Globalisation has economic roots and political consequences, but this paper is aimed at appraising the impact of globalisation through the lens of three selected novels of Akachi Ezeigbo. The impact of globalisation on culture and the impact of culture on globalisation merit discussion. In addition, in today’s globalized society, the notion of identity is becoming increasingly complex, especially with an added complication of post-colonization in African countries. People’s personal and cultural history had been destroyed as one of the implications of colonial rule and consequently, globalisation. Working closely within the African context and literature, it is pertinent to see how an African writer such as Ezeigbo perceives the relationship between colonization and globalisation as well as exploring globalisation issues in her writings. Most commonly affected with the concept of culture and traditions in African societies are women, hence the study examines how Akachi Ezeigbo perceives globalisation and explores the concept in her trilogy: The Last of the Strong Ones, House of Symbols and Children of the Eagle.The main preoccupation of the paper is thus to explore the impact of globalisation on the African woman both in the rural and urban settings. In many ways, these selected novels of Akachi Ezeigbo depict the changing experiences of African women as they come in contact with the way things are done in other parts of the world.
Key words: Globalisation, Literature, African Women, Culture, Identity, Colonialism
Introduction: Phases and Faces of Globalisation in Africa
Like the literatures of other continents, African literature has captured the varied experiences of Africans regarding globalisation and its impact on the everyday activities in their locality, including the activities of the womenfolk. Literary critics perceive the earlier phase of globalisation as closely tied to the rhetoric of modernization and driven largely by colonialism and imperialism. Some theorists saw globalisation as a threat to traditional institutions – family and school, or even the way of life of whole communities. Others saw benefits in overturning the traditional ways to develop modern attitudes. Globalisation is also sometimes seen as a neo-colonization of African culture, coupled with beggar economy, while others believe that Africa cannot advance by isolating itself from
the globalisation process (Dare, 2001; Mishra, 2008). It is therefore seen to be wearing multiple faces and progressing in phases.
However, the overriding conception is that globalisation has brought about the devastating destruction of local traditions, the continued subordination of poorer nations and regions by richer ones, environmental destruction, and a homogenization of culture and everyday life. Okome (2007) noted that globalisation could produce as well new forms of imperialist domination under the guises of universality and globality. Nesbitt (123) further observed that in order to establish dominion, the colonial power eradicated previous religions, cultures, educational structures, and languages and Africa’s identity was totally stolen, and replaced with an illusion of Western identity. He further observed that taking off the mask in the postcolonial world does not necessarily reveal a full individual, because the colonial erasure of cultural and personal identity appears to be permanent.Thus, Africa is said to suffer neo-colonialism, which implies a persistent state of confusion of selfhood for the individual, the nation and the continent. Blyden (91) (quoted by Kehinde) succinctly captured this:
All our traditions and experiences are connected with a foreign race –we have no poetry but that of our taskmasters. The songs which live in our ears and are often on our lips are the songs we heard sung by those who shouted while we groaned and lamented. They sang of their history, which was the history of our degradation. They recited their triumphs, which contained the records of our humiliation. To our great misfortune, we learned their prejudices and their passions, and thought we had their aspirations and their power. (33)
What are these prejudices and passions? They include corruption, divorce, self-centredness, class and racial segregation, lack of morality, among others. All these were portrayed by several Western-oriented literary works. Typical examples include Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Angelo Maya’s I know why the Caged Bird Sings, George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession, August Wilson’s Fences, Lorraine Hansberry’sA Raising in the Sun, and many others. The paradox now is that while Africa epitomizes all vices, we ascribe knowledge, modernity, modernization, civilization, progress and development to the West. This position is rather controversial, because some critics have ascribed vast cultural destruction and cultural levelling to globalisation (Mishra, 2008).
From a feminist perspective, Okome observed that globalisation pressures Africans to further abandon whatever vestiges of their culture remain in order to better fit with the world, thus resulting in the concept of hybridity, that:
An African woman’s claim of hybridity that emphasizes Western origins means a rejection of the possibility of drawing upon the illustrious history of strength exhibited by her female predecessors. Instead, locating progress and power in the West, the history of Western women’s achievements is what she draws upon for inspiration. This tendency is directly connected to colonization, which more than any other phenomenon caused African culture to be interpreted as a disability, as the fountain of reprehensible traditions… Becoming modern was taken to mean aping the Western colonizer (10).
Defending her position, Okome attributed this to the contributions of African scholars, being products of Western education did participate in the mystification of the continent leading to the creation of a hybrid and cosmopolitan African as the ideal of Western cultural philosophies and downgrading of African values and culture. A notion that Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian Nobel Laureate in literature, saw rather as a strength. According to him, the reality of globalisation does not suffocate local cultures but rather liberates them from the ideological conformity of nationalism.
It is therefore important to determine how globalisation might be shaping new literary forms and is being used as a theme of contemporary literature. Further, the impact of globalisation on culture and the impact of culture on globalisation thus merit discussion, and working closely within the African context, it is pertinent to see how African writers perceive the relationship between the two and explore globalisation issues in their writings. Beyond this, there is frequent reference to its implications for gender equity, both negative and positive; the commonly affected with the concept of culture and traditions in African societies are women, hence the study strives to determine how Akachi Ezeigbo as an African woman involved in the African struggle, perceives globalisation and explores the concept in her trilogy: Last of the Strong Ones, House of Symbols and Children of the Eagle.
