women & Suffering

(Uchendu to Okonkwo)




...why is it that one of the commonest names we give our children is Nneka, or 'Mother is Supreme?' We all know that a man is the head of the family and his wives do his bidding. A child belongs to its father and his family and not to its mother and her family. A man belongs to his fatherland and not to his motherland. And yet we say Nneka -- 'Mother is Supreme?' Why is that?....


Why is it that when a woman dies she is taken home to be buried with her own kinsmen? She is not buried with her husband's kinsmen....


It's true that a child belongs to his father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother's hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland.


You think you are the greatest sufferer in the world? Do you know that men are sometimes banished for life? Do you know that men sometimes lose all their yams and even their children? I had six wives once. I have none now except that young girl who knows not her right from her left. Do you know how many children I have buried -- children I begot in my youth and strength? Twenty-two. I did not hang myself, and I am still alive. If you think you are the greatest sufferer in the world ask my daughter, Akueni, how many twins she has borne and thrown away. Have you not heard the song they sing when a woman dies?


'For whom is it well, for whom is it well?


There is no one for whom it is well.'



- Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (New York: Anchor Books, 1994), 133-135.

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