African Women Pre-Globalisation: Feminist Issues in Last of the Strong Ones
The Last of the Strong Ones, the first novel in Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Umuga trilogy captures the role of women during the colonial era in Umuga. She portrays women who are assertive, confident and independent. Though within a predominantly patriarchal society, the women in Umuga were able to assert their worth. The plights and triumphs of women are chronicled through the accounts of four women- Ejimnaka, Onyekozuru, Chieme and Chibuka- known in the novel as the Oluada or the representatives of the women in the grand assembly of Obuofo. Ezeigbo presents these women as they chart a path in the rough waters of a seemingly male dominated society, refusing to be cowed by the strong weight of cultural and colonial expectations, which is precisely why they are regarded as ‘the strong ones’. In a time when “all was not well with the land…a season that called for meetings and meetings and meetings”, the four women who “were the voice of the women, among the sixteen inner council committee” earned respect and admiration because of their individual accomplishments and wielded considerable power and influence in Umuga. It became very pertinent at a point in time that the “the lives of the four oluada” be recorded for posterity largely because of their undeniable contributions to the development of Umuga. This all important task was entrusted to the minds of two women gifted singers and story-tellers. It is through the various interactions with the four strong ones that we come to terms with the struggle these women surmounted before they could be counted among the greats of the land.
The novel explores the emergence of the white men into Umuga, which brings about phases of changes in the land. The prologue of this novel gives in-depth account of the changes in the lives of the people of Umuga;
Change, by itself, is not a threat. But what lay heavy on our souls, was the nature of change sweeping through the land, like-bearing winds. Positive change is creative and constructive; it is not disruptive. But the manner of change in Umuga was not positive. (1)
Though seen more in the light of colonialism, this ‘change’ can be interpreted as the onset of globalisation which was greeted with stiff resistance. This makes the women of Umuga come together to find a lasting solution to this abrupt change that has eaten up their beliefs. They met a day before the larger Obuofo’s meeting to agree on a common front to present as the position of the womenfolk of the land. At the meeting, the women of Umuga take it upon themselves to fight and uphold their custom. They refuse to embrace the new religion of the white man, instead they hold on to their traditional religion that has been helping them from ages past. The women make different comments to explain their displeasures of the intruders with their baggage of new religion and ways of life. They are more vehement in their opposition to the new order of things than the men. They voice their resentments of the atrocities committed by the white man and his cohorts. They express their revulsion of the manner the Kosiri have taken their young men away to build roads, to take care of Kosiri houses, to fetch water and to gather firewood for the alien oppressor. The people see these acts as a disregard and a smear on the conscience on their collective lot as people with rich history and heritage. Chibuka asks; “Is there any act of humiliation kosiri would not inflict on our people? … Kosiri have brought us nothing but trouble”(6). Chieme puts it more succinctly when she tells the other womenfolk:
The strangers who came to desecrate our home and steal our land! The land of our fathers, Umuga, will pursue them, relentlessly, until they are pushed into the Great River which they crossed to get here.” (6)
Ezeigbo approached the story of women by according them a position of significance in the development of the society; their roles deemed important prior to colonization. In doing this, she highlights one very important truth, which is, that long before the advent of the white man, the women were already conscious of their place in the society and were strongly assertive, independent and capable of making their own decision, as well as perform important roles in the society; the roles Okome (16) asserts were defined out of existence with the imposition of colonialism and Christianity.
It should be noted however that though four women were projected, their actions and interactions show a very strong presence of other women who also have ‘a voice’ in the affairs of the community. For instance, the Oluada had to meet with other women to discuss and decide on the issues of concern before reporting them to the Obuofo. In addition, the women chroniclers also perform very important roles as the custodian and transmitter of societal history, a role worthy of being critically evaluated.
At the gathering of the Obuofo, it is Ejimnaka, Lioness that leads the pack, who points them to the direction that Umuga should follow. She shows she is analytical, wise and possesses a shrewd mind.
Obuofo, listen to me,” Ejimnaka said. “Let us write a letter to kosiri and tell him what our people want. We should tell the strangers that we want peace but not their meddling in our affairs. We should let them know the type of association Umuga wants to have with them and their agents. They are here to trade with us, but not to rule us and dictate to us. (21)
The underlined is quite loaded. While Umuga recognizes the need for inter- trade, a line is drawn between having a peaceful relationship and undue interference in the village’s affairs. This has serious implication for globalisation, especially, in the Western relationship with Africa. While it is imperative that we go into one form of relationship or the other, especially economic, Africa deserves autonomy, especially in their religious, political and socio-cultural life, and if possible, be on equal footing with the West . The question is ‘is this an earnest desire in globalisation? Is it possible to dictate the terms of relationship with the Western powers? The statement still has greater import, especially when we realised that it was spoken by a woman. One would argue on the cultural correctness of an inner circle of a decision making body of an African society in the colonial era, made up of men, not only allowing women to sit in their midst, but allow her to speak, listen to her and most strangely, go with her suggestion. While this seems near impossible during colonization, it can be argued that the reality of Umuga of this era and the collaboration between men and women showed the place of women in fostering peace and development among the people, especially before colonialism.
The individual lives of these women also merit examination. Ejimnaka’s story is so fascinating that it fights against the patriarchal ideology which is believed to be in existence in colonized Africa, albeit at the onset of globalisation. Instead of the father, Ezeukwu, coming up with a suitor for his daughter as it is culturally the norms, Ejimnaka says:
My first taste of marriage was with a man old enough to be my father. But it was a choice I myself had made. I did not want to marry a youngman, for two important reasons… In addition I hated being any man’s appendage… my independence meant everything to me, indeed my very life, and I guarded it fiercely. (26-27)
When her experience with Alagbogu, her first husband, is no longer tolerable, Ejimnaka quietly abandons her matrimonial home for her father’s house. A truly audacious step for a girl to take at that time considering the stigma attached to such behaviour. But Ejimnaka, a somewhat ancestor of modern day women right activists, cares very little what people would say. Again, Ejimnaka departs from the cultural ethos in being the first to make overtures to Obiatu. She makes the enquiry about him from a little boy and when she knows he is single, she tells the two storytellers that, “I told myself that Ejimnaka was not one to desire anything and not go in search of it” (32). In search of Obiatu she does, resolving to “be his wife or perish in the attempt” (33). The union of Ejimnaka and Obiatu is that of two equals which is reflective of modern trend. Even her daughter, Aziagba, decides to stay at her home to produce male children for her father and chooses Okoroji as a mate. Aziagba is also very assertive, independent and sure knows what she wants. She justifies her refusal to spend the night in Okoroji’s place that she is self-sufficient and not available to men who like to “have your way all the time” (46). Ejimnaka who listens to their conversation refers to Aziagba, as her ‘mother’s daughter’.
Onyekozuru’s early life contradicts the seeming independence exhibited by Ejimnaka. She is taught that marriage and motherhood are the greatest goals of every woman in Umuga. She is not welcomed in her father’s blacksmith workplace because it “…is not a woman’s work; but her brothers “were allowed to stay on to learn as long as they wished” (52). About her marriage, she says: “My father had arranged everything. And when I asked my mother what she thought about it, she told me she had no objection… (52). Unlike Ejimnaka, Onyekozuru agrees with the society’s conventional way of doing things and marries a man far older and most importantly, chosen for her. But she begins to reveal that she is an enlightened soul far after the death of her husband. Though her in-laws attempt to impose a husband on her as the custom dictates, she refuses, to the chagrin of his relatives. She rather chooses to devote her time to things to do with herself and more importantly, activities pertaining to the village and the whole town. She therefore went through a process of self-discovery and empowerment.
Chieme’s life preached liberty or freedom. When the women gathered in her house, the scene of the two he-goats were used to illustrate freedom that the women need from the hands of men. Chieme noted:
Liberty is a priceless possession, even to animals. Every living being created by Chukwu strives for freedom… Human beings are even more conscious of freedom and retain an identity separate from their neighbours. (90)
While Chieme’s story also preached against gender inequalities and early marriage, her early life portrayed the colonized gender typified roles in Africa. She was prepared for marriage by her parents at the early age, engaged in house chores while her brother do little or no cooking or any house work except to go to the farm, but house chores are for girls only. Chieme’s mother however comes across as also a woman far removed from the exigency of her time. She stated her position very clearly to her husband, especially her opinion of his job. She wanted her husband to live up to his responsibilities and she was not willing to shoulder that for him. She told her husband:
If you want to live in Igedu the whole year, you can do as you wish,” mother retorted: “But do not expect me to do your work here for you, to take over your farm. Why should I do the work a woman should do as well as that which a man ought to do? (93)
Chieme’s father’s situation portrayed the reality and effect of globalisation on Africa. Traditionally, men are mostly farmers and entrepreneurs. During colonization, most men leave their jobs and in some cases, their homes to seek ‘greener pastures’ elsewhere. The reality however portrayed a resemblance of failed dream as their traditional responsibilities are transferred to women.
Chieme is a chip off the old block in the sense that she is not a woman that will sit down and mourn her situation instead of doing something to change it. Chieme’s separation from her husband gives her the opportunity to bring out the singing potentials in her rather than being an instrument of mockery for not being able to menstruate, let alone conceive and bear children. She discovers her calling in singing and finds fulfilment in it as a profession. Like Agnes in Flora Nwapa’s Women Are Different and the widow, Alhaja in Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come, Chieme, after she left her husband, realises her strengths, finds fulfilment and is able to bring succour to people through her songs. She moves from the position of victim to that of a champion and emancipator, which helped not only her but the community. She says, “… my life changed. I was determined to live my life in full. I was going to be like the back: impervious to gossip and deaf to the derision of the world” (113). She nullifies the cultural assumption that a barren woman is an unproductive woman. Though the novel is set in the colonial era, Chieme’s story highlights the truth that pre-colonial African women were quite independent, confident and capable of finding their ways in the world without the aid of men (Okome, 2001; Oyewumi, 1998; Awe, 1992). She says, “The end of my marriage gave me enough time to increase participation in the organization. I spearheaded some changes in the way it was run and these changes have endured till today” (118). To cap her story, it is recorded of her that she “… showed the world that woman’s reputation does not depend on a husband…. Your triumph is enviable and has made you the greatest artiste in Umuga and in the surrounding towns. Your life is a source of inspiration to Umuga women…” (119).
Chibuka’s sojourn in Agbaja as a child-minder to her aunt opens her eyes to certain cultural disparity which later in life will come handy to her. She could see that women were freer in Igwe Anoka’s home ….His daughters were allowed to be themselves and did not suffer undue inhibitions” (128). However, in her own case, she virtually has no say in choosing a partner her parents and umunna know what is best for her. Her marriage to Iheme is everything but happy. Her efforts to please her husband come to naught as Iheme is not capable of inspiring affection in a woman. But Chibuka remains in such an unhappy marriage because the society would frown if she leaves. She takes solace in her children and after the death of Iheme, she emerges “… a stronger person, determined to carry on with … activities in the home, and in umuada and alutaradi” (149). Chibuka is able to stay in the bad marriage largely due to her resilience. The gifted story tellers intone her praises to buttress her strong personal trait:
“Woman of many parts, the one who is pushed but is not thrown. For you, solitude became a source of strength; your scorched soul was lulled by the soothing tone of silence. You fought and defeated the demon of bad marriage with the thunder of patience. We greet you.” (149).
Chibuka’s story also reveals how the new religion in Umuga is flourishing, getting people converted from their traditional belief to Christianity, but she refuses to be converted. The story tellers berate the Umuga sons and daughter who have accepted the Christian faith as having “lost their direction” and are like “fools.” Chibuka remains true to her ancestral gods, she vehemently protests against this new religion, “Our ancestors forbid! Chibuka said and hissed. “What is life coming to? To see Umuga men and women singing songs to a strange god instead of worshipping the Creator, Chukwu, and our other gods and goddesses!” (121). In fact, some of Umuga’s sons and daughters actively participated in the desecration, because they not “… only bring new god to Umuga, also gave them land and they now have a building to house this god and another to teach children the language of kosiri” (124); showing that Christianity became attractive for its associated economic and educational benefits.
Collectively and politically, the oluada are aware of their place in the society long before globalisation brought that to the knowledge of many African women. They not only join in the deliberating the affairs Umuga, but even war discussions, which is mainly the domain of men. In fact, when Ejimnaka asks on the availability of rifles as the Council decides for war, it is Chibuka who comes up with a solution: “My in-laws in Agbaja will be most willing to help us to buy rifles… they are well connected to important people in Onucha and other towns where rifles are most likely to be purchased” (154). The involvement of the women in such serious deliberation indicates the political maturity of the community as well as the respect in which womanhood are held. The men listen to their advice, and during the war, though the War Council refuses the women to get to the war front, the women of Umuga nevertheless, help in arranging food supply to the fighting men. They also participate in peace negotiation. Chieme is selected by the Obuofo with two other men as emissary to broker peace between Abazu and Onyekozuru. It shows the high regard that the men accord the women in Umuga society of the pre-colonial and colonial era.
The women are also economically vibrant and are not overtly dependent on their male folk for all their needs. Ejimnaka is a mat-maker and she derives sizable income from her trade so that when Obiatu gets into some financial problem, she is able to assist him from her savings. Onyekozuru’s prudent management of the things her husband bequeathed to her enable her to celebrate Idemmiri feast in style. Chieme is a very shrewd business woman who apart from making money as funeral artiste is also into kolanut trade. She becomes so successful that she is able to build her own house. She becomes so self-sufficient that according to the story tellers; she does not have to “depend on a husband” (119). In the end Chieme achieves self-satisfaction through helping around her in spite of her failed marriage and childlessness. She demonstrates that a woman’s happiness is neither dependent on a man nor having children but by seeking fulfilment and self-actualization through service to others. Chibuka, though married to a successful farmer, still worked harder at her trade so she could take care of her family.
In Ezeigbo’sThe Last of the Strong Ones,she is not shy from depicting roles played by women prior to colonization, but which was being displaced by colonisation. This was the argument of Okome (16) that:
Whereas African women had important roles in society, prior to colonization, these are defined out of existence. Although in their religion the colonized had indispensable roles for women to play both as deities and priestesses, with the imposition of Christianity, such roles were defined out of existence, and sometimes even criminalized. Whereas motherhood formerly implied power, it now came to be seen as an impediment. Whereas motherhood and gainful employment were not mutually exclusive, they were soon construed as such with the unrelenting imposition of Westernization upon Africa. Although being a woman was not coterminous with being the weaker sex, this became the norm.
She rather reconstructs history in a way to project the pre-colonial, thus pre-globalisation status of women in her society. She affirms in an interview:
I’m looking at it from the women’s perspective. So, it’s filling the gap left by Achebe … giving an alternative version from the women’s perspective…I was trying to resurrect the life of women in that culture in the trilogy, to show that this was how it was then and it’s really based on fact. Essentially, it’s a resurrection of historical figures because sometimes women’s history is submerged but it’s there… (A voice for Women, 2009).
Globalisation issues in House of Symbols
Like the one before it, House of Symbols depicts cultural interplay between Western civilization and Africa socio-political experiences. It explores the place of an African woman in the unfolding drama of a society undergoing rapid social-political, economic and religious transition. The story of the central character, Ugonwayi (Eaglewoman), is a paradigm of the larger realities of the lots of African women during the colonial era; portraying a strong-willed, young married woman who sure knows her way; a woman not intimidated by the overbearing demands of society governed by men. With this, she takes a cue from her grandmother Ejimnaka and the three other strong ones in The Last of the Strong Ones. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo seems to be suggesting here that to succeed in a male dominated society, the woman must be strong in character, assertive and capable of knowing what she wants in life. She shouldn’t be one blown by the caprices of any man or the dictatorial values of the society.
One of the most important features discussed in the novel is actually anchored on the response of the central characters to western civilization and religion. Eaglewoman distances herself from the gods of her progenitors and completely accepts the alien culture and religion. It is quite an irony of fate that Eaglewoman whose forbears, Ejimnaka and Obiatu, died in the struggle to uphold the religion and cultural norms of Umuga against Western encroachment, ends up embracing the very religion and some aspects of the culture of the imperialist. In Eaglewoman, we notice a deep religious crisis:
She told herself that she must sever all links with these purveyors of pagan rites. Claimants of divine power yet ignorant of the true God. False messengers whose path is darkness. But, if this is true, why then does she listen to them? She asked herself. She had no convincing response to give to herself. (4)
She could not convincingly answer the pricking questions on her mind because deep down in her mind, she cannot completely sever the link to her root. Though Eaglewoman questions the source of the authority of Ezenwayi, the chief priestess of Idemmiri, and whether she is aware “she and husband are Christians and recognise no other authority except the living God…,” nevertheless she travels to Umuga to see her. At the prophetess’ abode, she sees for the first time, female angel painted in black and not “the colour of the skin of white people” that she is used to. This is a negation of Christianity, at least in the colonial sense, in that in the west, an angel is neither a black nor a female. With this image, Ezeigbo is probably telling us to disregard imperial attitude that subjugates Africans and women in the name of religion. Ezenwayi tells Eaglewoman and Osai that her ministry “combines both Christian and traditional religious practices…” (31).
Eaglewoman’s disdain for traditional culture reveals the influences of western standards and values on her. According to the Prophetess, Eaglewoman is of the group that “favour the alien culture and religion” (50), what Okome calls the ‘hybrid’ woman who downgrades ‘African values and culture as irrelevant or subordinate’ (8) and ‘the more the Western values, behaviours and idiosyncrasies such a woman has, the more progressive she is assumed to be’ (5); the traits which were later manifested in her daughters in Children of the Eagle.
Eaglewoman as the hybrid woman ‘owes her existence to the reality that there is a Western hegemony in the production and dissemination of ideas and knowledge’ (Okome, 5); she is truly out of touch with ways of her people and so, she is unable to understand certain cultural beliefs such as reincarnation. A belief firmly ingrained in the mind of the average African. Living in a world interconnected in several dimensions, she gradually loses her African identity to that of the Western world that does not truly belief the concept of reincarnation. When Ezenwayi tells Eaglewoman that Nnenne is her reincarnated grandmother, Ejimnaka, she thinks the prophetess is insane. But Ezenwayi pushes forward by asking her and Osai:
“Is that so? Do you yourself also think that there is no reincarnation? How do you justify the birth of your daughter? Do you not believe she is Ejimnaka’s reincarnation” Osai smiles: he does not reply. (49)
By her exposure to ‘modern’ life as against ‘traditional’, Eaglewoman had begun to exhibit the traits of a ‘civilized’ woman. While she already has the traits by virtue of her ancestry, Western culture, education and religion further impact on her assertive nature and the desire to chart her path. Like her grandmother, Ejimnaka, She reflects a truly independent mind and she marries the man that holds her affection, Osai and not Nathaniel Okeke who invested enormous material resources on her. She started living a ‘modern’ life with her husband; with mutual affection, admiration and respect, unlike the arranged marriage between Soronje and Moses Akunne.
While it can be argued that she possesses this latent ability (maybe by heredity), globalisation also helped create the enabling environment for Eaglewoman to be a better baker and better business manager compared to her contemporaries. Her contact with Titi taught her how to bake bread in a modern way. Her business acumen accords Eaglewoman economic independence and she has a “liberated male” who gives her all the support she needs to succeed, rather than a dictatorial and traditional husband such as Moses Akunne who wields the big stick with Soronje. A true product of a globalized world, she uses her cosmopolitan experience to expand her horizon and veer into politics. After returning from a business trip to Onitsha and experiencing the political trend, she decides to enter into politics and with her husband’s blessing, she joins the NCNC. Clement Umeudu won the slot to represent Umuga in the House largely due to her tireless campaign and political shrewdness. It is as a result of globalisation that Eaglewoman and Osai adopt Lois, one of the abandoned twins, as their daughter.
Let us not forget that she had earlier gained something through globalisation which informed her core beliefs in the Western culture. For instance, it was the Western beliefs that helped to stop the tradition of killing of twins in Umuga. Aziagba seeks refuge in the Whiteman’s religion to save her unborn twins from being abandoned in the evil forest. In seeking protection she adopts the new culture and religion of the white people and her daughter, Eaglewoman “grew to accept the way of life” (7).
Eaglewoman is not the only woman who accepts the new faith. Ezenwayi, the prophetess of Idemmiri, is able to harmonize her practices in line with the new religion. Justifying this faith, she testifies that the bible is a unique book filled with knowledge and wisdom:
This book has much to teach a seeker of spiritual power and knowledge…. I read it often. I find it full of light. Nothing I have come in contact with can compare with the concentrated wisdom of some parts of this book except the teaching and the utterances of the best of Umuga’s renowned historians, philosophers and seers…. But what make this book unique is the wealth of its knowledge and the depth of its wisdom. (44-45)
Ezenwayi is of the belief that the two religions can blend harmoniously for the peaceful progress of the society and not cause the rancorous situation. This is inherent in her House of Symbols; a house crammed with “spiritual symbols, feminine and masculine symbols, old and new symbols, jostling for survival and, it seems, succeeding to do so in peace and harmony.” (52). Ezenwayi shows a different degree of hybridity from Eaglewoman. Though she (Ezenwayi) ‘is composed of a mish-mash of influences… neither hither nor thither’ (Okome, 5), her ‘mish-mash’ is with a focus. In taking a middle ground between traditional African belief and Christianity, she explains to Osai and Eaglewoman: “I stand in the middle of these two religions, building bridges. Only bridges can save the world from itself. From disconnection and destruction…” (49). This statement is seminal in the sense that it shows the dual face of globalisation and gives the direction in which the society must follow in order to bring about meaningful growth and peace. She says:
Umuga could not remain the same after the encounter (with white people). To protect our today and shape our tomorrow, we should try to preserve our heritage. From that position of relative strength, we can shake hands with the new culture and religion. Our survival as a people depends on the manner and result of this handshake, this encounter. We must repossess all that is valuable in our culture and fuse it with what is of benefit to us from other people’s culture. I mean the culture of the white people. This then is the backbone of the work I do. This is my vision. (49-50)
The reality of this assertion is that hybridism and cosmopolitanism become dominant ideologies in House of Symbols as effects of globalisation. The major characters in the novel show these ideologies, albeit, in different degrees.
Despite her hybridity, Ezenwayi is truly important to the development of the plot in the text. She believes that no faith or religion must be regarded as superior to another, and when this is ignored it creates prejudice and discrimination. Her position is that for the society to experience monumental development, the people must accept the parallel realities of the time. She suggests that the society has no room for traditionalists represented by the likes of the old woman, Okwudiba and the supporters of the new ways of things represented by Eaglewoman. What the society needs to cope with globalisation, according to Ezenwayi, are individuals who prone to ‘building bridges’ (51) as are the embodiments of the merger between traditional and alien ways of doing things, and “a mind armed with self-adaptive responses to the continuously changing world we live in” (52). Her ‘House of Symbols’ which is also the title of the text, represents the world changing, adapting, reworking and reconditioning itself to the forces beyond its control. What is therefore needed for harmony are negotiation between the new and the old, a shift-ground on their part, and level of accommodation of the core values of the new and old. This is why the house is crammed with symbols- spiritual, gender, ancient and new- all ‘jostling for survival’ and yet ‘succeeding to do so in peace and harmony’. Therefore, rather than resistance to patriarchy and colonization as presented in the Last of the Strong Ones,we see adaptability, accommodation and adjustment. Of significance is that these are preached by the women. Ezeigbo therefore went beyond ‘complementarity of sexes’ as predominant in Last of the Strong Onesto include ‘complementarity of cultures’ inHouse of Symbols.
Globalisation and the Contemporary African Woman in Children of the Eagle
Children of the Eagle is the third and concluding part of the Umuga saga, where those themes hinted at in the House of Symbolsare given more prominence. We have here the modern reincarnations of the strong women in Last of the Strong Ones, Eagle’s children who are embodiments of empowerment- more vocal, confident, vibrant, exposed, knowledgeable in the ways of the modern world, more stubborn, and because it is a global world, less inhibited than their ancestors. Interestingly, the characters demonstrated all these in the face of ever growing gender bias even in a globalised environment.
The precursor of these globalized women is an eagle. The eagle thus becomes symbolic; a veritable metaphor through which the hidden strength of the woman is relayed. The eagle is a bird often associated with power, freedom, and transcendence. It is known to be swift, ferocious and beautiful. A bird of distinction, it stands out among other birds and usually soars higher than other winged creatures. The eagle is said to have clear vision; believed to see three times better than human beings. All of these traits are exhibited by Ugowanyi in House of Symbols.
While giving her children a thorough grounding on the essence of being a woman, her significance in the formation of new life as well as being the apple of God’s eyes, she explains:
… the woman’s body is the vessel of love which gives and supports life. All of a woman’s inside and outside combine to form and nourish her young: her breast milk is the life-giving nectar which the baby sucks. It is a woman’s body that bears fruit, not a man’s. A child is the fruit of a woman’s womb. (25)
Eaglewoman is excited about her eaglets as she wakes up “each morning, without any conscious effort on her part, the thought of her children animates her body, coaxes it to stir, to rise with the sun“. Like the eagle, her children believe they can soar into the sky; they are as ferocious as the bird of distinction; they are swift in their actions. They are women of accomplishment. They are women who are interested in female bonding; they appreciate and prefer women’s strength and emotional flexibility. This predilection for the courageous, the rebellious, the audacious and the excellent in women underlines the Ezeigbo’s effort in textual elevation of womanhood.
Through these women, several concepts of globalisation were brought to the fore.Thechildren of the eagle – Ogonna (teacher and trader), Nnenne (lecturer), Obioma (evangelist), Amara (journalist) and Chiaku (medical doctor) – are truly proud of who they are. Nnenne protests to Papa Joel when he likens her and her sisters to men, “Oh, no, Papa Joel… we are not men: we don’t want to be men. We are women and are very proud of it” (32). They do not consider their gender a barrier to fulfilling their dreams. In every way, they reach deep within themselves to surmount any hindrance placed by a male dominated society in a bid to dispel the notion that being a woman is a huge obstacle to the girl-child in succeeding in life. The five women and their friend, Adanna, are very successful individuals in their chosen profession.
Their names signify a rebuttal of the position that a girl-child does not extend the family name. They all have a compound names, their father’s name hyphenated to that of their husbands: Ogonna Okwara-Nduka, Nnenne Okwara-Okoli, Obioma Okwara-Ebo and Chiaku Okwara-Kwesi. This is clearly the result of the shrinking of the world brought about by globalisation.
Amara Okwara’s intention not to bring children into this world (3) is another product of the coming together of different cultures. The typical African woman desires nothing more than marriage and having children. But here is Amara telling her mother, Eaglewoman, that, “Not everyone wants a child…. times have changed” (27). Amara’s assertion of course does not go down well with the mother who cannot understand a woman, “Who does not want a child.” (27). She sees disease such as fibroids as a one of the consequences of the changing times. She tells her daughters:
“Nobody heard of this baby-eating, womb-blighting disease in my time. It is a disease among today’s young women. What can be expected but trouble when young women put of conceiving babies until they are well into their thirties, until they pass the age when the spirit of fertility incubates in their wombs, waiting to be put to use?” (26)
Amara reminds her mother that things are no longer the way it used to be in her days, that the society is always adapting to new ways of doing things, looking at things and that the individual should as a matter of importance align herself to the changing tide (exact words of Ezenwayi in House of Symbols). But truly things have changed from the period when women desire to have children to time when some women sing a different tune about not having children at all. In her mother’s days, there was little opportunity for the girl-child, but in her own the opportunities are limitless and so they are bound to explore them. And what is lost to Eaglewoman is that it takes a long time for this exploration, this reaching to the sky.
The London based Chiaku married another nationality (though an African), but came out of the bad marriage without a child not because she is barren but because “… she blocked her womb with artificial devices to prevent a child from taking on life inside her….” (27), which is also a source of worry to their mother. Chiaku achieves this feat due to her living in a globalized world given to such medical choices. Apart from this, a deliberate decision not to have a child is strange and foreign, and this can be attributed to her contact with and continued stay in America. Motherhood which is often celebrated in Africa became something not very desirable to a truly globalised woman.
Again, due to the contact of cultures, it is vaguely implied in the novel that Chiaku’s relationship with her African American London flatmate, Emma, has an undertone of lesbianism. Her sexual orientation is completely a product of globalisation. The fact that Chiaku neither refutes or affirms Amara suspicion but rather concludes that she has to live her life as she pleases gives room for various interpretations.
Open discussion of sexual pleasure, especially among women can also be seen to be a hallmark of a globalised, liberated woman. Ezeigbo used the novel to confront headlong the inability of woman to express their feelings and pursue their aspirations. In the gathering of the Association of Wives – a yearly ritual of the daughters of the Eaglewoman with young wives from the extended family- Nnenne encourages the young wives to always demand for what they like. She brings up a sensitive issue which revolves around man and woman relationship and the young women see her as too daring but it is not in her character to be deterred by the naivety of the rural women. She broaches the issue further telling the very astonished and embarrassed women that, “it is good to have fun with your man at the end of the day or whenever it suits both of you. And be sure not to allow him to grab all the pleasure. Demand that he leave some for you” (85). After the laughter, screaming and outright disbelief of the women, Nnenne continues “Yes, the pleasure is not all his. You have a right to some of it. You should ensure that you get it, or there should be no business at all.” (86) One of the women asks if Nnenne is merely teasing them or if she truly meant all that she said.The authorial comment is quite interesting:
The smile disappears from Nnenne’s lips, leaving her face solemn like the features of an ancestral mask. “I mean every word I say,” she affirms, looking the woman in the eye. (86)
Nnenne clearly dabbles into a terrain far from the wildest imagination of the young wives from the extended family. The subject of sex is not something that is discussed in the open in the society of these women. It is an act done strictly behind closed doors and as custom demands should remain there. But here is one of the daughters of Eaglewoman having the temerity to openly and without the slightest embarrassment discuss such issue. Nnenne can talk of issues such as sex and other things affecting women because she is an enlightened woman not inhibited by cultural restrictions. She is a product of a globalized world, where there an unchanging interplay of different cultures. She tells the women:
But we should talk about these things…. This is the only way to learn, to be aware. As women, we must talk about issues that affect us so that we can learn from one another. We must talk to one another, we women of Umuga. All women of this country must come together. All the women of the world too. After we have talked to one another, then we talk to the men. They will listen. (87)
It is a clarion call to the women to be themselves and reach out to grab what they want go beyond sexual liberation and bedroom politics. It is also firmly hinged on economic liberation as she urges the women “… to find something to do to generate income for yourself so that you can take care of yourself and your children… “(91). Nnenne’s words leave the women in a reflective mood it is clearly geared towards reawakening their self-consciousness – to make them see that they are humans, individuals who have needs, aspirations and dreams, who should be allowed to pursue all these within the context of marriage. Nnenne’s words wrought a change in the women and Akuoma, one of the wives speaks:
We thank you again for what we learnt today. Tonight, when I throw my right leg and then the left one at my husband, and reach out to him with my arms, I will be properly armed to defeat his astonishment or disapproval. I may even go further than that and lick his lips. (90)
Children of the Eagleis thus a novel of critical appraisal of certain age-long assumptions in the society. For instance, the women also decry the culture of inheritance that says a woman is not entitled to inherit the family property and also, that which sees a woman as the husband’s property. The novel in its content is an attempt to question these various beliefs system and to show that women are no longer ready to accept them. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo balances her views well in this novel. She does not portray men as the sole perpetrators of injustice against women; she also points accusing finger at the women too. She highlights ways in which some women work against the interest of other women. Amara is the thorough critic in the family, charges at Eaglewoman on why when they were growing up she “…did not drill Nkemdirim in cooking skills… why?” (44). Eaglewoman’s reply shows clearly that some women should also share the blame on the unpleasant fortune of women in the society. She tells her daughters: You want to know why? You are female, Nkemdirim is male, that is why’ (44). Silence indeed greets Eaglewoman’s words but unfortunately for her, her children are of the generation of women who have broken the silence, who are no longer ready to maintain the status quo, who are in fact redefining what it is to be a woman. Amara protests: “Who says a man should not cook? So a man has a mouth to eat food but not the hands to prepare it?” (44). Eaglewoman snaps back attempting in the stride to justify societal position, “If you are not happy with the situation, you can go and sprout a penis!” (44). Amara replies vehemently, “Why should I?” (44).
Ezeigbo also focuses on how some women imprison themselves with outdated cultural norms. Ogonna cannot like her younger sister, Chiaku, leave a bad marriage because of the perceived cultural implication which goes against contemporary attitude of the modern women. She is ready to sacrifice her happiness rather than seek divorce because of the cultural stigma it will have on her children. In this regard, Ogonna refuses to flow with the trend of her time that dictates that a woman is not bound to remain in a loveless and abusive marriage.
Nnenne comes across as the truly modern woman. She is sure of what she wants and she goes straight for it. An intellectual giant in her own right who have proven her mettle by churning out great books. Her scholarly achievement is based solidly on hard work and so she is not intimidated by her male colleagues because she is able to stand on her own. The novel in this sense, extols the ideal of hard work, courage and perseverance in women, buttressing the fact that with these tools, any woman can get to the zenith of their chosen path in life.
The thematic preoccupation of Children of the Eagleis the need for a change of attitude in certain aspects of the perception of the African woman as regards cultural, religious, social, political and economic societal demand. Nnenne’s comments capture this position:
Well, these are some of the issues about which a change of attitude is required…. A woman shouldn’t be despised or treated differently because she is divorced. She shouldn’t suffer any adversity for leaping out of a bad marriage either. (98)
Amara, Nnenne, Adanna and to some extent, Obioma are the redefinition of the African woman of the modern era. They are the faces and voices of the new image of the African woman strengthened to confront some unjust customs and traditions as a result of the exigencies of globalisation. They are the women who sure know their right and with tinge of vehemence and urgency demand to have them. In being vocal, assertive and independent of thought, they hold no one any apology; they only demand to be accorded their rightful place in the society.They are the reincarnated strong ones of contemporary reality, but even stronger than their progenitors. Though in a more vehement voice, they shared the same concern as the Oluada in The Last of the Strong Ones – women emancipation, awareness and freedom. They are not only fed up with the issues of overvaluation of the male child, widowhood rites, disregard for women achievements, sexual harassment, and so on- they are ready take actions against these traditional issues. Adanna’s NGO is aptly called Gender Equity Watch which in a way suggests that there should be a concerted effort by men and women in order to achieve gender equity in the society. Eaglewoman emphasizes to her daughters the need to fight injustice in any disguise, not just those against women:
The truth is that it will take not a few people but the whole community to fight …unwholesome customs and uproot them completely. This is the time everyone will rise up and say, ‘No, we do not want this and this, that and that to exist in our midst any longer.’ I think this is the only way out. It is not a battle one man or one woman can fight and win…. You must mobilize everybody – women and men and even children – in this war. (278)
The social intercourse continues with Amara and Nnenne calling for concerted effort to change the fortune of women in the society. And the practical and credible way in which this can happen is simply to accept the truth according to Amara that “… man needs woman, just as woman needs man. None can go it alone. If men and woman believe this and take action, every part of the world will achieve gender equity.” (279). The daughters of Eaglewoman strive to map out their destinies and give their life and that of other women, meaning and direction. Ezeigbo uses them to depict women as icons of integrity, who are dignified and are able to achieve political, social, religious and economic independence. These women set out to challenge the patriarchal structure, perfectly understand their roles in marriage, society and are in a good position to fulfil the demands society places on them. The novel therefore is dominated by female consciousness and empowerment, strengthened by globalisation.
Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s concern in the three novels is apparently a commitment to representing the multiple dimensional realities of women in a predominantly male governed society. She depicts women who are keen on charting a path of social, economic, political and religious independence for themselves in a world dominated by the presence of men. In the quest to highlight the various injustices done to women, the author exhibits a commendable degree of artistic sincerity. Even when patriarchal society is depicted, as well as the intrigues and intricacies that characterize it, Ezeigbo was able to show complementarity and not competitiveness in gender relations between men and women, collectivism and not individualism in addressing societal issues and concerns, empowerment as against enslavement of women as often popularly portrayed, and informed personages as against weak, naive and timid species as often believed about women. According to Ladele:
Akachi espouses an integrative and accomodationist brand of feminism: what she has articulated as “complementarity”, firmly located within the socio-political structures of an African realism. This is what she relentlessly pursues in her TLSO in order to create authentic identities of the African woman (75).
Ezeigbo herself calls it ‘an alternative tradition, a complementarity she believes should guide the relationship between and among sexes. According to her ‘we complement each other and that’s how we are able to strengthen each other’ (A voice for Women, 2009). She further emphasized (in Ladele, 2009, 81) that ‘women cannot escape many of the responsibilities thrust upon them by culture and tradition, but they can at least control their destiny to a large extent, and structure and take pride in every aspect of their lives’ (1996b, 7). This perspective is backed by how she constructs the identities of, not only the Oluada (women that were born into the clan), the Alutara (women that got married into the clan), but also that of the Eaglewoman, Ezenwayi as well as the eagle’s children; typifying the greatness of Africa woman as wife, mother, peacemaker, religious leader, political official, community leader, and controller of economic power.
The overriding conclusion from experiencing the trilogy is that no matter the context, local, national and global, gender bias is still a significant issue in Africa, with globalisation presenting both opportunities as well as challenges. However, with globalisation, women are more vocal, more determined and more assertive in addressing the challenges and their tools of trade, beyond radicalism include knowledge, hard work, courage and self-confidence. Another significant point put aptly by Eaglewoman to her children is that for harmony necessary for the growth of any society to be possible, there must be concerted effort by women, men and even children in the struggle for a better society for all. This should be the core of globalisation, a collective effort at refining the global (and local) society for the collective lot.
Adimora-Ezeigbo, Akachi. The Last of the Strong Ones.Vista Books, 1996.
Adimora-Ezeigbo, Theodora. Gender Issues in Nigeria: A Feminine Perspective. Lagos: Vista Books, 1996b.
Adimora-Ezeigbo, Akachi. House of Symbols. Vista Books. 2001
Adimora-Ezeigbo, Akachi. Children of the Eagle. Vista Books. 2007.
Adimora-Ezeigbo, Akachi. ‘A voice for women’. Interview with Akintayo Abodurin. NEXT, 2009.
Blyden, Edward Wilmot. Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race. Chesapeake, New York: ECA. 1990.
Kehinde, Ayo. Post-Colonial Literatures as Counter-Discourse: J.M Coetzee’s Foeand Reworking of the Canons. Journal of African Literature and Culture, 4. 2007. 32-57.
Ladele, Omolola. Reconstructing Identities through Resistance in Post-colonial Women Writing: a Reading of Ezeigbo’s The Last of the Strong Ones. Nebula 6,3. September 2009.
Llosa, Mario Vargas. The Culture of Liberty. Foreign Policy. 2009.
Mishra, Girish. Globalisation and Culture. Online Journal of Radical Ideas. 2004. retrieved from http//iis-db.stanford.edu/pubs/23328/lifestyles.pdf
Nesbit, Laura. Creating Identity out of the Postcolonial Void. Journal of African Literature and Culture. 2006. 117-132.
Ogundipe-Leslie, Molara. Re-creating Ourselves: African Women and Critical Transformations. New Jersey: African World Press, 2004.
Okome, Mojubaolu Olunfunke. African women and power: labour, gender and feminism in the age of Globalisation. Sage Race Relations Abstracts. Institute of Race Relations. Vol. 30(2): 3-26, 2005.
Oyewumi, Oyeronke. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Discourses. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. 1997.